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Ultraboyruns: Throw a sausage roll at me or something… just chuck it in the pie hole!

What were you doing at 8pm the night before the Falkirk Ultra? Perhaps you were having a relaxing bath? Perhaps you were sorting your kit out? Or maybe you were just listening to Barry White to get you in the mood for some hot Falkirk action. What I’m sure you were not doing was sat in one of the many ‘dance of the lube’ positions while you pushed the massage gun dial to ‘11’ and proceeded to not commit a sexual act on your own bum hole while desperately seeking to resolve the hamstring, hip flexor and abductor injuries that had come hurtling back at that days race, the Chatelherault 6 (read the review here).

I’ve got a feeling I might have been alone in that endeavour.

But here I was, just 12 hours from race start desperately trying to reclaim control my old withered body. When I awoke the next morning at about 5am I sat up gingerly in bed and felt for pain – it wasn’t hard to find but it felt like a dull throb rather than being struck with lightning every five seconds as it had the night before. A very hot shower, lots of stretching and a breakfast of Weetabix and coffee followed as I stared out into the rain splattered darkness I wondered what the hell I was doing.

Anyway with my contemplations (or as other people call it, a pre race poo) done I loaded the car, said adios to the family and then headed down to sunny, sorry, rain soaked Falkirk. Thankfully by the time I arrived the rain was mostly abating but it was cold and I found myself putting on waterproof jacket, trousers and over mitts to keep warm – highly effective I might add.

I ambled down to the darkness encased registration point and despite having already collected my race number from The Foot Store a few days earlier I now needed to pick up my timing chip, I found myself waiting quietly, with my face covered due to Covid-19 being far from eliminated, but my eyesight was drawn to the runner at the registration desk who with bright lights shining behind her looked like she was rather bare bottomed! It took a second or two to register that her rather peachy pink leggings we simply creating an optical illusion but the fatherly side of me wanted to offer her something to cover this pseudo nudity – then I realised I was probably just being old fashioned and instead averted my gaze.

A moment or two later I was called forward to collect my timing chip and it was all very simple and easily done – the guys at the Falkirk Ultra know their stuff. I ambled round for a bit, dropped my kit bag off in the newly and excellently positioned checkpoint and then stripped off, ready to race.

It was about this time that I was then confronted by one the most awesome sights I would have this day and it was ‘Badge’, a gentleman I hadn’t seen since the last Falkirk Ultra (read the 2020 review here) where we had shared many little moments across the 8 hours. I had wondered if he would be at the race, perhaps even running but no he was back on support duties and it was wonderful to have him there – I would be catching up with him later!

The Falkirk Ultra is an oddity in that it’s my home race, but it’s only been my home race since 2019, yet there would be lots of runners I would know here, well, if the entrants list was anything to go by. Neil, Pauline, Graeme, a few of the Linlithgow Running Buddies and a Fiona or two were just some of the names I recognised and then there was the smorgasbord of others from Instagram and Strava that I might recognise.

Oddly, in the build up to blast off, I had seen none of them but I assumed they were going to make a late dash to the start to try and keep as cosy as possible, for as long as possible.

As the minutes to the start of the race eeked away I made my way to the start line and met a couple of lovely chaps, one of whom was asking about my Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 and the other was a fella I had met the previous day at the Chatelherault 6. He’d managed to run about 33 miles at the race the previous day, a lot more than I had managed, and he looked incredible whenever I saw him during today’s undertaking. Talking to him reminded me there are ultra marathoners and there are ultra marathoners – he was definitely in the better category than the one I belong to.

It was while the chatter was happening that the race brief took place and the start happened, I was in my own little bubble and completely missed it and with all the urgency I could muster set off after the crowd of runners ahead of me. It’s times like this that I think I really need to pay more attention to the race itself instead of trying to enjoy myself.

There was no chance of going off like a rocket as I needed to keep an eye on the injuries that I had sustained during the previous day‘s racing. However all that massage gun therapy had left me feeling reasonable and having had a lazy start to the race I thought I’d better catch up a bit.

Just a few hundred metres into the race I saw Fiona and she shouted over to me, but just as we were about to start a brief catch up, she dropped something and I found myself in the company of Alan, a runner that I’d never met before but coincidentally had just been asking Fiona about this guy on Strava called, ‘UltraBoy’. Lucky for him Fiona not only knew him but she also knew his real name and so I started my first of many enjoyable chats of the race!

Alan though was moving at a pace that I needed to slow down from, for the sake of my injuries and as we descended, what would become, the long slow mud slide, I bade him farewell.

It was also here that I passed the ladies, Lynne and Frances that I knew from the Linlithgow Running Buddies but I had no doubt that they would be once more overtaking me any second.

I had decided that if I could have lap one as a bit of a flying lap then I would be in a better position to slow down later in the race if the injuries reared their head. Therefore as I came to the first of the many climbs in the Falkirk Ultra I knew that the only sensible thing was to take it easy and even as I saw runners battering past me I tried not to get drawn into running beyond my body’s current ability.

Once we reached the first stretch of relative flat though we all realised that today was going to be heavy going. The course was churned up pretty badly and this usually pretty quick stretch was muddy and claggy and easy to get bogged down in. Most runners were moving to the sides to get through but such is my desire to embrace the filth I simply went straight through the middle and leaped across the mud attempting to clear the worst of the wet in a single bound. Obviously this was the action of a runner on their first lap, it would not be the action of this runner on his second or third lap, I’d simply stumble through the mud desperate to keep my feet.

However, for now I chuntered through the trail, doing my best impression of a runner and trying to stay in the 33 mile game. If the course was the same as the first time I ran this in 2020 then it should be fine, there would be a significant stretch of flat ahead and I would be able to keep it together for 8 of those kind of loops. Up on to the hard packed trail I could see some more volunteers in the distance but instead of letting us go past they were directing us to the right, or as I like to think of it, upwards.

Bugger.

Here I saw Badger once more, armed with a massive grin as he saw my face at what awaited us. The notion crossed my mind that he had asked for this marshalling point because he has that wickedly cheeky grin about him that would both soothe and infuriate runners as he sent them on their way. Part of me wondered if he had asked for it so he could have a laugh at my expense, I mean that’s what I would have done had the roles been reversed.

Anyway after our first bit of banter he told me to get going and so it was that I joined the throngs of other runners, attempting to make the best of the new, seemingly more challenging route. Here I saw some of the runners running up the hill but I knew that if I wanted to make it much past the first lap I was going to have to move uphill at a more sedate pace and so I slowed to a fast walk. The great thing about a fast walk up a hill is that it can often be more effective than running and I found myself stomping past people who had taken the first 100 metres of the hill at a fair old lick and then slowed to a crawl, and although they would catch me when we finally reached the inevitable downhill I knew that my running strategy for the day would work if my leg held together.

At the top of the hill the route flattened out for a little bit and this whole section was good running and when the downhill arrived it wasn’t so severe that you felt out of control, in fact, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the race, albeit that this was the first lap.

Round and down we continued and past more lovely volunteers, all looking pretty freezing, but all super enthusiastic and there was the water stop for the route – very considerately, not located at the start. It takes a great race director to think that you might not need water at the start line but that it might be better placed on the route somewhere, especially when that same RD has provided a massive tent for you and the other competitors to keep your own supplies in at the start. This was good thinking Falkirk Ultra.

Thankfully it was too early in the event to be needing water and I was carrying my own supplies anyway and so I carried on to the next volunteers just a couple of hundred metres along, presumably stationed to stop you running down the path and making a significant wrong turn. The two ladies here seemed quite comfy with a couple of seats and possibly even a hot drink, so I did suggest they could get me a nice hot cuppa for my next loop – I thought I heard them say they’d do their best but the tea never materialised, ha!

We now looped back on ourselves and I was finding that this iteration of the route was much more fun and possibly even a bit faster than the previous edition I had run. As I was bimbling along I could now hear the buzz of the race village next to Callendar House and it really gave me a little lift even though I had no real idea how much more winding and wending around the park I was going to have to do before I would return to the start. The reality was that I was probably only 2km from the start again but before I got there I needed a little stop on the last downhill of the loop.

This stop was to be my regular, built in stop that would give me a minute or two to stretch both my hip flexor and my hamstring and try and bring them under some form of control. All the way round the loop I had been able to feel my hamstring and given that I had been pushing a little bit this was unsurprising but the exercises I had been given, and my own variations on them, to maximise their effectiveness, proved both timely and race saving. When I returned to the race, a couple of minutes later, my leg felt a more secure and certainly more warmed up then about half an hour ago.

I arrived at the turning of the first climb to be greeted by a tremendous volunteer who must have had a sheet with the names and numbers of the runners on as he greeted so many of us by name and had a little joke or word of encouragement for everyone and not generic encouragement either, he was a brilliant volunteer amongst the sea of brilliant volunteers, this coupled with his buddy at the entrance to the run round the lake (the chap with the music) was such a wonderful sight to see on each of the loops but on the first loop it was such a nice surprise and one that delighted and inspired in equal measure each time I saw them (twice per lap).

From here it was a relatively relaxed bimble back to the start but I continued to press harder on this first lap so that I really could slow down and with a little under 40 minutes on the clock I was feeling pretty good that I could slow down by about 10 minutes per lap and therefore manage my body to the finish.

Before I reached lap 2 though I was greeted by two wonderful volunteers who I shared a little dance with and this became a recurring theme throughout the event as I looked to up the ante each time I would amble past them. This was one of the highlights of each loop and as these volunteers stayed in position for the whole event I needed to plumb the depths of my dancing knowledge to do something a little different on each rotation.

I battered on past them though and headed straight past the checkpoint area, stopping only to moan at poor Pauline who, along with Fiona, have had to listen to my griping since we first crossed paths all those years ago at the Skye Trail Ultra. I’m sure I should buy these lovely runners a pair of ear defenders each with the words, ‘sod off’ emblazoned on them so that when they see me coming they can just put them on!

Eventually I was told to get a move on and so I beat a hasty retreat to the course and did as I was told.

From here it was then a mental battle of could I keep going and beat my next target of halfway before the 4 hour mark. If I couldn’t get to the halfway distance by the end of half the time then I would call it a day and try and save my aching for the following weekends pair of races in Kent.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I ran, trudged and grumbled my way round the challengingly fun course and met oodles of amazing runners and volunteers that just kept me going that little bit longer.

I would be extremely fortunate to meet runners old and new that would provide good conversation to keep me going, I got a sizeable update from the amazing Fiona and I chatted to a wonderful athlete called Elspbeth who had come from Orkney to race at Falkirk, just two of those little chats that make this such a great race to compete in. The one runner I didn’t see though was Graeme and this was disappointing because he is a big character and the kind of guy you’d want on the course to give you a big dose of reality and to put a big smile on your face. However, despite him not being there the race had lots of tremendous personalities and you were never short of someone to share a few moments with.

I suppose my trouble wasn’t a lack of interesting running buddies, my trouble was that as the race grew further into the day I could feel the difficulties brewing in the injury department.

Sadly no amount of stretching, chocolate milkshake stops, chitty chat or dancing volunteers could take away from the fact that I was ruined and I’d decided, long before the fourth hour ended my race by not being further than halfway, I would retire by my own hand.

Fate however, has a way of really pissing me off and I ran into some faces that I knew from the Linlithgow Running Buddies and there’s something in my DNA that can’t give up when there’s a face I recognise. Had I not seen Lynne and Frances then maybe I’d just have finished my lap and said thanks very much for the memories, but, I did run into them, and then kept running into them. Let me assure readers that I really wanted them to sod off so I could stop – but they didn’t and so instead of stopping I kept going.

I found something of a second wind, or as I like to think of it, the telling of some ‘poo stories’ and suddenly the idea of stopping seemed ludicrous.

More running was done and even after the guys from the Running Buddies had finally left me behind the race seemed to know what I needed and there in all her running awesomeness was Linda… Linda of Doune!

‘Doune!’ I cried, ‘Harvey Maps!’

And suddenly I found myself deep in conversation with a delightful runner and learnt all about the little town that I’d been through a thousand times to get to races, but never stopped at, despite being desperate to visit Harvey Maps. (Linda should you be reading this I did, the day after the race, finally get to go to Doune, where I ordered a bespoke map from Harvey Maps, visited the shop, went and bought a ton of plants from the wonderful little plant shop opposite, had amazing curry, chips and curry pie from the little take-out place and best of all got muddily, soaking wet in and around the lovely Doune Ponds).

Sadly, Linda told me she was cutting her race short at five laps – having not raced for quite some time – but even as we parted she looked really strong and I look forward to coming across her again at some point.

It was these interactions that were keeping me going but then two massive things ensured that I wouldn’t give in at one of my favourite events. The first was the arrival of a very familiar voice coming at pace from behind me. I could feel the hot breathe and even hotter feet of Neil chasing me down, looking to lap me. Well bugger that for a game of tennis, he wasn’t getting past me without a fight and suddenly my aching muscles found their way out of third gear for a moment and made the good doctor work for his overtake.

As we ambled along together for a while I realised I hadn’t seen him in about 2 years and yet he is one of those people you just immediately are pleased to see, even if he is overtaking you (three times). Now that overtake was inevitable but came much later than I thought it might, I feel this was mostly due to Neil running with another chap who was racing an absolute blinder but perhaps not quite at Neil’s usual race pace. This slither of good fortune meant I didn’t watch them running off into the distance until I had finished lap 5 and was back down at the bottom of ‘the mudslide’ and cosying up to another musically inclined and incredibly supportive volunteer!

I mentioned two things happened though, the first was seeing Neil but the second and perhaps most important thing happened, the family turned up. One of the runners said to me that having them there must be a real lift and truth to tell I doubt he understood just how right he was. Seeing ASK and the GingaNinja is always a boost, especially when I’m finding it gruelling and rest assured dear reader I was finding this incredibly gruelling. With my family hanging around for the remaining laps I knew I had the incentive to keep going to the end and with time now firmly on my side I could only see a positive conclusion to the race.

Obviously there were the remaining laps to conclude and with runners now entering final laps and the large groups of runners thinning as the laps counted down it became harder to maintain the momentum from the various boosts I had received. However the on course support from the volunteers was immense as I pounded inch by inch closer to that 33 mile finish line.

As I approached the conclusion of my 7th lap I still had more than 90 minutes remaining before the race cut off of 8 hours was reached and there was a moment where I realised that even if I walked the route slowly I would reach the finish before the end of the event and even with the cheering at the race village I slowed to a bit of a meander for that final loop – I did not have it in me to run.

On the mudslide I could see ASK at the bottom alongside the GingaNinja and the wonderful volunteer who had sung and danced through the last 7 hours of the race and I gave it a little bit of welly to make sure I didn’t disgrace myself in front of the child. I then gingerly moved along the tarmac and back into the woods were I slowed to a crawling pace, ensuring I got all the stops I needed by having a little chuckle with the lovely marshals and waving at the passing runners I knew who were soon to be finishing.

And so there I found myself, on the final lap, sort of alone, happy in my thoughts, going as fast as possible but without putting too much pressure on myself.

Lovely.

But in the near distance another runner was slowly gaining on me, she too seemed to be having a lovely day and when she finally caught me at the top of the first of the two biggest hills in the woods we got chatting and my gentle amble to the finish line turned into an experience that I really, really enjoyed.

I’d bumped into the wife of one of the race organisers and I was able to pass on my most genuine thanks through her for everything and everyone that makes the Falkirk Ultra the absolute blast that it is. Much like me though I think she was rather tired of the course amendment of the additional hill but it was something we could complain about together and Lynn made a fantastic running companion for these final few kilometres.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so grateful to her because she ruined my opportunity for a slow jaunt to the finish, instead she inspired me to do things like running even when my legs really didn’t want to and as we came around the lake for the final time she kept me going at a fair old lick.

As we passed the side of Callendar House I saw that ASK was waiting, cheering in that mildly patronising way she does, but this was the time for a dad and daughter to finish the race together – I waved Lynn onwards to the finish, thanking her as she went and then ASK and I started running together.

There is something about holding the hand of your 7 year old daughter that fills you with both joy and energy at the end of a race and with a final blast I could feel the burning of my heart, pumping blood back into my veins. My feet lifted off the ground and ASK and I blasted to the finish, dipping ahead of Lynn on the line and roaring to the end of 33 bloody, muddy, amazing miles.

What an awesome race this was.

Overview

  • Distance: 4.15 mile loop (ish)
  • Ascent: Couple of small climbs
  • Date: February 2022
  • Location: Falkirk
  • Cost: £33
  • Terrain: Muddy, undulating, fun
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
Since any of us last ran the route in 2020 there have been a few changes, there is a little bit more climb and little bit more descent. The key change is the amount of fun you are going to have on the route, in 2020 the route was pretty much perfect but in 2022 the organisers have actually managed to improve on it. Yes the ascent is a little bit tougher but the descent is such fun, it is the kind of the thing that makes you go ‘weeeeeeeeeeee’ as you’re running. However, it is not just the addition of the new climb it is also the way that we took back to the beginning which is much less like a mud bath and infinitely more runnable and these aspects make the course a little faster overall in my opinion.

Could you get bored doing 8 hours on this loop? Not a chance, it has a little something for everyone, for me that thing was the wet and the mud and the route has enough of this to keep you interested and ensure that you go home with filthy running shoes and wet feet.

The route, as was the case in my previous running, incredibly well signed and also heavily marshalled in a truly supportive way, I always felt like there was someone with a kind word to get me through to the next bit. I love this route, because you get something of everything and you’ll never be quite sure what you will get on the day, if the Falkirk Ultra had a very rainy year then this route would be an absolute trudge fest but a wet, fun trudge fest, if it was snowy or icy then that would present a different type of test again, if it is reasonably dry as it was this year then you get good, pacey running and people lapping you (well if you’re at the back like me).

Everyone should give the Falkirk Ultra a go, it really is an absolute cracker.

Organisation
There were a few changes compared to last time such as the opportunity to grab your number and goody bag in the week leading up to the race and I felt that this was a really good move – not just because of Covid but because it improved the pace of everything on race day. Runners were able to arrive ready to run and the queue for the collection of timing chips was a swift moving affair.

That whole organisation of the event is tremendous and while I am sure it is incredibly stressful and challenging putting this together, especially under the glare of the pandemic, the guys make it look easy. There should be nothing but respect for both the organisers and the marshalling team that help bring this together.

Value for money
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, this race is too cheap and while I understand the ethos behind trying to bring a great value event to runners I am sure they could charge a few extra pounds and make sure that it keeps coming back year and year and I have no doubt that the runners will still come even if we had to pay a few extra pennies.

Let’s look at what you got… this year we had the t-shirt, the bespoke medal, the awesome Falkirk Ultra bobble hat, beer, Irn Bru Extra, Tunnocks wafer and of course all the gubbins associated with the event itself. I cannot express how amazingly good value this event is. I mean part of me doesn’t want to mention it for fear that you’ll beat me to a place in the 2023 edition but there we have it, at a time when everything else seems to be offering you less for more money, the Falkirk Ultra offers you more for less money. Thanks guys.

