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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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I used to look on at the ultra marathoners who completed the Centurion Running Grandslam with a little bit of jealousy but never fancied doing it myself despite really wanting to test myself in a series.

Why?

Well I rather fell out of love with Centurion Running and stopped racing with them – no skin off their noses, they’ve got ultra runners and ultra running wannabies banging down their door to get in to their races. I never felt like it was a community I was comfortable in, now this isn’t to say that Centurion don’t put on good events – they do, really good, but they stopped being for me, a socially awkward introvert.

So, given that Centurion was probably the biggest UK Grandslam in the south of England I probably wasn’t going to get to do a series of races in this format.

Fast forward 5 years and much has changed I’m living in Scotland and a driving licence has been achieved which has brought access to all sorts of lovely new race opportunities including Hardmoors and GB Ultras. Now while the first 18 months here have been about getting settled, buying a new home, etc I’ve become determined that after a rubbish running in 2019 that 2020 would be a year of interesting race opportunities.

And so my road to a grandslam began.

Late in 2019 I came across Ranger Ultras who race in and around the Peak District and they immediately caught my eye. It was after my failure at the Ochil Ultra that I signed up for the Y3P (Yorkshire Three Peaks) that Ranger Ultras put on. However,  it turned out that injury and illness would conspire against me and so on the day before the race I pulled out.

However, the description of their event intrigued me and there was something rather ‘old school’ about them that I really liked.

I put them on my ‘must look into for 2020’ list of race providers, though by this time 2020 was pretty well formed with 5 or 6 ultra marathons already booked in. But I figured I’d like to go back and give the Yorkshire Three Peaks a bash given I’d missed it just a few weeks earlier.

Roll forward to the start of this year and there are positives starting to show themselves – I’ve been running a bit (woohoo), I’ve finished four races of which two were 50km each – not bad for a bloke, who if he were a building would be described as condemned or at the very least dilapidated. I kept sourcing new events to do this year and interestingly kept managing to squeeze them in – but not in the months that had the races of the inaugural Ranger Ultras Grandslam. Hmmmm.

In my head I began working out the logistics – the Peak District is a reasonable distance from Scotland and with a large family trip to Canada this year I  wouldn’t have oodles of annual leave to use up in travelling to and from events.

The races needed to be of a distance that I could travel down to after work on a Friday night and still be fresh enough come Saturday morning to race – as criteria that precludes anything over about 60 miles.

Thankfully the first race was 57km along the Pennine Bridleway – a perfect distance as I look to build up again, a perfect time of year as it should be rather windy and wet without too much sunshine and with a reasonably generous time allowance it should be both achievable and challenging.

The second and third race are then not until nearer the year end which again works for me (mostly). The Yorkshire Three Peaks takes up October and at 100km will serve as an excellent test of my running in preparation for the year ending Cheviot Goat.

Missing the Y3P last year was a real annoyance as I had entered late in the day and had to pull out even later and I feel that as a runner who has covered a lot of ground across the UK this iconic route should have been done at least once.

Maybe that’s why it is this grandslam over some of the others – The Peak District is a place that is relatively unknown to me, they’re new and I like the challenge of new. I like the adventure of seeing the sun go down on a new horizon, I enjoy the feel of a new ground below my feet though I am confident that by the time I have run the weekend double header of the white and dark peaks at the end of November I will be fully sated and probably and bit angry at The Peaks but I will hopefully feel that I fully adventured there (at least for a little while).

This adventure is very much about continuing my journey to find out who I am and who I want to be.

I moved my life from London so that I would be able to do stuff like this, so that I could fill my boots with things that make me smile and things that can inspire me to consider joining races like The Spine or The Race Across Scotland. I have need to push myself to limit of my physical ability and perhaps more importantly my mental ability – both have which have being a bit lardy over recent years.

I feel that the grandslam will make me work harder and keep my mental endurance on track – vital for both my running and my day-to-day life.

If I do get through the first challenge of the PB57 I will know that I then need to get through, amongst others, the Ultra Scotland and the Loch Ness 360 because these will form the basis of my fitness to take on the rest of the series. Each completion will hopefully build confidence going into the next – the tough times will come if something goes wrong in one of these events as it did last year and I will be working hard to stop one bad event unravelling the rest of the year.

But let’s look for positives…

The bad news is that attempting to scratch the grandslam itch may only make that itch worse – I can feel it. Success here (and by success I mean completing it) will make me want to take a crack at the Hardmoors series of races. However, I have no idea if I will achieve the Ranger Ultras Grandslam, my failure rate suggests that there is a good chance that something will go wrong during at least one of the races but I am hopeful that the risk of missing out on the grandslam finish will push me onward towards some form of glorious end.

Ha.

Check out Ranger Ultras here and get involved

Related & Recent

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Time: 8 Hours
Target: 8 Laps

It was about 5.30am, I’d had a lovely big mug of coffee whilst sitting upon the old porcelain throne and yet no matter how much I jiggled and wriggled – nothing would be released. So with much trepidation I rose from my perch and slapped on a handful of lubricant and squeezed it into every crevice before putting on my running kit – for today was Falkirk 8 hour Ultra day.

Surprisingly I’d been quite relaxed about the race as my week had been busy with a disaster situation over Scotland’s status in the European Union and Saturday had brought me the opportunity to go racing with my daughter and also join a pro-independence rally at Holyrood Park. So the reality is that the Falkirk Ultra came as something of a light hearted surprise to my week.

Let me roll back about three weeks to my status as a very unfit, very overweight, very slow runner who was about to attempt Tyndrum 24 (read about it here). While I had very much enjoyed the event I’d also been left feeling a bereft, missing my fitness and my turn of pace but mostly I was missing my ability to endure. I’d run less than 8hrs in good conditions and managed a paltry 30 miles in that time – Falkirk with forecasted cruddy conditions seemed to be headed to an even worse result.

Still with a coffee inside me and dressed for a race I drove the few short miles to the car parking and then grabbed my stuff with the aim to be at the registration tent nice and early. As I ambled through the park I wasn’t quite sure what would greet me outside Callendar House but I hadn’t imagined that an entire race village would be being constructed – yet here it was, being built before my very eyes.

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There were dozens of little tents and shelters going up for groups of clubs and runners and suddenly I realised that there might not be anywhere for the solo entrant to dispense with their stuff, thankfully my fears were unfounded and the registration tent would become the excellent location for drop bags. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I dipped into an empty registration tent at about 6.45am and picked up my bits, including a goody bag. Now normally goody bags are rubbish and when you’ve entered a race that costs £30 you don’t expect much in the way of extras but this was different.

In the paper bag we were given a Tunnocks tea cake, some Brewdog beer but most importantly was a lovely lightweight hoody and a pretty cool buff. I’d requested one of the cowbells too and made an £8 purchase of the race woolly hat. I felt like I was fully loaded on merchandise.

For the next hour I ambled around making a nuisance of myself as runners I knew came in for registration and said hello and had lovely chats with them all. There were a couple of guys from the Tyndrum 24, some local runners that I’ve gotten to know over the past few months and even a few of the Linlithgow Running Buddies that I’d had run with a few times.

The Falkirk Ultra was turning into a bit of an ultra meetup and there is nothing wrong with that.

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As light came the little race village that had been built the atmosphere began to grow and then the music started and the PA system kicked in – all systems started to ramp up and then we heard the announcement that we would be kicking off at 8.15am – so take your place behind the line and get ready to go. Here it was that I ran into Frances and Kieron from the Linlithgow Running Buddies – I felt compelled to complain about his wearing of ‘Shites’ (shorts and tights) but before we could get into the rights and wrongs of it we were off.

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Now for those of us that are local we will have been  well aware that Falkirk had recently enjoyed a healthy dose of rainfall and some snow too – this meant that the course was bound to boggy and with hundreds of runners passing through the route on multiple occasions the surface was going to be churned up extensively. The course itself had undergone some reconfiguration in the days leading up to the race due to the creation of a small temporary duck pond/lake just outside the main house – therefore what the next eight hours looked like were anyone’s guess.

For the first lap I went out pretty hard  – I knew that the aim was to produce 1 lap per hour or thereabouts and if I could add in some contingency while my hip and back were in decent shape then I could slow down later without too much concern about finishing. I put myself in the middle of the pack and gently hunkered down to my race strategy, not keen to chat to anyone on the first lap – I barely acknowledged the wonderful volunteers and marshals that were at regular intervals on the course.

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I ran to the first and only significant climb on the course and for the first lap made great strides up it, I was determined that I would run up this bugger at least once today and I managed that but no more (I promised myself, it hurt far too much) and it was a decision that a number of runners would make.

As I reached the top of the hill I could see ahead of me the ‘shit show of mud’ that awaited us – on a good day with fresh legs or being a good strong runner you’d eat this up but being neither strong or good I was going to struggle through this – and I did. I enjoyed this section of the course, it felt the most ‘trail’ and despite it being a little bit narrow because the mud was so churned up it was still a delight to see it on each and every lap.

In the early laps I could see runners both slow and fast avoiding the worst of the conditions trying to protect their feet but for me I was confident that my combination of Lone Peaks, Drymax socks and Injinji toe liners could easily go through the worst of it and still protect my rather sensitive tootsies. Infact in these early laps as others went around mud I chose to go straight through it and enjoyed it as it the spray attached itself to my legs. I do love it when you’re absolutely coated in mud before you’ve done your first mile and this reminded of running my beloved Vigo Tough Love 10.

As I came out of the mud and back onto the more traditional country park paths I found myself slowing down a little bit, this was harder packed and therefore less good for my old and knackered hips but still very runnable and much more to my tastes than the harder trails of Tyndrum 24. I bumbled along letting runners go past me and occasionally overtaking a runner and soon found myself heading downwards to more enthusiastic volunteers – possibly the most enthusiastic I saw all day, however, at this point I was still on a mission – how fast could I get round that first lap.

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The lap from this point was still headed in a generally downward direction and it was still going through the more heavily wooded area of Callendar Park  – this was rather enjoyable and I was confident that I knew were headed to the turn out of the woods before rejoining the park a bit further down and then along the tarmac back to the start.

Sadly I was only half right.

I was right about the downward curvature back into the park but in the distance I saw a procession of runners heading back to the tarmac via a rather dippy, slippy field and even at this early stage you could see runners pretending to be aeroplanes with arms aloft looking for balance.

I reached the turning back on to the grass and moved slowly down it – this was nasty already and I swiftly sought out a return to what looked like a path. I ran along down into the dip and then climbed back out with all the skill of man with no skill whatsoever. This climb down and the clamber up proved to be some of the most comical viewing during the day and would give you a little smile as you watched runners struggling with it and knowing that you’d shortly be the entertainment for some other poor unfortunate!

But it was soon over and we were back on flat, sensible tarmac… but that was not a good thing. I didn’t yet know it but this section of the route would be the real mental test, every looped race has one, the bit you really hate, the bit that makes you think you should pack it all in and for me it was where you hit the tarmac again until you were back at the checkpoint.

Thankfully the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra had something of an ace up its sleeve and that was the four sets of checkpoint volunteers that saw you through this horrible chore and even on lap one I needed the inspirational words of these lovely people. Ambling alongside the lake for what felt like an age I looked enviously towards the other side of the water to witness runners completing their first lap or in some cases getting well into their second. It wasn’t until I made it to the other side of the lake that I wished I was back on the other side…

Before a single runner had set foot on the checkpoint side of the lake it was already a well churned bog – the runners weren’t going to improve that but it was going to make for an interesting battle between us and sliding feet first in the cold lake just a few feet below us. I crossed the thick oozy mud in good time and propelled myself forward in about 33 minutes but a toilet and food stop made it more like 39 minutes before I set off again.

My stop was probably the longest one I had during the whole event as I’d missed breakfast and wanted to make sure I ate regularly. I chowed down on some kinder chocolate, a couple of delicious Caramel Freddo and a chocolate milkshake before filling up my water with Active Root – damn fine stuff that is, probably stopped me crapping myself!

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I soon returned to the drizzle and the course having removed my long sleeved layer in an attempt to stop me overheating. I am led out waving at those who gave a cheery hello or supportive wave and offered encouragement to those coming in – loops makes it easier to wish people well and you’ll sometimes remember those who, like myself, might benefit from a word or three of encouragement.

My second lap was nowhere near as energetic and the first section of the loop was getting muddier and more treacherous with every step, but this I was enjoying and the volunteers at the bottom of the slope seemed to be having fun with it too (well as much as you can have within health and safety guidelines of getting your runners safely through). I continued to stretch my legs until I reached the bottom of the hill and then my body told me that this was it, each loop was now going to be a case of hanging on and seeing if we could get to the magic 8 loops.

What happened next is a bit of a haze of names, hiking and sheer bloody mindedness. I met Ed a few times who was a lovely runner that was having a bit of a day of it – but actually going really rather well, there was Heather who had this awesome hat on that had a charm almost as big as it’s owner and then there was the lovely Susan who I ran a really brilliant lap with having a lovely chat with.

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The ever amazing Neil passed me a couple of times – always with practical words of encouragement and Fiona 1 and Fiona 2 both gave me lovely supportive boosts as they too saw fit to pass by me. It wasn’t just people I’ve met before though – there was Julie from Strava that turned round in the registration queue to say hello and I ran into a couple of other runners who shouted out, ‘hey are you UltraBoy?’ To which I of course reply, ‘ sort of…’ and I was either known through this blog or Strava.

The Falkirk Ultra really was a running community event.

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However, I did meet one runner that made me laugh every second I was with her and that was Tracy (without an e). I think we were both on lap 5 she was ready to call it a day over an injury concern and I should have been thinking the same thing as my hip and groin were ruined. But some days you meet a person who lifts your spirits enough that you forget about the trauma and you’re reminded that you’re actually going okay.

In the time we ran together I found new energy, I was a bit lighter on my feet and I forget about the previous laps and the tiredness of my legs. I did promise she’d make it into this blog and she makes it in not so much for how brilliant she was (although she was) she makes it in because she said, ‘my mums at the bridge, I’m getting a hug’.

Well that’s a red rag to a bull.

‘I’m getting a cuddle too. What’s your mums name? I’ll ask her does she remember me, dip in for the cuddle and then tell her it was a hot steamy night in ’83 – she had the white wine spritzer and I had the babysham’.

I have no idea what Tracy’s mum must have thought but I hope she understands that what happens at an ultra stays at an ultra (wink, wink – I joke).

Tracy (and mum) were awesome and I am pleased to say that both of us made it back out on another lap.

By lap 7though I was sore, really sore and although I was still well within my strategised time I was hoping the short loop would open soon so I could forget the long loop and I’d probably still reach 50km (a shorter loop opened up at 3pm to allow runners to continue running without forfeiting distance when the bell went for the finish at 4.15pm).

However, I finished lap 7 with about 90 minutes remaining – I felt the need to go and do the big loop one final time – despite having already said most of my thanks to amazing volunteers. It very much felt like the only sensible thing to do… well maybe not sensible but I was doing it anyway.

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So steeled for one final battle I headed out and this time with nobody but myself and the clock to run against I found my second wind and started running up inclines, more fool me of course but I was making a much better fist of lap 8 than I had on a couple of the others.

I danced and twirled my way around the course – daring the mud to take me – daring it to cast me groundwards bit it never did. In truth, despite the conditions I remained sure footed throughout but never more so than now. I battled down the hill to a meeting with ‘The Badger’ (more on him later) and onwards toward the finish – there would be no short loops for me.

As I crossed the tarmac in the distance I could see my daughter waving feverishly toward me, and I to her. I picked up my feet and my pace to continue the illusion that her dad is the worlds greatest runner and as she called out I lifted her high into my arms in a display of muscular movement I did not consider possible.

I stopped for a few moments to talk to her but time was pressing and I wanted to make sure this lap counted and so I waved goodbye to my family, thanking the lovely marshal at the turning point and then I headed for home.

One final lurch across the mud and there I saw the finish and most other runners on the short lap – I didn’t want to limply cross that line – I wished to show my mettle and so with the GingaNinja and ASK at the finish I picked up my feet with 100metres to go and raised hell with a sprint that swerved between the short loop runners and crossed the line in a flurry of my own excitement.

I’d actually done it.

I’d made it.

  • Distance: 3.8mile loop (ish)
  • Ascent: Nothing hideous – just felt it (under 100 metres per lap)
  • Date: February 2020
  • Location: Falkirk
  • Cost: £30
  • Entrants: 350 (inc. relay runners)
  • Terrain: Muddy, undulating
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

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Route
What do you want from your route? A route that will be predictable or one that surprises you? The Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra has something for everyone to love and something to loathe. I loved it for the most part, the mud was challenging, the inclines & the declines were awesome and the tarmac that threaded it together was minimised.

Even with last minute changes to the route this still felt well prepared and overall you’d be silly not to fall in love with this. Obviously I’m a little biased as I live near Falkirk and run often in or around the park but this route took in some fun bits and even in the grey weather we had it’s still a lovely place to run.

The route was incredibly well marked and heavily marshalled but not in an intrusive way, you just felt secure in the knowledge that the race really did have your back.

My hope is that the route recovers quickly from so many runners racing around it so the event is welcomed back next year – this is a great place and a great place to have a route of this nature on. Scotland needs ultra marathons during the winter to support runners like myself and Falkirk will benefit from the goodwill of runners and a deepening reputation as a place where great events can be held (let us not mention Epic from the week before!)

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Organisation
I’ve been to a few races in my time and I’ve seen good and bad organisation but let me assure you that the organisation, preparation and selflessness of the organisers went so far above and beyond any expectations I had.

The organisers deserve a huge amount of credit for producing an event par excellence!

I was impressed by the race village that popped up (which the organisers might not be 100% responsible for but made sure it was sensibly located, etc), facilities such as toilets were excellent, parking was sensible given we, quite rightly, couldn’t use the main facilities at Callendar Park.

Even the organisation of the short loop, the updates for race timings seemed to be so effortless, it was a joy to behold – you, as the runner could simply get on with the business of dying out on the insanely fun course! Of course we all know that only a lot of hard work makes something like this look effortless, so my huge congratulations.

As a solo runner I was also mightily impressed about the way the big registration tent was cleared down and our bags were elevated off the ground to ensure that we had very easy access to our kit and I found myself very happily dipping in their briefly each lap and then coming back out onto the course to be welcomed by the race supporters – it was really nice.

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Value for Money
I normally have to question just how good the value of an event is but I can be effusive in my praise that this is probably the best value race you’ll ever do – £30! Let me put this into perspective – that’s the same as coffee and a toasted sandwich at Starbucks for two – and this race gives you a lot more than any corporate monster will.

Compare this with say the Epic Falkirk race at Callendar Park a few days earlier and you can immediately see the difference.

The route was fun, the time and dedication of the people who put this together was clearly evident. The excellent thought that went into the items in the goody bag was really appreciated and then the bespoke medal – what a corker.

People of Falkirk, people of Scotland, people of the world – this is an amazingly good value event and while I would highly recommend it to all of you could you make sure that I get a place every year as this is my local ultra and I’m going to look forward to it year in, year out!

Volunteers
I promised I would get to ‘The Badger’ and here we are but first I want to say a huge thank you to every single one of the marshalling team, on a cold, wet day at the start of February you stood out and supported hundreds of runners that you probably didn’t know and you gave each and every one of love and encouragement from start to whatever our finish was.

