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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

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And the rock cried out no hiding place. And it was correct, in ultra marathons there is no hiding place – especially from yourself.

The question I’m asking myself is, have I stopped hiding and am I making forward progress? Well the last six months are the first real test of that question – so how did I fare?

The 2017 halfway point: I love running, I hate running – it’s a perfect balance and 2017 has, so far, given as much as it has taken at the halfway point.

I’m not going to dwell on two DNFs (I’ve done that enough) instead I’m considering the huge positives I can take from my first six months of the year and look forward with enormous pleasure to my second six months.

The good

  • Finishing my third Vigo 10
  • Running on awesome trails in Barcelona and Madeira
  • Completing the Hockley Woods Challenge, Marlborough Downs Challenge, South Wales 50, Amersham Ultra and Escape From Meriden
  • Running the Westminster Mile twice, once with the family, once solo
  • Managing to get a medical certificate signed
  • Being told my heart is in tip top condition
  • Losing 6kg in weight
  • Deciding that, as a family, we need to move to Scotland and be closer to the mountains

The Bad

  • Failed to complete a race purchase therefore missing out on Winter Tanners
  • Let down by failing Altra Lone Peak 3.0
  • DNF at Madeira
  • DNF at Barcelona
  • Petzl head torch failure at the first time of in race usage
  • Put on 3kg in weight

The good stuff has been really, really good and the bad stuff has been a bit ‘meh’ I mean it’s not like the world caved in – it’s just running.

The South Wales 50 probably serves as the ultra highlight for me because I met two wonderful runners, had an awesome time and finished in a reasonable albeit not exceptional time. But the real highlight was having UltraBaby banging out a mile in a decent time and fully understanding the concept of racing and earning her reward – I was both a proud parent and runner at that moment.

The low point was obviously going to be Barcelona and realising I was going to have to DNF on a technicality rather than for running reasons – I was pretty furious and disappointed.

However, despite my misadventures I feel like I’m making positive progress towards my endgame and I knew before I started on this segment of the journey that failures would be fairly regular.

Perhaps my regret in my racing over the last six months is that Meriden killed off any chance I had of taking part in the South Wales 100. But this did set me up for a truly outstanding experience on the 50 with Ryan and Pete. South Wales was also a really good finishing point for the end of the first half of the year as it felt like I have properly succeeded at something and it means that mentally I go into preparations for my coming races and training with a positive attitude.

Upcoming
It’s a bit weird really, much like the start of the year I’m effectively having two months off where I can focus on training and family without the interruption of racing.

Therefore July and August will have a series of long runs on the outskirts of London and across Kent to prepare me for racing again which begins in early September with the return of the London to Brighton race.

The time off from racing will I hope get me through the summer without a case of serious dehydration or further DNFs as I found last summer and the one before to be a dreadful time for racing.

Ultimately I have reduced the amount of racing I do and I am seeing some benefits but there’s still much improvement to make, the challenge now is to improve my results in the second half of the year and continue to have a bloody good time.

Testing myself 

September London to Brighton will be a test of pace. Can I knuckle down enough to complete the 100km in under 14hrs? And can I navigate the course well enough to end up where I need to be. Given that I’ve clearly lost ‘half a yard’ to use a football reference and my navigation skills, although improving, are still not amazing, I will be very pleased to get through this unscathed. 

October Ultra Trail Scotland: Arran was the final race in my 2017 calendar to be confirmed and I can’t wait. At only 75km this should be a fairly simple test but with a little over 5,000metres of positive elevation this is set to be as brutal as the section of MIUT that I ran and anything but simple – the difference is that this will be autumnal Scotland not a pleasant spring day in Madeira. 

November The Rebellion sees me head to Wales again in November for a bit of a bimble through the hills. At 135miles this will be the longest distance I’ve tackled and I’m not intending to be quick but I’m also not planning on using the full 72hr time allocation. I signed up for this after the bitter disappointment of dropping from the SW100 to the SW50. Looking forward to this one.

December SainteLyon is my favourite race and I’ll be returning for more midnight shenanigans in Lyon. I’m sure I’ll still be a giant puddle of mess after The Rebellion but this glorious race fills me with unexplainable joy. I’m hoping to improve on my time from my first attempt but I’ll simply be pleased to returning a city and an event I really did fall in love with.

So that’s my second half of the year – four races left that cover mountains, speed, distance and love – you can’t ask for much more really.

But what about you? How has your running been so far this year? All going to plan? None of it going to plan? What’s left in the race calendar? and most importantly are you having fun? 

Happy running. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bish, bash, boom, job done. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I sat, eating delicious sugary sweets and drinking slightly too warm Coca Cola as the last shaft of light dropped away from northern Spain. I tried my Petzl one final time in the hope that it could power me round the final 32km.

But it was dead.

I’d prepared so hard to face down the UTBCN but I’d neglected something very important and yet based on my previous experience, superfluous – a second powerful head torch.

As I prepare to return to mountainous terrain with climbs in excess of 1,000 metres and a total elevation of more than 7,000 metres I need to ensure my preparation is more meticulous than ever.

(This was written prior to MIUT and my result there. A report of my experience will follow in the coming weeks once I’ve properly processed the event).

Mental, Physical, Technical Preparedness. I’ve spent much of the last year taking time to think about what I want from my running and as a consequence have changed so many things and while there have been a series of hiccups along the way I’m generally happy with how it’s all panning out


Physical. 
In physical terms I’m faster than I have been for years, I’m sub20 at 5km again and on the right (downhill) course I’m closing in on the low 40s for a 10km. My endurance is better too with 60-70 mile running weeks more achievable than ever and 15 mile hilly buggy runs are a regular occurrence and have been helping prepare for elevation efforts. I’ve been taking my body more seriously too, dropping a few kilograms in weight and not ignoring injuries and all of the above is paying dividends.

However, it’s not all positive, several years of under training, over racing and ignoring injury have left me with scars that my body is unlikely ever to recover from. And so I’ve gone from top 25% of the field runner to a mid/back of the pack runner and in the races I’m now committed to I’m happy just to be able to go to them because I’m a novice and still learning. 

When I go and stand on the start line of the MIUT I know that I’m not one of the mountain goats or one of the winners and that I’m there for the experience (and hopefully a finish) but I know that I’m headed there in better physical shape than say, six months ago, when I took on Haria Extreme.

If you can learn anything from my experiences I hope it’s that you need to develop – give yourself the time to rest, recuperate, train and absorb information from all available sources. This will improve your competitiveness and physicality as you approach those races you’ve always dreamed of facing.

Mental. I was stood at the base of Como Lumpido in Lanzarote with a difficult ascent ahead of me – some runners were coming down the climb having decided that this wasn’t for them.

There was no doubt I was going slowly but having only just returned from injury this race was going to be a test and this climb was a bit of a shit. When I reached the top I looked out into the distance and stood for a moment to grab a photograph or two and heard myself cry out ‘woohoo’. 

All you need is… I hadn’t felt like this since the Skye Trail Ultra six months earlier when I’d nearly shat myself coming down one of the very steep sections. This hilly running sent goosebumps running up my arms and shivers down my spine

I was in love.

For the next 25km of Haria Extreme I had my foot to the floor such was my joy and while there are circumstances that stopped me continuing at around 80km I came away from Lanzarote knowing I had so much more to give.

Dealing with the downs? I’ve often suffered with post race blues and an inability to draw the positives from the racing I’ve done, instead focusing on where it’s gone wrong and how I MUST improve but after Haria I was sure that my decision was the right one and I felt mentally positive about my failure.