Volunteers
I’ve been fortunate to run at events with some truly inspiring volunteers – the St Peter’s Way, Vigo Tough Love 10, Skye Trail Ultra, The Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra, Jedburgh Three Peaks and many, many more but there is something about the atmosphere that the marshals and organisers bring to the Falkirk Ultra that is extra special. You never get all the volunteers names and I’m writing this several weeks after the event and therefore I really have forgotten all the names I collected but what I haven’t forgotten are those special individuals that made this event possible. The pair of chaps at the entrance to the woods and the entrance to the run alongside the water those two were absolutely amazing and really kept me going when I felt like giving up. The pair of young ladies at the waterside who shouted, ‘dancer’ at me on nearly every single lap and had to put up with the least effective twerking that any human being has ever witnessed. The lone chap with the wonderful beard who stood there smiling for 8 long hours, the lady at the bottom of the mud slide who jigged her way through 8 hours of supporting runners, the guys who laughed and joked with the runners from their secluded position under the trees (I think these poor guys had to listen to my terrible jokes), the ladies who stopped us heading off to the road and all the water point marshalling volunteers – all brilliant. And of course there were the volunteers who sent us up the new hill (not a euphemism), including the awesome Badger (disappointingly bordering on cleanly shaven), all of whom gave us the positive vibes needed to keep going with clapping, cheering and cow belling you could ask for – thanks guys! What I can say is that I will have forgotten people, such as all the team in the main ‘race village’ area and to anyone else out on the course that I have missed, you too were awesome.

Awards
A simple and very effective medal and I certainly earned that medal this year.

I’ll probably treasure this medal even more than the 2020 one because of the way I managed to hold it together despite the injuries and the pain. As mentioned in the value for money section there was also another awesome branded bobble hat and a simple, branded black technical t shirt. You get a lot of useful stuff for your money at this event – other race directors take note!

My race
Can I complain about how I got on? No of course I can’t because I finished and about 12 hours before the finish there was still a massive question mark over whether I would even get past the starting line. It took every ounce of control I have to run gently, to remember to stop and stretch, to not get over excited and caught up in running with other people (although this did happen a bit when I came across runners I knew). I understood that my body wasn’t in any shape to do this event and yet I managed to manage things well enough to get round. The Falkirk Ultra remains in my top 10 races and rightly so, because it is a tremendous event, and I was very keen to make sure I started and I was equally keen to make sure I finished and I did just that.

Conclusion
‘Life is a lemon and I want my money back’ sang Meat Loaf, but had he met me at the end of the Falkirk Ultra he would have realised that life is anything but a lemon and I’d pay again and again to live these kinds of 8 hours again, hence why if the race returns for 2023, 2024, 2025… (you get the idea), I will be back.

In 2020 I went to the Falkirk Ultra with no expectations because I had never done it before but in 2022 I went with expectations that were sky high because of my amazing previous experience. I am pleased to conclude that the 2022 edition of the Falkirk Ultra exceeded all my expectations.

To find out more about the Falkirk Ultra visit their Facebook page.


What was the most memorable thing about the Vigo Valentines Tough Love 10 in 2022?

Was it discovering that Michael Hrabe hadn’t died since I last saw him in 2019? Was it seeing Mr and Mrs Sox for the first time at a race since the St Peter;s Way Ultra in 2014? Was it running the route about an hour faster than I ran it last time? Was it the wonderful volunteers that lined the course? Was it forgetting to do the dance of the lube and then had a chaffing bum hole about 10km in that is still burning right now? Was it the drive down from Scotland to take part in the Tough Love 10? Or maybe it was being back on my favourite route and having a little lump in my throat as I looked back to see a procession of lovely runners racing around me.

The answer is I’m really not sure.

But why? Well the Vigo Valentines Tough Love 10 remains a collection of truly brilliant moments and because I’ve written about this so many times I shan’t review it in depth again, you can go back and read about previous years such as 2017, 2018 or 2019 as well as listen to the podcast I put out about the event last week (Spotify player above, the Vigo overview begins at 22mins 32secs. Ultraboyruns: The Adventure Podcast available on all good and bad platforms). However, I thought I’d put down a few highlights down that might inspire you to join the race in 2023 because if you did that you would have no regrets.


I was abandoned at the start but I didn’t care
The GingaNinja and ASKadventurer abandoned me to the cold at the beginning on the race, nice wasn’t it? Taking the car with them so I was left to enjoy the pre-race unfold before me (in conditions that can only be described as cold and blustery).

Cold hands, warm heart
There was the cold, whipping wind that was matched only by the warm and tremendously friendly race atmosphere. Wherever you turned, the Vigo Tough Love 10 retains a real community feeling that just makes you feel wonderfully welcome.

Brilliantly organised (as ever)
It is still a really brilliantly organised race with more volunteers on the course than any other race I have ever known and while I saw the organisers apologising for a bit of route confusion I’m not sure this was necessary – the route was really well marked and really well manned. Perhaps as an ultra marathon runner I am used to be being a little bit self sufficient but there is no doubt in my mind that this remains ones of the best organised races I have ever attended.

The best marshals for miles around
The marshalling team –  you were all also absolutely brilliant, including the ones I had to refer to as ‘arseholes’ for trying to lie to me about what was coming next on the course, cheeky little buggers.

If you thought you knew Kent then do this and think again, beautifully scenic course
Absolutely cracking views of the Kentish countryside, now as someone who lives in Scotland and runs or hikes in the mountains most weekends I can say, hand on heart, that I still find the views of the Vigo Tough Love 10 worthy of attention – you should take a look for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

Get the budgie smugglers on standby
Despite being in the middle of the middle winter I’ve never run this race in anything but glorious weather and the 2022 edition provided us with sunshine and a hint of wind to keep things a bit tasty. What I know is that I was so hot that within the first couple of kilometres I was stripping to give the old body a bit of an airing, perhaps if I run in 2023 I will get the mankini out. Can I also apologise to the runner who went past me as I was stripping down – you saw a sight that nobody should ever have to witness.

Underfoot in 2022
Conditions underfoot this year were some of the ‘best’ I have ever seen in terms of being runnable but it also meant that truly filthy fun was missing, that said I took every opportunity to hammer through the mud that was there and noted that many of the runners were determined to keep their feet dry and their shoes as clean as possible – what were you doing you mad people, I do this for the mud!

There is always mud
Thankfully, inspite of the wonderful conditions I still managed to get more than enough mud caked on my legs that I had to pull dried mud off my body in the hours before I managed to find a bath.

It’s a trail shoes all the way route regardless of the weather
You’ll of course all be pleased to hear that my shoes managed to get suitably filthy. I’d chosen the Mango coloured Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 specifically because they show the mud up wonderfully (see photo gallery below). It is also worth noting that some trail shoes with good grip and a bit of cushioning were the best choice I’ve ever used at the Vigo Tough Love 10 – no mistakes this year in shoe choice.

Suitable for first time trail runners and your salty trail dogs like me
I came across a few first timers to the Vigo Tough Love 10 and there was no doubt that they would all be marking this one on their 2023 calendar – there was much love for this event amongst the throngs of runners.

The best 2 minute downhill anywhere
The tree lined downhill was absolutely brilliant as ever, I hurtled along it with all the energy I could muster and delighted as I zoomed past several runners all of whom were taking it a touch easier than I was. It is possible that this is my favourite downhill anywhere and the reason is that the angle of descent is just severe enough to be able to give it some serious welly, the trail is well defined but challenging and it is an absolute bucket load of fun to do!

The route remains an absolute blast!
The minor amendments to the route actually made things a little easier than previous years but the road climb up to the final hill felt hard, that said I really missed the final corner. However, this minor change doesn’t detract from this being a cracking route.

A hilly hello from an old friend
That final hill, that final hill, my old friend, it was so lovely to see it again, was it lovely to climb it? Was it heck, especially as this was my fourth significant race in just 8 days. It was odd though, in my previous five times here, struggling up the mile 9 hill I felt like it had the upper hand but this time as I pushed my way up it I felt like all that mountain hiking and hill running in Scotland made my old, much loved nemesis feel a lot more manageable.

No time to curl one in
I didn’t get toe curling cramp on the run in like I did the last time I ran the route in 2019.

A corking medal
The medal this year was really, really nice and made of wood thereby increasing the green credentials of the  race. The Vigo Tough Love 10 hasn’t always had truly bespoke medals, certainly not in 2014 when I first did it but this years and several of the previous editions have been absolute corkers and all sit proudly with my other 250 finishers medals.

Great camaraderie!
My thanks to Philip, Michael, Glen and Mick for being out on the course and as they went past me gave me a lovely little boost that really made me push that bit harder this year. This really is a race where you can make a few friends as you’re running along because of that wonderful community feel. I also ran into a fellow runner that I had come across via Instagram, nat_runs_ who not only ran a truly brilliant time but was a lovely young lady that is very inspiring in her social media output and certainly worth looking up to say hello to.

Wonderful community support
When I first ran this in 2014 one of the things I noted was that people hung around to support runners coming in and for the most part that remains a big part of the race. I stayed until the clock had been running for a bit over 2 and half hours to ensure that I cheered in some of those who had been battling the route for the longest. Vigo always feels like a race where nobody gets left behind and it is an honour to cheer in my fellow competitors.

A Mars a day helps me work, rest and get tubby
The post race Mars Bar was still being given out and I think this might have been the sugar rush that got me over the final 100 miles of the A1 for the 450 mile drive home – thanks guys.

Dance of the lube
Never, ever forget to do the ‘dance of the lube’. I neglected to do the dance this year and as a consequence ended the race with some rather nasty chaffing in the nether regions, please note the nether regions are not a section of the race but more my poor long suffering undercarriage.


My race

Well I was in pieces and was mostly being held together by the GingaNinja brutalising my shoulder and the massage gun trying to crack the walnut of my bumhole – the injuries that have returned in the last couple of weeks are nasty and painful. It has taken every single iota of mental and physical strength I’ve had to make it through my 4 races in 8 days. The Vigo Tough Love 10 was the final of these 4 events and the one I knew I couldn’t miss.

There are those that will point to the fact that there wasn’t as much mud as usual but trust me if you were keen to get muddy then the Vigo Tough Love 10 would oblige you – you really didn’t have to look far. I bounded through the middle of the puddles and the mud much as I always do while others scampered around the edges (yes I’m looking at you Mr Hrabe). I ran as best as I could while managing the injuries to ensure that I didn’t end up in the back of a marshals car being ferried back to the start.

I ran the down hills as fast as I could and I pressed as fast as I could on the up, there is no doubt that I could run the race faster, especially in the conditions we were faced with in 2022 but the truth is that this isn’t about speed for me, it is about enjoyment and I enjoy this race more than any other.

I enjoyed the climb up the mile 9 hill this year more than I have ever have and perhaps it really is because I do a lot more hill hiking and running now and it doesn’t feel so horrendous – that said I still didn’t run very much of it and I was exhausted upon reaching the top. Oddly the hill reminded of when I ran the Ben Vorlich Ultra and the run up the munro – steep, unforgiving and seemingly unrelenting – the difference of course is that the ascent here is about a tenth of Ben Vorlich but the principal remains the same and I was glad to see in that in all the years of course amendments that this hill is a constant, I would miss it if it got removed.

And to the finish which always seems a cruelty as you run past the back of the Vigo Rugby Club, hearing the sound of the runners and supporters. There are some lovely trails in this final section and so even in my state of exhaustion I could still muster a bit of running movement and I pushed and I pushed until I saw the final little log leap (it was very small this year). From here I put my foot to the floor and hurtled past a group of young boys and flung myself towards the finish – in the distance I could hear my name being called out, I thought I saw Mrs Sox running across the finish to grab some photographs and at the back of the waiting pack was Mr Hrabe with that big dirty grin on his face.

What a finish and another great day at the Vigo Tough Love 10.

Conclusion
I haven’t changed my opinion on the Vigo Tough Love 10, it remains my favourite race and as long as they put it on I’m going to be making the effort to come and run it. I might have moved to Scotland for mountains and races with great big bits of elevation and wonderfully wet conditions but there is something special about this race, the Vigo Tough Love 10, that keeps on drawing me back. I hope I live long enough that one day I get to run this with my daughter – now that is a reason to return… in 10 years time!

There are of course a few final things to say before this post ends with the most important thing being a huge thank you to the organisers for making this happen in such a short space of time. Thanks also to all the volunteers and marshals who used their Sunday morning to make this the special race that it is, to the community who came out in big numbers just to wish us well and of course to The GingaNinja and ASKadventurer for turning up about 20 minutes after I had finished the race – the dry robe wasn’t much use by then!

You can check out the Vigo Runners Facebook page by clicking here or you can visit their website for a bit more information about this trail running classic. I am hopeful that entries for the 2023 will open later in the year and I hope to see you all on the start line once more.

Come along and run for 6 hours, it’ll be fun they said… ha! Well I knew things were going to blow up in my face when I rolled up on January 29th to the Chateltherault 6 to discover that the weather conditions had felled a tree right across the course and the race was cancelled.

Well how annoying and how annoying for several reasons.

The first and most important thing was that the following weekend, when the event was rearranged for was also the weekend of my beloved Falkirk Ultra, albeit they were on separate days. The second thing was that having decided to go out on to the course after the cancellation and have a look round I realised this was going to be a reasonably challenging event and not one of those looped races that sends you round a flat bit of tarmac.

What I can say is that the South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture team did their best to get the event on for the original time and it must have been a Herculean effort and inconvenience to them to rearrange it for the following week, thereby ensuring the runners got the opportunity to race.

So despite having the Falkirk Ultra the following day I knew that I had to return and give it as much welly as I could manage.

Now there were a few small issues that had cropped up in the meantime, ASKadventurer had tested positive for Covid and this meant my little 7 year old was self isolating – the knock on effect was that I hadn’t managed to go out running during this period and the previous two weeks before this had been recovering from a mysterious foot injury I sustained a hike up Scheihallion. So I hadn’t run at all since the Cold Brew Events Winter Wipeout in early January, I could already tell there was a good chance that this weekend wasn’t going to end well.

However, once more I was in the lovely Chatelherault Country Park wondering what the buggery I was doing here as the rain lashed down on the top of the car! It was a bitterly cold day, windy and wet too, not a day for running I felt, this felt more like a day for being in bed. However, I threw the dryrobe on and went to collect my number.

By the time I’d made it to the registration point my feet were already soaked and my dryrobe had taken quite a battering – it was going to be one of those days. But the organisers were in a jolly mood and handed me my shirt, number and timing tag – all very easy. It would have been easy for the volunteers and organisers to feel a bit grumpy being here for a second Saturday in succession but there was none of that and that was a testament to the positive attitude of the event.

However, despite the jolly nature of the organisers and given the atrocious conditions I decided not to hang around and I retreated to the car to try and keep warm as best as I could. During my hasty retreat I could see the starting area below me and that the wind was making keeping the starting area in one piece a challenge – you had to feel very sorry for the organisers right about now.

Hiding in my car I had some chocolate milkshake and a few other bits to get me ready for the first of four running events over the next week and then I finished getting changed. I armed myself with dry socks, dry shoes and some gaiters! And then with the starting time coming around I headed back up to the registration and hid inside one of the buildings to try and remain as dry as possible. I chatted to a couple of other runners who were also hiding from the weather but we all knew that eventually we would have to make out way out.

When we did finally risk it we were rewarded being blown off our feet and down to the start – I felt like Mary Poppins coming into land but some of the chill had died down a little and although not perfect running conditions this would be fine. A cool day is always preferable to a warm day for me.

However the running hadn’t started yet and so I hid under the gazebo with the other runners trying to keep dry and then ran into the lovely Fiona and Pauline and wondered why only Pauline was running,

‘Ahem, were is your running gear’ I asked?.

I was told that Fiona was going to be support today while Pauline ran and then they’d flip it for the Falkirk Ultra tomorrow – why didn’t I think of that? I’ll tell you why not, it’s because I haven’t got any friends or family to do that with.

Anyway it was nice to see a friendly face or two at the start, as I helped other runners grasp the gazebo to stop it from blowing away – something I had seen a picnic table or two doing just a few minutes earlier.

I suppose friendly faces are one of the key reasons I love turning up to events, there’s nothing like a good chinwag before you go and run in the rain! I always think that if you see either of Fiona or Pauline though then you know two things, the first is that this is probably going to be a tough event and the second is that you’re probably going to have a bit of a laugh.

Anyway after a surprisingly comprehensive race briefing and with little fanfare the race began.

There were probably about 50ish runners and yet it had a very jolly atmosphere amongst the competitors as they looked on at the wet and mud that awaited them.

Having tried to find my way round the route the week before with Nick, of the Ultra Scotland 50 (and Race Across Scotland 215 mile) fame, and got very lost, I found myself delighted that the route was well marked with both marshals and signage.

I ran at a very nice steady pace and wended my way round the route and observed the oodles of thick wet mud and big, wide puddles – I decided to try and keep my feet dry for the first of this roughly 3.5 mile lap. However, conditions being as they were, wet above and wet below, my feet were filthy and soaking within half a mile of the race start.

And so with wet feet and a muddy body the race really began, I plunged myself into the mud and the puddles with a regularity seen only my my shortest of training runs but I figured I might as well enjoy myself. I think the various route marshals must have thought me rather mad as they saw me leaping from puddle to puddle and having my usual succession of terrible jokes.

I never change.

What I found myself rather enamoured by was the undulating nature of the route and there was great joy to be had in both the up and downs and despite the weather.

Of course life has a way of kicking you in the nutsack when you’re enjoying yourself and within just a couple of miles of the first loop I could feel my hamstring and hip flexor – a reoccurrence of the injury that I spent most of the back half of last year trying to resolve. I assumed that I could probably run it off and when a lovely local runner came by and called me by name (rather than Ultraboyruns), my thoughts drifted from injury to, ‘who the hell is this!’ With her face all covered up in buffs it was difficult to tell but then I recognised the face of Karen and we chatted for a little while as we battered along the course.

However, with the race the next day and the return of injury I bade her farewell – I needed to try and manage my running around the route and she was flying. I hoped that we would run across one another again as the loops continued and of course we would when she lapped me.

The loop itself as I’ve said was a lovely mix of up and down but the path was incredibly runnable and the mud and puddles only enhanced a really great route. Chateltherault Country Park is also really very pretty keeps you interested as you are running around, I could happily have run this loop lots and lots more time than I did and never gotten bored. There were also lots of tree lined sections that meant that runners were able to be shielded from the worst of the weather and even in the more open sections such as near the start/finish line it wasn’t too bad after about the first hour.

It is fair to say that the loop on offer by the Chatelherault 6 is tremendous fun and it is a great winter route too because even in the worst of conditions the fact that most of it is paths through the country park means you’re able to keep going – that said there was a lot of off the trail running you could do here that would keep the more exploratory minded runner interested too!

One of the key areas on the route though was absolutely massacred – the start/finish was properly churned up and the mud was heavy around here making it slow going and even some of the tarmac run up to the start/finish had flooded – so you just had to make the most of it.

Thanks to Fiona Rennie for capturing this ridiculous moment of madness

When I saw Fiona had a camera primed on the runners near the finish line I took the opportunity to take a flying leap at the flooding and found water bounding up my legs and into all the crevices that are normally watertight! OOOOO chilly willy!

Wonderful!

It wasn’t just the puddles though that were fun it was all the lovely runners out on the course that I met and chatted with and it was watching the truly exceptional athletes at the front of the event hammering around the course like a gazelle. That’s why I enjoy these looped kind of races, seeing the same people, cheering each other on, overtaking, being overtaken and generally having a bit laugh.