I was particularly fortunate, I got to have cuddles with just about everyone, the lovely ladies who were at the bottom of the hill and gave me both cuddles and the odd kick up the arse. The cowbell ladies who must have had ringing ears by the end of the day and the poor young lady who lost her leopard skin print gloves – amazing. The dancing ladies, the downhill turning point marshals, the chaps as we ran back into the park – all of them had a cheery smile no matter how many times I told terrible jokes.

The guys on the tarmac – couple of lovely beards there (one ginger and one badger), these guys I looked forward to seeing each lap and got lots of big hugs from them. There is something wonderful about drawing big chaps into a cuddle with a fool like me – plus it gives you a lift and hopefully it reminds them just how much they are appreciated.

I’d also like to say thanks to the great ladies who were at the two bridges who accepted my flirtatious charm with all the humour it was intended with.

And then the couple of guys at the run back to the checkpoint, one to advise us to get closer to the water as the ground grew ever more treacherous and one to bang his piece of metal with a drum stick – I may on lap 7 have suggested that I knew were he could put that drumstick… you can guess the rest.

If I missed anyone out, believe me you aren’t forgotten – every marshal and member of the team contributed a massive amount to its success and I am confident all the runners would bow down before your dedication and tenacity. Brilliant, just brilliant.

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Awards
Lovely hoody, lovely buff, Tunnocks teacake and an awesome bespoke medal. Do I need to say anymore? Brilliant

Conclusion
This looped race jumps to the top of the list of my favourite looped races and just a favourite race in general – toppling the Brutal Enduro for loops and I am sure my enthusiasm for this race will live long. If you have never attempted the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra then you should consider it, if you aren’t an ultra runner then get involved in the relay as that looked incredibly competitive and you could have all the fun without the pain.

As for me, well I had a lot of fun but my hips will pay the price for that fun – they started to feel pretty crappy at about the 25km mark, this though is a significant improvement on the 5 miles they managed at Tyndrum 24. The important thing for me was that I am starting to improve – it’s true I’m still a shit runner but a shit runner that is getting mildly fitter and with that I’ll hope to improve pace and distance.

I went into the Falkirk Ultra with no expectations but hopes that I would make this my 53rd ultra finish and I managed that – it might have been at the bottom end of the ultra distances but after a rubbish 2019 of running I’m pleased with the way this weekend went. I can now go to the F50K with a bit more confidence (just need to learn to navigate).

Ultimately what can I say other than this was stunning and I hope to see you all next year for a few extra laps.

Related

July was the first month in a couple of years that I’ve run lots and this is by no means a lot by my own low standards. However, it is a lot compared to how much I have been doing in the last 3 years.

As regular readers will know I moved to Scotland last year and now, being safely ensconsed in my new home, I have the time to dedicate to running. The trouble has been that my body has been ravaged by chronic injury, weight gain and a distinct lack of fitness action and so when the GingaNinja told me that I had finally gotten fat enough, it was decided that I would start to look after myself again and this meant getting fitter.

You may well have read my piece about my poor relationship food (read it here if you like) and my various blogs about a general annoyance at logging every last iota of data from running – I’ve never ascribed to the ‘if it isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen’ – but this month I did a number of new things;

The first was I put my massive over-eating under control. The second thing was, despite my reservations, I signed up to Strava.

I did a couple of other key things too though, the third thing was I wanted to explore my surroundings and so invested in a few maps and ensured that I sought new and interesting places to run – this was in combination with a subscription to the OS Maps app (highly recommended for easy browsing maps).

I also sought support from my family and asked them to join me on a weekly hike up a hill or mountain within relative striking diatance of home – they heartily agreed and all of this began when we bimbled up to Cairngorms for a week towards the end of June. Now though all I needed to do was commit to the idea of returning to fitness and maybe even getting back down to a weight I could be a bit happier with.

Shaming myself
There was a part of me that felt like being on Strava and Instagram was a form of public shaming and by being more open than usual I would have nowwhere to hide. Those first runs were hard and they were brutal, they lacked any form of pace, my breathing was rubbish and I really was not going that far. Worse than that I had gotten the point where my running shirts were starting to make it look like I’d bought a size too small to show off ‘the goods’ – I hadn’t though. But I was committed to the idea of sharing this information, in part, to highlight to myself how far I had fallen and more importantly how much progress I could make.

Still those first few posts were damning and I hated putting them on Strava and Instagram.

However, as each day passed and I ran a little bit more, with a little more elevation and across harder terrain I could feel the benefits kicking in. Don’t get me wrong I was not going any faster but it was getting easier and I was focusing on climbing rather than distance which made every session I was doing even harder than I would train when I lived in the South East.

To help incentivise myself I added in a few Strava challenges such as the 5km race, the 10km race, 200km in a month and 2,000 metres elevation in a month – expecting to hit only the 5km and maybe the 10km race challenges. There was also the public humiliation of giving over my information to runners I both knew and didn’t know and so logically I began following local, to me runners, who if I knew might be looking at my runs might inspire me to pick up my feet and get round a bit quicker.

Food
The added challenge was that all of this has been run on a diet of around 1400 calories a day and so has been both intense and tough. I love food, especially ‘treat’ food and I’ll reward myself for almost anything. So sticking to a better eating life has been good for me and the whole family. I’ve found myself cooking more again (and enjoying it) and I have generally eaten less – that said my consumption of sugar free Irn Bru has quadrupled (at least). The one thing that has been dropped from my diet is chocolate (not 100% but not far off) and my consumption of sugar has also been drastically reduced – all of this means that I have managed to shed nearly 3kg in weight during July.

I don’t want to make it all sound positive though and there were a couple of bad days where take away food was eaten but I’m trying not to beat myself up about that – these were social occasions and there were more good days than bad, and are that note I can seamlessly segway into the numbers of July…

The Numbers
So how do the numbers stack up for this month?

  • Time on my feet: 29hrs 45 mins
  • Activities: 30
  • Distance: 233.7km
  • Elevation Gain: 4,142 metres
  • Running: 24hrs 16mins
  • Running Distance: 209.6km
  • Running Elevation: 3,332 metres
  • Hiking: 5hrs 6mins
  • Hiking Distance: 22.3km
  • Hiking Elevation: 795 metres
  • Weight: Down 2.8kg
  • Races: 1 (Ben Vorlich Ultra)
  • Instagram Posts: 300
  • Blog Posts: 3

The numbers aren’t amazing but they do show a surge in my activity level and if I can maintain this level then I am sure that I will get faster and continue to get fitter.

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Physical and Mental Wellbeing
I’ve discussed several times that running keeps me healthy both physically and mentally and that when I don’t run then both suffer and while it is bad for my body to be unfit when my mind is unfit I become a much less decent human being. When I was running through London on a daily basis as part of my commute I found this rather stressful and was often having to reach a point by a certain moment or running to another train station because London Bridge was closed or Cannon Street had been flooded or Dartford  was closed so I would then have to wake up tired legs to run the final leg home. Now I am running for pleasure with the greatest pressure deciding on where I need to run – it won’t always be like this but for the moment I am enjoying the freedom afforded by my job, my drive to work and the locations I pass through – which are filled with rich, luxourious landscapes.

My mental wellbeing is as good as it has ever been, if not better and my life feels lighter – of course nothing is perfect and something terrible could happen tomorrow but I’m working on the assumption that it won’t and so as my physical wellbeing improves through the running so does my mental wellbeing and perhaps I’ll get to a point where I won’t be thinking about the next potential disaster situation and rather be thinking about the next step upward.

The Routes
The routes have been the most spectacular part of returning to running and I’ve explored lots of my little part of Scotland, there have been mountains, waterfalls, hills, lots of mud, some tarmac and head high grass at almost place I’ve run – this has been tremendously exciting. Some of my favourite places have been Polmont Woods& Burn, Blackness Castle & The John Muir Way, Torphichen & the Cairnpapple, Muiravonside & the Avon Aqueduct, The Kinneil Estate, Westquarter, The Union Canal,  Dechmont Law, Ben Vorlich, Dumyat & Castle Law, Miekle Bin, Meall a Bhuachaille, Steall Falls, Ravencraig & The Knook, Greendykes Bing, Seafield Law and Rough Castle & The Falkirk Wheel. I can highly recommend trying out some or all of them – it is true to say that these aren’t The Highlands but they are no less fun. I’ll be continuing to explore over the following months more and more areas, I’ll be spending more hours poring over maps to find places that nobody else goes to and I’ll be continuing to get lost as I increasingly seek the off trail routes (my legs have been stung so much this last month).

 

Highlights
The highlights are actually pretty easy and it has little to do with running and more about achieving fitness – climbing up Dumyat & Castle Law in the Ochils with ASK and the GingaNinja and also the climb up The Law was lots of fun. Hoerver, it was more than that, it was excellent preparation for running up hills and testing myself – forcing myself to go slower with a 4 year in tow up a 700 metre ascent means that I have developed patience. So thanks family for helping me get back on track.

The Future
There is much in the diary already – first up is the Thieves Road in a week but I consider that a stepping stone to more challenging oportunities further down the line. The Ambleside 60 in September will take me back to a true love of mine – The Lake District and to a place I spent many happy days during my 20s – from here though things get a little more serious. The Ochil Ultra at the end of September will be hard and at 50 miles it will be a test of how far I have come and will very much determine whether I race the Rebellion. The Rebellion at 135 miles is the furthest I will ever have run – I will have no support crew and I will need to be on point and fit as I can be. If successful I then have four weeks to recover before my 2019 A race – The Montane Cheviot Goat, I am very much looking forward to this and will hopfully serve as reward for several months of hard work – but we shall see.

But the future is about more than races, the future is about my health and wellbeing and that of those around me.

ASK asks me when I am going to die and the answer I give her is that, ‘I’ll die one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year or maybe a long time away’. I always remind her that the reason I run and want an active life for all of us is to make sure that I am, and we are, around for as long as possible and it is the reason I ask that she join me on runs and hikes – so that she will live, in her words, ‘a very long time’. There are things I cannot control but this is something that I can influence.

If we can maintain this as a family then we will succeed and I have learnt that I really can’t do it alone and it is not just the support of family I’ve found the social thing much more useful this time around too.

When ‘the social family’ is sending kudos on Strava or liking pictures on Instagram or reading this blog then know that you are making a difference to ensuring I succeed, but not in the way you might imagine I still don’t really care if anybody reads this and if no Kudos or Likes are received then that is fine – I’m not really needy about stuff like that. But exposing myself to social scrutiny is a valuable lesson for me, in that it ensures I am looking at developing an ongoing healthy relationship with my own honesty towards wellbeing and I’d hate to be dishonest so if everyone ignored it I that’s fine because its for my own self satisfaction. Maybe self satisfaction is what this needs to be about – something for me to think about as August comes around.

Anyway, so see you out there and enjoy your running.

 

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

Having moved to Scotland. Having finally bought and moved into our new house I can now focus on running and getting outdoors again and I’m loving it. Having moved to a small semi rural location just outside Falkirk I find myself in the enviable position of having trail runs and walks on my doorstep and dozens of public rights of way that lead to all sorts of exciting trails.

Every night for the last three weeks I’ve set off with the task of finding a new trail or finding new ways around a trail I’ve been around previously. I have no preconceptions about areas because I’m new here and so I park up (usually after work) and chuck on my shoes and see where I end up.

Fitness being what it is at the moment and my back injury still plaguing me (probably even more than ever), I’ve been keeping it fairly sensible. What this means in practice is 30 to 40 minutes and usually a couple of hundred feet of steep elevation and I’ve found something wonderful – joy. Then there’s the added bonus of the hiking that I’ve very much taken to!

Running and exploring in and around London had become a chore rather than something I enjoyed (not helped by having a Vitality plan that needs servicing). I was running because I had to rather than because I wanted to and this meant I simply fell out of love with the sport that has given me so much.

I’d always said that the move to Scotland was as much about getting outdoors more as it was about the stupidity of the English in their ‘leave the EU’ voting and now I’m finally making that happen. I’ve spent most of my time exploring the locations around work and home, which has included Westquarter Glen, Callendar Woods, Polmont Woods, Dechmont Law, California, the Union Canal, Roughcastle and the Falkirk Wheel, Blackness, the Lomond Hills and more. But I’m fortunate enough to have travelled a bit around Scotland and run much of the West Highland Way, parts of Arran, Skye, Loch Ness, the Tweed Valley, Fox Lake, the Cairngorms, Jedburgh and of course my favourite place – the Ochils.

It is the Ochils that I see when I leave for work in a morning and it is the Ochils that remind me why I brought my family here.

Each weekend I now take the GingaNinja and ASK up to the Ochils to hike one of the hills. I tend to downplay the steepness and the challenge that each climb presents just to add a bit of shits and giggles to a family outing. However, these activities are helping me to prepare me for greater hiking and running challenges down the line. They’re also very much central to my belief that our quality of life here can be so much better than more suffocating one in the south east of England.

I realise that I’m fortunate to have a family that are interested in bounding around Scotland with me and in the six months that we have lived here, all of us have grown to love our surroundings.

But it’s more than the family benefits it’s very much the trail benefits. Scotland’s running trails have absolutely everything you could want and I’ve been testing that as much as I can. There’s much joy to be found as I go running around Scotland and the abundance of oozy mud, bloody hills, tricky ascents and blistering descents make me want to take early retirement and feast on the great Scottish outdoors.

So there you have it, one mans love of the great outdoors but there are some practical tips that I’d offer to make your own adventuring all the more pleasurable and sustainable.

Get everyone involved

Hiking up a hill on your own is a lovely thing, the peace that this can provide is immeasurable in my opinion. However, some of the best hikes I’ve been involved in have included friends and family.

Red Screes, Catbells and Skiddaw in the Lake District will live long in my memory and the ultra marathons and racing around Skye (as an example) was a truly unforgettable experience with people I really loved meeting – some of whom helped inspire my move northwards.

Basically, people and company can make a hard hike easier, they can be enthusiastic and supportive when your legs feel like jelly and they can offer advice when your brain is frazzled. So why wouldn’t you invite friends old and new along.

There’s also the opportunity to join local and national groups – the ramblers are probably the best known but there are others. With the advent of social meetings through the likes of Facebook and Meetup you can hopefully find a group (or start one). The opportunities are open ended and just waiting to be explored.

Get exploring local maps

Scotland has so many amazing trails but the famoud ones, such as the West Highland Way, as with anywhere, can be reasonably busy. Therefore I’ve found it wonderful looking for trails that are less well used. I did two things that have helped, the first was to buy an annual subscription to OS Maps and the second was to invest in a series of paper maps. Since getting hold of maps I’ve been exploring my local and not so local trails looking to find places where I can very much ‘get lost’ on hidden trails. Obviously there is some hit and miss in this approach but broadly I’ve been lucky to find exciting new routes. More importantly by going into the undergrowth and wending my way through the path less travelled I’ve caught sight of all manner of wildlife and beautiful scenes. By getting lost, by following my nose (and the maps) I’ve been discovering a Scotland that others might simply pass by.

Develop outdoor skills

Map reading is a key outdoor skill to have, GPS isn’t always accurate and an accident or battery fail is often only a minor incident away. Therefore I would advocate for the value of map and compass skills. Sensible first aid knowledge is also useful as is kit knowledge and basic survival skills in what kind of water you can drink and when you shouldn’t.

As you go further afield, as you go further into nature there is an increased responsibility on you to ensure you are safe and that you know how to get off a mountain yourself. The ability to navigate, strap yourself up and basically survive is essential.

I came to the idea of being sensible a little late but for my Scottish adventures I’m very pleased that I’ve developed a bit of common sense.

Be prepared to take shelter or abandon a hike

There’s a moment, regardless of your preparation, when the weather comes in or the conditions turn to shit and you have to decide what to do. When I’m running then I’ll generally keep going regardless of the conditions

However, when hiking I take a different approach, especially when my four year old daughter is alongside and will take a sensible more cautionary approach. I suppose that running and hiking are slightly different mindsets for me because I’ll happily run up a hill with no more than shorts and a mars bar but I wouldn’t dream of hiking without at a decent waterproof jacket and a stout pair of shoes.

Regularly check the weather

As we all know Scotland can be a little unpredictable with the weather, one minute sunshine, next minute rain and the next – snow! In the hills and mountains this unpredictability is multiplied many times, cloud cover coming in and thick, horizontal rain followed by blazing sunshine in a matter of minutes is not uncommon. So check the weather and pack your kit for all eventualities.

Beware ticks and insect bites

Little bleeders! Post hike, post run, post wiping your own bum, make sure you check for ticks – the consequences of not dealing with ticks properly is devastating. A simple tick check as part of your post hike/run cuppa is a worthwhile investment of time. And on the investment front – make sure you buy a tick remover!

Despite my warnings I want you all to get out in your local surroundings and have fun. For me that means hurling myself around the hills and mud of Scotland but for you it could be somewhere else, somewhere old or even somewhere new. I suppose the message I want to send about our great outdoors is

…enjoy yourself and see you out there.

ASK, the GingaNinja and I were having a pretty damn fine time at the Mince Pi: A Race of Two Decimal Places until at the final 300 metres the GingaNinja offered ASK a choice… and then meltdown occurred. Oh dear

Pre-race the GingaNinja had indicated that a lack of any training was probably going to hinder her progress and she would consider a single lap without stopping a decent measure of success. I suggested that ASKruns and I would accompany her to provide moral support and also earn the toddler another medal, I would then continue to run the marathon or ultra distance.

We arrived at the race registration at just the right time to avoid getting too cold despite having to help a woman move her 4×4 from the slip road of the motorway to the curb – I feel for her husband who left the car without any fuel in it – she was going to be furious with him when she got home., I digress…

Registration was quick and easy, we collected a couple of new Wacky Event buffs and pinned our numbers to our fronts. ASK was excited and keen to get going, the GingaNinja was keen to start so she could get finished.

We ambled along to the start and stood at the back where we knew the Unirider would cause the least disturbance to the other runners and with conditions being both a bit wet and icy I didn’t want to risk losing my footing. There was also the fact that we were playing the role of cheering squad to help the GingaNinja and so we would probably be going a slightly more restrained pace than usual.

ASK and I, as the runners set off, darted ahead of the crowd and hoped that the GingaNinja was following us but the she had been caught in the dozens of runners and so I took my foot of the peddle and let some of the others go past us until we were back together. And we pushed on gently amongst the crowds as they all settled into their rhythm.

The route was exactly the same as last year and I say this as a good thing because there’s lots of lovely little twists and turns as well as some delightful up and down hills. ASK and I shouted encouragement to the GN from a position about 10 metres in front of her hoping to ensure that we kept momentum as the lap progressed and it was progressing well.

We ran through the trail to the first big challenge on the route which is a frosty downhill before an icy and slick wooden walkway. Most of the runners took the steps down the hill but we took the slightly wilder route to the side and thundered down to the bottom. The GN who was now nicely warmed up followed behind us making good progress through the wintery conditions.

One thing to note about running with your toddler is that ‘Scenic’ really helps to keep your toddler happy and the rushing water of the lock, the ducks and the breaking of the puddles of ice with the Unirider served as very happy times as we ran. As we crossed the river bank ASK wanted to do a little bit of running and so she joined both the GN and I and did a few hundred metres before returning to the comfort of her ride. I knew that the ‘big’ hill was almost upon us and given the conditions over the last couple of weeks I suspected it would be slick and muddy rather than a dry and fast climb.