However, in the fiasco of my Barcelona failure I’ve been much less positive and actually this has affected to some degree my preparation for Madeira. Having accepted I needed to give myself a bit of a kicking I’m relatively back on track and go to the Portuguese island clinging on to positive thoughts. 

Don’t say ‘edge’. My key concern though isn’t my occasionally negative feelings about ability, no.

My key concern is that I’m scared witless of heights and having viewed many YouTube clips, instagram feeds and twitter timelines I can assure both you reader and myself that the elevation, the climbs and the sheer drops are something I’m terrified of.

I can’t imagine taking these sections with anything other than an arse quivering fear and no experience is making me feel better about this. At Skye there was hard elevation and cliff edges to negotiate as there were  at the CCC, SainteLyon, Barcelona and Lanzarote but this is a whole new level.

I’ve worked hard to focus on the running so that I don’t look down too often and I’ve faced numerous long dangerous hikes over the last couple of years to get me prepared for this – I feel I should no longer be worried, but I am.

I’m advised that a healthy fear of these sections is sensible and respectful and while I know that’s true I wonder how I’m feel when I’m faced with them in the dead of night.

Why do I worry about ultras abroad so much? It’s true that I go to these foreign ‘A’ races and worry about them much more than I do say something like the TP100 or the Ridgeway. 

I’m convinced that some of the pressure I have been exerting on myself has been setting me up for failure. So, kit issues, physical condition, training, having family around, not having family around, lack of suitable locally sourced nutrition and foreign languages all contribute enormously to my stress levels that blow tall and mighty.

It’s a strange set of circumstances that probably come mostly from simply being out of my comfort zone.

By golly Holmes! To aid in the resolution of this I’ve taken some very simple steps a) pack early b) lists c) anything missing can usually be sourced locally and finally d) don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m not going to run it, I’m undertrained/injured/whatever’.

This approach has served me quite well at Haria and the UTBCN where both my failures to finish were because of circumstances outside of the norm. I’m hoping that with the two factors that blighted these events no longer being an issue (fingers crossed) and despite the harshness of the course, I can complete MIUT.

I’ve come a long way in my running preparation, especially the mental side of it and although it’s far from perfect – it’s improving.

I have to understand that should I ever want to reach the final race of my running career though I’ll need to develop a still greater tenacity to post race blues and I’ll need to improve my mental agility regarding perceived failure.

However, my love of the mountains and the peace I find in them make racing there so alluring that my deficiencies in mental strength can be overlooked enough to commit to an increasing number of elevation stacked races.

Technically. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – I wish this were a true statement but I’m living proof that failing to prepare doesn’t prepare you to fail, however, the success you achieve is unlikely to be as great as you would hope for.

The above statement is not an excuse for my often woeful lack of preparedness but a statement of fact.

However, when you start preparing to run on the trails, going up hills and climbing mountainous regions, then you suddenly find that the better your running technique, your pre-race research and understanding of your equipment is then the better time you’ll have and the better you’ll perform.

But I adore throwing my love spuds on the fire! I’ve rocked up to a few races with ill fitting shoes, not taking into account the days conditions, no idea of the route, no idea the elevation and barely any idea what race I’m in. It will come as no surprise to runners that these are the events were I have mostly performed badly. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the races that could have gone so much better had I prepared in a more fitting manner.

I finally began preparing better for races at the SainteLyon 2015 because I was going to France alone, there would be no rescue, no backup, it was a race in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night.

So I prepared a little like this 

  • Researched previous years events on social media and running websites
  • Used only the local (French) language site as this was more up-to-date than the English language version
  • Got my medical certificate done as early as possible 
  • Booked flights and accommodation early
  • Got to know the local public transport network before I arrived
  • Brushed up on my French
  • Printed maps
  • Printed race documents
  • Got happy with race kit options before leaving the UK, avoided last minute purchases, but…
  • Knew where a local sports shop was for emergency race purchases
  • Got to bib collection early
  • Rested pre-race for the midnight start
  • Big poo pre-race
  • Packed kit for an ultra with no backup
  • Knew my route back to my accommodation 

I had with me for the SainteLyon options for clothing but my race kit (vest, nutrition, head torch, waterproof, etc) were all decided long before the race started and this helped me to settle down, not worry so much and have the best race experience I’ve ever had. The SainteLyon should be my model for how to prepare for a race.

Subsequently I’ve tried to replicate the process and it’s mostly gone okay but there is always the potential for problems but you learn to adapt. I do the ‘headless chicken’ routine a lot less than I used to.

The CCC. For example in the run up to the CCC we were advised that temperatures meant we should be carrying significant amounts of extra fluid, my response to this was to find a matching race belt to my bag with a 500ml bottle – but it had to be matching (my need for order overtaking my need to have a pleasant holiday in Chamonix). To say I was a bear with a sore head for most of this trip is an understatement, but it was all ridiculous race related pressure that I was heaping upon myself. 

The resolution is that now I carry a spare 350ml soft bottle as an addition to my other hydration options and on a race day I choose the most appropriate ones depending on weather conditions.

Bingo.

Preparation of the organisational and technical elements of racing have helped me very much and contributed significantly to finishes at Amersham, Green Man, Skye and the Vanguard Way and without being prepared I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as I did at Haria and Barcelona but it’s not the be all and end all.

Preparation, I’ve discovered, is not the key to finishing but it is the key to starting successfully and that in my opinion is half the battle.

So whether you’re a first timer or a bit of an old salty seadog like me, there will always be things that you can do to reduce anxiety and build confidence.

Facing MIUT. If I had to place in order how I value the three aspects of my running preparation I’d say that Mental is the most important followed by Technical/Organisation with my Physical readiness the least important. Ultimately if my headspace is fucked I’m not getting to the start line, I’d just stay in bed on race morning. If my kit, organisation or transport to the start line is wrong then my stress levels go up which affect my mental attitude and we have a cumulative nightmare. However, if my body is a bit worse for wear, if I haven’t slept properly, if all my hypochondria rears it ugly head I’ll still start and mostly I’ll put up with it (unless it’s serious).

So when I go to Madeira and the midnight start in Porto Moniz I’m just going to take it easy because I have prepared properly, I have tested all my kit and I am trying to stay positive, albeit a nervous positive. Finish or fail it matters not, I just know I’d rather be challenging myself at MIUT this weekend rather than something I know I can do.


It’s been a couple of weeks since the verdict at the Hillsborough inquest was announced and it was a momentous moment for the families. Certainly it is a moment worth celebrating as we hope they are entering the final stages of achieving recognition for the innocent and accountability for the guilty. 

It seems fitting that Liverpool has been gathering in various guises since to celebrate the verdict and the running community will be paying its tribute too when it gets together next week for the ‘Run for the 96’. It’s a wonderful 5km route  through Stanley Park and its surrounds and it’d be awesome to see you there. 

But why should you think about getting involved? Well I have a few good reasons;

  • The verdict from the inquests deserves to be celebrated
  • This event is part of the positive lasting legacy of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy
  • It’s an opportunity for the community to come together not just in memory of the 96 but for those who have campaigned to say thank you
  • Getting a bit of exercise on a Sunday morning never did anyone any harm
  • Liverpool fans might be celebrating the winning of their first European title in a decade and want to share the love
  • Liverpool fans might be commiserating the loss of their first European title in a decade and want to share their pain
  • I’m going to need a great big crowd to help cheer me home after completing 80 miles in hours before the ‘Run for the 96’
  • The medal is awesome
  • The T-Shirt is awesome
  • You get to witness UltraBoy beat his own father across the line Dick Dastardly style

So join in on Sunday 22nd May 2016 for a 5km that promises to have laughter and tears aplenty in the heart of Stanley Park, Liverpool. You don’t need to be a football fan, an elite athlete or even wear a shell suit – this is one event that really is all inclusive.