I was fortunate to run into Karen again, though when I saw her she was covered head to toe in shit, her kit torn and broken from a fall she had sustained on one of her loops and I was sad to hear she had ruined her new Montane gloves -although for the most part she seemed to be in one piece and that was much more important! Despite the fall she was flying round the course like one of those gazelles and I was in awe of this and many of the other brilliant runners!

For all the fun though there was also the pain I was in and no matter what I did in terms of stretching I couldn’t make that pain go away and by the time I had completed the third loop I was agony. I stopped to chat to Fiona, to talk it through, more with myself than anyone else but she suggested I walk a loop and this was an option that I had been mulling over. However, it also didn’t feel quite right, I was cold and feeling like shit and the thought of another loop for no good reason (I wasn’t going to make the marathon distance) seemed like I’d just be running for the hell of it.

If I stopped here I could regroup – try and figure out what was wrong and get prepared for the next race, the following day and hope that I managed to run better than here.

I trudged up the now mud bath to the finish line to see the 3 hour runners about to start, they had better weather than when we began but it was still going to be a tough day for them. As I crossed the line and informed the lovely volunteer that I was done she looked at me with great sympathy, I’ll be honest I had much sympathy for the volunteers too – this had been a tough day in tough conditions for everyone but I definitely reckon I’d go back!

Overview

  • Distance: Loops (6 hour time limit)
  • Ascent: 175 metres per lap
  • Date: February 2022 (usually January)
  • Location: Chatelherault Country Park
  • Terrain: Mixed, good trail paths
  • Tough Rating: 1/5

Post race
I crawled back to the car, medal in one hand and sat there for a while, the pain refusing to subside, I left my dry robe on but managed to once more change my soaking shoes and socks into something a little drier and then drove back home still wearing the dry robe but going completely the wrong way to Falkirk – bloody typical. I spent the afternoon and evening after the event with a massage gun pressed into my body that you would be mistaken for thinking I was using it as a sex toy – but no I was just determined not to have a second race negatively affected by my old and knackered body!

Conclusions
The best times are often had in the most difficult conditions when you’re running because you feel like you’re achieving something and when I look back on this event I realise that it really was a lovely time, in good company on a great little route.

This isn’t as tough an event as I may have made it sound despite it being in the winter but if conditions are grim then it can feel much harder than it actually is. I really enjoyed the event and I would certainly go back and run for the whole 6 hours instead of bailing at the 3 hour mark. I was sad that injury curtailed my event because for the most part this is certainly one of the better looped events I have ever run and if you’re looking for a genuine trail loop then this would certainly qualify.

Additionally and importantly this is a great value event in a great location with a lovely medal, what more can you ask for about £30 (I don’t remember quite how much it was but it was far too cheap)? The marshalling team were awesome and good fun even in the cold and wet and the organisation was excellent, especially when you consider some of the on the day challenges and the changes that they faced – great job from everyone involved.

If you want further information on this event then you can find them via their website. and we can all look forward to this event returning next year – snow please is my only request, though not in the car park as I’ll want to get home after spending half a dozen hours out on that course!

My review of 2021 was originally intended as a festive podcast (which you can listen to at the player above or by searching ‘ultraboyruns’ on your favourite podcast platform), though time and tide conspired against me to ensure that the episode dropped well late of the festive season but I’m not going to chastise myself too much for that.

But given that the podcast circulation is still quite small I thought I would take the original script and put it into written form too and also because I’m writing this beyond the festive season and with the first race of 2022 under my belt I can be a little less of a festive grump about the whole thing.

Would it surprise you that I’m a miserable shit at Christmas?

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that really knows me that I am something of a grump at the festive period and originally thought I would share my festive grumpiness in my end of year running review. The benefit is that I get to improve my mood by worsening all of your moods, it’s a cunning plan.

Where to begin?

I think the first thing is that 2021 has felt like something of a lifetime in itself, I am sure we all remember that we started the year in lockdown with limited movement and interaction. The idea of running a race wasn’t on many peoples agendas and it all seemed so far away. But the advent and arrival of the vaccine roll out across the UK brought with it the easing of restrictions and the opportunity to get out and about a bit more.

Once the Scottish Government started to allow us to travel outside of our region we had no hesitation in picking a nice hillwalking route to test out and found ourselves on Cort Ma Law in the Campsies, withing days of the restrictions easing and soon after races started to pop up again.

The first race

My first one of the year was the delayed, inaugural Ultra Scotland 50 (click for race review) which I think was pretty much the first Covid secure Scotttish race to take place after the lockdown and it was a hazy mix of trepidation and relief.

I hadn’t raced since the Ultra North the previous September but that had been in England and this would be my first Scottish race since the Skull Trail Race in March 2020. We’d gone down in the Rona to sleep under stars of Clatteringshaws a few miles from the start in St Johns of Dalry. There was a man playing the bagpipes beautifully that evening, the night sky was clear and the stars twinkled brightly for us and it was a wonderfully serene and delightful pre-race.

The next morning I remember lining up amongst the dozens of grateful runners, all wearing masks and all wondering what a Covid secure event meant, myself included.

But I developed a very swift respect for Wayne Drinkwater and the GB Ultras team who really went out of their way to make sure that they stayed within the rules and that the runners could compete. Now having barely been near a hill in about 6 months I really, really felt the race and injuries really fucked me over quite early on which in turn inhibited my ability to move with any pace downhill and there is no doubt that the whole of the lowlands of Scotland will have heard my wild cursing of my old disintegrating body.

I was however joined in this expedition by a lovely chap called Kieran who was having more issues than I was and while I was running all of the Covid and the associated problems seemed to just disappear. It was such a tough day out on those lowland hills but I found myself holding on and being surprisingly strong at the end. I mean don’t get me wrong I was 100% fucked at the end and I hurt like nobody’s business but more importantly I was back in business – all I needed now was more races to do.

Appetite for more?

The Ultra Scotland 50 had given back my appetite for racing so it was with dismay that there were still races being cancelled left, right and centre, races being moved to make the end of the year jam packed, which could be great fun, but an incredible challenge in terms of the actual running and logistics.

By the time May had arrived I’d seen the postponement (in some cases for a second time) of the Cheviot Goat, the Bonnie Prince Ultra, the Loch Ness 360, the Pennine Bridleway Challenge and Run the Blades, only a complete bastard could fail to have the most tremendous sympathy for the race organisers who time and again seemed to have the rug pulled from under them or where hit by forces outside of their control. This very much wasn’t about me, this was about everyone with runners and organisers alike feeling some form of pinch caused by the pandemic.

Now don’t get me wrong racing isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things but the organisers of these races aren’t making millions of pounds from putting on events and if they can’t be supported by runners or were discovering that the financial issues being caused were too onerous to bother continuing then we might be looking at a post Covid race calendar that seems a little bare.

All we could hope was that restrictions continued to ease and that races could start.

I decided that I couldn’t wait for ultra running to return properly and decided to take advantage of any and all racing opportunities that cropped up and for the first time since social media was invented I found a use for it – uncovering races.

The Sunburn 5

An early example of this was discovering the amazing team at Trails of Fife, now I have a great deal of affection for Fife, it is a place I enjoy and any opportunity to race will be very seriously considered. Therefore, when the delayed Frostbite 5 (click for race review) was announced as running at the delightful Lochore Meadows Country Park I decided that we once more load up Rona and enjoy a weekend away in anything but frostbite conditions.

At the time I commented that it was more like the Sunburn 5 mile race than the Frostbite 5, but this event offered me an opportunity to test the injury I had sustained at the Ultra Scotland and also to test just how fast I could push myself after years of lethargy and not doing very much running at all.

We had a lovely time at Lochore Meadows in Rona, we went paddle boarding, kayaking and open water swimming, it was a wonderful Saturday – I sort of wondered why I was bothering racing and then as I arrived at the outdoor registration desk I remembered.

There was such a lovely atmosphere at the start, people glad to be back together – some of whom had clearly not seen each other for the duration of the lock down and then there was me watching it all and just soaking it up in one of my favourite places.

With time counting down though I wandered to the start line, which was a few minutes from the registration, and chatted to a few of the runners, I had forgotten what it was like to speak to another runner and just chew fat.  

When the race came I found myself hurtling away like someone had put a light under my nutsack and I stayed that way for the next 5 miles, I didn’t slow to look behind me to see if fellow local runner Fiona was there, I didn’t stop to take photographs, I didn’t hesitate to push my old dilapidated body to the limit. I thundered around Lochore Meadows and when I picked up a shadow about a mile from the end I used his influence to force me to go harder, faster and stronger.

I don’t recall the last time that I pushed to the point of my lungs busting but this was it but I did remember to get the action camera out at regular intervals because this was brilliant and I didn’t want to forget it. Everything about this was just awesome, I loved being in the sunshine of one of my favourite places while being cheered on by supporters and I loved the whole experience – the only odd thing was that Covid restrictions meant we had to be given my medal before we started so it weighed heavy in my race vest but by god when I hurled myself across the line I pulled it out and proudly wore it all the way back to Rona.

Unravelling begins

For all the joy I had here though my year of racing would soon start to unravel and a fall off my paddle board at Loch Lomond a couple of weeks after the Frostbite 5 killed any hopes of my starting The Great Glen Ultra. I was deeply saddened that I was too sore to start the GGU and as the runners were setting off I was lying in Rona less than a mile away from the start trying to get to sleep, annoyed at wasting another opportunity.

I was even more annoyed when we were parked up the next night in Inverness less than 300 metres from the finish and I watched jealously as competitors completed the course. I couldn’t bring myself to go and support the runners as I was simply too miserable and on reflection I realise that this was just me being selfish but I’m good at being selfish sometimes and this was one of those times.

6 races, 9 days

The good news was that the paddleboard injuries did clear up and racing continued throughout the summer with an awesome beach race in St Andrews where I enjoyed the delights of facing a giant fabric lobster in the coastal waves. The Splash n’ Dash (click for race review) also introduced me to the wonderful Yvonne who would get in touch post race and be a wonderful addition to the circle of awesome runners I know.

I followed the Splash n’ Dash on the next day with a jaunt down to Solway Coast to take part in the marathon there (click for race review).

From getting home from one race to leaving for the next race was actually only about 5hrs and so I remember arriving at the event, after a near 4 hour drive, feeling both exhausted and uninterested in running. Some of that feeling can be attributed to the fact that I don’t like road marathons, they are as boring as shit to me and I did consider just turning the car round and heading home.

However…

I got a bit of a second wind and met some of the local runners and also a few of the crowd who hang out with Rachel and Traviss from the Saxons, Normans and Vikings events and I realised that I might be about to have a fun day.

As I trundled along the course, taking in some lovely views across the northern England coast and most southerly of Scottish coastlines I found something I had not experienced in a very long time – a road marathon I could enjoy. This was one of the happiest races I would take part in over the course of 2021 and I would happily go back to the Solway Coast Marathon time and time again, I mean I’d probably be more keen to wear some road shoes to run it but other than that it was brilliant. This was such a small and perfectly formed event that I can’t heap enough praise on it and it had a cracker of a medal too – for more information there is a review of this race at ultraboyruns.com.

Perhaps most importantly I came away from this race with a tremendous amount of self belief and that would be crucial going into the following week where I would face four events over four days at the now infamous ‘Tour of Tameside’.

Merciless Murder

I’ve written about the Tour of Tameside (click for race review) and spoke about it extensively in the season one finale of the podcast (listen here) and it genuinely saddens me to say that I really disliked the Tour of Tameside. I think the thing is that when you travel a long way to do events you hope that they are good, or at the very least offer you something interesting and the Tour of Tameside offered me nothing positive. I found the tour tedious and energy sapping and over the four events my love of running was mercilessly murdered.

After this series of events I simply stopped running and have struggled ever since to get back into any kind of consistency, it doesn’t help that it was one of these four events that was the proper kick off of my hip flexor injury but it was so much more than that. It was the Covid security of the event which really wasn’t up to scratch, it was the crappy medals, the dull as dishwater routes and on and on.

The highlight of the event was leaving Tameside, a sad indication of how little I enjoyed it.

But finding a chink of light in every shitty experience is something we aim to do and so I found one here! The journey was made more worthwhile in that I finally got to meet the lovely Nicky and Rob who both make my highlights of 2021, meeting them, especially Nicky provided some significant solace against my anguish over attending the Tour of Tameside.

DNSs

The injury that I picked up though did mean that I was a non-starter the John Lucas Memorial and that was another kick in gonads.

I was also a non-starter at the Speyside Way Ultra because of a logistical parenting issue, although injuries were still there in the background, but I was very much trying to massage them across them start lines and more importantly finish lines.

The Speyside Way DNS was different because the GingaNinja was called into surgery late to try and save an animals life and by the time she got home it was too late for me to make it to the start line and I hadn’t been able to leave the house as I was on parenting duty. It was a case of ‘oh well, can’t be helped’ and I wasn’t as pissed off about it as I thought I would be, perhaps because I knew secretly my body needed more recovery time. That said, getting to the start line of the Speyside Way remains high on my event list and I’ll certainly be looking to start in 2022 or 2023.

Niggles

The problem really was that this succession of niggles, issues and complications led to a downward mental spiral that I am still addressing, but when you combine it with the physical injury stresses then it should come as no surprise that my end of 2021 was a lot less positive than the start. But as September rolled around and with three shiny new ‘did not starts’ I felt that maybe I might be about to turn a corner and knew that if I completed the Cheviot Goat and all the Ranger Ultras races I would still surpass my goal of 60 ultra marathons since March 2013.

Big Tatties

Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and when I most needed to find some joy in running I had a truly amazing time at the Great Perthshire Tattie Run (click for race review).

It seems that when you’re most feeling down that those closest to you ride in upon a glittery unicorn and rescue you. The GingaNinja, ASK and I were all competing in different races at the Perthshire Tattie Run, carrying large loads of potatoes and it was such a joyous thing I can’t quite describe it.

It’s one of those things that when you run such a short distance you get a massive buzz because it’s over before its started and to an ultra runner you can just soak it all in, it is a zero pressure race. The Tattie Run at just 1 mile makes you realise how much fun, running can actually be – even when you’ve got 20kg of spuds on your back.

As we left Perth hauling our swag of 32.5kg of spuds and a trio of medals I remember the faces of my two fellow runners and that will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Ultra anyone?

But not all races can be just 1 mile and so there was the return to the ultra marathon distance in September and although my hip flexor remained a constant issue I had decided to run. The event was part of a grand slam series of races that I should have completed in 2020 but the old C word put the kybosh on that so I instead took part in the 2021 edition starting with the Pennine Bridleway 55 (click for race review).

The trouble was that the grand slam was taking part over a 7 week rather than 7 month period because it had been condensed together after the April edition of the Pennine Bridleway was delayed due to restrictions at the time.

I concluded that I didn’t want to wait another year to try my hand at these events and so I found myself working towards the start line of the PB55.

Now had I realised that the Peak District is about 6 hours away from where I live and that my partners working schedule meant that I couldn’t leave until she arrived home at about 9pm the night before the race I might have thought somewhat differently about doing these. However, I loaded the car with litres of coffee, chocolate and milkshake and rolled up to a very small and perfectly formed event and although the hard packed nature of the trail would be an absolute shit for my body I did indeed enjoy myself. I met so many wonderful people, I ran alongside some truly exceptional athletes and I found in the organisers a team I really liked.

What I will admit is I really didn’t enjoy the afterwards of searching for diesel during the middle of the fuel crisis, nor did I enjoy the English approach to Covid that I was witnessing, because by the summer of 2021 people seemed to have forgotten or where choosing to ignore the pandemic and that was troubling.

However, despite my reservations about returning to England I looked forward to testing myself on what looked to be the highlight of the grand slam – the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra (click for race review).

Three bloody peaks

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra was both a little bit closer to me in terms of travel albeit with the same logistical issues but I turned up to a truly brilliant event, even better than the PB55, it was a bigger and therefore a bigger atmosphere but it just had a real buzz about it that I got right into the groove of.

I’ve already said all I need to say about how great Ranger Ultras are; some might accuse me of ‘licking the hole’ but actually they just know how to organise a damn fine event and as the Yorkshire Three Peaks brutalised the fuck out of me I realised just how much Stu Westfield and the team understood ultra running.

I delighted in the up and I delighted in the down of this race – I mean it is true to say that the injuries that had been furthered during the Pennine Bridleway really fucked me over here but that didn’t stop me from finishing the 70km version of the event with a smile, at least inside I was smiling.

Outwardly I was obviously angry as I had failed to complete the 100km version of the event and therefore my grand slam was over – something that I was really hoping to achieve but it just wasn’t to be and as I drifted in and out of conciousness during my drive home along the M74 I chastised myself regularly for that failure.

Not making the grand slam, primarily because of the injuries I had sustained in the earlier part of the year drew into question whether I would bother turning up for the final two races of the slam, there seemed little point and with the Cheviot Goat a couple of weeks afterwards it seemed like I should remain at home but with my name at the top of the ‘points leaderboard’ I felt like this was an opportunity I could grasp

On reflection and after what happened I wish I hadn’t bothered but I did.

I recall sitting in the kitchen with the GingaNinja and saying, ‘I’m top of the Ranger Ultras leaderboard, well joint top…’ The GingaNinja looked at me in a bemused way and replied, ‘but you’re a terrible runner’.

And this was were my vexation came from, I am a terrible runner and therefore I shouldn’t be at the top of a leader board simply for turning up – a point I made to the race organisers when I next saw them, which handily was just a few days after the conversation with the GingaNinja took place.

Peaks-y-boo

I rolled up for a weekend of running in the Peaks amongst people I had come to consider friends and comrades, old and new but I left feeling deflated and distraught about running (click for race review).

In short the first day of the racing had gone pretty badly, I had a suspected broken foot and my hips were in pieces, added to this was the ignomy of being DNF’d from the event despite finishing the first day and this meant that I couldn’t reach 60 ultras this year no matter what happened at the Cheviot Goat.

I knew that I had done something serious to my foot and I should have DNF’d at about mile 2 but I didn’t because I believed, incorrectly, that a finish on day one would count towards my ultra total – a total that I am ultimately proud of as it a testament to my mental attitude in the face of being a piss poor athlete. But to finish day one of the Peaks North & South weekend and have it not count and therefore be a waste of my effort, left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong it was my mistake and I accept that, I should have checked the rules and I should have checked the route (which was mostly very hard packed and not suited to someone as injury prone as I can be). Had the organisers DNS’d me for day two and allowed me the finish for day one I would have been very happy with that, I could have tried to get ready for the Goat and reach 60 ultras that way but instead it brought to a close my grand slam adventure in the least satisfying of ways.

That being said all the hundreds of positive points of racing with Ranger Ultras remain true and I would certainly say they are worthy of consideration – especially the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra. And for the most part I have nothing but the highest regard and the highest of praise for Stu Westfield and the whole of the Ranger Ultras family.

Six to eight what?

My attendance at the first day of the Peaks North & South double did though create a quandary of whether I would be making the Cheviot Goat because my foot was looking pretty grim and when I went to the hospital I was advised that a minimum of 6-8 weeks without running was in order. Well of course what I heard was 6 to 8 days and so I planned to be on the start line with 10 days of no running and careful planning to get me round.

I ordered new kit, lots of it in order to give me an even lighter weight advantage against the various injuries that had plagued me in the second half of the year, I lurked around social media as other people commented on the route, the storm, the bogs and even whether to take crampons!