ASK and I took a crack at it and although I knew we could do it the GN behind us was ‘advising’ us to walk and once that happened then ASK wanted to do what mummy had suggested. However, my little toddler powered up the hill with greater aplomb than her penguin outfit suggested she was capable of and we toddled to the top in quick time. With the GN back in tow we headed off to complete the second half of the lap.

Top of the hill, hurry up mummy!

 

From here we had the lovely Tony as company periodically as we kept overtaking one another and ASK would remind her mum that she needed to go faster to overtake people! Perhaps it was the words of our toddler that kept the GingaNinja going but as we approached the final bridge she was looking in good shape and so I broached the topic of a second lap – sadly this was shot down long before I’d even finished my sales pitch and so we pressed on.

Into the final turns of the event and I knew that the finish line was just ahead – ASK had enjoyed herself and she just wanted a final flourish with her mum. I had decided that I would run her in on the Unirider but the GingaNinja unwisely gave the toddler a choice of running the last section and at 300 metres from the end caused ASK to go into a meltdown.

There wasn’t much that could be done at this point other than get her across the line and hope that a medal cured all and in truth it did – well that and a chocolate treat.

In truth I was a little bit annoyed with the GingaNinja (and myself for not making my plans clear) as ASK had mostly had a good time on the route, had enjoyed the challenges of the race, had enjoyed the attention she received from the other runners and supporters, had enjoyed chasing and cheering her mum and had really enjoyed getting the medal. But the run up to the finish took away some of the overall good feeling that had been gathered by this truly wonderful end of year event.

Thankfully post race we got changed and went back out on to the route to cheer ‘hooray’ as runners went past and this returned some of the cheer to my festivities.

Conclusions.
The guys at Wacky Events know how to put on a really good event and I would go back and do this year on year if I wasn’t planning on moving to Scotland before this event comes around again. However, I can highly recommend that you take part. It’s wonderfully priced, it’s a really awesome route, there’s a great medal and a free snood/buff/neck gaiter thrown in and combine this all with a feast of savoury and sweet snacks and you’ve got a winter winner.

For my part seeing my partner back out running and doing it well, albeit over a relatively short distance was really good and despite the mini meltdown that my toddler had we had lots of fun on one of my favourite looped routes. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to the organisers for letting us run with the Unirider during the event and a huge thank you to all of the amazing volunteers and supporters that littered the route with cheers and waves which only encouraged both the GingaNinja and ASK.

And the Unirider?
This was ASKruns and I using the Unirider for the first time at an organised event and it was awesome. We did sensible things such as stay at the back (mostly). Keep clear of the other runners and only do moderately silly things like ride straight through the wet mud and the icy puddles. If you’re a Unirider user and can find races that will allow you to enter then you’ll have a really good time. ASK and I are already on the lookout for our next event (I’m thinking a spring 10km) because she was quizzing me about next race once we had gotten home, so yes she may have had a meltdown, you may have seen her have a meltdown but that hasn’t quashed her desire to run again


It was Christmas last year when I introduced the Mountain Buggy Unirider to our lives. I’d been looking for something that could help me take the joy I get from running to my daughter and this one wheeled wonder was the answer. I won’t be looking back into the spec again – for that you’re welcome to read my original review here. This is intended to give a longer term view of how the Mountain Buggy Unirider has influenced the lives of both myself and ASK.

I’d originally intended the Unirider as a way of running with ASK but in the months since we’ve been using it we’ve found it to be much more versatile than that.


Trail/Fell/Hill running I can’t tell you that the Unirider was built for running – I simply don’t know that for sure but what I do know is that it is perfect for running with your child on trail. ASK and I have racked up hundreds of miles over the last 10 months and we will continue to do so until she says, no thanks dad, you’re too slow’. With experience we’ve gotten faster and more accurate at negotiating tougher terrain, ASK has also increased in confidence and can occasionally be found hurling her arms in the air in delight or stretching her legs out in front of her if we’ve been going for a decent length of time. We’ve also had the joy of exploring every type of condition since the start of the year from snow through to the wettest, muddiest festivals and I’m pleased to say that the Unirider has come through it. 

The confidence that I discussed isn’t confined to ASK either – I’ve also grown in confidence as the pilot and I find myself willing to push myself to go faster, take corners more excitingly and I trust that my rider is in control of the front end. This trust had taken time to master but as she calls for ‘faster’ ASK understands that’s it’s both hands holding on, legs tight in and leaning just a little forward to give us additional momentum. She is very much an active participant in the Unirider experience.


It’s strange when I hand over the piloting to the GingaNinja during trail running because she’s much more reserved than I now am and I can both see and feel the difference in approaches. But much like I did the GingaNinja gets more confident the more she uses it and sees ASK and I battling up hills and across gnarly trails inspires her to run faster and better. Nothing like being beaten by a toddler and an old man to inspire improvement 🙂

Other scenarios? Where else might you use the Unirider? Well you’d be surprised but ASK and I use it for city running as well as trails and when I say city running I mean central London at the weekends! We love nothing more than blasting down The Mall or hammering through Trafalgar Square, Westminster or bimbling down the hills at Greenwich. City running is a skill that requires a little attention, fast footwork and preferably a talkative child. I’m fortunate in that ASK will request that people ‘get out of the way’ and she calls out, ‘faster, faster’ at regular intervals.

Your faster footwork is mostly required for tighter turning and swift breaking – city dwellers tend to be absorbed in things like mobile phones and the content of Tindr can sometimes be more engaging than the sight of an angry middle aged man, baring down on you thrusting a toddler forward, at pace, on a parent powered unicycle… apparently. 

The Unirider handles curbs really well – both up and down but you get pretty good at making judgement calls about what it will do and what it won’t. I find the curbs with the highest drop simply require us to make a swift turn and pop ourselves up in reverse. The crux of it is that the Unirider is a stunning device to use in any running scenario and has impressed with its handling in every type of condition across road and trail.


But not all you will want to run with the Unirider some of you might be wondering about day to day usage.

Perhaps this is why I’m writing the long term review because since buying it I’ve definitely expanded its usage to include shopping, hiking, music festivals, days exploring & adventuring as well as commuting and basically replacing our day to day buggy.


Hiking is much like the running only a bit slower – the Unirider is built for the outdoors and although it can take a bit of getting used to going over the roughest of terrain the ride handles it well. Some children might complain about bumps and jumps as you’re going over gnarly ground but if you make this part of the experience, and offer warnings to your rider where you can, I’ve found that my toddler doesn’t mind a slightly (or even very) bouncy ride.

Thankfully the design does help with bumpy, uneven trails as the air filled tyre has enough give in it to move with the trail (though do remember to periodically reinflate).

Our experience shopping is probably the thing of interest to most people as taking a buggy around shops can be a difficult affair – they’re big and aisles can be narrow – the Unirider negotiates these spaces much more accurately than a buggy can. The easy on and off of the device means that if things become difficult we simply jump off, spin the Unirider round and take a few steps until we can get back on. It’s true that you have a reduced capacity for carrying than you might with a buggy or pram but not by much. I often team our shopping expeditions with my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 in which I carry a few bits for ASK and then any shopping I’ve collected. ASK might also wear a small backpack if she wishes to carry anything for herself.

If you’re off out to buy the weekly Sainsbury’s shop then the Unirider needs a second person with you to push the trolley (but the same would be true if you were using a buggy) but ultimately this is a good and useful shopping aid that offers excellent space saving on either public transport or the car. It’s also wonderful for taunting security staff in shopping centres… we probably shouldn’t but ASK and I do love running round busy shopping centres, zipping in and out of all the nooks and crannies and making use of the long, slick and flat stretches.

I’ve seen ASK on more than one occasion give a thumbs up to figures of authority who’d like a word with us but in truth the Unirider gives us a huge amount of control in navigating between objects, and importantly, control in stopping quickly.


As for commuting the Unirider is a joy, I collect ASK from the childminders some evenings and when I depart from the train my first stop is home to grab the Unirider because it means our commute home is quicker and she enjoys the journey back more. When I knock on the door I’m often greeted by the phrase, ‘Am I going on the Unirider?’ and if I answer, ‘No’ she is always disappointed. Whether we run or walk home we can use this time to chat and it’s calm time (even if we are running) that she gets to cool down from banging round like a mini whirlwind at the childminders. If we’re both in the mood I’ll increase our commute to give more time for this relaxing journey time.

Longer commutes are equally easy – when I travel to see friends or family and cross the country on public transport we use the Unirider because it speeds up our on and off time, we are quicker on the connections and we’re simply more efficient. ASK and I have often been witnessed going like lighting between St Pancras and Euston in order to make a soon departing train and the Unirider is small enough that you can avoid the use of lifts and instead travel up stairs or escalators therefore making your commuting more efficient.


What about distance? The GingaNinja describes the Unirider as being hard work, even now, but then that’s when she is running with it round our local, very hilly woods. I mention this because it does take a little bit of time and practice to get larger mileage in. In my ‘early doors’ review I suggested I’d capped the distance at 10km for running and this remains roughly correct. I feel that 10km on the Unirider around a hilly trail is more than adequate for running and avoids passing any boredom threshold for ASK.

However, it is worth noting that I put no such restrictions on the Unirider when we are using it in day to day life and during our recent excursion to Scotland the buggy never got used – if we needed something to cart ASK around in then it was the Unirider (this included shopping, hiking and fells).


All I would say is start slowly and build your time used/mileage up instead of leaping head first into as many fast miles as I could manage.

A growing child? Some people have asked how it changes as your child gets bigger and I can confirm there is a change in the way I use the Unirider now she’s nearly a year older and bigger. My toddlers increased weight has helped to ground the Unirider a little better. I find I don’t have to push down as much either for the same level of effort – yes she’s heavier and bigger but that simply means she’s forcing the ride forward and therefore actually making it easier for me. I imagine we’ll get to a point where her size becomes an issue but I’ll be trying to convince her to ride it long after she should have given it up.


Age? You’ll have to judge your own child but ASK (quite the adventurer) was using it from just after 2 years old and this seemed like a good starting point to me.

Reversing? As you’ll see if been rather effusive in my praise for the Unirider in my long term review and given how often our Unirider adventures appear on my Instagram feed this should probably come as no surprise. However, I am very happy to record a flaw in the device, a minor one, albeit one that a potential purchaser should be aware of and that is reversing. The Unirider and pilot, as far as I can tell, do not have the same perfect balance going backwards as they do going forward. This means that turning should mostly be done going forward or with limited reversing. It’s a minor thing but the only thing that caused ASK to drop her feet to the floor for support.


Do people stop you? What’s the reaction to a slightly more unusual form of toddler transport? We’ve covered lots of miles on the Unirider and it doesn’t matter where we go we are always the subject of people passing comment as we go by and often we get stopped to quiz us about it. At WOMAD I was stopped probably 50 times by people asking what it was and more importantly where they could get it, I had people stopping us to take photographs with us (bit weird) and I was happy to offer people the opportunity to have a little go with their own child. In cities you hear things like, ‘ahhh look at that child’ or slightly older children saying ‘ooooooo that’s so cool’. Adults will often comment things like, ‘now that’s the way to travel!’ and I’m always happy to discuss why we love it if someone asks because I’d love to see more parents out and about with them.

Unbreakable? After nearly a year of use I feel confident in being able to answer the question about how robust the Unirider is and the answer is fairly simple – it is very robust.

There is an important caveat with that though, ‘the wilder you are the more care you’ll need to take’. My daughter and I go on adventures and we’ve bounded through some pretty tough trails and this has a habit of trying to lodge itself in and around the wheel and so occasionally (every few months) I’ve taken to deconstructing the Unirider and cleaning all of its elements. I also make sure the wheel is the right level of inflated and that everything feels taut. The most notable cleaning required was after the mudfest that was WOMAD – I noticed that the combination of very thick, deep mud and tonnes of bark (laid to try and dry things out) was the closest we’ve come to being stopped in our tracks – but then in reality nothing was getting through that unscathed. 

The only damage I’ve managed to inflict is to the foam handle when a low hanging branch attacked both child and Unirider and cut into the foam (a bit of gorilla tape later and it was as good as new).

Benefits

  • Easy to get on and off public transport
  • Avoids the need for lifts
  • Excellent on road
  • Excellent off road
  • Fast
  • Excellent for tight situations
  • Inexpensive
  • More versatile than a buggy
  • Huge toddler enjoyment
  • A conversation starter

And finally to the toddlers verdict. I quizzed ASK about the Unirider, this is what was said, ‘Why do you want to go on the Unirider?’ I questioned. ‘So we can fast dad,’ came the reply. ‘Do you like the Unirider?’  ‘No dad, I love* it’ she answered, ‘can we go to the woods on my Unirider?’ ‘Of course we can’. ‘Yay’.

*she is going through a phase of loving things. 

Conclusion. After months of usage, after a shedload of mileage and after causing mayhem at both home and abroad I can clearly state that the Unirider remains some of the best fun that ASK and I have. It’s fun as something to take us to bigger adventures and it’s fun as a tool for exploring and adventuring but equally it is happy as a replacement for the buggy and ambling around the shops.

In February when I wrote my ‘first impressions’ review I commented that, ‘The Unirider is a thoughtful and well constructed device which is as much fun for parents as it is for your children. When it works at its best, pilot and rider act as though they have a symbiotic relationship. It is brilliant and with a reasonable price point. I have lots of love for Mountain Buggy kit and I’ll be sorry when UltraBaby finally outgrows their stuff but for the time being we are having the most fun possible – together!’.

I have no reason to change a single sentiment of that review (which you can read here) I would simply add that the Mountain Buggy Unirider has proved to be much more than a one hit wonder and will remain a firm favourite in our home until ASK says she’s had enough. So has the Unirider influenced the lives of our toddler and the two parents that use it? Hell yeah.

You can find out more and buy your own Unirider here.

And in the interests of clarity and transparency, I bought my Unirider, at full price and have no connection to Mountain Buggy other than we occasionally like each other’s posts on Instagram and this review is free of influence.

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As the summer comes to a close I can say that I’m a very fortunate fool, I’m pretty healthy, pretty fit, with a very silly family and mostly, I get to do the things I want to do. This summer allowed me to return to two festivals I haven’t been to in several years – WOMAD and the BBC Festival in a Day. In previous years the GingaNinja and I have seen some amazing performances such as Mama Rosin, Robert Plant, Lenny Kravitz and even the mighty Status Quo!

This year was a little different, this year we had ASK along for the ride – now it’s true that it’s not her first festival as the GN and I at 7 months pregnant took her along to the Hop Farm in 2014. It was here we believe she cultivated her love of James Blunt and gave much kicking dance action to both Sophie Ellis Bextor and the brilliant Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot.

However, it would be nearly 3 years later before she got the chance to experience all aspects of festival life and we decided that WOMAD was a good place to start.

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WOMAD

We arrived early on the Friday morning to a relatively packed campsite and therefore had to park a little way from the camping. However, armed with a pull-a-long trailer we piled everything in and headed up to a relatively quiet, top of the hill spot. WOMAD is a well drilled festival and we were never far from either water, decent toilet facilities and warm showers.

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We had hoped that the weather would remain dry as this would keep our options open for what music to listen to but when it didn’t we decided that staying a little drier would make for a better experience with ASK. Over the course of the three day festival we saw some amazing acts from ‘World Music’ Trad.Attack! from Estonia playing amongst other things the bagpipes were a real treat. The Gubi Family (Beautiful), Goat (reminded me of Orbital), Las Cafeteras (brilliant), Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds (Inspiring) and The Ska Vengers (Cool). For me though the best thing I saw was Kuenta i Tambu who brought a level of energy to the stage that I hadn’t seen in years, it was bring powerful Afro-Caribbean music that really made you want to get up and dance (and we did). WOMAD had such a hugely diverse range of music on offer and although you won’t like it all you really won’t struggle to find something that you do like.

Importantly ASK found much of the music to her tastes and we danced to the fast moving, beat laden tracks and we snoozed through the gentler music. Although we went to WOMAD for us, we wanted our daughter to experience live music and the energy that comes with it and thankfully she loved it.

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We found the use of a trailer meant we had a mobile bed for ASK and added large umbrellas to keep her dry if it rained. This was perfect for when she grew tired it meant we could stay out and she simply snoozed until she was ready to party again. What we didn’t take was a buggy and although many did they might have regretted it once the mud got thick – we chose to transport ASK on the Unirider when not in the trailer as this handled all but the worst of the conditions with great aplomb (and as we sped around the arenas we were much pointed at, talked to and even photographed – weird).

WOMAD though is much more than music it’s an environment of creativity, play, education and experience. Each morning we sought out the children’s world and joined in with the many wonderful activities on offer. We made masks, hats, skirts, created patterns in t-shirts (£4 for the shirt, a real bargain). We sculpted clay, played numerous instruments, engaged in group games and had several interactive story times – ASK had so much fun!

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The food was almost universally excellent too and although we did some camp cooking you really don’t need to – we had the delight of trying lots of delicious foods and the raclette was amazing as was the mac and cheese we tried and the plethora of cakes, coffees and treats we tried were all delicious. Pizzas offered a good and easy option with prices generally being reasonable for a festival. WOMAD scores well for its food options and have certainly improved since our last visit in 2012. As a teetotaller I don’t drink but the GingaNinja did try some of the ciders and exclaimed that the Mango Cider was her favourite of the whole festival!

Ultimately WOMAD is highly recommended on all levels and while some would argue that it’s a bit of a middle class event I’d argue against that. They do their very best to be hugely inclusive, ASK didn’t pay to attend and you can pay in instalments for adult 3 day tickets and there are options around this. WOMAD has a wide range of music and although nothing you’ll get on Radio 2 it offers you a chance to learn something new. The craft, poetry and children’s sections are phenomenal and as a family experience you really can’t go wrong. I’ll certainly be going back and I won’t be leaving it 5 years between visits!

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Practical Advice

We adventure a lot with ASK – running, biking, hiking, climbing, ice skating, parks, cultural trips, educational trips, parties and that other good stuff but we knew that camping would be something we should be better prepared than usual for. There may be some useful tips in here for new parents about to embark on their first camping trip or music festival.

  • Buy a big enough tent (we bought the Coleman Octagon – an eight man tent which was perfect for a 3 person family and all their stuff)
  • Spread yourselves out, build a proper camp and develop outdoor space that’s yours
  • Get the child/children involved in the buying of any new kit
  • Have full waterproofs for everyone
  • Take a potty
  • Buy good quality ear defenders
  • Buy or rent a trail trailer
  • Use the mornings to do things they want to do to make doing your things more acceptable to them
  • Get to know other families

BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day

Our second festival of the year was the BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day. A very different beast to WOMAD but no less enjoyable. A few months back I’d seen that Blondie were on the bill an having just bought their new album decided I’d like to see them live as I’d always been a fan. Looking further down the list I saw James Blunt, Shania Twain and the wonderful Take That. I urged the GingaNinja to make sure she had all the computers in the house ready and armed when the box office opened and after much effort we secured a couple of tickets! Ace.