Find out more here and you can sign up here and I’ll look forward to running alongside you next weekend.

Photograph copyright: Liverpool Echo

  
In a few weeks time a hardy group of runners will aim to get from Sheffield to Liverpool in memory of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy. As many of my regular readers will know I’ll be joining the team for The Hillsborough to Anfield run this year on what marks a significant milestone in the families quest for the truth over what really happened on April 15th 1989. 

There were a number of important things for me to consider when I decided to join in with the H2A guys.

Can I do it? Well the distance isn’t a problem really and nor is the route itself – the amount of road running is of mild concern but training has been steady if unspectacular and other than my ITB firing up to crucify me this weekend I had a good Ranscombe Challenge/Ramble. The Isle of Skye race the weekend after poses more of a problem in terms of capability but as long as the H2A doesn’t go out all guns blazing I should be fine.

Training is being ramped up even now and normally after a weekend of 40 odd miles I’d have a few days off but this time I’m straight back into it and intending to stay ‘into it’. This is one I don’t want to come away from disappointed in my own performance.

Should I do it? This was a very big consideration for me for several reasons, but one reason sat at the forefront of my thinking.

My dad. 

As well as being one of the runners, he has been prominent in the search for the truth regarding the tragedy. He has carried the weight of the brother he lost for 27 years and through some of the most difficult times, however, he continues to show a tenacity and humility that few could argue with and is a beacon of inspiration to anyone who has faced adversity.

It was therefore with trepidation that I approached the event as I wouldn’t want to be a Johnny-come-lately. However, the opportunity to support my dad as he attempts to go further than ever before seemed the right kind of symbolism and the right kind of message about the positive nature of our relationship and how from tragedy positive things can happen – plus who better than his ultra running off-spring to make sure he gets to Anfield.

What’s in it for you UltraBoy? That’s a very good question and the answer is simple – running is something I can do, sometimes I’m even okay at it. I’m not so good at all the other things that the families, survivors and victims needed but I can run and if this helps draw a light not just to this injustice but all injustices, if it reminds people of the power and value of community then the running I and the team do will be worth it and that’s what’s in it for me.

Why do it so long after the tragedy? 27 years is a long time to wait for the truth but with the Hillsborough inquests drawing to a close and the verdict hopefully due soon it seems like this run will be a little like a full stop, an opportunity to say thank you, an opportunity to – in some cases – say goodbye.

For example, this will be the final year of a major memorial at Liverpool FC’s stadium and while there will be many legacies left over from the tragedy I hope the families can live out the rest of their lives in peace and with a sense of justice having finally been reached. They’ve earned some peace via the hardest route.

The run though seems like the right tribute at the right time, not just those who died on the day but those who didn’t make it to this point – family, friends, supporters and more.

What about the ‘Run for the 96?’ If I make it to Anfield I’ll be having a crack at the 5km run in Stanley Park. This is one of the brilliant legacies to come out of the ashes of the tragedy – bringing people together, engaging the community, reminding everyone  that something like Hillsborough should never be allowed to happen again and getting them fit and running

 If you can join in then please do so – I really would love to see you all there in a sea of blue and red. As an old Liverpool fan who lives far from the city I’d urge football fans, running fans and everyone else to lace up their trainers or slip on your flip flops and join me and everyone else for 5km in Liverpool on May 22nd. 

And while I’m told it’s not a race I’ll be happy to give anyone who fancies it a bit of a 100 metre sprint even with a possible 78 miles in my legs and no sleep, now that surely is a challenge nobody can resist! Ha!

You can enter the Run for the 96 here. See you there.

  
Sounds like an advert I’d put in a lonely hearts column – looking for a racy lady named April, big ‘hills’ and personality to match? I think I’d probably get some exciting responses. Thankfully it’s not a dating advert but something I was looking for in April and that was a challenging race to help condition me for a manic May. 

What did I find? Well I’ll be doing the Ranscombe Double. The ‘Challenge’ event on the Saturday is a 4.4 mile undulating 8hr timed run while Sunday brings the ‘Ramble’ another 8hr event but a hillier 5.25 mile route. Both will be trail, both will be muddy and by the looks of things both will be like I’m hoping ‘Racy April’ is, moist. 

I’ve run Ranscombe three times with SVN events and it never fails to impress and I’ll be chowing down on as much deliciousness as I can stuff into my cake hole.

The aim is a minimum of a marathon on each day but ideally 30 miles per day would set me up nicely for the Hillsborough to Anfield Run and Skye Ultra Trail in May (both over 70 miles). But after feeling pain in my right leg post last weekends hilly 14 mile buggy run I’ll take whatever distance I can manage and not push too hard for fear of further damage. 

So good luck chaps for anyone else running this weekend and have fun.

 How often do you enter a 5km race anymore? Probably not very often – even at the start of my racing career 5km was never a chosen race distance. It’s probably because it has been purloined by those cheeky types at Parkrun. However, today I entered my first 5km race in about 3 years and I can give you 96 reasons why you should consider joining me.

In April 1989 the Hillsborough football tragedy led to the death of 96 Liverpool football fans and decimated the lives of many, many others. Now nearly 27 years later – what we all hope are the final days of the inquest into what happened on that terrible day.

When I saw the inaugural running of the event last year I felt the need to return home (with UltraBaby) to take part in the run named in honour of those that died – The Run for the 96. Sadly life conspired against me taking part but in its second running I am all signed up and raring to go.

As regular readers may remember I took part in the WNWA96 event organised by my dad a couple of years ago to say thank you for the support the families have been given and to remember those who had been lost over the 25 years since the tragedy occurred. This event though is a little different in that it’s for anyone and a great way to earn a cracking medal while doing a bit of exercise.

My dad, whose brother was killed at Hillsborough, will be involved in the ‘Run for the 96’ event and I’m looking forward to taking part because if, as we hope, the inquests finally provide the closure necessary for the families, then this run will be a fitting tribute to my uncle and to those who have fought so long. Plus, for me the bonus is that I’ll get to cross the finish line as part of three generations of my family – that’s always very special.

If you’d like to take a look at the event click on the link here and consider joining me on May 22nd (I’ll be the one cracking out the distance while pushing a baby and probably trying to keep up with a Spaniel). Let’s not forget 5km is a distance any idiot can do and that must be true because my Dad is doing it.

See you there.

Image copyright Liverpool Echo

  
The last few weeks have been quite draining and as we all know the run up to Christmas is a busy affair for all manner of reasons. This therefore makes my latest (run) decision somewhat perplexing. So previously I;

  1. Did the Greenwich MoRun pushing the buggy up and down the hills of Greenwich Park leaving my thighs knackered
  2. Then went off to the challenge of SainteLyon which also left me completely exhausted
  3. And this weekend I did a 24hr return trip to Liverpool via public transport carrying UltraBaby and about 50kg of presents and kit leaving  me absolutely destroyed

So I thought the only sensible thing to do was to sign up to the Sikhs in the City ‘Dawn ’til Dusk’ challenge! 50km, on what I read, is a bit of a toughie to run around. Bugger me! Still it was that or find myself a Santa Dash. However, I’m promising* this is definitely the last race of the year. 

*my fingers were crossed

My year of running: I remember January arriving and I’d been allowed a single solitary run in the previous 3 months. My physiotherapist seemed to believe that I needed a complete rest from running but by January as I was climbing the walls she told I should start running again – remembering that I had to take it easy.

I neglected to mention my race list for 2015 but that didn’t stop her asking. I explained that 2015 was less manic than my previous race years but still pretty hectic. I explained to her I’d build up sensibly and I would actually do some training – and I did.