I had decided I would leave it until the last second to decide if I would go and then as my bags were packed, my kit was selected and the car was ready to go the Cheviot Goat was cancelled.

The Goat was never going to be the final event of the year for me but it would be the final significant one and it was hugely disappointing not to be testing myself in the cold of Northumberland. However, whatever I was feeling about the Goat would be inconsequential compared to the distress that would be caused to the organisers and anyone else affected by the ravages of Storm Arwen.

I’m fortunate in that I will line up next year at The Goat and I will thank the whole team for their efforts because they really deserve it. I’m hopeful I’ll get to see many of them in January as I have signed up for the Winter Wipeout from Cold Brew events and I can’t wait to get out there (having now run this you can read the review here).

The end?

But before the Winter Wipeout, 2021 isn’t quite over, I have a festive 7km to run with the family in a few days time and this will be ASKs biggest race distance (click for race review) and after her outstanding performance at the rather hilly Edinburgh MoRun in November I am pretty convinced that she has what it takes to make the step up to 7km and beyond.

So 2021 hasn’t been a waste but it certainly hasn’t been a success and I’m sad about that but we live and learn, well we live anyway.

Best of 2021?

Despite the shit show that 2021 appeared to be there were several big highlights, obviously there was the general return to racing but there were some significant specifics that really made a memorable mark on me – Shaun for example at the White Peaks 50km, the time I spent with him was very, very memorable. Seeing the joy on ASKs face as she earned a second medal at the MoRun. Running into the sea at St Andrews to chase down a man dressed as a Lobster was perhaps the funniest thing I did in racing this year but the absolute highlight would probably be the time I spent with the wonderful Kieran at the Ultra Scotland 50, it was simply the most glorious few hours of running I did this year with much swearing done, lots of pain and just general big kids pissing about in the hills, desperate to finish! I suppose that’s the thing about the running I do its all solo except for when I go racing and then I delight in the people that I meet.

There is probably a lesson in that statement for me, if only I could see it…

Of course one other event took place that I haven’t mentioned here yet and this is the Craggy Island Triathlon – an event I didn’t take part in but I had an instrumental role in because my partner was racing in it and I was volunteering. Perhaps the best thing I did in 2021 was that at the end of the race, infront of everyone I chose to ask her to marry me – something that will have wide ranging implications well beyond 2021 and most people think that after 13 years it was about time.

What went so badly wrong with 2021?

I’m usually pretty good at identifying the big issue that caused the ruining of my year but in 2021 it was different, I’m struggling to put my finger on it. I mean I know the big causes of the unravelling and that was the hip flexor injury but beyond this there was the mental unravelling that began with the Tour of Tameside and that is something that no physiotherapist or rest will help.

The real shit is that I did lots of the right things for a change, my weight dropped, I did training, I did cross training, I did stretching, I went for regular physiotherapy sessions, I returned to writing the blog, I started the podcast but nothing ever really went very well, all of the races had twinges, all the efforts felt laboured and as a new year approaches I hope to leave that sense of foreboding and wheezing behind me.

What did I learn to take into 2022?

Well I’d like to say that I learnt lots from 2021 that will better inform my racing next year but the truth be told I’m such an old stick in the mud that I’ll just repeat the same old mistakes again – I’m full of good intentions that just never happen, however, I’m going to try and do the things I did well in 2021 again and avoid the things I did badly in 2021 and we’ll see if I make it through a full calendar or events.

Running in a COVID world

Running in a COVID world was initially very odd but by the end I appreciated it and I found that being in Englandshire were rules were relaxed much more quickly than they have been in Scotland I found myself rather more nervous than when closer to home.

I didn’t enjoy a lot of what I saw in England and the attitude towards Covid and I’m grateful for Scotland’s tighter restrictions and peoples desire to follow the rules. I feel that covid guidance will very significantly influence my 2022 decision making regarding the races that I run.

Best running event of 2021?

This is a tough one, especially as I managed not to start three of the events I was due to run and at the time of the original writing of this I had yet to decide if I was to run the Cheviot Goat, although that decision was taken out of everyone’s hands when the event was cancelled at the last moment because of local council declaring an emergency.

At the time of writing I would say that the highlight of the year has been the Yorkshire Three Peaks, this was a real bastard of a route and a genuine trail which I 100% loved. I was a little sad not to run the extra 30km but I’m  not sure I missed much as it would just have been for time on my feet rather than enjoyment. I found great joy in the organisation and the team behind Ranger Ultras and though there was a bitterness left after being DNF’d rather than DNS’d at day 2 of the Peaks weekend I cannot deny my general love of the guys who put the Ranger Ultras events on.

I would also add that running the MoRun around Holyrood Park with my family was also genuinely brilliant and to witness was 7 year old, as the youngest runner on the course, not only finish but also finish well, was a real joy.

The only bitterness I have regarding this is that I know she could have shaved about 8 minutes off her time but we decided that we would run it as a family and that meant running at the pace of our slowest runner, the GingaNinja. Maybe next year we’ll run a few races without mum!

Best bit of kit of 2021?

I bought a shit load of kit in 2021, perhaps to make up for the fact that I really didn’t buy very much in 2020 – there were several new pairs of Topo Athletic running shoes including the excellent Terraventure 3 and the MTN Racer 2, both of which performed brilliantly in every scenario I hurled at them.

There was also the brilliant Montane Gecko VP+ 12 which was a replacement for brilliantly flawed Salomon ADV Skin 12 which destroyed the skin on my back at both the Pennine Bridleway 55 and the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra.

There was also much purchase of many, many running tops as I restocked my Ronhill long sleeved options and bought up what seemed like the last of the amazingly designed and garish original Oddballs training tops.

There was also the addition of the Insta360 One X2 as I looked to diversify the type of footage I shoot for the blog and the other social channels and I found this to be a lot of fun and having finally sourced a second battery for it I can start to take it on races with me.

But the best bits of kit I bought in 2021 were actually unrelated to running.

I’ve always been a bit of a one trick pony, in that my only hobby has been running, I talk running, I breathe running, I live running and I bore to death anyone I come across because of my fascination with running (and poo stories related to running). Therefore, it comes as a bit of surprise that my best bit of kit this year is probably my new paddling gear which includes a Liquid Logic Lil’ Joe river running kayak and a Pyhrana Surfjet 2.0 – these along with ASK’s love of paddle boarding means that we have another active avenue which we can explore together, although I am bitterly disappointed that the 5km New Years Day paddleboard race that I had entered has been cancelled.

Boo fucking hoo, I hear you cry! Ha! I never thought I’d say this but if you’re a runner and you’re a running bore like me, get another hobby to go alongside it, its awesome!

The Future?

A couple of weeks ago I’d have said that the future is more of the same but there were issues at my race that have really given a kick in the nutsack that make me wonder if running is for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love running, I love the long distance running and getting lost inside myself, I love the writing and podcasting that comes with it and I love sharing my adventures but the costs just keep rising and I don’t mean the financial implications (although ask me about that after my Ultimate Directions Fastpack 20 arrives from France and I’ve got a stinking import duty bill to pay).

What I mean is that my body is suffering and suffering increasingly badly and the pay-offs are getting less and less.

So when I travelled 6 hours to the Peak District and finished day one of the Ranger Ultras races and thought I had earned a finish and possibly even a medal but it turned out that what I’d earnt was fuck all other than a DNF and an exhausting 6 hour drive home, that really doesn’t help create enthusiasm for racing.

Now take out the fact that I really like the guys who run the Ranger Ultras stuff this means that their cheap as chips event was actually incredibly expensive to me with nothing to show for it, well except that DNF and a visit to the X-ray department to see if I had broken my foot… oh and the likelihood that I wouldn’t be making it to the next race.

Even if I’d had the best day out in all the racing I’ve ever done this still probably wouldn’t have been worth all the effort and I’ll be honest it wasn’t a bad day out, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere the best. If it had been an isolated incident then maybe I could just put it down to one of those things but there is no doubt that the Ultra Scotland 50, for all that it gave, left me feeling a little deflated and lonely, in the running sense.

So the future of my running has to be to do things that really, really float my boat and to that end I’d originally looked at starting the year with a paddle board race, but this has been cancelled, so instead I’ve decided to join the GingaNinja for a weekend of running – she’s doing the Kielder 10km Night Run and then the following morning we’ll be off for me to face the Cold Brew Events Winter Wipeout that I have already mentioned – although the GingaNinjas race has been cancelled and it is just my event to run now!

Then I’m doing a couple of local looped ultras in January and February followed hopefully by a return to Kent for a 900 mile round trip to race 10 epic miles around Vigo and I’ve just added in a 6hour looped event with my old friends at SVN events – so that’ll be a nice amble down memory lane.

I’ll finish up the races that have hung over from 2020 such as the Loch Ness 360 and the Bonnie Prince Ultra as well as Run the Blades and then I’ll find more of those low key ball busters I love. Maybe the Cairngorms Ultra or Glen Lyon both of which I have been keen to try, maybe the Ochils Ultra which I was sick as a dog on when I attempted it in 2019 and if Covid allows it is about time I returned to the SainteLyon, my favourite ultra marathon and the best race experience I have ever had.

Perhaps the other thing that I will doing in 2022 is finally getting my running group up and moving, it is the thing that I am most nervous about because it creates a responsibility and a timetable that I might need to adhere to but that is in the near future and should be up and running by the time the first real episode of the second season of the podcast comes around.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

But if I only learn one lesson this year and its that I really need to run the stuff I want to rather than run the stuff that fits.

And so

Thanks for reading, this may not have been very interesting but there might have been some things in my own musings that you are considering yourself, especially about how to deal with things going wrong. And if any of you wish to get in touch with me you can do so at ultraboycreates@gmail.com and I’m always going to be happy to chat through running or adventuring and the highs and lows associated.

Running can be lonely and if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we need to grasp opportunity and be more open to those opportunities.

So that’s the end of 2021 and my review of it, the blog has already started for 2022 and so has the podcast. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of my adventures via Instagram throughout the year and more episodes of the podcast will be coming later in the year – hopefully it will be a 10 episode season where I will be looking at things like wild camping with a child, my top 5 ultra marathons, kit reviews including OMM running packs and Topo Athletic shoes as well as interviews with more runners who are much like myself – just trying to get along.

In the meantime, enjoy your running and see you next time.

Below are links to reviews of my 2021 events listed above.

Let me explain the title of this post, basically 13 days before Christmas my much loved and well behaved daughter decided to go full bat poo on us and choose that very moment to ramp up the selfish and unkind behaviour and directed it, not at her parents but, at the two little girls who were visiting for a playdate.

Now we’ve seen a little upswing in low self esteem and negative selfish behaviour over the last few months and we’ve been keen to educate it away – however, education alone has not proved successful and so I found myself writing to her as Santa to express his displeasure and to notify her that she was bottom of the naughty list, I banned chocolate until January, television until February, Nintento until February and all indoor playdates and parties until the day after her 8th birthday.

I did however couple this with a learning and experience agenda that would highlight and encourage more selfless, confidence building behaviour. That agenda was set up with 12 days to go until Christmas with a requirement to reach 100 tasks complete of the 200 available.

The one thing I didn’t ban was sport, and in particular running.

Why?

I’m not stupid. I like running, she comes with me and this is an example of positive selfishness that benefits us both and so I come to the outstanding time we had in the company of Blast Running Santa Dash with just 6 days to go before Christmas.

Some months ago I contacted the team at Blast Running because I was very keen to have ASK start to increase her race distances as well as her training distances. I asked the question, ‘would my 7 year old be able to compete?’

The answer ultimately was yes, although with a couple of caveats which I assume ensure that all the relevant rules of the sport were being followed. I had zero issue with remaining with her for the duration of the race and I had no doubt that she wouldn’t finish last, nor would she need to walk any of the distance.

However, training had been somewhat haphazard because of all the injuries that I had picked up over the previous few months and she isn’t old enough for me to allow her to go running on the trails on her own. We did a couple of 7km trails runs in training but included a couple of hundred metres of elevation each time to ensure on race day she would be able to run the 7km without any bother.

The big issue would be the GingaNinja who had not really been training since the Craggy Island Triathlon and so she wasn’t 100% sure she would race, couple that with the fact she’d had the booster injection two days before and it was touch and go. Thankfully the Covid booster was mostly fine for her, although it knocked me for six and there was a big question mark for a while over whether I would recover in time for the start of the race.

Thankfully as the moist, thick fog descended upon central Scotland we were in the car and heading towards Crammond and all of us dressed for racing. We’d gone a bit early as we wanted to ensure that we got a decent parking spot near the registration point.

We pulled up with about a dozen other early risers all awaiting the opening of the registration – there was nothing to do now but admire the other athletes from the comfort of the car.

I was really surprised at just how busy the race was, but with multiple running options including a 21km, 14km, relay and our choice, a 7km, it made sense that lots of runners would turn out.

Eventually we joined the line to register and were soon pinning numbers to our fronts and changing our footwear in preparation for the off. Wityh the clock counting down to the start time of 10.15am we finally left registration point and took the five minute walk down to the start line amongst the throngs of other runners.

Despite the moisture in the air and the threat of rain on this mid December morning there was a lovely warm atmosphere amongst the runners and we chatted with some of the other guys. ASK though was a bit chilly at this point and very keen to get started and I hoped that we would be off soon as I wasn’t sure how long my little athlete would remain happy to run if she got any chillier. To create some distration from the chill we set ASK the challenge of identifying the competition in the 7km race and she scoured the numbers on peoples chests to see who we had to try and keep ahead of. She noted a few speedy looking racing snakes and identified a few runners that we might pick off if a bit of overtaking was possible.

And then it was off.

I was somewhat surprised by the pace of the runners but ASK and I were scurrying along rather nicely and then I looked behind us and noted that the GingaNinja was struggling with the pace and so I called over to the little one and suggested that we hang back a little bit and that her selfless act for the day would be to support her mum in the Santa Dash effort.

ASK took her new role very seriously and softened the pace which allowed mum to begin to catch us.

The nice thing about Crammond is that it’s flat and you could pretty much see the whole route from the start line, or you could at least figure out where the turnaround point would be and this meant that I could keep both of my little team of runners focused.

Now it is fair to say that the GingaNinja looked a little bit miffed, I wasn’t 100% sure why but I could hazard a guess that it was a combination of her 7 year old daughter having to restrain her pace combined with an annoyance about her own recent lack of training. However, we were here now and the kilometres were slowly but surely falling and all I could do was make sure that everyone had a fun time.

I advised ASK that as long as I could see her then she was free to run ahead and I would work with the GingaNinja to get her moving a bit quicker.

However, I still had to work within the framework that Blast Running had set out for us so whenever ASK would start to pull away from us or start to get out of sight I would sprint along and catch up to her, ensuring she slowed up a little bit – I’d also get her to hurl out some inspirational words to mum, because apparently when I do it I’m being a patronising prick but when the child does it it comes from the heart.

My only concern with the child was that she might burn out a little bit as the kilometres counted down but at the halfway point as we stared across to Crammond Island itself she looked tremendous and was keen to go quicker but even keener to make amends for her selfish behaviour the previous weekend and so didn’t complain when I insisted that we stay with the GingaNinja.

My only desire now was that we didn’t finish last but as the race continued it was clear that it would tight at the back of the field, now it wasn’t that we were running that slowly but it was slowly enough that we were losing ground on the runners in front of us and the runners behind were catching us.

Beyond the turnaround point we were joined for a kilometre or so by Mrs Claus and for a while ASK was oblivious to the fact that both her parents had dropped off the pace and were simply watching her running along the beachfront but then we remembered our responsibilities as parents and rejoined her.

ASK was running slowly enough and with enough confidence now that she was now chewing the ear off Mrs Claus and having been on the receiving end of ASKs verbal diarrhoea I felt compelled to save the lady and let her continue without her little festive elf.

We were then caught by a gentleman who was dressed head to toe as a Christmas tree, there was glitter and sparkle all over the place and ASK was in hogs heaven as she looked upon this amazing sight.

The chap dressed as a Christmas tree was generous in his praise of ASK, presumably in part because she was going quite slowly, but hopefully more that he was impressed someone so young could complete such a distance. What he probably didn’t realise was that ASK was running at around 90 seconds slower per kilometre than usual.

Eventually though we said goodbye to the wonder that was the running Christmas tree and with 5km down we pushed onwards. Now slowly but surely we were pulling away from the GingaNinja and it was getting harder to slow down sufficiently to keep us together.

It was now important though that ASK stayed warm in these final kilometres because it’s pretty easy for a little 7 year old with no fat on her to get a bit chilly and then an opportunity arose…

I saw that the route was about to enter a little loop and so ASK and I began to pull away knowing that we would meet the GingaNinja again, this was a much needed leg stretcher. We started picking up the pace and ASK showcased just how much energy she still had in the tank – It was amazing to think that this was her first time racing at this distance.

‘Shall we race to the finish dad?’ she asked.

Oh how I wanted to say yes but I felt that we had come this far as a family and so we slowed down one final time and let the GingaNinja catch us and then began the run in to the finish. Thankfully there were still several hundred metres and the GingaNinja insisted that we all run it in as fast as we could, whatever speed that may be and so as we passed the final corner I shouted to ASK that she needed to sprint it in. Watching the mini-me press the afterburner was something that really delighted me, both feet were flying off the ground and all I could do was watch in awe and bark, ‘faster, faster!’

At the finish line there was a lovely noise from the crowd willing my daughter home and as she thundered across the line a giant smile erupted her face. Meanwhile I had stopped short of the finish, much to the confusion of one of the marshals but I wanted to ensure that the GingaNinja, who was about 20 seconds behind us, finished ahead of me.

There was a family cuddle at the finish, a medal, a giant sense of elation and a bucket load of relief.

What a great race!

Overview

  • Distance: 7km
  • Ascent: 12 metres
  • Date: December 2021
  • Location: Crammond
  • Terrain: Tarmac
  • Tough Rating: 1/5

Conclusions

The first thing to mention is that Blast Running put on a tremendously well organised event and in the tumult of all the Covid madness they managed to make all the necessary changes to ensure that the event was complaint with the regulations. The team also managed to provide toilets, parking and most importantly a big warm welcome, as a Blast Running first timer I was suitably impressed.

The thing I am most grateful to Blast Running for though is that they allowed my 7 year old daughter to compete in a field of runners that spanned all ages and abilities and she had such an outstanding experience that we will be looking to replicate it in races across Scotland in 2022 (that of course give out medals).

I suppose the important question is how did ASK feel after this event?

Well obviously in the immediate afterglow she was 100% elated but the good news is that the afterglow lasted long into the Christmas week and she has taken heart from this performance and also from supporting the GingaNinja as she returned to running. There were no negatives on the day and no negatives in the aftermath for my little athlete.

Recommend it?

The route was superb and the perfect Santa Dash location – an out and back with sea views and a bit of traditional Scottish weather, I really couldn’t have asked for more. I even enjoyed the little walk down to the start line, I think something like that helps to build excitement with the other competitors and it really helps build atmosphere.

The medal was wonderful and full of festive cheer, I loved this too – it’s been a while since I last earnt a festive medal and my first festive one made of wood. I shall cherish mine as a constant reminder of racing 7km with my family and I know that my daughter and other half will long cherish their medals too.