Having been a couple of times before we knew that it would be hectic and that food outlets would be rammed and so decided to take quite a significant picnic to ensure that both we and our toddler didn’t suffer from any food outages! Armed with a picnic blanket, buggy and food we got to Hyde Park with a couple of hours to spare but this was soon eaten up by finding a decent spot, lunching and getting comfortable.


The weather was looking a little ropey too and we prepared our ‘camp’ for it getting wet later on. By the time the Stereophonics opened we were all in the mood for a little dance and the band delighted as they smashed out new and classic songs. The remainder of the afternoon rolled on without much disturbance, the Radio 2 team bringing truly global musical talent to the stage for everyone to enjoy. It all started to ramp up though when Rick Astley appeared and from here on it was simply a succession of bigger performances. James Blunt was brilliant as ever and I delighted at his live version of Bonfire Heart which I sang to ASK every night for the first two and a bit years of her life to help her sleep. Shania Twain was much as you remember her and delivered a magnificent reminder of her heyday and potentially a return to huge success. ASK, the GingaNinja and I bounced around all day to music as it belted out around Hyde Park with the child periodically requesting the opportunity to sit on our shoulders for a clearer view of the action.


When Blondie came on though ASK recognised and appreciated the pop rock that she’s been brought up on and we both danced for all we were worth! For me Blondie was the absolute highlight of the day but credit where it’s due Take That gave them a real run for their money.

With a 9.30pm (ish) finish/curfew this compressed festival makes the most of its family friendly credentials. The toilets are decent, it isn’t too overcrowded, it’s fairly priced at £50 for general admission and the music has all the toe tapping hits you could wish for. The biggest concern are the stupidly long queues for food and drink but by the food being within earshot of the music the organisers get away with it (just).


Ultimately the Festival in a Day is a wonderful experience and if you’re within spitting distance of London, love the music of Radio 2 and don’t mind the potential of getting wet then it’s a no-brainer!

And so… as parents what we learnt was that ASK loves music, lots of different music and being around these big events. She had no fear of the scale of it all and simply did her own little thing (singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ for example while the stage was blasting out pop classics). The most important thing in terms of enjoying a music festival with a toddler is to be prepared, it didn’t take much effort to get us ready for either event but doing our research and adequately readying ourselves meant that everyone had a brilliant time.

And will we go and do more festivals with her? Damn right we will!

 


Skye Trail Ultra (The Ridge)
‘It’s this way’ I called over to Neil and pointed southwards and then I looked down, the descent was terrifying and amazing in the same instant, being awestruck though was soon replaced by the reality that I had to descend this.

SainteLyon (highest point)
From the viewing point, at 3am on a cold December morning, I stopped to turn back and watch the twinkling of thousands of head torches in the distance gently lighting up the trail. C’est magnifique!

St Peters Way (The final push)
Darkness was upon me and a gale blew me from pillar to post. The gentle final shaft of light cast a foreboding shadow of the finish line and church in the distance. It was the most beautiful finish.

Vigo ‘Tough Love’ 10 (That Hill)
‘Don’t worry, it’s not that bad’ said an older fell running type when describing the final hill of the Vigo 10. With absolute clarity I remember creaking my neck skywards to see the top of the hill, what a sight, what a hill, what a route!

What do all these things have common? Well they were my first experience of some section of a race route and always under race conditions and most importantly the first sight of some of the most spectacular views available.

I’ve often gone back to races I’ve loved – Vigo (favourite race) and the SainteLyon (favourite ultra) are prime examples but no matter how much I love these races none of them will be able to capture the awe, joy and delight I had as I saw the route for the first time. There is something special about your first time, even if it’s not your best result at that race or it doesn’t go to plan – there’s magic in a first go at any race.

Racing fresh
I would be lying if I said I had never done a recce but on the few occasions I have I’ve found that rather than enhance my experience of a race it actually takes something away from it. Perhaps it is that when you live for the unknown, the discovery and the curiosity then having those things taken away in race removes the enjoyment (for me).

The thing is I have a belief that there is nothing better than the first moment I pass across an amazing vista, run an amazing piece of trail, soak myself in a muddy puddle and lightning, in my opinion, never strikes twice.

It’s for this reason that I don’t get running a race route in preparation. I mean why would you?

Obviously…
I understand if you’re at the front of the pack chasing the prize of a win or a high placing – you want every advantage possible and knowing where you are headed and what you’ll face will certainly count as an advantage. But if you’re a bit like me, middle of the pack bimbler, then maybe like me, you’re there for the experience of being amazed and challenged. I wonder if you any of you feel that foreknowledge of a route can deflate the joy of that?

I’m also aware that some do it for the enjoyment and some do it for the feeling of security. But if I did it I would feel as though I was robbing myself of moments I’ve come to cherish.

There is a solution…
For those that want it though there is an obvious solution to save the route while at the same time condition oneself to the terrain you’re running and that’s simply to run in as close to race conditions as possible. When I rocked up to the CCC I went running in mountains that might mimic the conditions I’d face but I didn’t go anywhere near the Monte Bianco until race day.

When I ran The Wall I spent the week prior running in the rain soaked Lake District bouncing around Grizedale, Skafell Pike and others but I didn’t get near the north of the Lakes to tackle the route.

I’d therefore picked up a bit of relevant local information without compromising my enjoyment of the event – but this isn’t always practical when you race a lot or the location is a bazillion miles away. I just don’t worry about it (that said my arse is a bit quivery about having never run on the Brecon Beacons next weekend!)

Why I’ve never run the North Downs Way… I’ve been asked why, despite living so close to it that I don’t train (often) on the North Downs Way and I’ve never really had an answer but as I was reflecting on the writing for this post I realised why – I’m waiting for a single day race to take place there that I really want to do.

Surprise yourself… I guess I’m not suggesting that you give up the preparation for races – that would be silly and counter productive for many but I’ve met lots of runners who get so caught up in the detail of a race that they forget to look up and admire their surrounds and the last time I checked running was supposed to be fun. During Escape From Meriden I met a young gentleman who when I asked why this race, he responded, ‘well you get to see new things don’t you?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

So with the weekend upon us, whether you are racing or not maybe go left instead of right, look upwards instead of down and make sure you ‘see new things, lots of them!’


I’ve written twice previously about how awesome the Vigo 10 (Tough Love) Race is. It’s the crazy mix of trail and XC with the hardest, sharpest hill around and the best downhills for miles, a shed load of mud and so yes this is an awesome race. 


This year Vigo Running Club (in conjunction with the Harvel Hash Harriers) dared to amend a near perfect route – the result? an even better albeit slightly slower running experience. I wince at the thought of the mud sat here writing this now but yesterday as I battled across Kent I was in love and once the clarity of memory subsides I’ll be in love again.

I’m not going to go into great depth about the race again there’s a few highlights talked about below and you can read my previous reviews here (2014 review) (2015 review) but be assured that if you loved it before then you’ll love it again. All the best bits have been kept and it’s amazingly gotten even better!

I can honestly say that never have a medal and a mars bar been more keenly earned.


Below therefore is the brief overview of my 2017 Vigo 10 and it goes a little like this;

  • Pre-race 45 minutes on the toilet with epic bowel issues
  • Arriving to catch up with Mr Hrabe, Emma and to meet Chelsea (and husband) in a ‘stood next you and notice each other’ kind of way, ace
  • Wonderfully chilly conditions
  • Wonderfully moist (soaking) underfoot
  • The finest marshalling team
  • Great route directions and amusing signage
  • The best uphills
  • The best downhills
  • Great views 
  • A few minor adjustments to the route to make it even better
  • The nastiest mile 9 climb ever (and I include Como Lupslido on Lanzarote when I’m comparing)
  • Mud everywhere
  • I didn’t lose my shoe as I did in 2015
  • An outrageous and awesome (met him at my first ultra 4 years ago) runner on the PA system calling our names and numbers out, making me hurl myself at the finish!
  • A medal I’ll treasure and a mars bar I delighted in eating
  • Incredibly well organised
  • Wonderful support from the rugby club and the many supporters stood in the cold, a real community affair
  • A great value 10 mile run
  • A post race 45 minutes with hideous bowel issues, thankfully my race was unaffected!

As you may be able to tell this is just one of those races that you a) need to do and b) love doing. I’ll be back again next year because this race gives me joy in my running and I might not have pulled my hamstring dancing like an idiot at a rave the day before when this race next comes round.

My only minor complaint was the lack of the cannon firing to set us off, however, I imagine health and safety might have come into play with this – but I like the cannon and know other runners do too. However, this is a minor gripe in a race made for runners.


Final mentions: my special thanks go out to Mick Hrabe for catching me at the final hill, that gave me the incentive to really push for a fast finish – you weren’t beating me two years in a row! And of course we should all be grateful to both of the running clubs involved – Vigo and Harvel, truly great work.


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January feels a very long time ago in running terms and it has very much been a year of two halves. One half, excellent, one half was pretty bollocks – literally. I also raced a lot less than usual too after taking a little bit of advice from my physiotherapist with only 20 races attempted rather than my usual 30+ per year.

  • Country to Capital
  • Green Man
  • Ranscombe Challenge
  • Ranscombe Ramble
  • Hillsborough to Anfield Run
  • Run for the 96
  • Skye Trail Ultra
  • City of London Mile
  • Brutal Enduro
  • Endure 1250
  • Vanguard Way
  • Darnley Challenge
  • RunThrough London Greenwich
  • Ridgeway (DNF) (55/86 miles)
  • Chislehurst Chase
  • Chislehurst Chase Fun Run
  • High Weald 50km
  • World Vegan Day Run
  • Haria Extreme (DNF) (80/102km)
  • Mouth to Mouth

Race Overview
When I look over the race list and two DNFs it tells a slightly sorry story but actually the reality is very different. Yes this year has been hugely disappointing in results terms but there are other ways to measure your year.

However, there are a couple of disappointments such as the way the Hillsborough to Anfield run went and my subsequent falling out with my father (something I haven’t chronicled but am considering) and my pulling out of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal 130 which in part was caused by the events at the H2A. This left me without a hundred mile (plus) race for 2016 and that’s disappointing. There was also the pulling out of TransGranCanaria, I had signed up this when I got over excited at the CCC but hadn’t considered what a long distance mountain race might do me so early in the year. Not going to TransGC was a good decision though as it meant not overextending myself before I was ready. On the positive side though I stuck to my guns and avoided the easy option of going back to Centurion events and will carry this through to 2017 as I look to continue my search for smaller, more intimate racing.

The Planning
When I was planning the year out I placed the marker races in March, May, August and November so as to spread them out and I chose races that I felt would give me new ultra based experiences. Those races were The Green Man Ultra (heavy mud), the Skye Trail Ultra (mountainous), Leeds to Liverpool Canal Race (distance) and Haria Extreme (hot mountainous) – this seemed like a year to kill for but there were changes that were needed due to injury, family problems and a lack of training after Skye and so I dropped the Leeds to Liverpool Canal and replaced it with the excellent but shorter distance Ridgeway 86.

What happened?
It was very much a year of two halves with the first half of the year going brilliantly and the second half of the year being pretty much a write off with a few positives thrown in. I started the year by joining the Wonky Wanderer at Country to Capital (read the review here) for her first ultra. Having convinced her that she should run it I was compelled to join her on the start line and it proved to be one of my most positive ultra experiences ever. Yes C2C isn’t going to win awards for being the most exciting race, but it is varied and challenging while being highly accessible as a first real ultra. Being there to see Emma cross the line in a little over 10hrs will remain one of my most treasured memories long after I finally retire from running.

Country to Capital should have been followed by the Vigo Runners Valentines Run but in 2016 this race was cancelled, much to many runners annoyance.

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Therefore, I managed to pass through February without racing and my next time on a start line was the brilliant Green Man (read the review here) in Bristol. The Green Man has the distinction of joining my favourite races list rather highly, it was muddy, it was tough and the course was an absolute delight. The best thing though was meeting lots of the local Bristol runners, catching up with the amazing Roz Glover and best of all was meeting Elaine who single handedly kept my spirits up to the finish line.

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Racing was replaced by a bit of cold weather training in the arctic circle (partly to see the Northern Lights). I managed to add XC skiing as well as lots of really fun running – the ice, the snow, the cold and the amazing scenery just filled my heart with joy. I took time out of every day I was there to just go off-road and see things that are certainly not on the usual trails (read about the Finland adventure here).

I came back to the UK fired up and ready to train.

With running going surprisingly well I turned up for a double header of running at the Ranscombe Farm and Wild Flower reserve. It’s pretty well known that I love a bimble around Ranscombe and I’d considered this a perfect opportunity to test my body against a bit of elevation prior to disappearing off to the Isle of Skye.

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The Ranscombe Challenge and Rachel’s Ranscombe Ramble (read the review here) offered two different routes around the reserve. Day one was good and strong for me, about 30 miles run but with some mild feeling in an old injury but Day two was pretty terrible with less than 15 miles added to my SVN total. The route around Ranscombe and small field nature of the event makes me a regular there but I wish I had just done the Ranscombe Ramble as this was the tougher of the routes and lots of new fun. I’d love to go back to the Ramble next year but sadly the timings are a little out for me – I’m hoping that SVN might run it later in the year to allow me to test my mettle properly against it.

The injury at the Ramble left me with something of a quandry – it wasn’t a nasty injury but it did require rest and with the Hillsborough to Anfield Run only a few weeks away I actually needed to be training. I chose to do the sensible thing and rest for much of the time before the H2A and then be as sensible as possible during the H2A. Sadly the Hillsborough Run went very badly for me both in terms of distance and what happened with my father in the aftermath. I came away from the H2A event incredibly deflated, sore, injured and ill – this was likely to have an effect on running the Skye Trail Ultra just a few days later and Skye was, as we’ve discussed, one of the big marker races for the year.

So after returning from Liverpool I prepared my kit for the Isle of Skye just five days later. Friday arrived and amazingly I was ready to run, at least mentally I was, physically I was a bit of a mess but I’d give it a bit of welly and hope for the best. I travelled up to Skye on the Caledonian sleeper train and what a tremendous experience it was – it was my first time on a sleeper train and just being there was exciting, eating haggis, watching ‘My Week with Marilyn’ and catching up on Barkley related race reports. The only downside was that I awoke from the journey with terrible travel sickness.

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Thankfully I recovered enough to be race ready 12hrs later and at 5am in the morning on the Saturday I blundered through the Skye Trail Ultra (read the review here) with all the energy I could muster. Skye was as promised, was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done – it was filled with beautiful views, majestic climbs and terrifying navigation. Skye destroyed my feet and it destroyed my head but what it gave back was massive in terms of belief. I’d recommend the Skye Trail Ultra more than most ultras and it was certainly my favourite race this year and plays second fiddle only to the SainteLyon (read the review here) as my favourite ultra of all time.

UltraBaby and I were next on the running scene, this time joined by the GingaNinja at the City of London Mile (read the review here) and we gave it some fair welly (I did it solo and as a family runner) and this was a great fun event, nice and fast on the roads around Cannon Street, London. If it’s back next year we’ll be signing up and UltraBaby will be attacking this one on foot (rather than sleeping through it in the buggy). This was a lovely community experience and although I didn’t quite run it as fast as I might have hoped I did enjoy it.

And this was the last time that they year went really well or at all to plan.

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By the time we entered the summer the wheels had really started to come off. It started with the Brutal Enduro (read the review here) which was a tremendous event and highly recommended if you’re looking for a  challenging and inexpensive looped event. I really enjoyed the Brutal Enduro because of the variety inside the 10km loop and the fact that it was very inclusive event with a positive atmosphere but by 60km I’d had enough of summertime chaffing and injuries that continued to flare up. So I returned to my tent and caught up on some sleep. What I did know was that I had enjoyed the experience enough to try my hand at another looped trail race and so bundled myself off to the Endure 1250 (read the review here)I should have known though that lightning doesn’t strike twice and Endure 1250 was one of the least interesting races I have taken part in. Where Enduro had views, hills, challenges, excitement and atmosphere this felt flat, dull and lifeless. The worst part of it wasn’t any of this of course – the worst part was the horrendous chaffing I suffered within the first 10km. You might think this was colouring my view of the race but not so, I just didn’t enjoy it and hoped for better when I hit the trails once more.

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It seemed though I had cursed myself because the Vanguard Way Marathon (read the review here) was probably the most serious of the issues I faced while racing. It had been a hot day at the beginning of August and this one had been flagged as being tough, partly from the navigational point of view but also from the undulating nature of the course. In typical fashion I got seriously lost but also had to contend with both serious heat stroke and no water at the halfway point. I had consumed an entire 1.5 litre bladder of water in the first 13 miles along with water at the first checkpoint and had now run out. by mile 14 I was in quite serious trouble as the sun came blazing out. I had collapsed in a heap overlooking the lovely views of the Vanguard way for a little while before I came to and called the GingaNinja – slurring my words. However, I survived back to the checkpoint and managed to refresh my water supply but it felt like a close run thing. All the positives of the year seemed to be disappearing rather quickly but that being said I really loved the Vanguard Way Marathon and would do it again – the views were spectacular and the route was amazingly good fun, even when you add a couple of miles. Knowing what I would have to face would give me a better chance of being prepared for this Croydon bad boy!

The effect of the heatstroke lasted several days, it was really quite severe and so when I lumbered up to the Darnley Challenge (read the review here) less than a week later I was still not quite right but there is (as stated) always fun and chocolate at an SVN event and so taking in some of the delights of Ranscombe, Cobham and Gravesend(?) I ran a decent marathon for the first time in ages as well as adding a medal that was about the size of my head, can’t be bad.

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But my response to the Darnley Challenge could not mask the fact I really wasn’t ready for the Ridgeway 86 (read the review here). I’ve come to the conclusion that you really should not start a race if you’re nervous about whether you have the fitness to finish it and R86 was an example of a race where I was making excuses before I got anywhere near the start line. I suppose there was a clue as to my readiness when my calf simply seized up on at the RunThrough 10km in Greenwich Park a week earlier.

However I did rock up and I ran the first 43 miles in a decent time and even when I reached my final port of call at about mile 55 my body was in surprisingly good shape – what ruined it were my bollocks once again. The terrible chaffing that had been the bane of my racing through the summer had once again struck. My nuts were about the size of a couple of watermelons, fecking hell they hurt! The funny thing is that despite it being a good race I wasn’t really enjoying it all that much, having DNf’d the Winter 100 a couple of years ago this took in some of the same route and I didn’t find it inspired me to continue. A shame as it was a well organised and challenging race and even though I’ve said to myself I’m never returning to it, I’m sure I will.

It was then that my year hit a real low, I argued with the GingaNinja about running and racing, causing my public withdrawl from all running and racing. I ate a lot of pizza, drank a lot of Lucozade and refused to get the physical problems I’d been accumulating looked at. My retirement lasted a mere month but it was a very long month that really took some bites out of me, it kicked my fitness into the ground and I had piled on the pounds, all in all it was a shitty episode that was very public and very horrible. When I returned to racing at the Chislehurst 10km (read the review here) I gave it all the welly I could muster and even though I ran a reasonable time I knew I wasn’t in anyway fit enough to face the High Weald 50km (read the review here) but when did that ever stop me?

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At High Weald I was slow and steady but nothing spectacular and that was fine, it was a comeback race but it was far from ideal. I had toyed with the idea of not turning up to this one but I really wanted one of the mugs and the only way to get one, bar stealing one, was to run the bloody race. The good news was I was going to be testing my Altra Lone Peak 3.0 properly on the course and the better news was that the undulating nature of the course meant I was at least going to be doing something I love – trail hills.