During 2015 I put in more than 2,000 training and racing miles but 2015 was about more than covering a decent amount of distance – it was about completing new challenges and recovering from injury all while being new to parenthood.

My first few races were build ups to the SDW50 and ultimately the CCC but I returned to racing with the Vigo 10 which is perhaps my favourite non ultra race and it’s relatively local so when I was looking to return to racing this seemed a no-brainer. I was painfully slow as I trudged round the course and climbed the final ‘knee wobbler’ hill but I did complete it and I really enjoyed it – it was great to be back. I came away from the race thinking that I was cured of my injury woes and I could have kissed my physiotherapist I was so grateful.

Obviously it didn’t all go to plan – not by a long stretch, I followed Vigo up with the Brands Hatch half and this was a full on nightmare. My leg started to break down within about 7km and although I held on until 14km I knew I was going to have to hobble back to the finish line and this was very much what I did. It was a grim day and I was staring down the barrel of the gun again but my physiotherapist took a slightly more realistic approach and explained that setbacks do happen. Additional work revealed lots of physical problems that could do with correcting and we were able to identify that tarmac and hills are the main things that bring on ‘The Attack of the  Glutes’. And with a prevention strategy and further work I progressed nicely through the year. Yes, its true that I was in agony for the SDW50 but in the run up to that both days of the Ranscombe Challenge had gone exceptionally well.

I also managed to go to my final Centurion Running event for a while and complete the Thames Path 100 therefore getting the monkey off my back regarding my failure at the Winter 100 when all my injuries did finally gang up on me and leave me in a bad way. The winning of a Centurion buckle has been something I’ve been looking for a while now and I’m glad its done because it will let me focus on other things in 2016.

Post TP100 I took a bit of time out and did the Medway 10km with my dad, Bewl 15, the Great London Swim with no training whatsoever and the Westminster Mile with UltraBaby (running an 8 minute mile with a baby strapped to my chest). I banged out a slow Marathon at the Kent Roadrunner again as its my local marathon and I always enjoy the medal if not the course and its always a nice affair as there are usually lots of runners I know there – my sprint finish against Traviss Wilcox was a delight. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jools and Kat – along with a proper introduction to Ed Catmur at the inaugral Twilight Ultra in Ilford, this was supposed to be the final warm up for what would be my first proper foreign race…

I suppose 2015 had always been about France and my double trip to race on the French trails, in December it would be the SainteLyon but first up was my dismal showing at the CCC. I wasn’t quite up to it, it was much too hot for me, it just went badly and I fell during the race and came away from it feeling like I did after the Brands Hatch Half Marathon. However, despite my complete deflation I decided to get straight back on the horse and upon returning to the United Kingdom entered the Saltmarsh 75. With a month to recover from my exploits in France I rested perhaps a bit too much but I rolled up to the Essex saltmarshes and gave it some welly. I’d been incredibly lucky to discover that ultra runner extraordinaire Ian Brazier would be competing in the same race and that provided a real boost as Ian is the the kind of hardcore runner who inspires with his effortless charm. So thank you Mister B!

The end of the year was working out much better than the start of it!

Into the home stretch of the year and I added the Ranscombe Challenge for the third time in a year  with Jools, Kat and (I finally met) the awesome Emma (mk1) finally. A very happy marathon distance was covered and I’m looking forward to next years ultra in her company. There was also time to have to pull out of both the Tolkien and Hugin Challenges but replace those with the Thames Meander over in Kingston-upon-Thames where I felt very fortunate to meet Emma (mk2) and run into several old friends from my London Social Runners Meetup Group.

As November wore on I grew in confidence for the Virtual Runner UK Poppy Challenge which encouraged me to add more and more distance to my November total and there was the best finish in the universe to November when UltraBaby joined me for her fourth race of 2015 at the Greenwich Movember 10km and we bullied our way round the course to being the fastest buggy runners – even if I did nearly flip the buggy as we raced over the finish line.

However, it was December that brought the highlight of the year and the SainteLyon which was an awe inspiring race through the French hills from St Etienne and Lyon.

In review: If that’s (SainteLyon) the last race of the year then this was a properly awesome 9 months of running. I’m hoping that I might be able to go the entire year in 2016 without any injury breaks. It’s fair to say that my injuries have not cleared up completely but I am at least managing them and I’m now actively avoiding races that I know will set them off.

2015 was a great year of racing, true I didn’t race nearly as much as I did in the previous years but I think that was very much in response to my body telling me to pick the races I do more carefully and know my own limits.

My original aims for 2015?

  1. Get a Centurion buckle
  2. Run at one of the UTMB races
  3. Race with my daughter
  4. Cross the line of a hundred mile race with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby
  5. Race with my dad
  6. Successfully recover from injury
  7. Complete 5 ultra marathons
  8. Complete 1 marathon
  9. Enjoy running
  10. Engage with more of the running community 

How did it finish up? 

  • Well I did earn my Centurion buckle (just the one, I’m no Bryan, Dan or Louise).
  • I did race at the CCC but this ended up being my DNF of 2015.
  • I raced four times with UltraBaby and had a great time at each event.
  • I crossed the TP100 line with my family and it was an awesome feeling.
  • I raced with my dad at the Medway 10km which was one of my favourite races of the year. 
  • Injury was a little more complex, I’m still in recovery and that may never change, however, I now have a management strategy and I take a more considered view of the races I’m doing.
  • I completed 7 ultra marathons in 2015.
  • I completed 3 marathons in 2015.
  • For almost every second I was out on the road or the trail I had a great time and never once felt like I didn’t want to be running (well maybe during Brands Hatch, that was depressing).
  • I had the honour to reconnect with lots of great runners I’ve previously met but also had the opportunity to meet and run with lots of new and exciting runners. 

Below is my full race list for 2015

  • Vigo 10
  • Brands Hatch Half
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 2
  • Virtual Runner March 10km
  • SDW50
  • Darent Valley 10k
  • Thames Path 100
  • Medway 10k
  • Bewl 15
  • Great London Swim
  • Westminster Mile
  • Kent Roadrunner Marathon
  • Twilight Ultra
  • Virtual Runner June 10k
  • CCC*
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
  • Saltmarsh Day 1
  • Saltmarsh Day 2
  • Poppy Challenge
  • Thames Meander Marathon
  • Greenwich Movember 10k
  • Saintelyon

*Timed Out

The future: Now the focus is on my plans for 2016 – I’m already booked in for Country to Capital (with EmLa) then I’m going to try and defer my place for TransGC to 2017 in favour of The Green Man Ultra over in Bristol before I step things up a gear with the second running of the Skye Ultra Trail in May.

I suppose though that next year is all about my entry to the Leeds – Liverpool Canal 130 (if I get a place), this will be my toughest challenge to date and will be the furthest I have ever run. If I don’t get a place though I will finally go and run The Ridgeway with the TRA. Sadly I won’t have room for my regular marathon next year either (Kent Roadrunner) and I’m a little sad about this but you can’t keep doing the same race over and over again.

For the end of the year I’ll be looking at the ultra distance for the Haria Extreme in Lanzarote and if time allows I’d love to go back to Lyon and rerun the SainteLyon but that might have to wait until 2017!

What about you? So how about everyone else’s 2015? Did it go well? Did you avoid injury? Did you achieve thousands of PBs or did you focus all your energies into Parkruns? What plans do you have for 2016? What races should I consider adding to my calendar?

  
My next few months of running already taking shape, my failure in the CCC hasn’t dampened my spirits for running and has actually only hardened my resolve to run in races I think I’m going to enjoy and to run them my way (probably talking too much and taking too many photographs – if I listen to the criticisms often levelled at me).