All in all I can say that I highly recommend Blast Running and you can find out more about them and their other events at their website here, I shall certainly be trying some of their other events and maybe if they’ll let me bring her along, ASK can show the running community what she’s really made of.

Thanks to Mike3Legs for the excellent professional photography

Have you ever had one of those days where you think that if the ground opened up and swallowed you whole to be digested over a thousand year period that your day was probably about to improve?

Then you, dear reader, have some idea about what my day at the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra was like. Rest assured though, and for those that won’t be reading to the lengthy end, the Y3PU is a stunningly brilliant event, so whats the story?

Read on…

Beep, beep, beep, thwack, ugh, I’m up.

There I was in my bed dreaming about being Luke Skywalker when the series of noises above meant it was about 2am and I was getting up to head to Hawes in Yorkshire for the second of four races in the Ranger Ultras Grand Slam.

As I stood in the shower I felt resolute about the 100km race I was soon to embark upon, what I felt a lot less resolute about was my confidence in my the hip flexor injury that I’d picked up at the Pennine Bridleway, a few weekends earlier, that was getting worse and not better.

Dressed, I headed downstairs for a breakfast of champions – chocolate milkshake, coffee and Shredded Wheat (not all in one bowl). I’d have liked a few minutes to relax but I focused instead on trying to push out that pre-race dump but having had three or four days of the galloping trots there was nothing doing. So, after kissing the family goodbye and having a final kit check whilst hiding under the boot of car from the hurtling rain, I departed.

Yes I departed only to be met by a closed motorway… oh joy I thought as I swung off the motorway and followed the ridiculous directions from Google. Still despite my false start I was still primed to arrive a little before 7am and if I gave it a bit of welly down the M74 I’d probably have enough time to have a second crack at that pre-race poo.

I’d usually opt for some serious singing or big happy tunes on the way to a race but for a change I was listening to BBC 5Live because it’s sometimes reassuring to listen to people mad enough to call in to be on the radio in the middle of the night because they’re even less sane than those of us who choose ultra marathon running as our sport.

Anyway, after a couple of hours of listening to insomniacs that call talk radio I swapped the fast quiet motorway driving for a spot of relatively busy dark country lanes. Now armed with about a litre and a half of strong coffee in my veins I moved swiftly, albeit it nervously. It was quite a long way from Tebay (my motorway turn off) to Hawes and I didn’t enjoy it and when the tight country lanes finally abated at the entrance to the picturesque town of Hawes I was very grateful.

I parked up in the excellent local facility and grabbed myself a bit more rocket fuel and a pouch of Icelandic superberry yoghurt! I know how to live don’t I? Thankfully now as fuelled as I was going to get I slipped onto my Japanese mattress in the back of the car and began the ‘dance of the lube’.

The ‘dance of the lube’ is where I try and squeeze my running lubrication stick in a variety of body shaped holes in order to reduce the problem of chaffing whilst simultaneously contorting my body into shapes I didn’t know it could make to ensure the lube stick didn’t end up stuck in one of my body shapes.

Ah success, my nipples, nut sack, toes, arsehole and everywhere else should once more be free from the threat of chaffing. I chose to wear kit option one for today because although it was chilly and there was moisture in the air it didn’t look horrendous. So it was bamboo base layer, long sleeved ronhill top, omm 3/4 leggings, some dirty girl gaiters, Drymax socks and an old friend to accompany on one final ultra marathon – my Altra Lone Peak 3.5 – I was dressed.

The one thing I did seriously consider though was the choice of race vest.

There were two things, the first was should I wear the Salomon ADV Skin 12 which might have been responsible for some nasty, nasty chaffing at the Pennine Bridleway 55 and second should I bother packing it at all given that Ranger Ultras seem to take kit checks very seriously and I’d only end up unpacking it all anyway.

In the end I decided to wear the ADV Skin 12 and pack it to race – both would be a mistake!

I got chatting to a lovely, and tough as anything I’d surmise, chap called Chris who was in the car next to me. We shared a bit of chat about the race, locality and the mistakes we had both made in pissing off our respective other halves. It was good to know it wasn’t just me. But with time ticking on we went our separate ways and I ambled down to the welcome and hustle and bustle of the village hall.

This was so very different from the Pennine Bridleway 55 which had been very casual, very intimate – this was a bigger event and yet despite being bigger it felt warm, cosy and like you’d arrived at your grans house where she’d put the kettle on and laid out some fruitcake. However, be under no illusion that’s where Ranger Ultras and a pleasant elderly lady comparisons end, because in the background and behind the warmth and smiles it was all action.

I was directed to the correct number collection and then warmly welcomed by the remarkably jolly Race Director Stu Westfield. I like Stu, he embodies the positive attitude that I’ve always associated with ultra running. He then directed me over to the kit check where I was asked to show my map(s), waterproof jacket, headtorch and bivvy bag.

Now I’m all for a kit check, I believe it is vital to ensure that runners going out into potentially difficult conditions have at least the basics covered but I should have learnt by now – don’t pack my kit before the check. I started emptying my race vest all over the table in search of the four key items, the interesting thing was then that when I finally managed to get my waterproof jacket out the lovely and rather thorough gent then took it out of its stuff sack to check for both the taped seams and the hood.

Having cleared number collection and kit check I took up residence at one of the tables set up in the hall to begin putting my kit back together, fold, twist, squeeze, crush, pack and relax. Some minutes later I found myself sat quietly watching the hall fill up with runners bimbling around doing their thing. I chatted to a few of the others including the lovely Shaun who had travelled about as far as I had to test himself at the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra and Danny who had the finest of moustaches and was celebrating his 30th birthday.

I noticed that much like the Pennine Bridleway 55 there was a big kitchen accessible to the runners and individual breakfast bits to chow down on pre-laid out for us – I didn’t partake of any of this but I know lots of the competitors did. I enjoyed this period of watching, listening and chatting – the calm before the storm I suppose you might describe it as but the storm was coming and so as the 9 o’clock start approached the RD started to gently organise the runners into the Pen-Y-Ghent 50km competitors and the Y3PU competitors and suddenly it felt like we were off.

Brilliant.

Well it would have been brilliant if I hadn’t done something stupid with my Garmin and managed to not set it up properly and found myself running down the beautiful little main street of Hawes attempting to correct my technical error so that the watch could guide me from here to the end. Thankfully I wasn’t suddenly and unexpectedly required to navigate via the map that I had securely stowed in my pack – no, I had managed to get the GPX up and running and I was away.

Brilliant.

Well it would have been brilliant if I hadn’t found myself as part of a tunnel or sausage roll of runners trying to get through a tiny little gap in the path – I know someone local will know what these are called but I don’t. I joke, actually it was nice to have a moments to look up and finally see the Yorkshire in all its misty, moist glory.

But to the running, the competitors, made up of all shapes and sizes jumped, leaped, stepped and meandered through the series of little gates and across fields, paths, mud and trail and suddenly we were in a race. What I knew was that there was a decent stretch, probably about 10 miles or so that made up the outward section to our first of the three peaks and this meant that post the three peaks there would be 10 miles or so to run back to the finish. Basic maths then puts me in for about 20 miles or so of hills and that meant there should be lots of trail and not too much tarmac – yummy!

What I hadn’t expected, because I am in no way familiar with the area, was how tough that outward section would be. I found myself daydreaming to a few hours in the future and what I might look like as I wearily wended my way back. However, I was also having a lovely and busy time meeting runners on the route, recounting tales of misery and woe to all who wanted listen and some that didn’t. The route really was a trail and it was amazingly beautiful, even on a day when the weather had closed in all around us I could really appreciate the magnificence of Yorkshire.

What I knew was that the ground was mostly firm and running conditions were perfect and I really took advantage of this in the early stages of the race, pushing as hard as I could and remembering the advice of ultra running legend Traviss Wilcox, ‘get through the first half as fast as you can and survive the second half’. I took this advice to heart and was sticking to it dogmatically as I pushed up the climbs as fast as I could. I gave no ground in these early stages and made good progress through the field and when we hit ground that was a little flatter I put on what I would refer to as a bit of a spurt.

Brilliant.

Well it would have been brilliant if I hadn’t had my hip flexor give up the fight at about 1km in. I was injured, there was no doubt about it and so when I reached the flat and pushed the accelerator I was fully aware that the pain that was running through my groin, leg and hip was only going to get worse as the race wore on.

The lovely thing though was that I was really enjoying myself – something that has been largely missing from my running in recent times and with the grand slam still in play I wanted to leave nothing out here and that required me to keep my spirits up and remember why I love this.

The straight stretch seemed to go on forever but in the distance I could see signs of life and what looked like a checkpoint, no time to stop and no need either – my bottles were for the most part full and I still had a good amount of food on board so I waved at the volunteers (one of whom recognised me from the PB55) and then looked into the face of the first major descent.

This is how the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra really fucks with you, it lulls you into a false sense of security, for example the descent here looked pretty benign and a bit banal and without much to think about but when you considered that you would be coming back up this slow, long, ascent then it looked pretty cruel. I remember thinking that on the descent that my quads were feeling it and that I wished I had my MTN Racer on instead of my Lone Peaks because I’d have been more inclined to run harder downhill in them rather than accept the soft pillow-like feel of my Altra.

I was running with Gareth and Paul at this point and they had been excellent company and excellent navigators, if memory serves both had been here before and knew what they were talking about. As is the way though with ultra marathons you really must run your own race and so although we reached the checkpoint together I don’t really remember seeing much more of them, they must have sped away from me and that was just fine.

At the checkpoint I realised this was the last stop before the first of the three peaks and I had no intention of going up without filling the water bottles, topping up the active root and also having something to eat. I stuffed in my big fat gob a couple of the big purple ones from the quality street and a strawberry cream to help wash down the nuts.

I thanked the volunteers, left and caught sight of the viaduct that dominates the landscape on this part of the route. At 400 metres long and with 24 arches the Ribblehead Viaduct is an imposing and impressive sight amongst all the greenery and I very much enjoyed running alongside it. However, the sightseeing was put to one side as the route moved gently upwards and around, all the time moving towards the first peak of Whernside.

As you approach Whernside it really doesn’t look like much at all but it is a bit of a knacker kicker really. First of all there’s the long lonely path, punctuated only by a succession of hikers all wondering why they are out and about in the rain. I trundled along perfectly merrily albeit rather slowly, my hip was at its worst when going uphill and even the presence of my running poles wasn’t enough to mitigate the effect on my pace. Runners who had been minutes behind me were now catching me and despite my best intentions I didn’t feel like I had it in me to push.

The sight of a fellow runner just below me, Michelle, was a nice break and for a few minutes chatted about running and life and I genuinely found this the perfect antidote to the climb – if I didn’t say it at the time, ‘thanks’ it was really appreciated.

Eventually though my companion disappeared into the mist and I continued upwards and eventually was rewarded with a summit full of young adults snd a rather wet gentleman attempting to assert some control. It was here that Danny, he of the moustache, ran past…

Brilliant.

Well it was brilliant, Danny had a real zing about him, his voice was soothing and his words were kind and as we began the descent I realised he was going to be much stronger than me and I wouldn’t be able to match his pace but that didn’t stop me trying because the benefit of running with someone so wonderfully positive might lift my darkening mood. Now I’m a terrible runner but the one thing I’m pretty good at is foot placement on a downhill and so with all the vim and vigour I could manage I started punching well above my actual ability and thundering my way down the rather rocky, muddy, slippery, step laden and mildly technical downhill.

This was a wonderful period for me and despite the pain I was in I was finding the route, the views and the whole experience absolutely amazing – the trail was wonderful but as the downhill flattened out I started to slow and the runners that I had caught overtook me once more followed by more yo-yo-ing with my fellow competitors. I pulled into the next checkpoint not long after and the sight of the Ranger Ultras signage was most welcome but I saw something that sent a real chill down my spine, a competitor who had withdrawn from the race – bloody hell and it was followed by another one who was having groin problems – it made me think of my own issues and would I find myself sat in the back of a camper waiting to be taken back to the start?

Negative thoughts are a nightmare and with two peaks still to go I needed to try and put them to the back of my mind and so filled my water bottles once more and headed out. You don’t realise how tough it is on your legs all the up and downhill until you stop for a moment and then have to get going and let me assure you that my legs did not want to get going again.

In the distance I could see Ingleborough and knew instantly that this climb would be something of a beast to overcome.

The one big positive though was that I was managing to consume food and actually was really keen on eating, I had yoghurt and kids fruit smoothies as well as some other bits and pieces to support the Active Root. The thought that occurred to me was that I wouldn’t have enough of the food I craved to get me round the course! The yoghurt and fruit smoothie pouches are especially handy as they are aimed at kids and tend not to be quite so sugary or filled with things that might upset my stomach – but they wouldn’t be available at the checkpoints. I decided I would have one of each going up Ingleborough and then the other going up Pen-Y-Ghent and then eat whatever else I had as the need arose.

I was slow going up to the steep climb of Ingleborough, slower than I had been at the first peak and I found myself carving out a path that would get me up as safely and pain free as possible. Ahead of me there were small figures dotted on the face of the climb and below me there were small faces looking up seeking a route up.

Step by step, stone by stone I clambered my way along until I overcame the first of the false summits and as I turned and saw nothing for miles but mist my heart sank a little but I was fortunate to meet a gentleman at this point, much like Danny before him, who would share some of his time with me and would play the yo-yo game for many miles. I’m sure we exchanged names but the truth is that from this point my head was really mashed and my focus was much more on the route than retaining the names of the many wonderful runners that help define my race. However, his advice was excellent and he reminded me that it’s all about, ‘see what happens at 70km’.

I’d explained about my hip pain and how it was becoming increasing excruciating to run but quite rightly he reminded that there’s no point worrying about what happens in the future – that will sort itself out as and when it comes. He clearly understood the mental issue I was having and with about 40km left to go I needed not to consumed by a desire to give up. It was therefore with an enormous sense of relief that the real top was reached and there were runners who had gone past us now retreating from the depths of the moist ahead.

‘You’re nearly at the top’ came the call and just a few metres ahead I could see the poor volunteers who had drawn the short straw of being at the top of Ingleborough to ensure runner safety. Oddly despite the wind, the cold and the moisture (I also presume they saw a share of rain up there) the guys were pretty jolly and that’s the mark of great marshalling, they could have just marked our number down but actually they were incredibly enthusiastic as they sent us on our way to the trig point a few hundred metres away.

I had intended to stop for a few minutes at the trig point but given the weather conditions and the lack of visibility there seemed little point and so I headed straight back down the alternative path and on my way to the bottom.

The descent off Ingleborough was tough going but reasonably quick but even though I was moving well and there was a small group of runners all moving together my problems continued to mount. In addition to the hip I could feel a burning in my lower back that didn’t feel like the usual back pain I get from wearing a race vest.

Bugger.

I’d had some rubbing of my race vest at the PB55 which had seemed really odd as it lay lower on my back than the pack sat. I was fortunate at the PB55 in comparison though because my slow moving had meant that the rubbing wasn’t too severe, however, here, now, with sweat dripping off me, my back burnt like inside of a pizza oven after a 12hr Saturday shift at Dominos! I really was having a day of two halves!

Onward and onward the little band of runners moved and much to our surprise the mist that had dogged almost the entire day started to lift and the sun started to poke its little face out. Now, as regular readers will know, the arrival of sunshine might be greeted by most of the great unwashed as a welcome sight but for my money the sun can sod off and I found myself shaking my fist in its direction, under my breath I even heard myself say, ‘oh feck off or it’s the Glasgow kiss for you’. Clearly it heard and the sunshine soon abated, although it would be back a little later.

Eventually we pulled into the next checkpoint and I ate a couple of spring rolls and as some Cadbury’s Heroes but I was feeling sick and my stomach was churning – not good but I needed to try and eat something. I downed my yoghurt and smoothie pouches for a boost and to try and settle my tummy. We would see if that would help. I filled my water bottles once more and topped up the Active Root, I felt like I was going to need it.

As I left the checkpoint I called to amassed marshals, ‘you’re the best checkpoint since the last one!’ and they were indeed brilliant and they handled the large group of runners who all arrived together incredibly well.

The little band of runners who I had been running with naturally disbanded at the checkpoint and I found myself amongst other runners, some I had already met, others that were new to me. It was here during the start of the steep climb to Pen-Y-Ghent that I was reacquainted with Graham, who despite being in lots of pain had decided against a DNF at the last checkpoint, and was pushing through.

He was a very inspiring runner to be around, as well as only being a runner for six years he was also in the midst of completing the Hardmoors Superslam, holy shit! His grit and determination was special and his climbing speed was much quicker than mine and so I clung on to his coat tails for dear life.

Up and up we climbed, slowly and steadily, being careful not to misplace our footing but a bit of a light scramble was just what the doctor ordered. As I started upward, attempting to see the summit I caught sight of a man I thought might well be Santa Claus, or perhaps Satan Claws coming to collect my dying body and soul. I called up, ‘I love your beard’. In response he raised his camera and tried to catch my fat side! Ha.

This was another amazing marshal, sat on high, up the peak, not only taking pictures but also ensuring our safe ascent to the top. Ranger Ultras clearly take the safety aspect very seriously indeed and I know all the runners were grateful for that.

Graham and I made the top and then began our descent, this was going to be tough but we were making reasonable enough time but Graham was going quicker than I was now and he started to power ahead a little bit. I started losing ground to a couple of other runners who were on the yo-yo too and as I looked back I realised I would soon be on my own and I feared that given my mental state.

I decided it was time to pull on the big boy pants and give myself the wedgie I so clearly needed!

‘Come on Ultraboy you can do this’ I thought.

I picked my feet up and started to move faster, Graham buddy I’m coming to find you – it was just about then that a young lady overtook me wearing the same coloured Salomon pack that I was, mud splattered all the was up her legs, I wondered if I looked the same from behind. I think her name was Min but I’m not 100% sure, as I say, my brain was pretty fried. For a little while she ignored me and thundered onward but I was pretty sick of being overtaken and so I set off chasing both her and Graham and within just a few hundred metres I could smell the mud beneath the lugs of their shoes.

‘Evening,’ I said as I reintroduced myself.

When you’re feeling like shit, you can’t eat, your back is burning from the rubbing of your race vest and you’re injured what you really need is some good chat with lovely people that have stories to tell. My companions were gracious enough to be both engaging, interesting and most of all willing to share. For miles we pushed to find our way back to the main path and then to the finish but such was my delight at the company I was keeping that I remembered to enjoy myself. We eventually of course did find the path and looking upwards we remembered the downhill we had all enjoyed/endured earlier in the day. My memory must have been a little bit fuzzy though because I was thinking this climb up to the checkpoint was probably no more than about half a mile.

Bugger.

Yes, my mind had played a cruel trick on me because the climb to the final checkpoint felt like the hardest slog of the day, just steep enough to be un-runnable when you’re absolutely ruined but not steep enough not to try. Our little trio moved as quickly as it could but the climb was draining our enthusiasm and all we wanted was to reach the checkpoint. The darkness had also surrounded us and we hurled our respective light sources on and ran by torchlight, I remembered that I hadn’t run like this since the Ultra Scotland and I have always found myself developing tunnel vision quickly when running by headtorch and so I moved between my hand and head light to ensure that I avoided the problem.

I felt that the three of us were searching the horizon for the twinkling of the marshals lights and then as we reached the tarmac I made out a slither of light and maybe the top of a car, we had reached the home strait.