During the race I felt like I was being punished a thousand times over for my ‘retirement’ and the sunstroke that got me about halfway through the race was unfair but I really enjoyed another bimble through Sussex and I’d certainly go back and run this one better. The best bit though was that post race I was allowed to have McDonalds chocolate milkshake again (just like after the Vanguard Way Marathon) as it helped to cool me down in the quickest possible way. Thank you McDonalds!

High Weald had given me the incentive to start training properly again and I did start on a programme of good miles, better eating and strengthening – it seemed like I was back on course after some failure but my fate seems to be that I am to write about my misadventures rather than successes! And when one Tuesday evening as I was buggy running with UltraBaby I felt my calf finally give up the ghost and it was ruined.

8 weeks until Haria Extreme. Turd.

For nearly three weeks it was painful to walk and I was resting as much as I could while remaining active by gingerly walking to work and back as a minimum. I thought that rest was the solution – it wasn’t. I called in the physiotherapist and she worked all the magic she could, my physio has gotten my ready for races before when I’ve ruined myself and I trusted her to do so again. The advice was rest, TENS, stretching, heat and physio – hours of it daily and for a change I gave up those hours to rehabilitation.

2 weeks until Haria Extreme. Progress.

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With no training I signed up to the World Vegan Day Challenge (read the review here) and hoped to test my calf for a few miles. As it was a weekday challenge the GingaNinja wasn’t available to take me so I was required to cycle the 13 miles to the race start. When I rolled up to Ranscombe Farm Reserve I managed a rather surprising marathon distance. However, I knew all was not right and trail ride home made me realise I was going to have to up the rehab if I wanted to survive. I stopped running again as I knew that my best chance of reaching the start line of Haria was to stop moving and continue fixing.

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Haria Extreme (read the review here) was the end of the year marker race – I had been looking forward for this for months and I wanted to give my all but knowing that your body may not hold up and that your training had been non-existent meant I was nervous.

However, I drew heavily on experience at Skye to help me overcome the mountainous sections and I remembered that whatever else I did I should enjoy it infact I spent so much time looking up in wonder at the beautifully dramatic landscape that I almost forgot to race. Haria was harder than Skye, it turned me inside out in a much shorter time, the heat hit me, the elevation hit me and the naked ladies hit me (not literally). I finished about 20km short of the finish and that should have tortured me but it didn’t and the reason was I am learning that by taking on harder and harder races I know I will fail more. Haria let me experience failure while giving some tremendous memories back.

I cut my shins quite unpleasantly and my calf muscle pulled me apart again but I learned that despite my lack of fitness I was within a cats whisker of completing Haria Extreme, the weird thing is that I had nearly 10hrs to complete just over 20km, maybe as I sit here reflecting I should have carried on but ultimately I know I did the right thing.

With Haria out of the way though I could then focus on finishing the year and this I did at Mouth to Mouth (read the review here), no pressure, a beautiful race on the south coast that was only mildly troubled by GI distress. I remember thinking as I crossed the line, what a lucky bugger I am

Original aims of 2016

  • Don’t DNF
  • Test yourself on more mountainous terrain
  • Avoid the easy route to ultras by returning to races you’ve done
  • Don’t buy as many pairs of shoes
  • No half marathons, they bore me

How did it finish up? 

  • I bought lots of pairs of shoes
  • By year end I will have run about 2000 miles in 2016
  • I had two DNFs
  • I managed not to run a half marathon!
  • I did run lots of smaller, more intimate races, avoiding mass participation
  • I had several experiences of testicle chaffing
  • I had several experiences of serious GI distress – the south downs have a new hill on them and Skye has a ‘no go’ zone with a half life of about 3,000 years
  • I learned to not worry so much about what other runners think of me
  • I’m still a lard arse
  • UltraBaby got to her sixth race medal

2016 was such a mixed year, it was filled with so many challenges that I overcame and so many that gave me a bloody good kicking. The important thing wasn’t the failure, it was how I dealt with that failure. I was frustrated and angry with myself at both Endure 1250 and the Ridgeway 86 – its fair to say at R86 in fact I was furious. The problems that got me at these races though I believe I’ve resolved (kit changes) but the lesson learned from Haria was to test myself at harder and harder races and accept that not finishing is the price you have to pay sometimes. The whole retirement/injury thing had huge consequences and I’m still trying to get back into shape and only now returning to full time training, so I’ll be trying to avoid both of them going forward but ultimately 2016 I’ll look for the positives and there were many.

Perhaps the most exciting positive was seeing so much more of the UK, trying new types of running, on new trails, in new countries. It was a positive that I raced less and positive that I realised the mistake I would have made by trying to run the LLCR130. I’ll make mistakes going forward but there is something rewarding about being accepting of that.

The one change I think will make a huge difference to me to is that I’ve stopped worrying about what the other runners think of me, I’ve always been a bit fearful of the judgement of my peers – perhaps we all are but it was proving to be crippling. It stopped me entering the Hangman Ultra and also from submitting applications to races where I knew significantly better runners than I would be on the start line. I’ve very much come to embrace that I am me, warts and all. I wish I had learned this lesson so much sooner. There are a couple of my peers who helped me see this and if you are reading this and you think it was you then it probably is.

So without naming names – thanks.

The future
More of the same, more races, smaller and harder races, more running, considered training, hilly runs and some, if not lots, of mountains, certainly thousands of metres of elevation. I’ll be previewing my 2017 plans in the next few weeks which will help me firm up my exact race and training trajectory – but be assured I’m ‘on it, like a car bonnet!’. I don’t even know what that means.

What about you?

  • So how about everyone else’s 2016?
  • Did it go well? Did you avoid injury?
  • Did you achieve thousands of PBs?
  • Did you focus all your energies into Parkruns?
  • What plans do you have for 2017?
  • What races should I consider adding to my calendar?
  • Will I have another year of two halves?

‘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.


Love is an overused word in today’s society but when you talk about a SVN event ‘Love’ is the only word that even comes close to describing it and Ranscombe brings with it a special kind of love.

In the shadow of the SDW50 this lovely pair of events take place on the Ranscombe Farm Reserve in the sometimes sunny, often rainy Kent countryside. I’ve reviewed this challenge event before – which you can read about here – so I shan’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the route but I will add a few new bits below;

My opinions have hardly changed on this glorious event except to say that it has gotten even better with the addition of fruit and savoury snacks at the very generous aid station.

With regard to the two (one mildly and one very) different routes Ranscombe should be an event that we all put on our trail running calendars as the trail was challenging, beautiful and a pleasure. Rachel, Traviss and the support crew should be warmly applauded for the care and effort that go into making the Ranscombe experience so wonderful.


The only thing left to mention is my own running! So how did that go? On the Saturday I attacked the course for much of the first 15 miles, running (slowly) most of the hills and banging out the downhills. Even as the ground became increasingly cut up I managed to hold my nerve as I’d picked the excellent Hoka Tor Speed for the job and they responded well to all but the sloppiest of the mud. The addition of a trip to the Darnley Mausoleum was a delight and the final field had been replaced with a run through the Bluebell Woods. I was having a delightful time.

For the second 15 miles I clung on a bit, chatting to Claire, Claire, Lorraine, Elaine, Nick and I think Adam (though I missed his partner Claire, who i’d spoken to via this blog earlier in the week). Apologies to any of the Claire’s who are a Clare or other variation 😀. I even managed a dirty sprint finish which always makes me feel better. Saturday was a good day and I’d really enjoyed myself and felt genuinely energised.

 I went shopping post race and later home in a surprisingly good mood – my legs had held up well, I hadn’t over eaten and I was well hydrated. I knew I’d need to stretch and foam roller but that’s par for the course when you’ve run 31 miles one day and aim to do the same the next.


I therefore rolled up to Rachel’s Ranscombe Challenge on Sunday morning feeling very chipper and said hello to the ever awesome Gary and Karen, who I’d previously met on a couple of Centurion jaunts. The smile was moderately wiped from my face though when I saw a sweating and tired looking Traviss roll up after course marking duty.

Bugger.

It seemed that the brand spanking new 5.25 mile lap was going to be a killer. It seemed that SVN wanted to make sure we all got value for money on the course we ran! Guys you need not have bothered I’d have been happy with something flat 🙂


I’d decided to wear calf compression for the Sunday in the belief that they’d hold me together but as we set off I could feel pain in my left leg which I considered a poor sign. Regardless I ambled along at a reasonable pace, taking it easy through the rolling woodland and even more rolling hills. The route was a brilliant mixture of hills, mud and honest trail, the problem was that I was hobbling at less than 2 miles in. In my head I told myself to keep going and as I meandered up the hills towards the end of lap one I was conscious of every step I was taking.

However, at the aid station I ran into mister awesome himself – Greg. A hundred marathon club member and all round good egg and I motored through the first couple of miles of the course with him and chatted delightfully for a while. However nothing could mask the pain I was in and as we drew up to the flat I bade him farewell.

I made my way gingerly down the hills and slowly uphill – pain shooting up and down my leg. I was never going to make it another 15 miles and I knew it – all I’d be doing would be running races further into the year and that seemed counter productive. Therefore, I made the decision to call it quits. I phoned the GingaNinja and asked her to evacuate me and crawled back to the checkpoint.

I couldn’t have been any more deflated in finishing lap 2, this was worse than my failure at the Winter100 or the CCC and I was grateful for the kind words of Rachel, Dee and Jan who are always awesome. I’m still pretty deflated now as I write this on my way to work.

Of course I received my medal for a paltry 11 miles and I should have been overjoyed as the medal is a thing of beauty but I feel a little bit hollow about how badly I did.

The consolations are that I suspect it was the calf compression guards causing the issue on my ITB – so although it helped on my destroyed right leg it ruined my left leg – something to experiment with.

The course was amazing and I hope this becomes a permanent Ranscombe route as I’d like to get out there and run it again. The medals, especially for the Sunday were spectacular and as I’ve mentioned earlier the improvements of the aid station snacks to include savoury have elevated these events to heights I didn’t think possible!

My thanks to everyone involved and well done to all the participants – you all did exceptionally well. And I promise I’ll be back later in the year to take on Ranscombe again.

 

  I remember as I lay on the pavement just after the car hit me thinking that ‘The Green Man Ultra might be a DNS’ but roll back towards the middle of February and I was thinking ‘The Green Man Ultra is probably going to be a DNS because of this horrid chest infection’. To complete the tale of woe UltraBaby decided she would choose the night before the race to stay awake all night and keep both the GingaNinja and I up.

So rather miserably on Saturday 5th March at about 5.30am I got up and got ready for The Green Man Ultra. To say I wasn’t ready is an understatement.  

I rocked up with rather grumpy GingerNinja and even grumpier UltraBaby to the awesome starting facilities at Ashton Gate – not far from where the Parkrun kicks off from.

Then came the first positive of the day, as I was collecting my number a familiar, yet new face came beaming towards me – @knocker73 – awesome. After a number of near misses over the years we finally got to meet and what an awesome, humble and tremendous young chap he is. The start line was filled with lots of familiar faces, many of them from Twitter and I managed to say hola to lots of them – especially once I’d found the ever brilliant Roz Glover. But there were also those I missed like @razzledazzlemark (another day buddy).

 
It was a cold and crisp morning but it was also bright and there had that hint of moisture in the air – lots of the runners had chosen to go out in waterproofs but as is normal for me I chose my standard combo of Ronhill and lovely Eco Green top from the Snowdonia Marathon. I’d chosen my Ronhill shorts too but this was a practical issue as the pockets on the outside would allow me to safely stow my GoPro and run without fear of loss. Having checked conditions with some of the local runners it was suggested that it was going to be a mud bath – I looked down at my Altra Lone Peak 2.0 and I feared for my safety.

 
Regardless of kit issues the briefing was over and we were off. I started, as has become my custom, at the back of the field and gently wandered through the field picking up my pace to stay just behind Ira Rainey (the 10hr timekeeper) – I figured if my body was okay I’d probably run something like about 9hrs and I’d push on past him once I’d figured the route out.

Conditions though were muddy and the hundreds of runners going through prior to me had cut it up nicely so it was as much mud sliding as it was running and each of the ‘hundreds’ of stiles meant that by the time you’d gotten into your stride there was another gate to clamber over or get through. However, after the first few steady ascents and descents I had relaxed into the race and found myself warming to the possibility of running a decent time. The trouble was that I could feel the niggle of the previous weeks car crash and by mile 3 it was a raging burning sensation through my groin, my right leg and lower back.   

The pain was preventing me eating much as well and so at about mile 5, as I ran into a lovely gentleman called James, I started to chow down on food and drink to see if that would get my mind off the more problematic things. It worked while I was eating but nothing more.

The good news though was that Bristol and North Somerset are replete with beautiful scenery and as I looked up I could see nothing but fantastic views of our fantastic countryside. This was why I was here today.

Pulling in to CP1 I stopped for 2 or 3 minutes, watched Ira Rainey leave the checkpoint with his band of merry runners and then quickly followed. By now I realised I was slowing so my aims had to change and so I focused on staying ahead of the 11 hour pacer.

Through gritted teeth now I ran harder between CP1 and 2 than I had the first section but I was slower, my effort wasn’t being rewarded with results but pushing on I stayed ahead of the pacer. Here though it turned sweet and sour, firstly I could see Roz in the distance and so I put a spurt on to see if I could make CP2 before she did and then I came across ‘real mud’. I’d seen the previous pair of runners clamber across on a metal fence like a pair of monkeys but I felt with the right combination of pace and effort it was runnable.

How wrong can you be? My Clarkson-esque ‘more power’ gave rise to a defining moment in the race.

 
Slop! Slop! Fart! Fart! My feet became stuck but my body continued its progress forward and I was sent straight into the muddy abyss. Thankfully my Lone Peaks stayed on my feet and the dirty girl gaiters kept me locked in but I was covered from head to toe in crap. I wiped myself clean with all the buffs I had and then used what areas of my clothes that remained clean to wipe the rest off me. I climbed over to the fence and fought my way through the bog.

I don’t know if Roz was laughing at me, but if she was I hope she enjoyed it because had I seen me do that – well let’s say I’d have been amused. We ran together for the next 20 minutes too which was lovely as I often only see her at race starts and finishes or as she’s going past me. But Roz as ever looked every inch the legend she is and powered on to CP2 a little ahead of me. By the way, as an aside if Roz ever mentions ‘Dickslam’ or ‘Cockslam’ rest assured she’s talking about races and not knackering your knacker projectile launcher.

I pulled into CP2 – ate delicious jam sandwiches (no crust) and then promptly left heading straight to CP3. Alone now I was contemplating the DNF or my preferred RTC (refuse to continue), I was in agony but I faced the mental demons and reminded myself I was here to collect a medal and so I pushed on.

About 6 miles in to CP3 the 11 hour pacer finally caught me and so I used this as an opportunity to find my time bearings – how close to the right pace was he going, etc. He thought he was around 5 minutes ahead of time and he had a significant group with him – I stayed roughly with them for the next hour but eventually as we hit Tarmac my body failed and I slowed letting them go past – I was going to be timed out. All this way, all this pain, all for nothing. 

 
‘Pain, time, effort, illness, sleeplessness and I will finish because I’m more than halfway there’ I told myself and then something happened that would change the course of my race and her name was Elaine.

Elaine. A very youthful forty-something (be rude to give an exact age) ultra running lady who was having a mentally challenging time. It’s fair to say, having lost the 11 hour pacer, she looked like her race was over. However, Elaine gave me the opportunity to focus on problems that weren’t my own and we chatted for a little while. Within a few moments I had warmed enormously to Elaine and we ground out the distance to CP3 where we both had support waiting for us. She had the awesome Gary, husband and supporter extraordinaire and I had the GingaNinja, UltraBaby and the Continental Trio.

 
I gulped down milkshake, said Adios to the support and threw on a waterproof after being hail stoned. Grabbing my running buddy, Elaine we set off. We’d agreed that we would aid one another for the remainder of the race, effectively we’d pace each other to the finish knowing that time was now against us.

She was calm, understated and brilliant and I was upbeat, frantic and woefully inadequate but it was a good mix of temperaments. It was when I found myself feeling leaden and she turned and said to me, ‘anyone’d think you’d been hit by a car!’ that I realised I was going to make it and in the best of company.  

We pulled apart the next section in good time and that was because (I hope) that we were inspiring one another to go that bit faster and that bit harder. Suddenly inclines and mud seemed a little less difficult and we covered a wide range of topics in conversations as the miles drifted away. I won’t say that the journey to CP4 was easy but it was a more balanced effort. It was all just coming together and the problems that had plagued me earlier in the day, while still there, seemed less significant. I hope the same can be said for my partner.

Tim. It was here that we met ‘Tim’. I know that lots of you will have met him, he was just a guy with a car, by a church, handing out goodies just when we needed them – he’d done the race the year before and we appreciated him taking the time to sit in the cold and wait for the exhausted runners to give them food and drink (and in our case a hug). I had lots of fizzy haribo. Yum. 

Once we had passed Tim we started to focus on the final jaunt to mile 39. It was the grind now but actually good humour was holding it all together and nothing highlights that as much as our enclounter with a group of youths …

The VCR Tape Gang. We passed by a group of youths on the road, nothing unusual about that you might say, however, they had been unfurling the contents of old VHS tapes and I couldn’t help but advise them that ‘VHS has had its day, it’s old technology’. This was greeted by a torrent of abuse suggesting that we hurry up and the like. Having had my fun with them and a bit of a laugh I concluded the discourse with the following statement ‘I’m related to Jimmy Saville you know!’ 

It raised a titter in the running ranks and our young friends promptly left to get on with it.

At CP4 there was just time for a weewee stop for one of us – I’d drained the lizard just beyond CP3 so used the opportunity to give a progress update to the GingaNinja and suggested that we were about 10km and at current pace we’d be done in about 80 minutes. CP4 also gave me an opportunity to chat to a first time ultra widow and her family, we had a few gentle laughs about being stuck in the cold and waiting around for runners that might never appear. Her partner was several miles behind us and as I left I wished her and her runner well knowing that he was rapidly running out of time.

  
   
We pushed on uphill and back through the mud, only stopping for an enforced ‘headtorch breakout’. Fully lit we pushed on, watching the map, watching the Suunto and most importantly, watching the clock. Onwards through to Bristol and we could finally see things we knew (well things I knew) and the Tarmac hills felt heavy under my feet – the pounds of mud that caked my Altra was now starting to become strewn across the city, I could taste the finish line.

The GingaNinja passed us in the car and waved us on – we were nearly there. Entering the final uphills, each step started to feel like a winning step and the night became illuminated as we crossed the Clifton Suspension Bridge – a truly magnificent sight.   

A little further and Elaine egged us onwards, I egged us onwards and we reached the summit of Ashton Gate and into the deer park. Boom!

There was no time for messing around – we had momentum and we hurled our bruised and battered bodies to the fore. Through the final gate and in the distance we could see the small group of people lining the way. We grasped each other’s hands and began our ‘fast’ finish – the GingaNinja and Gary (Elaine’s excellent other half) waiting to congratulate us. 

Over the line! I was delirious. 