To help me overcome the disappointment of CCC I’m a late sign-up to Saltmarsh 75 – my first multi-day adventure – taking place in October and I’m thoroughly looking forward to taking 75 miles of mentally challenging flat running – this hopefully will put me in good stead for training for what I hope will be a successful ballot entry to GUCR (but that comes later). Post Saltmarsh I’ll be joining the ever awesome Traviss Wilcox at the Ranscombe 8hr timed challenge event. Here I’ll be hopefully be joined straight off of Kilimanjaro by @chiltondiva as she moves from mountain mastery to ultra running starlet. I’ll be hoping to wend my way round enough laps to run 40 miles or so but we will see. 

Staying with Traviss Wilcox and his oversized medals I’ll then be bumbling my way round the November Hugin Challenge looking for another 30 mile ultra distance and a 1:1 scale Viking ship sized medal – well I think that’s the scale!

Winter continues to be my favourite running season and I’ll be finishing the ultra year with the Saintelyon – my absolute ‘A’ race – this is the one I’ve been working towards and the one I’m looking forward to. I might even squeeze in a bit of pre-Christmas shopping while I’m there. I think failure here would be quite crushing but I really do have to turn up for this one as everything about it rings out ‘spectacular’ – well except the lack of medal. That should be the end of longer distance running for 2015, if it all works out that will have been 10 ultras attempted this year and 9 of them completed (fingers crossed).

However, I’m not leaving it there, January brings with it my second pop at Country to Capital (and I’ll be being joined again by the awesome @chiltondiva). I’m planning on this being an easy jaunt to get 2016 underway, perhaps run a better time and simply enjoy it a bit more. C2C is a personal favourite at a great time of year and it’ll be excellent to go back – though I’m hoping the toilet won’t be blocked this time around.

With C2C in mid-January I’m leaving February light on ultra distances as my own stupidity is likely to catch me out on the first weekend of March when I look to conquer the magnificent TransGrancanaria. I signed up to TransGC in a moment of madness the day before the start of the CCC when I saw Wendy offering a few euros off and a very blue t-shirt. Now I’m running the risk of another major ultra going a bit Pete Tong because of a lack of hot mountain experience. However, having examined the profile, done a bit of research and a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’ I should at least make a passable attempt at TransGC. 

And that’s my next six months sorted – obviously there will be an assortment of other races involved in keeping me active – I’ll probably do a Movember run, more than likely the awesome Vigo 10 miler and I’ll see if I can find a marathon to chuck in there too. But then what happens after TransGC? 

I have some ideas – the Isle of Skye Ultra looks properly amazing but is at the same time as GUCR, Devil of the Highlands also runs into conflict with other races. My favourite ultra St. Peter’s Way would be a lovely addition and if it runs the Leeds-Liverpool canal run might make an excellent replacement for GUCR which I doubt I would get a place in anyway. However, I might get a London Marathon place which would make the Hoka Highland Fling a problem but of the two I think the Fling would be more fun. There’ll be no Centurion races either in 2016 so I could try the 12 Labours of Hercules and some other 50 or 100s but the big decision would be between the 86 miles of The Ridgeway and Ring o’ Fire (both of which have been on my hit list for a while). There’s just so many and I don’t want to be trying to run them all.

So which should I run and do you have any good quality recommendations that are a bit out of the ordinary, probably not that many competitors and have awesome medals? I’m curious to see what’s out there.

  
I was 47 miles in at Winter 100 when I finally had to say ‘the pain is too great’ or ‘fuck me, I’m soooo fucked’.  I had burning rods of lightning running up and down my right leg, it was truly horrible – the result was several months of complete rest and then a race to be ready for the Thames Path 100.

The getting ready has been happening, Vigo, Brands Hatch, Ranscombe Double, SDW50, Darent Valley – more than 700 training miles and 120 race miles since my return to running in late January – but it’s hit and miss. One day, fine; the next day, agony and even my excellent physio is stumped by the intermittent nature of the pain.

Annoyingly, in the lead up to the Thames Path 100 my glutes are playing up and making me feel tense about running but my Winter 100 failure makes me more determined to do this than ever. So ready or not I’m coming. 

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I recall pulling out of the NDW100 earlier in the year and thinking that it was the worst moment of the last 3 years of running. Rolling on 6 weeks and I’m now at the foot of the staircase to the Winter 100. My training had been going okay post injury – I’d been building myself up – 10, 12 and then 15 mile runs, couple of shorter back to backs and then BOOM – hamstring.

And that was just a few weeks back and there’s that little matter of the Winter100.

Why this ultra?
Centurion Running are considered to be one of the finest organisers of ultra distance races in the United Kingdom and I’d be foolish to argue, the Winter 100 will be my third time doing stuff with them and I’m already booked in for a further three next year. However, all the evidence leads me to believe that no matter how well organised and well supported it is, this is going to be one bitch of a race, therefore why this ultra? Well that’s easy, because I love the challenge … but I’m beginning to wonder if I’d struggle when I was 100% fit and in good form – which brings me back to the hamstring …

The Physiotherapist
Rosie, my amazing, amazingly realistic and honest physiotherapist (just ask me for her details if you’re in Kent) has been working my body into the ground to get me ready to race. Her efforts have meant that I’ve managed to successfully race the last couple of weekends (10 miles and a 10km) but she tells me I need rest too – bucketloads of it. Despite her efforts though she believes – quite rightly – that the Winter 100 has come too early for me. However, the good news is that she will help me make the best of a difficult situation – the sessions with her have also helped to mentally prepare me for the possibility of a hamstring flare up and what I would need to do in that event.

Looking for positives?
But aside from a hamstring injury and very limited training I’m feeling pretty good but the Winter 100s reputation as a bit of a ball-breaker is terrifying. It’s already been moved from November to October to give people more of a chance against the weather and the course (4 out and backs in different directions) looks merciless. It is guaranteed to be a test of tenacity both physically and mentally, a examination of run strategy, pacing, fuelling and kit.

Physically I’m currently ill equipped but mentally I’m prepared for that level of not being ready! As for a run strategy? Well I’ve got one of them – slow and steady, with an aim of around 4 – 4.25 miles per hour, it’ll be tight and with no capacity to mess about but I believe this is the way my hamstring will get round. Obviously in the sections I can go a bit quicker I’m going to but not at the risk of an injury that could bring my race to a premature end.

Fuel me up buttercup!
As for fuel I’m going to go down the route of real food and isotonic drinks – gels don’t work for me but I often crave real food, particularly savoury bits, my new Oxsitis bag should offer ample room to carry anything I need. I’ll probably add Kinder chocolate too as this has become something of a favourite on the trail.

Kit ready?
As for kit I think I’m pretty much ready. I’ve bought Pearl Izumi Trail N1 and Inov8 Race Ultra 290 for this event and they’ll be teamed with Hoka Stinson Trail and probably some Trailroc 245 and/or Vibram FiveFingers – basically one pair of shoes per section and a spare if it all goes tits up! I’ve made the transition completely to Drymax socks from Injinji and I’ve replaced my Ultimate Directions PB with the Oxsitis Hydragon. The new pack benefits from being able to handle my Z fold poles as well, which for the first time on a race will be going with me – I realise I’ll look like an UltraWanker but do I give a fuck? No.

Pacer?
I’m wishing I’d thought more carefully about this – I decided I wouldn’t need a pacer because if I could make it to the 50 mile point then I could death march my way to the finish and there would be no point annoying a pacer by forcing them to trudge next to me. And if I don’t make it to the 50 mile point there was no point having people on standby waiting for my arrival. However, on reflection, I wish I’d had a little more common sense about this and arranged a pacer, thinking back to the NDW100 and those who had pacers in that middle of the pack part of the race looked fresher and more likely to go on. Something to think about for future races.