I punched the afterburner button and ran with all haste into the checkpoint, there were a couple of lovely marshals there who would be out in the cold until around 1am – they really were incredible. I was hugely grateful to see John, one of the marshals I met at the PB55 again and he provided words of comfort and advice. He provided the verbal cuddle that I needed and sent me on my way armed with enough water to see it through.

My competitors had managed to get out of the checkpoint quicker than I and as I watched their headtorches running into the distance I felt a little wave of sadness, I stood on the trail for a moment stretching my back and gingerly wiping sweat away from the large angry and bloody wounds that were reaching right around my back. With my final adjustments I set out once again, this time along the flat but rocky and damp trail, I approached the trail with a surprising surefootedness and worked hard to catch the next set of bobbing lights because I had no wish to miss the turn off the trail and on to the downhill.

The running gods must have been looking down on me though as I saw what looked like a series of buzzing fireflies in the distance, at what it seemed was the turning point – yes a selection of the runners were either wondering if this was the right way or returning from the wrong way to get back on course. The GPX file confirmed that this was the point to move from the trail and I joined this posse of runners, there were so many familiar faces and there was a bit of a party atmosphere but I wanted to move a little bit quicker and so battered down the trail as quickly as I could – I could smell the finish and see the town of Hawes ahead of me.

Of course my brain being mashed I knew that there would be some more shit to deal with and I arrived at what looked like a crossroads and I didn’t fancy going wrong and so I waited for a few minutes until the party bus arrived and of course they immediately headed down the obvious direction!

Oddly the group started running, presumably because they had arrived on tarmac, oh what the bollocks. Bloody hell, my body doesn’t like tarmac at the best of times and this was not my best of times but there was a beat that we were hitting and each member of the group was pressing. There was still the challenge of the little gaps in the walls that we had to negotiate and this time I served as a bit of a doorman to allow the other runners quicker access along the route, I suppose this was my way of saying thank you to the crew who, like me, were just keen to get home.

And then out of nowhere I knew were I was, past the pub and back onto the main street of Hawes, ahead of me there was a runner or two and because I’m a complete and proper dick and there was an attractive lady who had come out of the pub to cheer us on, I put on a final, painful sprint but this time it was to the finish.

Pound, pound, pound. I could hear the sound of my feet against the pavement and I could feel my lungs burning and chest thumping as I passed the runner ahead of me and leapt up the stairs of the hall and into the light.

I’d made it, I’d made it. No DNF today.

When Stu Westfield asked if I was going back out, I gave a silent but firm, ‘no’ and so my grandslam effort would come to a rather sad end but at least I was still alive, something that I wasn’t sure I would be at various points during the event.

Injured, sick, bloodied and bruised but I had the finishers coaster to cherish, just not the 100km race finish.

Overview

  • Distance: 70/100km
  • Ascent: 2400 metres
  • Date: October 2021
  • Location: Hawes, Yorkshire
  • Cost: £50
  • Terrain: Trail
  • Tough Rating: 3.75/5

Route
I’m always on the hunt for a beautiful trail race, one that minimises the tarmac and one that is filled with aching beautiful vistas and challenge. Well I am very pleased to report that the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra from Ranger Ultras is right up there with the best of them. The whole route was a joy to behold, some might argue that better weather would have made this more scenic but I take the opposite view – there was enough clear sky to enjoy the sight of the massive loop that awaited you but there was also something mystical and majestic about the mist, the low visibility and also the little gems such as the viaduct.

Each of the little chocolate box villages that we passed through made this feel like we had stepped back in time and Hawes was simply an exceptionally pretty place to start the race. The route had something for everyone, if you like elevation it had that, if you like technical trails then it had some of that, if you liked big stone steps (nobody does) then it had a shitload of them, if you like steep, wet, muddy, scenic or fast descents then it had all of them too.

Yes it was bloody tough but it was equally beautiful and that makes it worthwhile doing.

Organisation
Last time I was rather lavish with my praise for the organisation of the race, well let me gush some more because the guys at Ranger Ultras under the leadership of Stu Westfield are amongst the best in the business. They make the logistical challenge of an ultra marathon look like child’s play and it really isn’t. I’ve witnessed what a shit show looks like in terms of organisation (looking at you Thames Gateway 100, 2013) and Ranger Ultras are anything but, they are just brilliant.

Value for Money
I genuinely don’t know how they do it – the Rangers Ultra races are some of the best value events around. If you haven’t entered one yet then just do it, you will not be disappointed. These events not only quality but also amazing value, I can’t praise the value for money enough – at about £50 entry this is possible one of the best value events in Englandshire (maybe second only to the Fellsman?) and the fact they offer you a ‘free’ 30km at the end of the race seems both brilliantly cruel and oddly generous.

Awards
As regular readers will know I love a medal, they are the main reason I do these ultra distances but Ranger Ultras are moving to wooden coasters and despite them being an absolute bugger to display they are much nicer than the medals. They are beautifully designed and nicely made. For those who are fast enough there are rewards to be had with trophies and the like but I’m never going to trouble those. I realise we are moving to more sustainable racing and it was excellent to see another cupless event being held but I would kill for a bit of Ranger Ultras merchandise, I mean I’d buy the hoodie and the shirt because I get the feeling that the team would make the right decisions about the kind of quality and sources they were getting them made from – just incase you’re reading this team I really like the Sheepish hoodies, one of those with a Ranger Ultras branding on would be perfect.

Volunteers and Support
Everyone was 100% amazing, from the first to the final person – the volunteers and marshals showed nothing but enthusiasm and energy and as an exhausted runner that can’t be underestimated. I will say a special thank you to John, who rescued my race at the final checkpoint and who made me laugh at the Pennine Bridleway 55. I know how challenging a stint volunteering can be and I can heard to say as I run past volunteers sometimes, ‘you guys have the hardest job’ and I really do mean it. However, in the case of Ranger Ultras we must doubly mean it because we had marshals and safety crew at all the major potential stumbling points and at all the key locations that a runner would really need some support. Brilliant.

Runners
I met so many runners during the race, probably more in this race than any other I have done in recent time and that may have something to do that I managed to perform a bit better than usual and so was higher up the pack than usual before dropping off. For the purpose of the blog and also politeness when you are chatting to someone for a little while I try to get the names of my fellow runners and also try and remember them but here names just dropped out of my brain like water through a sieve.

What I do know is that whether you had travelled far, were running your first ultra, were a little mountain goat, had run dozens of ultra marathons, had awesome facial fuzz or were concerned that hippy hikers might have gotten the magic mushrooms before you did, all of you played a massive part in me reaching any kind of finish line – I did not deserve to get to 70km, I wasn’t good enough on the day – but you, my fellow runners were and I thank you for my 58th ultra marathon finish.

My Race
I’ve outlined my race above but between my hip, feeling sick and my back I did not deserve to finish and that’s how I view my race. That’s a shame because I had a truly great time on the route and with Ranger Ultras and am sure as time passes I’ll only remember these positives but right now I feel a bit sad about the way I raced and not finishing the 100km.

What did I learn? Well the stomach issue was just one of those things that can happen to anyone and I’m sure that next time it won’t be in play. The back issue – well there are two issues, one is the general pain I get which the physiotherapist is helping me resolve but then there is the fact that my Salomon ADV Skin 12 chaffed the skin from back and then helped my body sweat straight into it – I won’t be wearing it again, or at least not over these kinds of distances. The hip though is is the big one, especially with the Double Peaks weekend coming up, am I going to make it to the start line well there’s some question marks about that.

The Grand Slam
And so because I failed to complete the 100km and only finished the 70km race I, like everyone else, bow out of the grand slam and I am very, very sad about this. I went into the Y3PU hoping that my hip would hold together for just a short 100km hop but instead it crucified me for mile after mile after mile. So with the grand slam gone I have thoughts and options that include

  1. Not running any further races this year
  2. Not running the Dark Peaks / White Peaks Double Race Weekend in favour of a longer recovery for the Cheviot Goat Ultra
  3. Running the Dark Peaks, the White Peaks and the Cheviot Goat

I mean I think I know where this is likely to end up and the chances are I’ll be sitting on the start line for at least the first day of running in the Peaks but the question is unlikely to be truly answered until the night I need to head down.

I also know that Kate Allen will be at the Peaks weekend and do I really want to disgrace myself in front of a runner I have much respect for? Ha!

Conclusions
There is a huge logistical challenge in my attending the Ranger Ultras events, the distance is one thing but there are lots of other factors that get in the way, not being local means I really have to think about whether I want to do it, are they worth the arse ache? Was it worth the hours of driving and the miles and miles on terrifyingly dark back roads from Tebay to Hawes? Was the wooden trinket worth needing all that coffee that would eventually come galloped out of my arsehole a day later? Was it worth pissing off a potentially nasty injury so you could enjoy the misty views over Yorkshire? 100% Yes.

This was a bold, brutal and beautiful event and for all my griping I get to sit here, writing this a week later, reliving my joy at some of those most exquisite moments I’ve had as an ultra marathoner. I fell very fortunate to have run the Yorkshire Three Peaks with Ranger Ultras because it was a classy event and the team that put it on are a class act.

Yes I’m annoyed at lots of things about this, but none of them are to do with the event – that was glorious. The issue, as always, is me, what I can tell you is that this race, much like its sibling the PB55 is highly recommended, especially for those of you who like your running hard and trail. You can find out more at the Ranger Ultras website here or take a look at their Facebook page here.

And finally if I haven’t convinced you to take the plunge on this wonderful event, well shame on me because that means I haven’t praised it hard enough. However, let me share with you a final little thing, I have now attempted 68 ultra marathons, I have completed 58 of them, I have run over 200 races in the last decade and of those 200 this one, the Ranger Ultras Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra is most certainly in the top 10 of my favourite events. That is high praise because it shares that top 10 with great events such as the SainteLyon, the Skye Trail Ultra, MIUT, the Vigo Tough Love 10 and the Green Man Ultra, its tough to get to me to consider putting a race so highly on my list of all time favourites but the Y3PU instantly joins the club.

See you out there.

It’s worth noting that I have no affiliation with Rangers Ultra am not sponsored nor have I been paid to write this review – this is 100% independent (and probably unwanted).

I’d hurt my hip flexors at some during the Pennine Bridleway 55 (race review here) but when I saw a social media posting from fellow runner Yvonne I felt the whirring of brain cells and realised that I was going to be at Lochore Meadows with Rona during the Lochore 10km.

Boom.

And so after the excitement of Craggy Island Triathlon and the marriage proposal (read about that here) I readied myself for a gentle bimble around a place I really enjoy running.

What I hadn’t expected upon rolling up to the race on the Sunday morning was that I was really, really tired. When Yvonne approached me at the start line I think I was in mid yawn, I really didn’t fancy running.

However, I was there and a chat with the truly spectacular Yvonne, adorned in her neon London Marathon 2021 shirt, who just a week earlier had blasted around the capital, was just what the running doctor ordered.

The race had a couple of hundred runners at the start line, which handily began at the motorhome parking, which I’d be visiting later in the day.

I was concerned, on the start line, that I hadn’t managed a pre-race poo and let’s be honest nobody wants to witness a middle aged man taking a dump in a lovely country park, so it would have to be a case of corking a potential monster. I could feel my guts engaging in a bit of an internal battle but with some deep breathing and the race about to started to dig deep and told myself, ‘it’s just an hour or so’.

I really did intend to go out slowly, I started at the back of the amassed runners and I made no attempt to push through the runners ahead of me but I jokingly shouted to Yvonne, ‘I can’t let you beat me’ and that was it, I’d set myself up and so I locked in a sensible pace of about 5 minute kilometres and pounded the ground.

The course was two laps of the loch and at all sides it is a delight, offering good cover from the weather, which to be fair was excellent but also good views. The route was also almost identical to the Parkrun that I had done here a few weeks earlier (only in reverse) and so I felt confident that I knew where I’d have to dig in a bit and where I could open the taps.

Within the first kilometre (and therefore also kilometre six) I knew there were a couple of small ascents to get over, which on tired legs felt harder than they should, however, I powered up the lumps and thrust myself forward to catch some of those faster runners at the front. As kilometre after kilometre fell I could feel myself moving slowly up the field and occasionally being overtaken by others.

There was a great atmosphere that ran through this event and all the wonderful marshals and volunteers were bringing big wonderful smiles to help keep us going. It was such a great experience that you couldn’t help but want to push yourself.

My problem came between kilometre two and three and I could feel my hip flexors wanting to fuck me over and they really did. But I had a choice – ease off and run slowly thereby reducing the risk of further inflammation of the injury or run like buggery and hope for the best.

In my head I heard the words and tune of ‘Danger Zone’ playing as I chose the latter. I started pushing a little harder as the route entered the muddier trail sections of the route, knowing that this was were the fun was to be had.

Puddles littered the course but rather than run through them I simply noted their location and put them in my ‘fun’ drawer for lap two when I might take a little dip or two.

As I headed to about the fourth kilometre and the way to the finish line and the start of lap 2 I noted a gentleman behind me who was running a very steady race, I joked, ‘I’ll make you earn this overtake’ but he didn’t join in the banter – he was 100% focused much more on the race than on the other runners which I understood but I couldn’t shake him. He just ran beside me or just behind me, this did have the benefit of serving as an excellent pacing and as we passed the halfway point I could feel him closing.

However, with ever step closer he took I would change my stride and put some distance between us.

The second lap had the field spreading out and it became easier to identify the next person you could target to overtake or use as your pacer. However, with my pacing shadow behind me I felt like I couldn’t slow down and who the hell knew how far Yvonne was behind me! So I pushed onwards even though my hip was burning and sending shooting pains down my legs.

As I hit the kilometre eight I could feel myself slowing and knew that my pacing shadow would soon overtake me but then a lady hauled ass past both of us and I clung onto her for dear life albeit just for a seconds but it was enough to stop me slowing.

As I watched the lady leap gazelle like along the side of the loch I saw another opportunity called Andrea (as I would later discover) go past me. Andrea was going at a fair old lick as she caught me but I managed to run alongside her for a few hundred metres and bit by bit we were chomping away at the race. I was also now well clear of my pacing shadow but a quick look behind me showed that I needed to deliver a proper finish even as a young lady Hanover Marathon shirt passed me.

I knew where the finish was and I knew that there were about 400 metres left to run, in the distance ahead I could see Andrea and a little further along I could see the Hanover marathon shirt and a couple of other runners.

Well the competitive part of me caught up and I suddenly felt urgency and blood rush from wherever it was most needed to my legs and I pushed and pushed. I called out to Andrea as I flew past her to push harder but then my feet carried me beyond her, I caught another chap and then in my sights was Hanover!

Boom! Boom! Boom!

The sound in my head was the sound of beating feet against the floor as I apologetically hurtled past Hanover with less than 50 metres to the finish and then into the finishing funnel and across the line to the safety of the finish and a medal.

At the finish a young girl or boy, I don’t recall which tried to hand me over a Tunnocks Wafer but I was too ruined to think of chocolate and so offered it back to the very helpful young volunteer. With ringing in my ears and my heart thumping I thanked the volunteers and left the finish line area.

I’d made it to the end and I was just about in one piece.

I stayed around the finish line to cheer in and congratulate some of the other runners, and because I had time I waited until some of the back of the field runners were finishing. I’ve always found great joy in cheering on those who take the longest to finish because often that’s me and I appreciate a warm welcome back as a race concludes.

I caught up briefly with Yvonne who cracked out a great time – especially when you consider she ran a marathon the week before – I have no doubt she’d have wiped the floor with me when she was fully rested, she’s a great runner. And then there was the general amble around where I met a lovely lady, I’m going to say her name was Annie from the Running Friends Scotland group and she recognised from all my silly pictures of running that I post in the group.

But now as the race wound down all I wanted was that poo that had been bothering me since before the race started, did you need to know that? No but here’s some things you should know!

Overview

Distance: 10km
Ascent: 50 metres
Date: October 2021
Location: Lochore Meadows Country Park
Cost: £14
Terrain: Mixed (tarmac, hard pack trails, light trails)
Tough Rating: 1/5 (depending on how fast you race)

Route
It’s a lovely route, lots to see, lots to enjoy and you get to run it twice.

It’s a route that lends itself to first timers because it really isn’t that tough or it would lend itself to running flat out and fast – there’s space on the route, lots of places to pass and the trail itself is well maintained. Lochore Meadows is a great place and it is a great place to run.

Thanks to Gordon Donnachie for the photograph

Organisation
Number collection was really quick in the main ‘Willie Clarke’ building; there were toilets available and the cafe was open for a caffeine filled start to your race. Lochore Meadows also has easy and ample parking and while you wait for the race start there are lots of opportunities to have a little explore around the wonderful park.

The organisers used the facilities well and the fact the loch is pretty much a 5km loop makes it a no-brainier to organise a two loop 10km. The ‘into lap 2’ and ‘finish line’ was nice and easy to navigate – I doubt anyone could have missed the markings on whether to complete lap 2 or head to the finish and the route markings were clear and readily available (I’d even use them to help navigate my OHs father on his folding bike round the loch later that day). All in all the team behind this event did a really good job.

There was also a lot of Active Root on the course with a useful ‘help yourself’ set up just beyond the halfway point and I liked that because I’m a big fan of Active Root. The fact that they sponsor and are at lots of races across Scotland is something that I approve of greatly, you can learn more about them here.

Value for Money
Nice route, good logistics, free parking, a place to buy coffee, medal and a fabulous atmosphere. What more do you need for your £14? Really good value for money and well worth getting up on a Sunday morning for.

Awards
It wasn’t a bespoke medal but there was a medal and for small races like this I can understand why they don’t want to incur the costs of making bespoke medals. What I do know is that mine will hang right next to all its siblings because I love a medal, no matter the size or shape. More importantly on the reverse it told me the race I ran and that is the important thing about this medal because it will bring lots of memories of a great event.

Volunteers and Support
The support was really, really good, everybody was so cheery and wonderful but I want to draw attention to a young lady and a little boy who were stationed a little way past the first bridge crossing. Not only was the little boy cheering his heart out but he had the biggest smile on his face. Having just taken my daughter volunteering for the first time at the Craggy Island Triathlon I know how hard it can be to keep them enthused about what they are there to do. So I take my hat off to both of you and it was a delight to speak you both as you made your way back off the course with the markings – I hope that little man has aspirations to become a runner one day!

One awesome runner and then there’s me

Runners
Lots of runners, lots of swift runners, lots of less swift runners, it was such a wonderful mixed bag of experience and expertise. I love meeting runners and having a laugh on the course and this was one of those ones that allowed me to do that – from the lady in the Devil o’ the Highlands t-shirt that I joked with about walking the hills to Andrea who inspired me to a fast finish.

However, to the gentleman who shadowed me for much of the race I pass on my thanks and also my apologies in case I was irritating you, this runner ensured that I ran as fast as I could despite really not wanting to, his pace made my pace quicker and post race that made me feel really good about what I did at the Lochore 10km – so thank you.

And finally Yvonne – you’re a little star, a massive bundle of energy and a great runner that it was my pleasure to meet at the Splash n Dash in St Andrews and to chat to properly here. Keep it up and keep informing me of races that I can sign up for!

My Race
I ran too fast, my hip flexors are fucked and I loved every second of it – I mean not while I was doing it, while I was doing it I just wanted to die. However. In the afterglow of wearing a medal round my neck for the 12th time this year I felt pretty amazing.