I felt like dying, every pain that I’d held back simply coursed through my veins, I was suitably broken. But I’d made it and the Green Man Ultra was beaten, even if it was, in my case, a narrow points victory.  


The Route.
What can you say? It’s undulating, there’s a few steep bits, there’s mud (up to your eyeballs in my case) and there was some stunning scenery to admire. The Green Man is a pretty route – a shame about the amount of gates and stiles you need to get through but these are a very minor distraction to a great course. You should do this just for the course. 

Marshals/Volunteers/Support. As with all ultra races the support tends to be checkpoint based and this was no different and it was universally excellent. Everything from the casual ease of the registration through to the handing out of jam sandwiches, medals and certificates this was one slick operation. A mention must go to the people on the course too – Tim, with his unofficial checkpoint, the cowbellers with the pretzels and the family at the park with jelly beans – they all made me smile. There was also the genuine and heartfelt congratulations from the Bristolians as ultra runners invaded their city. This was a good old knees up. For me though I’d like to say a big thank you to Ian, the 11 hour Timelord who put up with my wittering about getting extra time for far too long. So thanks you everyone you made this a very friendly experience. 

Value for money? Always a bone of contention for me. Do you get your money’s worth? Let’s break it down; entry to the race with a stunning course to run, a bespoke medal, bespoke T-Shirt, included race photography,  certificate, food on the course, hot food afterwards, showers, good change and toilet facilities and all the usual gubbins! Yep this was a value for money ultra.

Elaine. If you know her, if you’ve met her, if you see her then always pass on my good wishes and thanks. She’s a tremendous runner with a great future in the sport and for me personally she was the perfect antidote to day I was having. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to her as her spirit was so incredibly strong. If you read this young lady – recover well and start your preparations for the next one soon!

Kit? I chose mostly the right kit and the altra LP2.0 despite being slip slide actually help up amazingly well and combined with my drymax socks kept my feet in good condition. The Ronhill shorts with the gel pockets also worked a treat as a secure location for my GoPro and extendable reach stick – so lots of steady footage shot of the race and me running it. The thing I got wrong was good and I’ll need to assess that for next time – the sweet and fruit options were fine but my savoury choices made me choke and that’s not what you want.

UltraBoyRuns? Don’t run an ultra on no training (chest infection), no sleep (naughty UltraBaby) or having just survived being hit by a car mere days earlier. I was foolish to think about starting but I wouldn’t have missed it. I finished bloodied, bruised and injured and in a rubbish time but eventually all that fades and what’s left is I ran the 45 miles.

Conclusions? The Green Man is fun, friendly, beautiful, intimate, tough and brilliant. It has something for everyone and I highly recommend you add this to your race calendars – it’s one I’d go back to. Don’t let the fact it’s a shorter distance ultra put you off, the mud makes this a challenge, the route is a challenge and the time of year is a challenge. Give this a go, you won’t regret it.

Name: The Green Man Ultra Organisers: Ultrarunning Ltd Location: Bristol Distance: 45 miles approximately Course: Muddy, undulating, runnable

 

  ‘I’ll DNF at mile 58 and just party down with the awesome volunteers there’ I said this to several people and I meant it.

I knew before the TP100 kicked off that I was not ready for it, I knew that it was likely to give me a bloody good kicking and I knew that this would be me final Centurion event for a year or two while I explore other event providers and therefore potentially my final opportunity to nab one of those buckles that I have been coveting for the last year or so.

I prepared much of my kit on Monday as I was off work waiting to start my new job on the Tuesday and this afforded me the luxury of a bit of time, new shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0) also arrived in the post – but too late for any significant testing. I’d learned lots of lessons over the last few ultras, finally got my food strategy roughly right and trusted most of my kit.

   

  

  

 Oxsitis Hydragon 17 litre was my first choice vest, my favourite old Ronhill vizion long sleeved top, Salomon compression shorts (teamed with OMM Flash 0.5 tights) and Runderwear thundercrackers  covered my legs and my Snowdonia Marathon tech T-shirt was in play as my awesome base layer. I opted for Altra running shoes as I felt the width of the fit would play well with the constant pounding I believed my feet were about to take. Optional kit like compression calf sleeves and hiking poles were also added because I felt I needed to go into this race as secure as possible to ensure I finished.

So with kit sorted and nutrition done (mainly pulled pork pastries, chocolate milk and beef jerky) I felt in control.

Then the week started to unravel a little, the new job was excellent but exhausting and the 10hr days were a rough introduction to the company but I’d expected it to be a little bit like that, what really caught m off guard was the test run of my Altra LP2.0 – on the Wednesday (on a 3.5km run) I was thundering through Soho and while throwing fairing glances toward my reflection (to check out the Altra) I punched a street sign for a shop – and I really hit it. The sign lurched backwards, hitting and cracking the shop window and I in my cowardly way just carried on. In my defence the sign was taking up most of the pavement and it was an accident, however, the sign had the last laugh as it broke my finger! The worst thing though was the return of constant pain in my glutes – this was the most worrying because I’d never tested running above 50 miles … If it came back then this could be the W100 all over again …

Basically it looked like my good prep work would be unfurled by my own stupidity, however, I managed to get some sleep in the run up, UltraBaby managed to get some through the night sleeping, injury calmed down with extensive battering by my rumble roller and I was even sensible in my food choices up to race day.

I woke up on Saturday worried only about the race and nothing else.

The UltraTeam packed up the car and we headed over to Richmond once our youngest team member was fed. I’d had Weetabix and chocolate milk which was the breakfast of champions in my opinion but I topped this up with a Cadburys Twirl and some diet coke.

Arriving in Richmond I jumped out the car and the GingaNinja went to find a parking space. I darted into the check in point and looking down to my left I saw the legend that was Sarah or @mia79gbr – we’d never met and she didn’t know what I looked like – so as I approached her with a ‘Sarah?’ she looked at me with a pleasant suspicion, ‘hi, I’m ultraboy, just thought I’d introduce myself’. The suspicion was replaced with recognition but unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop and chat and given she had companions this didn’t seem the right time, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed.

I ran up the stairs and joined the first queue of madness … Centurion had a great location but it was much too small for the runners never mind the bevy of volunteers, crew and family who had come along to help or hinder, but this was put from my mind by seeing the awesome Dan @ultrarunnerdan – both a gentleman and a bit of a legend in my eyes given his grand slam attempt. The queue moved swiftly and when James Elson joined in to move it along and thankfully my kit review was swift and problem free as ever.

With my ‘Permission to Race’ chip in hand I joined the queue for my number only to be joined by the awesome Louise @abradypus – another potential grand slammer and we chatted about stuff – mostly me apologising for being a dick at SDW50 – again. Finally I reached front of the queue and grabbed my magic number and darted out  to see the sunny streets of Richmond and of course deposit my vitally important drop bags.

Outside I caught up with @RozGlover who introduced me to (at long last) @no1blakester and I caught up with the awesome Traviss and Rachel as well as meeting my potential duet partners in a ‘Wicked’ tribute medley @toks and @jillydavidson – I had intended to terrify them by approaching them singing but I didn’t want to make them shit themselves. Instead the start was a rich of meeting people, being nervous, having a pre-race dump and kissing your girlfriend and the baby goodbye.

I turned at this point to the  GingaNinja and queried, ‘can I actually do this?’

To note, the ginger one is always honest about my race chances – for example she told me that Winter100 looked way to much for me given the way my training had gone and the way that my injury was, but today she simply said, ‘you got this’.

I stepped into the crowd and looked over the runners and thought, ‘maybe’.

We set off down the rather bright towpath and swiftly found our rhythm only for a small gate to prove our undoing. Hundreds of runners trying to squeeze through a tiny gate, many of the sensible ones drifted over to the side and either jumped the gate further down or went around. I was in no rush but in the midst of my moving  the awesome @naominf managed to clip my heel with gate – ouch. She shouted out an apology but I wondered if I’d cut it open, thankfully my brand spanky new Altra had enough on the heel that they had taken the impact – phew.

  The view along the towpath was actually really rather nice and as we passed through locks, weirs and little towns I could feel a really positive energy swelling inside of me. The positive feeling was enhanced at seeing ultra runner extraordinaire @cat_simpson_ on the course accompanied by what I assumed was her trusty Triban 3. The running was going well and I was running at a slightly too speedy 10kmph and so slowed down a little bit knowing that CP1 was still some miles away.

The speediness though had allowed me to make up a little bit of ground on other runners who hadn’t been quite so unlucky at gate one and feeling fresh I allowed myself to get involved in a conversation or two. What I realised pretty quickly was that the TP100 was going to lack variety in elevation and that it was going to be a slog rather than a test, you could feel that TP100 more than any other ultra I’ve taken part in, would be a test of mental mettle.

I came into CP1 feeling surprisingly tired, but the well stocked aid station was full of good cheer and laughter and I loaded up on Pepsi (5 cups) and reloaded the bladder (from which I had been sipping consistently) and also used the first of my quarter tablets of High 5 isotonic liquid using a 150ml Salomon soft pack. Pre-race I’d decided that on the whole I wouldn’t be eating the food that Centurion provide, I was trying to avoid sweet things as they make me feel sickly and the savoury selection is a little bit too tasteless. Therefore, I’d be reliant on my own supplies and as I left CP1 I allowed myself some beef jerky, a mini toad in the hole and a delicious cheese and bacon bite.

I was also looking at how much time I could build up, because I knew I might need it later in the race.

Aid 2 22m 16:10 Aid 3 – 30m 18:30 Aid 4 38m 20:40 Aid 5 44m 22:25 Aid 6 51m 00:15 Aid 7 58m 02:30 Aid 8 67m 04:45 Aid 9 71m 05:50 Aid 10 77.5m 07:45 Aid 11 85m 09:50 Aid 12 91m 11:30 Aid 13 95m 12:40 Finish 100m 14:00.

Between CP1 and CP2 there were two lovely things that happened, the first was that UltraBaby and the GingaNinja were on the course at the crew point. It was lovely to see them and it a nice viewing spot in Staines, I also got to meet several of the other crews (whose cheering and support through the night section was invaluable). At Staines I was able to refuel with chocolate milkshake (lifesaver) and Lucozade, which helped to lift my slightly flagging spirits. I also met for the first time Lynne, we only spoke briefly but it was cheery and lighthearted and I had no idea how influential this lady would be later in the race. Anyway I cantered off without her knowing that CP2 was nearby and so feeling energised I ploughed on. Arrival into CP2 was quick and leaving was equally swift with just a few words of flirting for the volunteers and then off to CP3.

  I was keen to ensure that I was making up time on the cut-offs and so with each checkpoint I reached I made sure I knew when the sweeper was due. I was building a commanding lead over being timed out and my resolve was strengthened further when the route to CP3 and Dorney looked rather pleasant, rowers, walkers, hikers and bikers adorned the route and everyone was interested in what the hell we were doing. I continued to come across runners from previous races and this provide a different dynamic to normal, one pairing remembered me from my misery at the SDW50 and were pleased to see that I was in a much better mood and infinitely better form.

As the checkpoints fell one by one so did the daylight and one my way to Henley and CP6 the light was finally lost. It was a long slow road to Henley, the path looked gloomy and as I was concerned about my timings I chose to run without my headtorch. On the other side of the river was a large mansion or hotel and in it music was blaring out and was audible for most of my journey down the river to Henley – seriously kids, mind your ears.

I dipped on to the bridge crossing the river and was greeted by the drunken revellers of Henley at around 9.20pm and they offered a helpful suggestion that the route was ‘down der mate, keep going’ and I did as instructed finally pulling into the halfway point after 11hrs 31minutes – however, someone at Centurion must have been trying to predict my future because on the live timings somebody decided that I’d had enough and put me down as a DNF. Hmmm, naughty Centurions.

I was rather desperate for the hot food that had been promised but all that as available was vegetable chilli and I’ll be honest I’m an ultra runner that isn’t a friend of the vegetable and so despite being offered it by Batman, I had to turn it down.

Dejected I picked up my drop bag and looked for the chocolate milk and Lucozade. Swigging swiftly I began dreaming because I knew that if I could keep up this pace then I was looking at a sub 24 time. I looked at my food options and opted for some pulled pork pastries, beef jerky and dry roasted nuts – delicious, but not the hot tasty feast I was hoping for. Finally at Henley was checklist 1) are your feet fucked? 2) Are you wet? 3) do your socks need changing? 4) is your Suunto still charged? 5) is your phone still charged? 5) do you need to restock front pocket food supplies? I answered all my questions, threw out some general thanks and I was off – Lucozade in hand.

I’d plugged in my headphones for a bit to keep me amused in the dark – Smokey Robinson, Glee, Foo Fighters, Katzenjammer, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim, Blur, Michael Jackson, James Blunt, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley ABBA … Songs from every generation and all super upbeat. I pulled my headphones out only when I needed a jimmy riddle, lucky I did as I only just whipped my cock back into my awesome Runderwear when Joanna came around the corner.

‘Ladies first’ as I held the gate open.

Joanna or Jo as she introduced herself was a young lady on a mission, not only did she make me look sane by virtue of the amount of long distance ultra she ran but she also made me smile at a time in the night when that as kind of obligatory. We covered lots of topics on our way to mile 58 and CP7 but the thing that will stock wi me forever and a day is out open and frank conversations about ‘turd’. Oh Jo … and I apologise for sharing this, it only got mildly weird when I ended up hanging round for you as you went and deposited your solid state number two into the undergrowth. The journey from mile 51 to 58 was a speed walk, Jo wasn’t in any condition to run as she felt pretty sick and I needed some respite from the running to try and conserve some energy for a pop at the second half of the race. It made sense that we would buddy up and it was a truly awesome part of my race, I hope Jo can say the same. As we departed the wooded area we came back to the river bank and in the distance we could see the steps that Susie Chan had been threatening us with but I was feeling cheeky.

 
 I bounded up the steps in haste to see Shaun and Susie to offer my congratulations but also to offer my number up – 58miles was the furthest I’ve managed in a centurion race.

As I entered I slowly took in my surroundings – there were a lot of bruised and battered bodies and lots of sitting down, but I was feeling pretty okay, mainly buoyed by warm welcome from the volunteers, who to me appeared to be in slippers and PJs (deny it if you like Miss C). All of a sudden the crazy shit just happened, I started dancing with one of the lovely female runners, I was wiggling my bum in the air and I was leaving messages via Periscope to goddesses of running Susie Chan and Kate ( @borleyrose ). Between them Shaun and Susie were able to tell me that @UltraDHC and @naominf were running awesomely. @mia79gbr had pulled out early on due to illness and they hadn’t seen @ultrarunnerdan @toks or @jillydavidson.

  They also insisted I wasn’t allowed to DNF – certainly not yet.

So I left, it was a great CP, it was lively, it was fun and it was everything I could have wanted and seeing the worlds best MdS running couple only made it worth the journey.

I left 58 feeling like the following 42 would be a challenge but ultimately very achievable and that with about 15hrs left I should have nothing to fear. But I could feel the first blisters arriving on my feet and I could feel them underneath silicon gel caps – I decided that removal would be the worse of the two possible options and moved on. Just outside 58, having lost Joanna I picked up Lynne and I think James. I’d met both earlier in the day and we decided that this would also be an easy section with running happening between the further checkpoints.

James was a youngish chap, desperate to finish, being ruled by the timings on his watch and not the faith in his ability and you could see he was chomping at the bit to get us moving but also didn’t want to lose us as he wasn’t sure how long his battery would last and he was very unsure about following the very simple and effective Centurion markers. I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t be affected by other peoples running this time out and for a while I stuck to my guns but my new young companion had a way of making me feel uneasy and panicked.

Lynne was the polar opposite and when asked if she was too warm replied that ‘I’m of an age where I generate an inner warmth’. Lynne was laid back and pragmatic, her approach to ultras was brilliant and I very much enjoyed yomping through the grass and the trail with her. We discussed Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock and every kind of topic and it eased the tension I was feeling from my other companion. To be fair he was a lovely guy but I didn’t want to be racing someone else’s race.

However, we all hit the hall at Whitchurch with relative ease but James indicated that ‘according to my calculations if we don’t pick up the pace we won’t make it, we need to be running’. He was of course correct but I decided to give him some rather stern advice, ‘listen fella, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, run your race and your pace, not somebody else’s. If Lynne and I can’t keep up then you’ve got to leave us behind’.

Whitchurch allowed me to reacquaint myself with several runners including the awesome Matt (may have his name wrong but don’t think so) – his knee had gone and was covered in a warm blanket. ‘You’re looking great fella, keep going’ he said. I wished him well, offered a few dirty words of encouragement to the volunteers about the power of masturbation and then off.

Lynne, James and I had agreed that this being a short section we should try and pick up to a running pace in the approach to Streatley but the hills were making this more challenging. For the first time since the W100 I cracked out the Black Diamond Ultra poles and used this strategically to get ahead of the other two and act as pace setter. Lynne quickly dropped back but James for a while kept pace and with me a few metres ahead we thundered along the dark and narrow path. Here it became a little more daunting in the dark with upended roots and slippery rocks underfoot, but my Altra coped with this brilliantly, I felt sure footed in my steps and happy to have my Lenser at full beam.
In truth this was probably the most exciting stretch of trail on the whole route and it’s a shame it didn’t last longer but then I saw a sign of what happens when things go wrong and in the darkness I saw a runner covered in a foil blanket with his or her pacer by their side. I called out ‘do you need anything?’ But his reply was ‘fine thanks mate just waiting for the medical support’. I asked again to make sure he wasn’t being polite as this was a very isolated spot and it might take the medics some time to reach them but he was categoric and so I set off again at pace – James now nowhere in sight.

  The 5km and a bit into Streatley was a good run and I’d made up a bit of the time I had been eroding by walking. Crossing into the town itself was filled with slit lay distressing memories as this was where the W100 ground to a halt for me – however, I dropped into the CP and I was simply grateful for the opportunity to sit down and grab some more chocolate milk. As I sat there pondering the rest of the race I could see the procession of runners that I had been leading here – Lynne, James, Rob, Jo and more all came in with differing tales to tell but there was a look of determination on their faces – no drops here.

At this point I waved goodbye to Lynne, little did I know though that our story was far from over. James though – I couldn’t shake. He wanted to continue running and after my sterling efforts up to Streatley he’d picked me as his buddy. I did as I did before and set at the fastest pace I could manage. I was largely invigorated by two things here, the first was the knowledge that I still had good energy in the tank and my legs, nor my head felt fatigued at all. The second thing was that daylight was just around the corner and I’d be able to feel daylight breaking and that feeling is a good one. Despite being a night person when the dawn comes I know that I’m likely to make it. This was especially good news as there are a couple of points here were you had to take care because of the winding nature of the course, thankfully my W100 experience paid dividends and I was thundering along – even stopping for a few photographs along the way.

What was troubling me was that James was nowhere to be seen, I turned to look for him but I had clearly lost him further back at one of the turnings. What if he had missed a turn? I considered turning back a little to look for him but knew that time was against me and so continued forward.

Then something awesome happened: thick mud. Well yellow Altra here we go.

In seconds my beautiful Lone Peak 2.0 went from sparkling yellow to shitty black.