Worried?
There are concerns, injury is the most obvious but there are others … the arrival of UltraBaby is having something of an effect but only half as much as my new job which has a more significant element of travel (my commute can be as much as 3hrs each way) and coupled with the need to carry 2 laptops in each day means that running to work is a bit of a non-starter for me. Also unlike some of my fellow runners I’ve never been on the Ridgeway or the Thames Path (well not that end of it) so each step is going to be something new – which is both exciting and terrifying! Ultimately all I can do is my best but I’ve been looking forward to this and I would really hate to fail. I’m also going to have my daughter there on the day – I really don’t want to fail in front of her, especially after her trophy winning exploits last weekend – little monster, making me look bad!

Final preparations?
I feel a bit like Diego Costa of Chelsea at the moment – limited training and just turn up to the game. But my final couple of weeks of preparation will be gentle runs to get me back used to running and then a looped marathon in a country park not far from the Kent coast (my aim will actually be 11 laps) and therefore an ultra distance. If I can manage that kind of distance then I’ll go into the Winter 100 feeling more confident – but ultimately it’s a case of here we go again. So good luck to all the Winter 100 runners – you’re all awesome.

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Despite feeling a bit better on the Sunday (after my piss poor performance at the National 100km) I decided that I needed to get straight back on the horse.

My original 2014 plan had been to run ultras in order of distance, rising gently throughout the year C2C and SPW both 45miles, SDW was 50miles and then the National should have been the first of two 100km runs before I returned to the 100 mile distance. Things obviously became a little skewed by the WNWA96 because this sat right in the middle of two of the other races and basically left me without sufficient recovery time. But what I did learn was that I probably need to commit to trying to run 100 miles in 24hrs because mentally I felt bereft after the National and confidence was shot to pieces.

With all this in mind and my usual bullish charm I signed up for the Challenge Hub 24hr Challenge in a just 10 days time. The great thing about these North East Kent events is that they aren’t races, they are events designed to test the human capacity to endure. I am aiming to endure about 100 miles, I need to prove to myself, that pretty much unsupported, I can make the 100 mile (and more) distance inside the one day because I want that Centurion one day finisher buckle – actually this year I want two of them. So Challenge Hub here I come, to test myself and my ability on your loop. Feedback from @abradypus about their Moonlight Challenge was so good that I’m really looking forward to this.

Deflated after the National? Not me … now where’s my saddle?

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I’m writing this on a train, as I often do with my postings, but also just having read Bruce Grobbelaar’s account of visiting one of the Hillsborough families after the disaster – it wasn’t particularly light reading before commencing my final post about the WNWA96 Read the article here. I’m writing this 25 years to the day that many Liverpool football club fans lost their lives tragically and there seems so much to say but I’ll try and keep it brief. In recent days I read Alan Hansen’s account of the effect the tragedy had on him and I was fortunate enough to be at the start line for the Anfield to Hillsborough run (for more information click here) where survivors and supporters gathered to pay tribute to those lost but also to raise awareness and money for children’s hospitals in both Liverpool and Sheffield. I’ve also seen the amazing footage of the Irish ’96minute walk’ as a companion piece to my dads WNWA96 – the hike from Hillsborough to Anfield.

There has been so much going on.

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At the start of the charity run on Sunday morning in the cool crisp air of Stanley Park you could feel the swell of good feeling pass through all the people there. You tend to forget that the people involved are real, everyday people, who wake up each day and live their normal lives but then occasionally do something spectacular like run 96 miles and they do it not for the kudos and the well wishing they do it because they want to do something amazing and give something back. The guys who do this have raised thousands upon thousands of pounds and not for Hillsborough but for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and The Children’s Hospital, Sheffield – more positivity coming out of tragedy.

There was also the launch of a new 5km race announced that will take place in Stanley Park next year. I know that I will be signing up for it and be joined by ‘UltraBaby’ (who I reckon could probably run it in harness with me – let’s see what the rules say).

And so despite Hillsborough being one of the darkest tragedies in living memory there is much new light being cast from its shadow – for me personally the greatest light being cast is that in the remembering of those who died and in simply living each day I am helping to bring new life, new stories (most notably in the form of UltraBaby). This means a lot to me for the obvious reasons of fatherhood but it reminds me that my family will continue into another generation and therefore the memory of my relatives and the things they have done will continue.

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So I hope you will all join me at midnight on Friday night (mainly virtually) to ensure that the walkers are given a great send off – thanks guys! and now to my final preparations ….

The walk and final preparations 

And so to the walk and my preparations for the very small part I shall play in remembering the 96. It’s been a challenging few weeks with the GingaNinja being pregnant and ill as well as my emergency trips to Liverpool to keep an eye on my grandmother and her broken bones. The truth is that I’ve barely had time to start recovering from the SDW50 – but despite this and the fact I’m yawning at 7.35am on a Tuesday morning I am more confident than ever that I can complete the 96miles.

Last night I started to prepare my kit for the event and realised that I don’t need to be as frugal and tight as I am when running an ultra marathon – the support crews mean I can have a spare kit and even spare trainers should the need arise. This got me thinking as to what advice I would give to my fellow walkers about the things they need and why I’ll be taking it.

Comfortable and tested kit
The first thing is the clothes that you will wear. Make sure they are comfortable, make sure they fit and make sure they are tested. It’s now only a few days before we set off and you shouldn’t be buying new shoes, socks or anything. My experience is that untested kit usually comes with a price.

Combinations that work for you
Things such as a decent lightweight waterproof and a good, thin but warm base layer will mean you can sweat without getting cold and the kit will also be light enough that you retain your mobility and capacity to walk. I’m also the kind of walker/runner who will compartmentalise what he wears, so arm warmers with a short sleeved T-shirt works better for me than a long sleeved shirt and calf compression combined with shorts are better for me than trousers. But it is very much about the individual but I find that lightweight layering is a good start to finding the right combinations in kit.

Headtorch and spare headtorch or as I like to think of it – light
Most walkers will have trained during the day and even those who have been walking during the darker hours will probably not have experienced the very darkest night at 3am when you are exhausted – this sensation can be terrifying. Achluophobia is one of the worst issues we face as endurance walkers and the fear of the dark can creep up on us. The solution is a small personal light source that you control – you know it will be there for you, you won’t be reliant on another light source and it will mean you can decided to look forward to find someone and combat that sensation of loneliness and fear. I’ll be taking a low-ish powdered Petzel Tikka 2 and also my Petzel eLight emergency light source. Nothing fancy but hugely reliable.

Gaiters
As an ultra runner I wear Dirty Girl Gaiters because they are light, bright and brilliant. Gaiters will help to keep your shoes gravel and dirt free as well as potentially some minimal protection from the rain. Some of the best advice I ever received was to ensure that my feet stayed dry for as long as a humanly possible.

Hiking Poles
If you have used these before and are good with them then they might be the difference between thundering up a hill and crawling up it. Poles might be known in the ultra world as cheat sticks but here they simply offer a great way of preserving energy and pushing on across some of the more challenging uphills.

Small Bag
After a waterproof and some comfortable clothing I think a small pack or bag is the best piece of kit you can carry. You’ll want somewhere to stow your hat, buff, scarf or even waterproof so that they are instantly accessible as you’ll go from hot to cold in seconds if a wind whips up in an exposed section. The small bag will also allow you to carry small amounts of liquid just sufficient for the distance between the checkpoints.