Conclusion
Great race, really well put together with excellent on the day organisation. If you run this you will not regret it. Fast, furious and in a beautiful location – Fife has lots of great racing options throughout the year but you should consider marking this one on your calendar for 2022. Enjoy it, I did.

It’s worth noting that I have no affiliation with the race organisers or Active Root and am not sponsored nor have I been paid to write this review – this is 100% independent (and probably unwanted).

I remember my bum hole was burning like it had been dipped into molten lava and my testicles were glowing like a 3 bar electric radiator, I was in so much pain that I could barely contain myself – I was stood on the trail with my shorts round my ankles and my fingers fully immersed in Vaseline in a desperate bid to save my race. It was pitch black dark and as I slathered on the greasy evil all over my nether regions I knew that my race was well and truly over.

I was alone and broken.

I remember my feet were smashed to bits, I had blisters in every possible place and I just wanted to curl up and die, my guts had left me on a ridge somewhere and I’d spent hours lost in the middle of the most beautiful location it is possible to run. But no matter how hard I tried to give in and stop I simply couldn’t.

I wasn’t alone and I refused to be broken.

One of those races was the Ridgeway Challenge where I failed and the other was the Skye Trail Ultra where I refused to fail. The difference was that I had company at Skye and that made all the difference when my head would drop. Andy, one of the runners, would give me a firm but fair kick up the arse and tell me to get moving. Why am I telling you this? Well because this weekend I ran the Ranger Ultras Pennine Bridleway Ultra Challenge 55km and I was given an opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ and return the favour of support I received.

But before we get to that point we should roll back to about 1am on Saturday morning where the shower was just going on and I’d just filled a 2 litre thermos with the brown gold of coffee. I liberally applied Vosene to my head and beard, scrubbed my ball sack and chucked on an old pair of shorts and a lucky running top.

I’d packed most of the car the night before – race kit, second full set of race kit (in case I didn’t fancy the first set), warm clothes for after the race and a big bag of food that included a breakfast of chocolate milkshakes, chocolate filled brioche and an assortment of other deliciously sugary treats that would see me through the next 5-6hrs of driving. Before leaving I kissed the child and the GingaNinja goodbye and headed out with a fully fuelled car – hoping that the ‘fuel crisis’ didn’t become a factor to concern myself with.

The GPS pointed me away from the M6 for some reason so my journey was going to be longer than necessary but so be it – I’d decided to run and what would be would be.

Vroom, vroom I went thundering down the M74 to a soundtrack of 90s and early noughties dance classics and found myself blissfully singing along to the likes of Faithless and the Prodigy before settling into more gently vocal numbers from Jerry Reed, Blondie and James Blunt. I was making mostly good time and was managed to shave off a few minutes here and there but it was still going to be around a 7am arrival and with registration opening at 8am I wanted to make sure of a parking space, ample time to get changed and of course to have a bit of breakfast.

Well part one of the day was achieved. Parking secured, and I was glad to be there early as the car park was filled with caravans that looked like they’d been there a while – leaving only half a dozen usable spaces.

I sipped at my coffee as and looked around at a rather wet and dreary Hayfield but the forecast suggested a clear day so with daylight approaching I held out hope that this might clear and we’d get a good running day.

Seconds started to turn into minutes as I sat with the warm drink and I realised that I needed to hurry up in order to be at the race HQ in good time. I slapped on a bit of anti-chaff round the nether regions, jumped into my kit and then put on my new Salomon ADV Skin 12 vest for the first proper time. Now regular readers will know that my back has been giving me grief for years – the moment I put any weight on it and run I have pain right across my shoulders, middle and lower back and no amount of physiotherapy has ever cured it, so wearing an untested pack seemed like a ‘good’ idea. I was also wearing my Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro for the first time, other than one short 3km run a few months back. What i know is that while my back is the main issue for concern my feet are my weak spot. So it was going to be an interesting day.

At about 7.55am I set off for the race HQ but as I did a chap pulled up next to me in a rather large Audi and asked about parking – I advised him where I had parked but he didn’t seem keen and set off in search of something else. This though would not be the last that I would see of the driver and he would become a very important part of my race.

So off I trotted, taking in all the delights of Hayfield as I went. It was one of those little villages that make you think of England as quaint or chocolate box, I very much enjoyed my saunter through the town – albeit a short one – perhaps I’ll visit again one day as there was a nice gallery that had lots of delightful pictures hanging in the window that I wouldn’t mind looking around.

I rolled up to the start to be greeted by the sight of the man I assumed was the RD, Stu Westfield and I was joined by fellow runners Richard and Hannah who also clearly assumed that getting to the start line early would be better than rolling up with minutes to spare. The Ranger Ultras team were just setting up but they offered the facilities of the cricket pavilion to us and a range of tasty beverages. Chat followed – mostly I think coming from me as the two litres of coffee and epic driving experiences worked their way through my system. I should apologise to most of the runners who came across me during the event as I’m pretty sure I just spouted nonsense at most people.

I found the experience of watching the pre-race setup rather pleasant, it wasn’t one of those slick affairs ‘bish-bash-bosh’ but more that intimate, friendly event that I have a very deep affection for. The team ambled around casually setting up, dealing with the runners and generally being lovely – I think I’ve seen these races described as ‘no-frills’ but from the outset I found this to be a rather inaccurate statement to make – I found it to be ‘wonderfully simple’.

Anyway I continued chatting to Richard while the other runners lined up to collect the number and the minutes rolled around closer and closer to the start time of 9.30am. Finally Richard and I decided to go and collect our numbers but before this we both needed to unpack our perfectly loaded race vests to show that we were carrying a map and a proper survival bag.

For me I had compartmentalised my kit into theee dry bags in the back of my ADV SKIN 12. Bag one had Harvey Maps Pennine Bridleway South in, bag two had the ‘other stuff’ including head torch and survival bag. It was reassuring to know that not only were we required to have a full set of kit with us but also that the Ranger Ultras team were keen to check off the most important of items.

With check done I adorned my front with my face number and then marvelled at Richard who struggled with getting pins through his shorts – saying that his wife would usually help out! I did offer to play the role of wife in this matter but he politely declined and eventually madd the 155 his own.

And so it was that at a few minutes before 9.30am we headed outside to the start line and with little fanfare but a lot of joy we gently jogged away from the cricket ground and to the trail.

Now the eagle eyed amongst you will notice I used the word ‘jogged’ about leaving the race HQ as it was clear that nobody wanted to lead the way. I most definitely did not want to lead the way as I have all the navigational ability of a wet fart in a swimming pool. And so I slowed to a near crawl until a couple of runners passed me and I could follow them but in typical fashion I found myself overtaking them and suddenly I was at the front of the race.

All of this back and forth had the effect of stopping me admiring the views and so those first couple of kilometres went by in a hurried blur that I could barely remember. As we started the first real climb though I was caught by a man named Kev who looked like a seasoned long distance runner and also one of those chaps that if you were caught out in some serious trouble you’d be glad he was with you.

I found great enjoyment in the chat we shared over the next few kilometres, it was proper chew the fat, running nonsense and it really gave the legs a bit of a lift as I found my race feet. Not only was I enjoying the chat though I was enjoying the route which was filled with lovely little hills, climbs, rocks and greenery. Having only ever run in the Peak District a few times I was keen to see what they really had to offer and so far it was so good.

In race distance terms this wasn’t a big one – at 55km it was at the shorter end of ultras and made shorter still in terms of new scenery by the fact it was a 27.5km out and back time trial. As a consequence we really were only getting a glimpse of the Peak District but it certainly seemed worthy of the six hour drive.

I digress, meanwhile out in the trail I realised that I was blasting through the kilometres far too quickly and so wished Kev well and began a slowing down process that would mean I should arrive back to the finish in good time but also not be too exhausted for the drive back to Scotland.

Within a few minutes a pair of young chaps bimbled past me just before the first checkpoint and I found myself alone for a little while but only until the checkpoint arrived where I met a lovely volunteer who had a big, genuine smile on his face and couldn’t be more helpful in filling up bottles.

The roadside stop had a few bits to eat, mostly chocolate or biscuits and importantly lots of water but I wasn’t particularly interested in food as I was using Active Root and find this to be excellent in the early stage of a race when I least want food.

I passed through the checkpoint reasonably quickly and even managed not to get tangled up in trying to stuff my water bottles in my new vest. Bonus.

The route now left the trails behind for a little while and took in some tarmac – not something I’m overly fond of but there’s always a bit of road to connect the trails. The road rolled for longer than I had thought it would but it was mostly a pleasant jaunt and the time on my feet through a beautiful part of the world was well worth doing.

Behind me I could here the sound of a couple of other runners chatting away as I prepared to cross a main road. It was here that there was a bit of confusion for me – my watch said right but that didn’t seem to be right as it was a main road and ahead was a long, long piece of road that also didn’t seem right. Then as the two runners, who had been behind me, caught me up I saw a large sign saying ‘PBW’ and a sense of relief came across my brow – nobody likes adding extra mileage if you don’t have to.

I briefly chatted with the ladies who were looking incredibly strong as they passed me on their first ultra marathon. I may have accidentally told them some poo stories, which for runners new to ultra marathons might have been a little too much but hey-ho, I don’t really have much of a filter at the bet of times and my exertions and caffeine consumption had really downed those filters completely.

The road back to the trail seemed unnecessarily long but eventually we made it to the turn and we were greeted by a delightful view or three and a climb out of the dip on the slippiest trail I have ever known. I had good grip on my Topo Athletic Ultraventure Prp and therefore once more overtook the ladies I had been chatting with, as they were taking this mildly treacherous section more sedately (they’d catch me again at the top).

I was mostly enjoying the variation of the trail and still enjoying the running, albeit at a reasonably slow pace as I watched the two ladies jauntily head off into the distance.

The thing that experience gives me though is an understanding of how ultra marathons work and after 56 finishes I knew that we had run a reasonable amount of downhill that was going to be tough on the return. I wasn’t exactly saving myself but I figured that a gentle outward pace was going to serve me better for a stronger second half when I could reel in some of the other runners.

More roads, more trails and more fun followed and at the bottom of a big downhill I found my watch crying out to me ‘off course’. I’d clearly missed something and so turned round to see a couple of guys behind me. Aha I thought – they’ll know the way – and they did, at which point my GPS also caught up to tell me I was back ‘on course’.

One of the runners was Richard that I’d met earlier in the day – he wasn’t looking like a very happy chap. It seemed he was having all sorts of stomach issues but despite this was making rather reasonable time. We started to run a bit together as we were at the back end of the outward section and I didn’t want to see a runner in trouble.

We pressed onward, chatting and chewing the fat, I was a bit worried about where his head was at but I tried to keep conversation light because it’s easy to give in to the temptation when your head starts telling your head that your body has had enough.

We’d get to the halfway point and then maybe see how he was. But before that there was the little matter of those couple of kilometres.

As we bimbled through the countryside we could hear the clatter of fast moving feet behind us and turned to see some a snake hipped mountain goat thunder (literally) past us. The eventual winner was moving like absolute lightning and watching him run was a genuine privilege. In my head I could hear myself, ‘I remember when I used to run that quickly’ – truth is I’ve never run that quickly at any distance.

Still an old man can dream.

We were still quite a way out when we could see our destination and checkpoint 2, our elevated position provided a rather scenic view and also our first opportunity to witness the routes sting in the tail, a steep up and down.

Now under normal circumstances I’d have battered down this trail like nobody’s business but Richard looked like he was just a single fart from death and so we ambled rather gently onwards because as I pointed out to him, ‘I really don’t want to have to drag your body up this hill’.

We briefly managed to get a bit lost around the tunnel and in the finding the route upwards to the checkpoint but it was a minor error and quickly corrected. The hill climb though wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked and even with 17 miles in the legs it was quite a nice jaunt up to the jolly faces at the checkpoint.

Thanks to the Rangers Ultra team for this flattering photograph!

Richard ate as much as he could manage including a cheese sandwich which he’d mullered in his race pack on the journey and I downed a bottle of fresh orange juice (a real lifesaver actually) but I declined the food as I was still pretty happy in Active Root.

I’d made a bit of a kit error too that I could have rectified here but unlike my fellow runner I chose to keep my base layer shirt on which was something I was regret in hindsight as the muggy conditions made the PB55 a sweaty, smelly one. Still with all of our issues at least looked at, Richard and I headed back the way we came in search of the finish line.

It was here, as we departed, that we saw Hannah once more and despite this being her first ultra marathon she looked both happy and strong. I knew that if our pace didn’t pick up then Hannah would soon overtake us, and she would deserve it, she looked fantastic!

What was clear though was that the pitstop hadn’t resolved the underlying issues that my companion was facing and it would be tricky to up the pace much beyond where it was now but having decided that he wanted to continue I was happy to run with him. I did have something of an ace up my sleeve though in terms of our pace and that was that my ‘death march’ is actually pretty quick and as long as I could keep us both moving this wasn’t going to feel like an eternity for either of us. There is almost nothing worse than when you feel rough to know that you’ve got hours and hours left on your feet and so with a bit of a push we moved along the trail as quickly as we could.

It never felt like ambling back to the finish, to say that Richard was giving it all that he had would be a very fair assessment and the thing I noticed, as we ambled along the route, was that I had barely taken any notice of the beautiful views as we went out and so I began soaking it up.

I found myself repeatedly saying, ‘I don’t remember any of this…’ and I assumed this was because I had been so busy chatting away either to myself or the other runners.

A couple of kilometres from the checkpoint I heard the sound of running feet catching us up and turned to see Hannah a few hundred feet away and closing fast and as she approached I urged her on, however, it could have been that she just fancied a bit of a break and joined us.

More chitty chat, mostly from me and we had a lovely few minutes together until I insisted that she start running again. If she had left it much longer I thought she might have found it difficult to get started again and her performance thus far did not deserve for it to end badly. As she disappeared into the distance I knew we were looking at a great future ultra runner.

Richard and I continued through to the next checkpoint were we both restocked on water and had a few laughs with the wonderful checkpoint marshal who had clearly been there for the duration of the event. I asked if I might have enough water to soak my buff and he duly obliged.

Once soaked I took the buff and rubbed away the hours of muggy sweat that had been coated my skin like thick grime and now cleaned up I hurled my buff on top of my head like I was in a mountainside shampoo advert and left the checkpoint.

We crossed the road and into the final 9km or so but we stopped almost instantly when Richard finally managed to chuck his guts up instead of dry retching. Bloody hell he looked rough and there was a part of me wondered whether he might call it a day given we were so close to a potential escape route, but no.

We took a few minutes and Richard pulled himself together and the greyness about his face started to abate a little bit.

In better news we had returned to the trail and the tarmac was pretty much over and there was a feeling in the air that we were going to be okay. With Richard starting to look a bit better and the promise from his wife that there was a pint of lemonade and ice on offer we started to pick up the pace. It was amazing what a bit of vomit could do and despite having not done any running for a few hours we managed to raise our legs and get going.

I mean I’m not going to claim it was zoom, zoom but credit where it was due Richard really showed that he was made of the sternest stuff as we ran across the trail.

I maintained my position as primary conversationalist and as we approached a brief piece of road we saw some marshals waiting for us and offering us some delicious goodies to help make the last couple of miles easier – I glugged down some delicious mango drink and who knows if Richard tried to have anything I was too busy guzzling and joking with the marshals. But we didn’t stop long, I could sense we were in good form now and I didn’t want to lose that momentum.

The finish was now within touching distance with just a few miles left to go and I was feeling pretty good, which given that I haven’t been enjoying my running recently was a rather curious feeling, and better than that my legs actually felt like they could continue to run at a fair old lick. Richard was keeping up quite nicely and this was a really lovely section of the route which we could cut through like a hot knife in butter (but not a cold knife in hot butter).

Further and further we ran, noting landmarks such as the caravan site, the gate at the top of the hill and the little collection of cottages on the edge of Hayfield and all of this meant we were into the finishing stretch. I urged us forward with all the energy we could muster and once inside the cricket ground I started with a bit of tough love, I could see the finish line, I could see the Ranger Ultras team and I could see the small gathering of supporters. Richard hurtled to the finish and I followed just behind him.

What a day.

At the finish line was Richard wife and daughter armed with the aforementioned lemonade and ice and I caught sight of several of the finishers who had passed us earlier in the race including Hannah to whom I had to give congratulations! All I needed now was a medal and a quick exit and then I would be away to sunny Scotland – my work here was done, the grand slam was still on.

Overview

  • Distance: 55km
  • Ascent: 1479 metres
  • Date: September (usually April) 2021
  • Location: Hayfield, Peak District
  • Cost: £50
  • Terrain: Mixed
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Route
The Pennine Bridleway 55 Time Trial used to be the Pennine Bridleway 57 point to point and in a number of ways I am sorry I didn’t get the opportunity to run that race but with pandemic you can understand why having an out and back makes a lot more sense that ferrying runners to a start line.

I feel the point to point would have given a greater view of the Peak District because you’d have been covering more, different ground. However, there is little point crying over what might have been and look instead at what was, and the PB55 was a fun and, in places challenging route that tested the mettle of competitors. The mixed nature of the route will have appealed to many of the entrants and although I generally prefer more trail than tarmac I found the varied nature of the course to be very enjoyable, I also thoroughly enjoyed the views of The Peak District, it was so very different to say the Lakes or the Highlands or even the central belt of Scotland where I train and as somewhere that I have rarely run previously I am keen to return.

With nearly 1500 metres of climb over the course the PB55 actually had some significant challenge to it in terms of the elevation and although many runners were carrying and using running poles most of the climbs were perfectly runnable. Given my level of fitness on the day I would perhaps have benefitted from poles when I started to slow but you didn’t need them to get round in a good time and given the speediness of the first finisher it was clear the course could be considered a fast one if you are up to it.

The PB55 would suit first timers as much as it would suit the seasoned ultra runner and I enjoyed it very much with my favourite sections being that first 10km of trails and the midpoint mini valley climb – both were wonderful and a little bit cruel, just how I like my routes.

Organisation
I love a well organised race, simply because it means you, as the runner, can concentrate on the running you turned up to do. The good news is that Ranger Ultras were incredibly well organised and yet very easy going. What more can you ask for?

Stu Westfield the Race Director seemed a calm and sensible sort of chap who seemed concerned about 1. putting on an excellent running event and 2. making sure that the runners had a good and safe time.

Even when several runners rolled up to the race HQ door a bit early the team were good enough and thoughtful enough to make sure that we had access to everything that we might need. You really can’t fault the quality of the organisation and I’m very much looking forward to returning for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra and the Peaks Double weekend of ultra running.

Additionally all the pre-race material was excellent and communication is top notch, there is also an abundance of social media material that although not obligatory is a base well covered if that is how you like your information.

Value for Money
What is your measure for good value? For many runners it remains the ‘pound per mile’ but I’m not sure that applies any longer as costs to put on events spiral like the rest of society. What I can say is that the £50 to enter the Pennine Bridleway 55 Time Trial is a bargain. I think I may have got some form of discount because I entered for the four races of the grand slam but even so you really can’t complain. We could mention the bespoke medal, we could mention that there is real food at the end of the race, we could mention that the race HQ had a roof on it and therefore you could start the race dry or get to the finish and dry off had it been raining, we could mention a tremendously well run event, we could mention a whole lots of things but the crux of it is; this was a really brilliant and incredibly inexpensive event.