  Thunder, thunder, thunder, I raced through the trails as quickly as I could then I had a ‘fuck me’ moment. A runner who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are) was perched over a branch, naked from the waist down having a poo. Wow, I never want to see a milky white arse and cock perched again, in fairness I didn’t want to see it the first time. As I flew by I decided to leave a little comment to his pacer, ‘well at least we know he doesn’t suntan down there’.

Thunder, thunder, thunder, at the moment I was in good form and when I came across some runners who were DNFing I felt smug, the pacer who was waiting there with them told me to keep going as I as looking good.

   

But I was picking up problems with every step and was discovering now that the Altra where not built for thick mud and in the grip the mud was gathering up. By this point I could feel the variety of blisters that now adorned my feet, on my toes, between my toes and underfoot, I made the call once again not to risk taking my shoes and socks off (as my support crew was safely in sunny Wiltshire) and decided that with not much more than a marathon to go that I could probably just drift this one in.

How wrong I was.

A little earlier I had been hearing the pinging of my telephone and so now took the opportunity to see what was going on in the world. The GingaNinja was showing signs of worry and Twitter was too – I had been pretty silent through the night. I didn’t reply as my panic about not finishing in time was growing and I was desperate to get to the next CP. With a bit of a thrust I pulled into Wallingford with the early morning, the volunteers here were awesome despite the cramped conditions and they had something magic that no other checkpoint had contained – houmous! Eureka! Smell the houmous! Finally savoury food at a Centurion CP that I could actually stomach. I had a couple of big juicy dollops of houmous and wrap with a hot, sweet tea. This was the breakfast of the gods, this was ambrosia.

I stayed here for a few minutes, just long enough infact for a couple of my fellow runners to catch me and then with a cheery goodbye and a check on the distance I set off for mile 85 and the home straight.

I returned to trundling down the course and prepared an answer to earlier text messages when a ‘supporter’ told me to ‘get off the phone and get running’. Cheeky fucker. Despite the advice I finished my call and cried down the phone to the GingaNinja – big weepy tears but she told me to get my poles out, eat some paracetamol and hold on in there, I was going to make it.

I hung up, I unfurled my poles and I started tracking down the runners in front of me. Bang, lift, shift, bang, lift, shift – this was the process I went through as I used the poles as my point of impact and not my feet – trying to save them for the final 15 miles. But I was now going faster than I had for around an hour and I was gaining on the other runners.

I continued to make headway through the fields but the mud was taking its toll on my speed walking and the poles became as much a hinderance as a help. I was churning up the pathway like so many of my fellow ultra runners over the last few hours and I was finding it heavy going. Without the support of the poles I was reduced to painful, tiny steps and I knew that with each slow movement forward the sweeper was moving to time me out.

For several miles the ground remained much the same, wet, churned and with long wet grass and my feet were in agony and then the first disaster came. Inside my beloved Drymax sock I could feel the hot bloody liquid seep under my foot – one of the blisters below my feet had burst. Raging, blinding hot pain erupted around the base of my left foot and I stopped moving. I looked around the great green expanse, there were no runners either in front or behind that I could ask for help – I simply had to decide whether this was game over or not.
In the now heavier rain I could feel the droplets forming the letters DNF on my Montane Minimus, I was going to have to retire, I wasn’t going to make it to Clifton Hampden.

However, after a few minutes I took a few steps forward and gingerly moved on, worked with the poles – even in the dense mud. This was a tough section and it was made worse by the feeling that the record of the distance was wrong. The distance said about 6 but my Suunto and several other peoples GPS devices read this as significantly more than that, or at least significant enough to make it soul destroying when the CP is where you are most desperate for it to be.

As I came into the town I was probably a bit rude to the lady giving out directions when she called out ‘well done’ but it felt far from well done and I told her so, but that was a mistake and when I finally went past her again to rejoin the race I apologised profusely.

Prior to me getting to Clifton Hampden there was a surprise for me and parked just outside was the GingaNinja and UltraBaby – while they were a sight for sore eyes they immediately made me burst into tears. I whined, ‘I can’t stop, I’m not going to make it’ and ran past her and straight into the CP. I called out my number – loudly and then ran straight back out, no new supplies, no coke, no nothing – if I was going to make this I needed to push harder than I had been.

Down the hill, speedy turn to the towpath and off and even when blisters 2 and 3 burst (one between my toes and one on a toe end) I didn’t stop, I just kept moving forward. Runners were starting to amble past me as my speed eroded further and in my head I was working out the calculations for speed and distance I would need to achieve to finish within the 28hr cut off.

As with much of the Thames Path 100 very little happened on the route, the path thankfully dried out a little and I was able to gather up some pace using my poles but it was turning into something of a final slog. Only the turning up of the sun made  for a change and it was a burning sun, so the Minimus finally disappeared into the back of the Hydragon and there it would stay. I finally came into Abingdon with the GinjaNinja meeting me a few metres ahead of the checkpoint and she wished me luck, telling me I had ample time to do the remaining 9 miles. The problem was my head was a now a fucking mess and my feet were 100% fucked

I put on my best showing for running as I came into Abingdon and the crowd responded with the kind of cheers reserved for winners. Here as with the last checkpoint I called in my number and then ran straight back out again but my body was rebelling and once through the tunnel I stopped, started crying and then started hyper ventilating. Breathe UltraBoy. Breathe.

Managing to regain control of my breathing I set off and for the next 9 miles I prayed for the end to come, I looked long into the face of a DNF and contemplated it even as I passed through the final checkpoint. But I could now smell Oxford, I crossed a couple of small bridges, I admired the scholarly and middle classness of the people on the towpath and I cried slow super heroic tears as I realised I would finish.

Only one more thing happened that I need to mention and that’s my final on the course encounter with Lynne – it went like this.
‘I just won’t make it’ I said, ‘I’m done and in agony’
‘You’ll make it, we’ll make it’
I got the feeling Lynne was going to see me in and so I needed to push her on incase I didn’t make it.
‘You’ve come all this way … I will not carry the guilt of making you miss out on a buckle too. You need to go and go now, you need to tell the ginger haired one with a cute baby that I’m on my way’
‘Promise you’ll finish’ came her reply
‘I can’t promise that but I’ll do my best, now go and give them my message’

Lynne did give my message and her words to me, some of which are not transcribed here were the thing that would see me reach Oxford.

400metres before the end I was greeted by @abradypus – a lady with a magnificent track record at Centurion events and ultras in general and she calmed my desire to DNF at 99 – probably a Centurion first had I done it. She told me that the GingaNinja and UltraBaby were coming and in the distance I could see them, the pain drained away and was replaced with relief.

I smiled a little bit – though the photographs suggested I was grimacing and I asked if I could carry UltraBaby from the start of the home strait to the finish line. I passed my poles over for the final hurdle and replaced them with an inspirational bit of kit – my daughter.

  We strolled down the finish line having very smelly hugs and kisses and to huge cheers. In the distance I could see Traviss, Rachel, the GingaNinja, Nici, Stuart (armed with his camera) and lots of amazing runners. I crossed with a baby and I’d done it.

Thanks Centurion.

Course Tough, flat, unending and despite the overall pleasantness of the surroundings a little bit dull. Perhaps that’s part of the challenge – forcing yourself to complete this when your body is crying out for a hill. The course was well marked and well marshalled in the places that it needed to be and you would be head pressed to go wrong. For my liking there’s a little too much tarmac and I felt it would be easier on your feet if the trail was real trail but then I understand this is the Thames Path and not the middle of nowhere.

Checkpoints The checkpoints are pretty evenly spread and the quality of them is generally very high in terms of locations, venues, volunteers and facilities. The food is a little ‘meh’. When I first started Centurion ultras I was told I was in for a feast of kings – well it’s not quite like that and it does vary considerably between aid stations. I’d urge more dips at checkpoints as they were brilliant and perhaps a slightly higher quality selection of sandwich filling and savoury. My other food gripe was the lack of a meat option at Henley for those running at a slower pace. However, these are minor grips and the Centurion remain pretty damn good.

Support and Volunteers You can’t really fault the 90 or so volunteers and you can’t fault the countless supporters who lined the course for up to 28hrs supporting their runner and every runner that went past them. Special mention of course goes to Susie and Shaun and mile 58 for being awesome but the truth is that every single volunteer was awesome, they all went out of their way to make sure that we did something spectacular with our bank holiday weekend.

Fellow runners I loved my fellow runners, I loved the conversations I had with them, I loved the stupidity, the poo stories and the shared experience. Everyone from Lynne, Rob and Jo right through to James all provided me with memories that stay with me until I die. Centurion has a kind of big family vibe to it and I hope as they get bigger and even more successful they don’t become more faceless and anonymous – that would be a shame

Goody Bag The revisions to the buckle made it one to have and the T-shirts are always reasonable quality from Centurion Running, although that said whatever the process they u for the graphic transfers means that as far as I’m concerned these aren’t shirts you would want to run in – but I’ll be proudly wearing mine this summer alongside my SDW50 shirt. Aside from that there is nothing else (bowl of chilli at the end?) but I’m not convinced you need anything else. So while the goody bag isn’t exhaustive I’m not sure it hurts the reputation of the race.

Conclusion The TP100 is a good race, I think it’s one that people underestimate because they think a flat 100 is easy – let me assure that the monotony of the flat is draining both mentally and physically and takes a lot to simply keep going. The route is a little too tarmac for me but it would suit lots of people and I think this makes a great introduction to the hundred mile distance. Centurion make excellent hosts and are well oiled as a team and keep things going even when it isn’t as smooth as they would like, it is easy to understand whey they are often people’s first choice for an ultra. If you decide to enter the TP100 then prepare properly for it, don’t take it for granted and accept that you might not finish – drop out rate was reasonably high – as it is on every hundred but if you apply yourself and have the stomach for it then you’ll have a great time here. I have no problems at all recommending the TP100

What have I taken away from TP100? 1. I’m a very ordinary runner, but if I could get my feet right then I might be an ordinary runner who runs much better times 2. I’ve finally figured out my nutrition and what I need to do to stay in the race 3. A support crew and pacers are so useful, you really miss them if you don’t have them 4. My body wasn’t tired even after the full distance but my feet were wrecked 5. The most severe aspects of my long term injuries is being brought on by hills 6. I need to have more faith in myself 7. I was better for mainly running my own race this time out and trying not to worry too much about what other competitors where doing

And finally thanks to … every single person who turned up, in whatever capacity you came, in whatever capacity you saw.

’It’s a bit achey’ I said ‘more than it’s been since I started running again’. The problem was I’d said this to myself and not to anyone useful. That was Saturday night after the inferno that was the Pizza100 tweet session (I think I’ve been generously excused the aftermath). Sunday morning and I’d had a cramp filled night and my glutes were biting but a warm shower and into my ‘thigh crunching’ body helix and I was ready to go to the …

Brands Hatch Half Marathon. 13.1 miles around a track – how sedate I thought.

Brum!Brum! It was a late start (10.30) so we trundled down to the course and were greeted at first by oodles of traffic and secondly by a cut up and hilly field that was doubling as a car park. ‘You’ll have to push’ came the expected words from The GingaNinja. 

Out I got, and I launched myself behind the car giving it everything I (and my glutes) had. I was quickly joined by a couple of burly runners who aided our ascent up the hill and into position.

‘Bloody hell UltraBoy I’m never going to be able to get up that hill for the exit’ on the positive side that was a problem for later in the day.

UltraBaby decided that she would remain in the MiniUltraMobile today (aka Pram), it was windy, cold and Brands Hatch seemed to be acting like a magnet for both and the pram seemed like a good idea (wish I’d thought of it).

It was a reasonable hike to the TShirt collection point and it was in this journey that I caught sight of the route.

‘That’s a hill,’ I heard myself say, ‘so is that, but it’s track – for race cars… aren’t they supposed to be flat?’

It seemed that Brands Hatch was not the pancake flat route I had been expecting. Bugger. The idea originally had been to test myself across a half marathon distance on a relatively flat course, I’d already done one training half marathon earlier in the week, which had been moderately undulating, so I was after something fast and flat to give me a confidence boost ahead of further pushing up my distance.

Hmm – common sense should have dictated that I pull out but I found myself lining up on the start line (at the back as per usual) and when the group lurched slowly forward I joined them. 

The course was fun(ish), hilly, lots of bends, twists, inclines and hairpins as you might expect, the scenery was pleasant and the atmosphere was very charitable (it was a British Heart Foundation event). It was crisp weather on the course, the wind, while often beating on your face, wasn’t cold – just strong and I ambled around taking it all in. 

I’d give you the names of all the corners and hills but truth is I don’t know them and doubt I ever will, but it’s suffice to say that the track was tough. Weirdly as the race wore on it got tougher as we were then sent out of Brands Hatch and around the general vicinity of the track. Then over onto what I assumed was the motocross or bike track which was littered with more hills. Finally for the first lap, in a rather uncharitable decision, they made us run in a zig zag across some tarmac – by now I was actually a little bit bored and the knowledge I had to do it again filled me with dread especially as I could feel the onset of injury.

I made my way through the pit lane and slowed to a crawl as I could feel my hamstring biting under my body helix, depressingly I could feel my glutes burning and worryingly my ITB pain was burning right through my leg and into my foot – all by kilometre 14. At this point I stopped, looked around to see if I could see the GingaNinja for some moral support, but she was not  in sight and so I decided to do some emergency stretching.

Twang: Stretching was not the answer and so I decided I could probably jog/walk it – it was only 7km after all. However, looking at my Suunto I realised I was now well outside my preferred 1hr 40 finish, a 1hr 50 finish was already creeping up and by the time I had hobbled 7km I would be lucky to get 2hrs 30.

I shan’t bother you with my tale of disappointment further other than to say I drifted home in a time I’m ashamed of and I should have had the mental strength just to give up. But I didn’t. 

Instead I shall draw a few conclusions about the race.

Organisation: it was okay, the parking was stupid given the ground conditions and access to the ground was slow. There was also a long walk to the start and not enough people directing and fiving out information. The Tshirt collection was a bit of a free for all but the bag storage looked like it was running sensibly. 5/10

Course: There was a lot to like about the course – running through an iconic location, variable terrain, big uphills, big downhills. However, it was all very intricate – back and forth, in and out, mixing with the 10km runners, it felt messy. 6/10

Goodies: The medal was the standard British Heart Foundation medal and a bit poo. The Tshirt is okay but it’s a bit too ‘charity advertising’ for me to actually wear it and there was a bottle of water and a chewy bar – meh. I know it’s charity and they’re not likely to give away naughty chocolate goodies but still. 4/10

Atmosphere: For me it was a bit of a let down, the crowds were a bit sparse, in fairness runners were a little sparse too, the overly loud and annoyingly crap music couldn’t disguise a lack of race enthusiasm. If this were a stage show it would smell of amateur dramatics – nothing wrong with it but not exactly Broadway. 5/10

Marshals: Perfectly lovely, very cheery – probably not enough of them – as they seemed a little over worked, especially in the pit lane. 8/10

Overall: Even if I’d had a perfect RaceDay I don’t think I’d have come away going ‘next year, I’m back’. It was a little bit lacklustre and a little bit lacking. However, if you fancy a challenging pre Spring Marathon season that isn’t really expensive (about £30) then this is okay. 6/10




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‘I’m wishing I’d taken a dump before we left’ I said
‘You’ve got all of natures own glorious toilet here mate’ came the reply from the ever practical Mick.

I’m not a bear I thought – I’m not shitting in the woods.

I shan’t be reviewing the Vigo Runners Valentine Trail this year as you can read last years report here but I will draw up a list of points as to why this is a race you all need to add to your running CV.

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1. The starting gun is a cannon
2. It’s a small local race that attracts runners from far and wide
3. The first trail section is, narrow, wet, muddy and filled with opportunity to cover yourself in crap
4. There are technical sections
5. The downhills are ‘fuck me’ fast
6. The uphills are knee grinders
7. This is the perfect race for your Inov8 Roclite
8. The medal was both a bottle opener and the shape of a cock
9. This is one of the friendliest, craziest races I’ve ever competed in
10. This will once again compete for my race of the year – it is that good!

Now before I go I’d like to draw attention that this year I made the mistake of going out onto the trail without having completed my need for a number 2! Yes it’s true I had already been twice that morning but clearly something was afoot and more appropriately, amiss. At mile 2 I clenched my buttocks and by mile 8 I knew I was in serious trouble. I think I might have stopped running and waddled home had it not been for the fact the quicker I got back the quicker I could get to a loo. Thankfully I pressed hard for my finish and even harder for the loo. I’d made it – but there was no doubt in my mind that my toilet need had affected both my running and my time. Hohum.

The lesson, fellow runners, make sure you’ve had your number 2 before you set off. Or don’t attend a race with my running buddy Mick, as every time we rock up to the same race I get a case of the galloping trots! Mick, have you been putting laxative in my tea? Bastard.

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Back in training after a decent lay off was ace, I was burning the soles off many new pairs of running shoes, running the UltraMobile with UltraBaby, cycling extensively, swimming – even dropping weight (5kg in just over 5 weeks) and then I pulled my sodding hamstring and despite even more rest it’s still sore.

My awesome physiotherapist, Rosie, has been doing great work on it and she’s been forcing me to stretch and exercise gently to try and get myself up to speed without losing the momentum I’ve been gaining. However, it’s frustrating and with the Winter 100 now just a few weeks away it’s even more so – Rosie is fully aware I’m not pulling out and she appears even more determined than I am to get me to the start line.

So it’s now a race against a time.

On the positive news front I’ve now increased my cycling again and managed a 25.58 ParkRun yesterday and I’ve got my fingers crossed because Winter100 I’m going to try crush the life out of you 🙂 though in all honesty it might be the other way round.

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‘It’s like two old men trying to recapture their youth’ I may have said this to @hitmanharris as we both hobbled round the Summer Breeze Half Marathon in agony.

I’ve lived very close to Wimbledon Common several times but never really took advantage of the fun it offered and so when it was suggested we should run a half marathon the Summer Breeze looked like good old fashioned fun.

We lined up with the other runners with just a couple of minutes to go – rather meekly making our way to the back of the group. I don’t think either of us where under any illusion that this was going to a fast race. We had made the mistake of picking a wet, hilly, tough trail half marathon and I was still recovering from the beating that my physiotherapist had given me and my companion has a, to quote him, ‘fat arse’.

We had a loop or two of the field we began in at the off which was both a bit dull and worse congested. I tried to make headway through the crowds to keep us at pace but I could see HH getting caught up in traffic and so eased back to rejoin him. I put a bit of a spurt on though as we hit the trail and dropped our average time to just over 5 minutes per kilometre but we soon pulled this back a little to account for the heavy going.

Once through the initial loops of a field the trail really opened up to us and we were able to find a pleasant rhythm. Hills greeted us at regular intervals and there were thick pools of fantastic mud that most runners tried to sidestep – much like HH, I however, gave it full welly through the mud and both myself and my Hoka enjoyed it just fine.

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‘I’ll see you at the top of the hill’ I called back to HH and thundered away up the hill having seen an excellent photo opportunity. I grabbed my phone and waited for my running companion to make his finest strides across a giant log and ‘snap, snap, snap’.

Phone away, off we go.

It was just after here that my dicking about proved my undoing. I saw HH clambering up a series of short steep hills and so to prove my worth I strode manfully beyond him and exploded my groin in the most painful of fashions. Hmmmm was my immediate thought – 4km in, 17km to go, this doesn’t look good.