Food and Drink
This may seem superfluous given that we know the event has excellent levels of food and catering throughout – however, you want to make sure that you have small bites that you can pull out quickly and keep your energy levels suitably high. It’s important that you eat before you are hungry and especially important to drink before you are thirsty – getting thirsty means you are risking dehydration – so stay hydrated. I’ll be taking Soreen with salted butter, chickpea falafel and things like Kinder chocolate, Naked bars, nuts and dried fruit.

Vaseline or equivalent
Seriously – boy or girl, man or woman and even Jimmy – the events West Highland White Terrier mascot should all be wearing about a small truckload of Vaseline in those hard to reach places because you are going to sweat and if you get a rash or rubbing it’s going to hurt in ways you can’t possibly imagine – believe me.

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These pieces of equipment will be the first on my packing list – but they might not be on yours. What I’ve learnt over the course of my first six ultra marathons and dozens of other races the importance of choosing the right kit and being prepared for the event that you are doing. So hopefully this might be of some use to my fellow walkers or in fact anybody that is entering an endurance event.

So on Friday night I will be putting the kit to good use as we depart from Hillsborough and begin the trek over to Merseyside and I’ll be both blogging and micro-blogging on the go – so do look out for that. Finally, in light of the wonderful tributes that today has brought I’m looking forward to leaving my mark to honour all those that have stood up for truth and justice – lets hope my old hips and knees hold out – wish me luck 🙂

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Country to Capital
Valentines Challenge
Virtual Runner RunChatUK 10km
St Peter’s Way Ultra
VirtualRunner March 10km
Sidcup 10
VirtualRunnerUK Sport Relief Triathlon
Tough15

The year is sixteen weeks old(ish) and I’ve already managed to amass ten new medals and two new event T-Shirts plus there are at least ten more races I’m involved in before the end of the year – five of which are upcoming in the next month:

South Downs Way 50
We Never Walked Alone 96
VirtualRunnerUK April 10km
VirtualRunnerUK April 5km
National 100km

Can I break my annual return on medals which currently stands at 25? At this rate yes but I’ll need some shorter distances and even more importantly I’m going to have to start planning my winter 2014 and 2015 races – especially with the arrival of UltraBaby on the horizon.

So to all of us happy planning and even happier running 🙂

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This will probably be the penultimate post I produce prior to the WNWA96, the walk is just 2 weeks away and everyone is starting to get excited, but it’s also a very difficult time for those more deeply involved with the campaign as last week the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy opened, and this is a timely reminder of why people like myself are joining this wonderfully powerful and symbolic event.

It is perhaps too easy to forget, in the haste of preparations for the event, the reasons we are walking but that reason is as a thank you for the 25 years of support that have been given to the families of victims and to the survivors of the disaster.

I am sure that many of you who have read my posts about this walk will at least know something about the events of the disaster and will probably have seen the news reports that have been filling news channels and online services for the last few weeks – I am sure you, like I, can see how hugely emotionally and physically draining it is for those there.

Yet despite all of this there are a group of people who will sing, chant and make merry as they head from Hillsborough through to Anfield, via various northern football grounds. It’ll be a little bit like Scousers on tour – can you imagine it, dozens of Liverpudlians traipsing across some of the most inhospitable hills that Yorkshire and Lancashire have got to offer?

The walk obviously runs parallel to many of the other tributes being planned but this one has an air of joy about it and idea that my father could have not only conceived this lovely tribute to his brother and all those affected by Hillsborough but also take part in it, fills me with a pride and a joy that I will never truly be able to express. And so when he bangs out another old Irish folk song at 4am to lift the spirits, or tells one of his ‘classic’ jokes, rather than do my usual ‘sticks fingers in ears’ I shall afford myself a rye smile and hum along to the tune or help him with the punchline.

On the day
My dad or in this event perhaps ‘leader’ would be a better title, remains concerned that nobody can complete the whole distance in the time and that a relay is the best and safest way forward. I agree very much that in the main he is probably 100% correct but I have no such concerns for myself. Having just come off the back of the 4800ft of elevation of the South Downs Way 50, completed in under 11hrs, with two twisted ankles I am more confident than ever that I have the capacity to do the distance in the time.

My goal
I would love to complete the 96miles, not just because it is a truly remarkable achievement but because it will serve as a lifetime reminder to me of the effort and strength of those who have sought the truth for nearly a quarter of century – more than two thirds of my lifetime. I consider that a couple of weeks of slightly sore feet is a small price to pay to honour all those people affected.

I look forward to being able to put my arms around my dad at the end and saying ‘well done’, I look forward to telling UltraBaby of the brilliance of the men and women who undertook this challenge defiantly and I look forward to explaining the symbolic nature of it in the brightness of the truth that the families so very much deserve.

MarchVirtual10kmI’m not allowed to run the Nuclear Blackout on Saturday as my OH refuses to take me to the start line so it seems that my next race will be the excellent March Virtual 10km (the OH is doing the virtual 5km). Having completed the UKRunChat Virtual 10km last month this seemed like a great opportunity to grab another medal. If there is still space I would highly recommend going over to www.virtualrunneruk.com and signing up – you won’t regret getting out there and earning another medal for your collection and you’ll be donating to charity too.

Have fun running

I realise the phrase Project: ThunderClunge might be a hint offensive to many but believe me it is very appropriate for the situation I find myself in and in fact Project: ThunderClunge will adapt its name in about 100 days to Project: ThunderPunch which in context is actually probably more offensive but hohum.

What I’m trying to say is that this thing is actually having an effect on my ultra running! Arse!

The Project has managed to knock a bloody big three month window in my schedule without even hinting at injuring me further than I already am and this has meant some rejigging of my running schedule for 2014 and I’m now hoping that my entry into the CCC doesn’t come off because that’s at the eye of the storm. With all this in mind I’ve therefore been looking to cram more running into the first half of the year and towards the back end of the year. Thankfully I’m lucky enough that things like Country to Capital, St Peters Way and SDW50 will remain unaffected and touch wood NDW100 won’t take a hit either. I should then just be coming out of the other end of Project ThunderClunge to be able to compete in the Winter 100 if Centurion ever make any more announcements .. I’m on edge about getting a place for that one .. anyway I was looking round for another 2 UTMB point run and had seen the Pilgrims Way and thought that would be ace but just my luck – it had sold out. I started the search again and not fancying travelling up to the Lakes or Wales because of the distance and difficulty in reaching the start lines I looked a little closer to home. Annoyingly the company Ultra Trails has now folded and so I couldn’t run with them again but there was the Race to the Stones which takes place not a million miles from my OHs parents home. I quickly checked with Twitter who described it almost universally as overpriced and a perhaps not the greatest race to run (especially of the ultra options in the area) and while I agree it is overpriced for the distance it fits in quite nicely with where I need to be and also my qualification aims for the 2015 UTMB. I’ve also managed to chat to a couple of chaps who had competed in it and their opinion that while it wasn’t the best route you’ll ever run it certainly wasn’t the worst and is a well organised and good event to do. Therefore I’m headed to the Race to the Stones in pretty good cheer, although £120 poorer, I’ll let you know in six months if I thought it was good value.

I’m now contemplating a few other bits to supplement my ultra running this year, probably highest priority is a triathlon and there are currently two that catch my eye, the first is the Bewl triathlon where I would hope to banish the much hated ‘Curse of Bewl Water’ and there is the Red Venom event in Southport, near Liverpool – this has the benefit of being near to my dad and I’d have a place to stay, transport, etc. Both have a lovely sprint distance available and there is the standard as well. The only other triathlon that I might consider would be the Midnight Man which is organised by the amazing people who brought us the Dartford Bridge 10km and they too have multiple distances available and I’m pretty sure I could be competitive at one of these.

In addition to this I’ve been invited down to the New Forest to run a 20 miler which could be good fun but the dates I think clash with other races in the season and so that one might be missed but I’m likely to sign up to both the British 100 and the Kent Roadrunner marathon because although I ran it last year I did rather enjoy it and both the National 100 and the Kent Roadrunner are at the Gravesend Cyclopark and I think a track base ultra marathon would be a uniquely excellent opportunity (or perhaps a very dull experience … we shall see). However, I’m normally the one hands out ideas for races but this year I’m a bit stumped, I’d like to a run more new races, so maybe the Ashford Half Marathon, but I fancy a few 10km, maybe a few adventure races like the Major Series or Wolf Run or even the Nuts Challenge but as with all of these there are only so many race days available and I have to be mindful of both my body and Project ThunderClunge.

So runners, what would you recommend for a race day this year? What are you running? And just how far will you push yourself?

I seem to have developed this habit of ruining myself before a race. My Achilles went a week before the Snowdonia Marathon, my back went just before the Thames Gateway 100 and I broke my foot on the White Cliffs 50 plus I’ve had puking fits at the Bewl Marathon and also the Windsor Trail Half Marathon. I thought it was just going to be 2013 but then on the 2nd day of 2014 I actually cut open my leg – one week before the Country to Capital ultra. I wonder if there is something inside me that says ‘UltraBoy you don’t want to race, here let me fix that for you by knackering part of your body’ but then the few days before my heart speaks to me and says ‘don’t worry UltraBoy you’ll make it, it doesn’t matter if you are in pain, if your hips and back are knackered and your knee bleeding, you’ll make it because you’ve got heart’. This time next week I’ll be on my way at the C2C, I’ll be going slowly because the knee wound needs not to open up on the route and because my back and hips are about as buggered as buggered can be.

It looks like 2014 is going to pick up right were 2013 left off, still I’m pretty fired up and focused and looking for more ultras to run and maybe even a few marathons as I look to hit my 20th marathon+ race this year.

Funnily I haven’t raced for over 2 months and I’ve really missed it and don’t feel that the time off has done me much good, hence why I can’t avoid the start line for C2C, some people are destined to greatness in this race but I know I’m destined to mediocrity at C2C but I’ll be the best I can be in my own mediocrity.

Wish me luck runners and enjoy another weekend of racing yourself. Ciao.

It’s that time again when runners the world over start looking back at their achievements in the last year, but I’m saving that for a blog post when I feel the need to improve my mood. I’m looking forward to 2014, it’s targets and what I can do to make them happen.

2014 is going to be a slightly different year to the last two, I’ve spent the last couple forcing my body over the line in as many races as was humanly possible – this has turned out to be about 50 races in one form or another (three ultra and four marathon distances included in the last year). However, 2014 has to be more refined as I discovered that during the last 12 months I’ve been suffering from a succession of injuries and this is as much to do with not enough training as it is to do with racing too much. Therefore, 2014 is to be the year of the ultra, Country to Capital will kick things off, followed by the St. Peter’s Way, then kicking on to the SDW50, staying with Centurion for the NDW100 and then with a bit of luck and a fair wind I’ll be adding in the UTMB inspired CCC at the end of August (surely much to the annoyance of my body after the efforts of the NDW100 three weeks earlier) and I will hopefully finish the year with the Saltmarsh 75 (the only nonUTMB qualifier) and back to centurion for the W100.

This is a good number of ultras and with consistent training and good form I’m hoping to qualify UTMB 2015 after my failure this year. The changes that might well be adopted to this list are that the CCC might be replaced by the Ring of Fire which would act as my first multi day event and I might not get a place in the CCC. And should I not get in to the W100 then I would consider the Saintelyon Ultra which looks amazing, though depending on when W100 runs I might go for both and risk my body a bit.

So my targets currently stand at the following

Complete a minimum of five ultra marathons
Qualify for the UTMB 2015
Improve training regime
Consider once again joining a running club
Bring my 5km time back under 20 minutes
One cycling event (at least)
One outdoor swimming event (at least)

On paper it all looks surprisingly easy but after just three ultras this year I am acutely aware of how much of a burden this is and with my body still not quite right (back and hips continuing to trouble me) it will be an even bigger challenge. What has dawned on me is the value of looking after my body and for the first time ever I’ve started doing Pilates and stretching regularly, rather than when I’m forced into it by my other half. I’m still not doing the eating clean thing though, I just can’t bear to eat vegetables, it just gives me the shivers and despite knowing that there are so many benefits to eating clean my mouth and mind just won’t let me do it – not even for a place in the UTMB.

Well that’s my list started, what about yours? Have you started to map out new targets for the next 12 months and what will keep you on the road? Happy running kids.

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The image above is a near 15 year old pair of Adidas Response TR X, they only ever ran one race – the Preston 10km in 2004 and for such a fine pair of running shoes this seems unfair. I came across them just a few short hours ago while grabbing some bits in preparation for the Snowdonia Marathon at the end of the month. I remembering buying them from a little shop in Blackpool while I was still a student and I wore them daily for years until about 2005 whenI finally decided they had done their duty, the problem was I suppose I love them enough to keep them and worse keep moving them around with me. Anyway, back to the story, I was in the loft collecting items for Snowdonia and there they were, calling to me. For the marathon I knew that I couldn’t wear them but then I remembered that I’m running the Xtreme Beach 18km Obstacle Course – I need to wear old trainers for this and I can think of no more a fitting tribute to these wonderful workhorse trainers than to hit the obstacle course at full pelt in them.

I looking forward to the Xtreme Beach but have no idea what to make of it but going out there is a pair of runners that I trust despite their age will be brilliant. Here’s to a great race.

‘My legs still ache’
‘From?’
‘Bournemouth Marathon, not sure why I does these races…’

And that got me thinking, ‘why do I race?’ Which then brought me back to the cost of racing, the value of racing, the merits of racing versus running and mainly my own personal ambitions in running terms. It was pretty clear to me from a young age that I was never going to emulate my original running hero Steve Cram. Nor will I ever run a sub 10 second 100 metres – my 11.47 is the fastest I will ever get. So I’m clearly not running because I think I’m a potential champion, perhaps I’m running simply for something to do, let’s not forget that running is my primary hobby and quick fix when things go wrong. After my epic failure at the TG100 I came home and actually was really rather upset, more upset than I had to be over a race perhaps but this is hindsight showcases to me just how valuable racing has become to my personal wellbeing. The day after the race my running mojo had left me and showed no signs of returning, I removed my plethora of medals from their normal home and hid them away in a drawer, I stopped looking at races to sign up for and I didn’t even think about visiting a running shop just incase I was recognised as a fraudulent ultra runner or just fraudulent runner. The TG100 broke my runners heart.

But a stern talking to by a friend who is not a runner reminded me that the reason I run and the reason I race isn’t for the bling, it isn’t to be a champion, it’s to stave off the inevitable heart attack or piling the weight on after binging on all the chocolate in the world and I was told to ‘shut the fuck up and just get out there’. With the help of my lovely physio, Joe Rodgers I get back out on the trail and started running again! only shortish distances but then races started coming and my desire has been working its way back into my life and perhaps just in time.

When I ran the Royal Parks Half just over a week ago I still wasn’t buzzing with enthusiasm, infact I was a little bit too emotionless about it on reflection. But in the last week I’ve been hitting good times across 5km and noticing a general increase in pace – although there have been bad days too. Therefore I come into my next event Xtreme Beach, not filled with confidence, but filled at least with the desire to perform and that I hope will set me up for a better performance at the Snowdonia Marathon.

So what’s your reason to race?

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