The ground was making for slower than I’d have liked progress and we were behind time. The heat and minor injuries were playing their part in HHs slower progress and my groin was sending shooting pains both up and down my body.

Regardless I didn’t want to let this be the end and so pushed HH as hard as possible and we completed the first 10.5km in a semi respectable 1hr 2 minutes. I could continue to feel the stinging and burning in my groin and knee that tomorrow my physiotherapist was going to have a field day with me but there and then I remained focused. We pounded past the field for lap 2 and back into the mud.

By now I have vocalised the problems I was suffering with but still managing mainly running and we only stopped at the bigger inclines or to negotiate the heavily cut up course. Being at the back of the course meant that we could just amble along and not be too distressed by our placing but at 17km I thought I might have to DNF – the pain was searing and only having a companion with me stopped me from weeping but otherwise I’d have curled up in a corner and stayed there.

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Credit where it’s due, UltraBoy and Hitman pushed each other through the final few kilometres, up and down hills that in truth neither of our old broken bodies enjoyed and even as we came back into the field there was no sense of elation it was more a case of needing to finish.

In the distance I could see HHs family and so to ensure that we finished well, despite our beleaguered performance, I pulled out a fast finish and called out that HH should follow – he sort of did. We both crossed the finish line (I with my camera out to capture the end of this epic race).

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We both slumped to the ground upon crossing the finish and despite a dreadful time it was a job well done. We collected our medals, T-Shirt and banana and headed gingerly towards the exit to watch the final few stragglers come home.

So despite my own performance what a bloody fun run it was. I loved the hills, I loved the oodles of mud and I really loved the course. There was a certain amount of excitement throughout the day and it was all extremely well organised with just enough facilities around to make it pleasant for both runners and spectators. The day was helped by the fact there were three races taking place over the course but it was all nicely spread out and nobody felt crowded or pressured, even my minor gripe about a slightly stop start beginning shouldn’t detract from the fun that this was.

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The medal and the TShirt were especially brilliant and for the money I think this was an excellent value race and will be looking forward to it again next year.

Well done chaps and well done @hitmanharris for persevering.

 

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I’m a huge fan of the writings and achievements of Sarah, she is inspirational, funny, witty and brilliant. Strangely we have never met and our connections are through over use of Twitter and ultra running but I draw inspiration from her blog and our online chats which often descend into stupidity. I’d therefore like to ask you all to consider voting for her blog as she has been nominated in therunningawards.com – I’ll leave it to Sarah to explain as I’ve stolen the contents of her own post below and the above picture (which I’ve borrowed from her Twitter feed -apologies Sarah) shows a love of mud and running and that alone deserves the prize.

You can visit her blog by clicking here

Good luck Sarah

Can’t quite believe it but ‘Dreaming of Footpaths’ has been shortlisted for a running blogs award! (shocked face!!) It seems that you all enjoy reading about running, poo and mis-adventures more than I thought! Thank you!! If you’d like to add your vote, I’d be really grateful (and I might get a free dinner!).

All you have to do is go to The Running Awards site here therunningawards.com Go to ‘Online’, ‘Blog’ and click ‘Dreaming of Footpaths.’ Please. Do it for my free dinner.

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As regular readers will know I’m something of a Hoka One One convert, I started wearing them last year when I was looking to replace a couple of pairs of shoes and reduce the blistering problem I suffer with during ultra marathons. I love them but I can’t live in them, they aren’t the kind of runners you throw on when you need to put the bins out or when you need to run to the shop to get a pint of milk. If ever a shoe was designed for ‘proper’ running it is the Hoka.

So with that in mind I’d been considering Inov8 for some time. I’d already tried on a pair a few months back but hadn’t fallen in love with them and so had decided against it but when Snow and Rock had a bit of sale on Invo8 shoes and in particular the ones I was considering I was more inclined to take a punt.

What they say
Let’s talk about the shoe itself or rather what the manufacturer has to say

The Inov8 Men’s Trailroc 245 is great for everything from training to racing, packing the perfect combination of performance, cushioning and underfoot protection. The Meta-Shank™ midsole provides targeted metatarsal impact protection whilst the anatomic fit allows you toes to spread for a more natural feel. Reinforced in all the right places for extra support, the Trailroc™ has an innovative outsole that utilises three, sticky rubber compounds for the ideal combination of hardness, durability and grip, so that you can easily adapt; however the ground beneath you changes.

Anatomic fit
Synthetic, TPU upper
Mesh Lining
6mm Footbed
EVA injected midsole
3mm Differential
Meta-Shank™ midsole
TRI-C™ compound

It’s fair to say I’m often dubious about shoes when they sound too technical and the Trailroc with their anatomical fit, meta-shank midsole and TRI-C compound make my ears prick with caution but there is something to be said for a lot of this. The 6mm footbed is a blessing on trails as it really offers just that hint of support you want as you are running and yet manages to give enough connection with the surface you are running on for it to feel very real.

The TRI-C compound is also quite a nice little touch in that they’ve broken down the sole into three distinctive areas with differing degrees of flexibility and strength in the rubber so that your foot gets the best protection and movement for the ground it’s covering. This is where they really come into their own and actually running through wet or sticky trail simply ‘feels’. You know where you are because the rubber is working with you rather than simply absorbing the impact as with say the Hoka One One.

Upper
The mesh on the upper is lightweight and very breathable and even in wet conditions will bounce back pretty readily. Obviously they are in no way waterproof but they drain well and with the right socks, offer lasting protection against the elements. The concern with the upper is that it won’t last a million years but then if you will insist on running in a pair of slippers you’ve got to expect that they’ll wear a little easier than some of their hardcore cousins.

Fitting
I found the Trailroc came up a little small in the fitting and so rather than use my usual size 9 I went with the 9.5 – I did this for several reasons, the first is that I wanted to wear thicker socks with them (Drymax) and I wanted to give my feet a little more room than usual. The nice wide toe box of the Trailroc 245 is a very good fit for a runner with wider feet like myself. My toes never feel too locked in to the shoe but they always feel secure thanks to an excellent lacing system and loopholes in exactly the places that you want them.

Visual
Aesthetically the shoe is very nice, it’s not quite Salomon Lab Ultra nice but they aren’t far off and I always feel like a fashion icon of running when I find myself choosing my Trailroc to hit the ground in. The thing they have over the SLab Ultra are that in my case they fit properly.

Comfort
Once of the nice things about the Trailroc 245 though is that I find them very comfortable on the tarmac as well – I mean I’m not going to run a marathon in them but when I’m crossing London in an evening or hitting the road for my Virtual 10km races then these are ideal. They don’t suffer with some of the dull ache you get with other trail shoes that you might accidentally wear on tarmac – bonus.

Overall
So technically they appear a great shoe, you really can’t fault them but is my experience of them equally as good. I’ve now run about 80 miles in the shoes and feel that is enough to get a fair understanding of how I feel about them

Experience
As most people who read my blog will be aware I enjoy racing and I feel that every shoe I own should run at least one race. This happens to be quite difficult when you own dozens of pairs of running shoes but with the Inov8 I was keen to get them into a race as soon as possible and my wish was granted with the Valentines Challenge in Vigo.

The conditions were incredibly heavy going (as you can read in my earlier blog posting here) because of  all the rain and storms that the UK had suffered from over the months of December and January. I was wearing the Trailroc for only the second time and the first on trail and so I was filled with slight nerves about their performance. However, I need not have worried – the shoes chomped through most of the mud, skipped through puddles and waded happily through flooding. Yes, they were a bit lethargic through the top layer wet mud but then I think almost any shoe would have been – perhaps a super aggressive grip shoe would have fared better but then in the drier rockier sections the three rubber outsole worked its magic as I skipped over the difficult terrain with both enough protection and lubrication on my feet. Each soaking my feet took eventually dried out and the combination of shoe and sock was a magical one. Even as I was finishing the race covered in every kind of mud imaginable the shoes never let me down and even trudged to a reasonably fast finish.

Subsequent runs have been equally impressive but as with all barefoot or minimal shoes I find that when I run tired that my form slips and this then makes them less comfortable – but that is a problem with the runner and not so much with the shoe. Would I think of these for an ultra marathon such as SDW50 in a few weeks time? I suppose the honest is ‘possibly’. They will certainly be my back up shoe but they won’t yet make it to being my first port of call – the Hoka are simply too good for that. However, when I’m looking at kit for the Race to the Stones these will definitely be being considered because of the lower profile, lighter weight, ventilation and all round comfort.

Score
Great shoe 9/10 – dropping a point only because they couldn’t cure me of my Hoka addiction.

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On Sunday morning I took the short trip from Kent to Essex to take part in what I had heard was a stunning little ultra marathon – the St. Peter’s Way from Challenge Running.

Having started the year with Country to Capital and adding in a lovely 10 mile heavy trail at Vigo I felt that this ultra was well within my capability and in fact I was aiming to run something around the 8hr mark for St. Peter’s Way. Training had been going okay for a little while but a series of misadventures stretching back through to early February meant the training had tailed off in favour or trying to get to the start line.

Therefore I loaded my kit in the car on Sunday and set off, two bags – one, my Aquapac wet and dry bag with a ton of warm clothing and the other my Ultimate Directions vest with enough running kit to  sink a small battleship. The advice had been that a base layer would be needed and also some waterproof trousers, this though had the affect of making my vest heavier and bigger than I would have liked. However, the benefit of the UD pack is that it stays small and it felt as comfortable as ever when I did the test fitting in Ongar.

As I arrived at the car park where everything was being co-ordinated I noticed all the runners wandering around, many of them congregating up near the check in and bag drop. I joined the queue and had my kit checked (for the first time ever in an ultra), grabbed my number and then headed back to the car to wait for the start and also to cough my guts up – fearing that if anyone saw me hacking up a weeks worth of phlegm they would politely refuse me entry to the race.

Having previously run the White Cliffs 50 and Thames Gateway 100 with the now defunct Saxon Shore Ultra Trails I noted how outrageously well organised the St. Peter’s Way Ultra was in comparison. Lindley had provided excellent pre-race communication and on the day he made for an excellent orator of what was expected from the runners and what they could expect. We were then dismissed and had a few minutes to chat with the other runners or mentally prepare for the upcoming 45 miles. At this point despite my chest infection I felt pretty okay about the race and that really enthusiastic race environment was driving me forward. My OH looked on, probably in horror, hoping that I was going to do the sensible thing and withdraw but she knew me better than that.

The race then simply started with a few cheery ‘good lucks’ and a few laughs about the impending mud fest we faced. In retrospect the start could be considered a bit of anti climax as I ended up walking the first 100metres but this simply gave us time to compare notes about previous races and introduce ourselves to other runners that we might later rely on for support and encouragement.

As we turned into the first field my beloved Hoka One One took the first of their muddy soakings and you could tell this course was likely to drain all the energy from your legs. Myself and the other runners stumbled through the first few steps until we got into our stride, watching the super ultra royalty at the front of the course moving faster and further than most of us could dream of.

We had been warned that the course didn’t have any super challenging hills in it but that it would be constantly undulating, this proved very much to be the case. And despite not really being able to get an adequate grip anywhere I was making steady but slowish progress. Thankfully I could also feel the warmth of the day on my face and it looked like we might get perfect running weather – just as we had for Country to Capital.

The course turned out to be surprisingly well labelled and the written instructions in combination with my Suunto Ambit 2 powered map I was sure would see me home and this was where you realised that Challenge Running really did know what they were doing, Nicki, one of the runners I would travel with later in the race said of Lindley that, ‘he knows what ultra runners want, because he is one himself’. This very much came across in the care with which he (and his team?) had prepared every final detail.

As I ambled across the route, over taking a few, being over taken by a few, I met (at a bit of junction) a sprightly young runner named Mike, I say young he was a few years older than I but you would never have known it. It was about mile 3 and we discovered that we had a few things in common and, as you do, got chatting about life, loves and the art of running and our common ground and the differences between us made for enjoyable conversation over the next few miles. I learnt of his racing battle with his wife and he discovered about the stupidity of my seven ultra marathon challenge, we discussed food – Mike favouring Soreen and me favouring Kinder chocolate. I explained to Mike that my chest infection was making my journey tough and that at no point should I hold him up but despite my increasing anxiety and shortness of breath we reached CP1 in good spirits.

We rolled up past the Viper pub to be welcomed by a decent troop of supporters and my OH who was supposed to have gone home. I was grateful to see her and we had big hugs and kisses as well as chowing down on all the goodies at the stop. Yummy. Challenge Running had an excellent range of food and drink – both savoury and sweet and at one point I had both jelly beans and chicken nuggets in my mouth at the same time.

Mike and I left CP1 and headed off to CP2, the course remained challenging but not impossible and our navigation was good, therefore we were able to make decent time and even some of the hills proved insignificant as we thrust ourselves forward – looking back only to make sure the other was okay. We made other running friends as we went about our business and without too much fuss (and other light sprint to the checkpoint) we made it to CP2. Mike was still looking excellent but I knew I was already in trouble and so after some friendly banter and a piece of delicious raspberry and white chocolate cake we both headed out again. We trundled up the road and back onto the trail but I knew that I needed to slow down and so rather than hold Mike back I just let him slip away – hoping that I’d catch him at the end so we could keep in contact post race.

As we crossed a main road over a bridge I made light work of this, grateful for the change of pace but then slowed to allow Mike past and then watched as he ploughed onwards. I then trudged up the next field and down and around – following my GPS and for the first time, just as I lost my running partner, I lost my way. I had come out of the field and the group in front of me had gone. I couldn’t see them.

Looking to the instructions and my GPS for support provided little help and when looking most vulnerable a gentleman with a dog called to me and advised that I was a few miles out of the way and that other runners had been slicing through the field a little way back but that I could get back to the St Peter’s Way with a left and right turn and I shouldn’t add too much to my route. I was grateful to him and as was the chap behind me who had also made the same mistake as I. However, within a few minutes we found ourselves on the back end of a housing estate, caked in mud and proving something of a shock to most of the locals who were out washing their cars and brushing their driveways. The Tarmac made for easier going for about a quarter mile but I knew that we would soon be back on the trail and there it was, a right turn back on to the main path to Bradwell on Sea.

CP2 – CP3 was probably the hardest section, it was badly cut up, it had a few hills, it was covered (in places) in horse shit and it offered some amazing opportunities to fall over and get covered in every kind of slime imaginable. It was starting to take no prisoners. The first 20 miles had been the warm up, the next 20 it seemed where going to give us a bit of a roasting and with conditions worsening and a strong wind growing, it looked this ultra would prove worthy of the 2UTMB points that it came with.

I slogged my way up the final section, cursing my burning chest and beating it like Tarzan in an effort to move the phlegm but nothing was working and when finally I came across the Tarmac road into the village and home of CP3 I gave my now usual sprint to the line. I also committed my usual acts of pseudo flirting with the volunteers and ate as much as I could manage, but with a worsening condition in my chest and throat this wasn’t as much as it should have been.

I had sent an SMS to my OH explaining the severity of my chest infection and that I was struggling for breath and at this point she suggested I stop- something I had been considering for a little while and when I saw that the next section was nearly 10 miles I almost handed my number in, but then I remembered that no matter how bad I was physically my mental strength was good and so after a few laughs at CP3 I pushed on.

The next 10 miles were much easier than the previous 10 and included lots of lovely photographic moments across the shipyards and in small Essex villages – the kind that Essex doesn’t get enough credit for. Truth to tell I was starting to simply enjoy the process of being a bit of tourist in Essex and allowing history and beauty to seep over me.

It was about 3.45pm when I finally stopped, briefly, and threw on my waterproof, even though it wasn’t raining the day had taken several turns for the worse and I wanted I make sure that I was warm enough to complete the distance. This precaution proved to be the right choice and in a new found warmth I also found new energy and was able to battle through my own fatigue. I dipped onto the road that would leap to CP4 and slowly made quite scary progress against the flow of the traffic. With my renewed vigour I pushed into the checkpoint, gave in my number and was grateful for both the stop and the chat with the marshall’s – even the topic of Mike Jones came up, the man who had run Saxon Shore Ultra Trails and it was very nice to be remembered, maybe that’s why I love the ultra community – people remember you! I digress…

I now knew that with only 8 miles to go I wasn’t going to give up. If I gave up now I would be transported to the finish and there I would be witness to all the other runners in their finery and me, without a medal – this would not happen. About 3 miles into the final section, mainly speed walking I came across the very lovely Nicki (mentioned earlier) and between us I hope that we managed to keep each other going at a pace that meant we would make the 6.30pm bus back to the start. Nicki was 100% focused on making the distance and I found her tenacity infectious to the point that our speed walking was not a million miles from 5miles per hour. The dark was now setting in around us and we finally reached Bradwell-on-Sea and memories poured into my head of crawling through the mud last year at Xtreme Beach but today it wasn’t the mud that was in my face it was the battering winds from the sea. We ploughed on through the wind – sometimes behind us, sometimes at the side of us and I could feel my energy ebbing away and with less than a mile to go. I called out to Nicky and told her I needed to back off a bit and she should push on as she going amazingly well.

And then it happened, probably less than 250 metres to go – I felt the full force of blood pumping in me and I started running and then as we crossed the final stretch of blackness I could feel my feet sprinting. 150metres to go, I went the wrong way round the finish line  – I hurled out my apologies to Nicky who had gotten me to this point and then I flew forward in relatively full flight sprint, taking my congratulations and medal from Lindley himself.

I was done, in so many ways.

After the crossing of the line I was able to collect my beautiful Tshirt, my drop bag, food and also catch up with Mike who had finished about 45 minutes ahead of me. It was a wonderful location to finish an ultra at and despite my haze I was in amazement at how wonderful an experience this was.

So to sum up.

The route? Bloody tough, but hugely rewarding, very scenic and an exploration of some of the best bits of Essex. The way is pretty well marked and it was harder to get lost than I thought, add in that the lovely people of Essex provided much needed support and in some cases – directions.

The Volunteers and Marshals? A race is only as good as the people who line the route and in this race the volunteers and marshals were amazing. They were fun, helpful, dedicated and interacted with us. I’m sure people came through grumpy and tired and deflated or happy or whatever and you know that these guys were the ones who made it possible for them to keep going. I have nothing but praise for every single one of you

The Food? The food was a nice mix of sweet and savoury, everything that a runner could possibly want and the chicken nuggets were a delight! Jelly beans, gummy bears, the various cakes, lots of drink types and never a shortage.

The Finish Line? I’ve had some great finish lines over the last three years, running next to the Liver Building, crossing the Tyne at Gateshead and this one was right up there. Not only have I never been so happy to see a finish line but there was something eerily beautiful about the church lit only by head torches and a few lamps – it was truly beautiful.

The Bling? Brilliant, I love the bling – see picture, it was bold, red and the same as the symbol I had been following all day long. I wore it for the whole of the rest of Sunday night and this morning I looked at again and relived those final moments as it went around my neck.

Finally Do this race, do it next year and the year after and every other year, this is an amazing race, with amazing organisation and a team that really know what they are doing. I’ll attempt to race 7 ultras this year and I’m not sure I’ll run a more brilliant one than this. I know one thing though and that is I’d like to go back and run it without the chest infection as my one disappointment was my time.

Next for me is the March Virtual Run and then South Downs Way 50. Can’t wait.

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