Awards
Now I love a medal but Ranger Ultras are in the process of moving over from metal medals to wooden coasters. Now wooden coasters don’t fit very well around my post at home where I hang all my race awards but the truth is that the coasters appeal to my mild sense of eco-friendliness and also they are really, really well designed and beautiful.

As a runner who likes a race medal/award this is pretty much all I need and I was very happy.

However, in addition to coaster was some race photography and post race pizza at the end (I didn’t stop for pizza as time was against me) but ultimately the award is that coaster and its awesome but you can opt not to have the award and instead have the value of the coaster donated to a wildlife charity. It’s nice when a race looks at providing options to its runners, especially as we all become more aware of our environment and our impact on the planet.

Volunteers and support
I’ve already offered my praise for the work of the race director but that praise should extend to the whole Ranger Ultras team. The people who provided marshalling at the checkpoints on the route always had a smile and something fun to say and nothing was too much trouble. Thank you to each and every one of you because without your efforts the races simply couldn’t happen.

Runners
There were about 30 runners in the Pennine Bridleway 55 but more in the shorter PB18 which took place, (out and back) across the first 9km of the PB55 later on the same day. I feel the race deserves to have many more competitors because it is a wonderful running experience and if you decide to join Ranger Ultras at the next running of the event then you’ll have a wonderful time.

My Race
I had a race of two halves really, the first half was reasonably fast and furious with lots of fun going up and down and around with the second half a more speedy walking affair as I looked to support my fellow runner. In answer to the question, ‘why would you help another runner for half a race?‘. The answer to that is simple – I’ve needed help from time to time during an ultra marathon, I’ve needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me to ‘get it done‘ therefore I was paying it forward and supporting a wonderful runner get to the end.

It is important to note that the experience of running with Richard was also hugely rewarding but I’m sure there were times were he wished I would simply shut up because I am an irritating knobhead but I hope he won’t hold that against me too much.

The travel down from Scotland left me exhausted before I started and I was surprised that I finished with lots of energy remaining! I really enjoyed the trail sections of this race, even the very slippery stones and the tarmac, while harsh on my back and knees was mostly fine. Thankfully the weather was wonderful in that we had pretty much everything from sunshine through wind to rain and it felt like a lovely fresh day to go running in the Peaks. I do wish I had taken my poles as I had underestimated how the elevation would play out – I won’t make that mistake again but in better kit news the Topo Ultraventure Pro were amazing and I found the Salomon ADV Skin 12 a really good choice for the event, both would be perfectly suitable for significantly longer distances.

Ultimately I had a very enjoyable race.

My only real issue occurred after the race and that was the search for diesel… people of the Peak District and Manchester, please stop panic buying diesel or I might not be able to come down for the Yorkshire Three Peaks. My car with a full tank of fuel could make the round trip to The Peak District but it would be a close call requiring all my wits about me and no traffic issues and let me assure you after running an ultra marathon you just want to get home as quickly as you can and not be thinking too hard about fuel economy or whether some knobhead has crashed their Audi further up the M6.

Thanks to the Rangers Ultra team for this flattering photograph!

Conclusions
Great race, great organisation, lovely award and a very interesting start to the grand slam of races with Ranger Ultras. I’d be keen to try the original PB57 or take a stab at 270km version of the Pennine Bridleway in the future because the route had something really wonderful about it, to say it intrigued me would be an understatement.

I would highly recommend having a crack at one or many of the races on offer with Ranger Ultras and it is worth saying that having travelled from Scotland to be on the start line I have zero regrets about doing that as it was such a great event.

You can find out more about Rangers Ultras from their website or by visiting their Facebook group.

It’s worth noting that I have no affiliation with Rangers Ultra am not sponsored nor have I been paid to write this review – this is 100% independent (and probably unwanted).

Imagine being stood at the start of a race and you’re faced with a potato dressed as a superhero, yes my Saturday was feeling a bit weird but we were here and there were three races to complete.

In the pantheon of stupid races I’ve done I think I may have to put this near the top, because though it was short, it was an amazing mix of hell and balls out fun.

I had convinced the GingaNinja that she wanted to run a mile race armed with 10kg of potatoes on her shoulders and better than that I had convinced ASK that she wanted to run a mile while hauling a 2.5kg bag of spuds. My only failing was that I had to run that mile while weighed down by 20kg of potato goodness.

But let’s roll back a bit, why where we here?

As a family we owe a great debt of gratitude to Perth, where the race took place. It was here that our love affair with Scotland began and also where the idea of moving to this wonderful country began when we were attending a friend of the GingaNinja’s wedding. I therefore retain a very soft spot for this rather beautiful little place and any chance I get to visit I’m going to take and let’s be honest who could say no to some free spuds?

With the race being set in the middle of the afternoon it meant that we could go about our usual Saturday business (in this case a party at which ASK was an attendee) and still have more than ample time to get to Perth before we hosted an evening BBQ with some of ASKs school friends and family. If timing went well it would be a great little way to spend the final weekend of the summer holidays, if timings were off or the potatoes were too heavy for any of us, then it could be a disaster!

However, we arrived at Perth with plenty of time to spare and found parking near North Inch Park at the leisure centre and although it was paid parking it was very reasonably priced, as is the case in much of Scotland. With time to spare we grabbed our bits and pieces and headed out to the park after ensuring that we were in the correct place and seeing in the distance dozens and dozens of bags of potatoes we guessed that we had arrived to the right place.

Now I had made a bit of mess of the entry and so I had assumed that we would be spending the spare time we had fixing my own stupidity. I had entered the GingaNinja for the under 18s junior race and had also entered ASK into this as well without any thought for the fact that she might therefore be racing against juniors up to an including 17 year olds. Therefore we spoke to the volunteers who told us that the GingaNinja could simply just line up in the women’s race and that ASK would be fine in the juniors race.

Phew.

We ambled around a bit and got chatting to a couple who recognised my beloved Jedburgh Three Peaks race shirt. Oddly the lady in the couple looked remarkably familiar but I couldn’t place her and I clearly couldn’t know her as she was something of a speed demon – racing a second placed finish in the ladies race. They said they’d arrived early and were pretty much the first to arrive and much like us had hoped that more people would turn out as with about 30 minutes to the first race there weren’t that many people in attendance.

Thankfully it didn’t take long for the park to fill up with runners and supporters and across the three main races, a series of spud and spoon races and a wheelchair race there were more than 300 entrants. The atmosphere was big, warm and friendly – it was really lovely and it felt like a race should feel even though lots of the runners and supporters were still sensibly adhering to some social distancing.

Unfortunately there was a slight delay to the beginnings of proceedings – with the organisers wanting to ensure that the course markings were 100% clear. The very minor delay was a good idea given that after the two adult races there would be a series of youngsters taking to the field alone and their safety of course had to be paramount.

With the course ready and the runners ready there was time for a few words of encouragement from the local Provost and the race organisers. Clearly the organisers were keen to make up for lost time as the ladies race was prepared with a bit of vim and vigour. That said it never felt rushed, the atmosphere remained fun and enjoyable, therefore, ASK and I headed out to the course to catch sight of our runner as she would surely come hurtling by us in mere moments.

The route was an out and back, out and back, out and back on the grass in the park – not the most inspired idea for a race you might think but actually it was perfect – each 400 metre section provided supporters and fellow runners the opportunity to cheer each other on and also, if you were racing, the ambition to catch the runner ahead rather than watch them disappear off into the distance.

The GingaNinja headed out with the 10kg sack of spuds wrapped round her neck like a very heavy string of garlic – it looked heavy and the usually light footed suddenly looked heavy footed as they struggled with the packages. We whooped and hollered as she passed us by and then we grabbed our own bags of potatoes and moved in so we could get a better look for when she would come thundering back towards us.

A mile is not a very long distance but the dead weight on your shoulders makes things much more challenging and yet it was no surprise, with all the good triathlon training under her belt recently, that the GingaNinja was making exceptionally good time and we cheered once more as she came towards us and then away from us to the second leg of the race. ASK doesn’t get to see the GingaNinja race as often as she sees me, so it was good to see her smiling with immense pride at the pace that her mum was delivering.

We cheered on the other runners as the race progressed and took up a position about 50 metres from the finish – we were able to cheer in the young lady we had been chatting to earlier as she finished in a tremendous second place. I looked on enviously at the gloves she was sporting and wishing I had had the foresight to bring such an item. Then after around 9 minutes of racing the GingaNinja appeared and with all that she had left in the tank delivered a finish worth of the term, ‘a sprint’.

Even with the bag of potatoes rested across her shoulders she was determined not to allow the runner at her side beat her to the finish and I watched as she increased her stride to ensure that she crossed the line mere centimetres ahead.

The GingaNinja roasted the competition in those last few metres.

I hurled some potatoes on my back and immediately headed over to the finish to find her, more so she could take my race vest than for congratulations but time was of the essence.

Despite the late start of the race there was no rush to get the final runner home and instead they were greeted by the loud cheers of the crowd. It was genuinely a wonderful atmosphere.

However, there was clearly a determination to get the second race of the day underway and the men were invited to haul their spuds upon their backs and head to the start line.

I understood how heavy the spuds were and have carried many a rucksack much heavier than this however, what I hadn’t accounted for was that the bag had very little give in it and that gripping it was going to a challenge. I hoisted it upon my back but couldn’t get comfortable, perhaps I was the wrong shape for the bag I thought.

Still too late now, I got as comfortable as I could and waited for the race start. Boom we were off and I pressed as hard as I could although that was nowhere near as hard as some of the other competitors who thundered away with more conviction than I ever have. The first 400 metres moved pretty quickly but I was in a constant state of flux as I could feel potatoes sliding down my back – I kept trying to readjust on the move knowing that race at only a mile would be over within minutes. Eventually I pulled the bag onto my right shoulder and slipped a couple of fingers on my left side through the netting to try and give myself some semblance of control, albeit at the cost of balance.

The GIngaNinja said upon seeing me at the race that I looked incredibly uncomfortable and was leaning very far forward – this was very much in response to trying to get this dead weight under control but now with half the distance done I knew that I just had to hang on, both literally and figuratively.

I was now struggling though and the weight on my back was making running even more of a challenge and although I pushed hard as I came into the final 100 metres or so I knew that I would not catch the half a dozen runners ahead of me as I simply didn’t have the lift in my legs that the GingaNinja had.

Thankfully I crossed the line (in about 8 and half minutes) and dropped my lovely bag of potatoes to my feet – collecting a much needed bottle of water and my hard earned medal.

I can say that Ultraboyruns was totally mashed!

Shortly after finishing my family joined me and we quickly turned our attention our final race of the day – the juniors.

Now ASK has a bit of history in racing having competed in about 25 races since she started doing events but this one was different – carrying 2.5kg of potatoes for a rather slight 6 year old was going to be a big ask. Having seen lots of the other children struggling to keep the bags in one piece even before the race had started and were manhandling them in a way that suggested that the running would be cumbersome I suggested to ASK that she simply put them into a dry bag and carry that instead. I had suggested she hold it in front of her to make things easier – although what she did was something a little different.

We asked her if she wanted one of us to run with her but after much consideration she decided that she wanted to run it alone. I told her that one of us would run alongside the outside of the course to give her encouragement and this seemed to be a decent balance.

Interestingly, as she lined up for the race, with neither myself or the GingaNinja in sight, she looked calm and ready. She had decided to start reasonably near the front, something unknown to me, but as she stood around the much older and larger children she looked like she might get trampled by the her! Thankfully not though, and as the runners set out I was pleased to see that she used all her experience to run steadily amidst the junior runners who were hurling themselves as fast as they could up the first 400 metres.

© Great Scottish Events 2021

As can be the case with kids who come to race very often they make the mistake of going out too fast (to be fair I think we all do that) and by the time the first 400 metres had passed the race had settled into those who had gone out too fast and those who hadn’t. ASK moved steadily through the runners ahead of her and I ran the outside of the course to give her encouragement when she felt the weight of her tatties.

Interestingly despite me advice she chose to have the bag she was carrying the spuds in bouncing on her back and this must have been both quite painful and having an effect on her running flow. I shouted to her to bring them round to the front but she ignored me and carried on regardless. With 1200 metres down she had gotten into the home run and I ran down to where the GingaNinja was waiting and we called out to her to push as hard as she could. ASK did take this piece of advice and she ran with as much gusto as she could manage and passed a couple of other young athletes on the way in and crossing the line in a very respectable time of a little over 10 minutes.

The man on the microphone, who had been incredibly jolly all afternoon, approached the child to interview her as she finished asking her if she did this much and that the bag to carry the potatoes in had been a great idea – ASK answered as she should, that she races quite a lot and that the bag was her parents idea! Good girl. I managed to get to the finish line before she managed to get her breath back and start chattering at the lovely chap and I took her away for a banana and a medal – she was a very happy young lady.

ASK Adventurer is a real chip off the old block I’d say!

And so we ended the race with 32.5kg on potatoes to take home, three medals and a great experience.

Conclusions
The Great Perthshire Tattie Run is a wonderful community event and deserves to be run by everyone – genuinely one of the most joyous events that I have had the opportunity to run. Not only was it hugely inclusive with races for all ages and abilities but it didn’t take itself too seriously and understood the madness of running with a bag of tatties on your back.

A massive thank you should go to the organisers of the event Great Scottish Events and also Perth & Kinross Council, a huge thanks should also go to the supplier of the tatties because without Branstons then this is just a 1 mile run in a park.

Basically what more can you ask for out of an event? A race, a medal, a community experience and all for free. Well done guys and I look forward to running this again next year. I suppose the big question is, ‘would I pay to run this race?’ And the answer is absolutely, it was brilliant. This event is clearly a labour of love for the organisers and clearly an event that we should all be doing.

Get involved!

Thanks to Great Scottish Events for a couple of the professional photographs (bottom four images in the gallery)

I was looking forward to the Tour of Tameside, on paper it looked like a good mix of distances and a race series with lots of heritage and in a place I had never run before. It’s therefore with immense sadness that I didn’t enjoy it, that’s not to say it was terrible, it wasn’t, but there were a number of issues that really hampered my enjoyment.

The tour consisted of four races starting on Thursday 29th July and concluding on Sunday 1st August and took place in and around Tameside. Organised by the Running Bee Foundation it promised agonising race after agonising race all in order to support charity – so far so good.

For me personally I had travelled from my sunny Scottish location to rainy Tameside in order to meet a lady from the Running Friends Scotland Facebook group. Nicky and I have chatted extensively across the pantheon of running topics and had hoped to record a podcast episode (more on that later) but it was mainly just a great opportunity to meet her.

And so on Thursday I thundered down the M74 out of Scotland’s sun soaked landscape and down the M6 into the grip of North West England for a few days of fun. I unpacked quickly upon arrival at my hotel, got my race kit ready and prepared the podcasting gear incase tonight was a good night for a record.

Race 1
X Trail 10km
With the first race taking part in the evening I ambled along from the hotel down to the parking at the local rugby club. I was amazed at the amount of people who were there – I had assumed that the Tour of Tameside would be quite a small race with a few dozen runners but it turned out there were hundreds. Clearly some where here just for one day of the tour but I saw lots of full tour runners who would compete in the four races.

The start line was about a 10 minute walk from the parking and so having not being able to see Nicky I decided to head down to the start line and see what all the fuss was about. When I arrived it was even busier at the start line than it had been at the parking – it wasn’t quite a mass participation event but it was the biggest event I had been a part of since long before the pandemic began.

I was quite surprised by the way in which people were interacting even with the relaxing of the pandemic rules in England. I wandered around a bit exploring the course and trying to see where the trail was, this had the benefit of maintaining social distancing but also allowed me to experience the Tour of Tameside vibe.

But then it was time to go.

I headed to the back of the course and finally came across Nicky and we had a few minutes to chat before the race began but soon it was time to go. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would be running alongside Nicky or whether I would just go and do my own thing. But as it turned out we mostly stayed together and ambled gently around the course, which was very nice indeed.

It quickly became apparent that the best way to approach the Tour of Tameside was to just have a bit of fun with it and not take it too seriously. And so as we pushed up the hilly tarmac roads of Tameside and I awaited, with eagerness, the arrival of the trail to bring me the joy I was looking for.

The route was hillier than I imagined but not unpleasantly so and the running was interesting enough as we ambled through little villages where the locals had come out to support the competitors. Wonderful. The route though was tight in places and making progress through the throngs of runners was challenging even as the competitors began to spread themselves out. I made a nuisance of myself by making jokes with volunteers and supporters alike, always keen to mostly poke fun at myself and I am sure that runners both ahead and behind me must have found me a real irritant – wishing I would just piss off. I’m confident that the supporters near the start line who heard me calling for a change in the music from whatever shit it was they were blaring out to a bit of George Michael must have wondered what the fuck was going on.

But I’d found my fun groove and began a little sing-a-long or two, told some terrible jokes and hurled out a few expletive laden anecdotes but it wasn’t enough to make me love the race.

The key concern was that the route showed little sign of trail despite the name – I had assumed that the last minute change of route was responsible, although others suggested that the original route ran along a disused railway line, which I suppose could be considered a trail, although not my preference. and with a good portion of the run now completed we still had yet to find some good old fashioned mud or woodland trail.

The route looped in and out and down and around the roads of the villages until we ended up back at the start once more and finally we found a narrow piece of trail – this was fun and there was just enough room to go past the other runners.

Nicky was thundering along just nicely and as we approached a little bridge and I took a moment to grab a photograph or three and then it was a race to the finish – all downhill, through a tight gate – up and over and then bomb it down to the end. Boom.

And bomb it I did – I love a fast finish and I flew past several other runners and into the funnel for the finish where Nicky’s other half and the first medal awaited us.

The end of the first day and I had a lot to digest, it had been an odd race but now it was time to stretch, relax, hot bath and get ready for tomorrow. In the walk back to the car we met a young lady called Hatty who was both an absolute delight and an awesome runner and somebody that I would cross paths with several times during the next few days.

So as we ventured towards the car park with Nicky and Rob (Nicky’s other half) we chatted about life and colourful running leggings and then departed rather quickly – sadly without recording a podcast episode, but there was always tomorrow I thought and put it to the back of my mind.

Race 2
Hell on the Fell

Living in Scotland gives me access to some wonderful hills and mountains which from time to time I am known to run and down. However, I tend not to run the hill races here because I feel I wouldn’t be competitive enough and I’d be guaranteed to miss checkpoints or timing points. However, the Hell on the Fell sounded like a great little bomb around some hills in Tameside and so this was the one I was most looking forward to.

Again the race was in the evening and on a cool but very runnable evening I made my way to another part of Tameside where I was greeted with a decent walk to the start line once more. Parking had been allocated at a local leisure centre but given the legions of runners, supporters and organisers this was clearly not going to be enough. However, everyone squeezed themselves in and around the local area and made their way to the start line – which was overshadowed by a couple of small hills and a picturesque reservoir – this is more like it I thought.

Nicky and Rob once more rocked up close to the starting time and took up their positions alongside me near the back just in time to hear me grumble about the man operating the PA. I’m aware that race information needs to be given out but there was a lot of that, ‘don’t worry it’s all downhill’ and ‘it’s a nice flat one tonight’, I didn’t find it funny I found it mostly tiresome but I am confident he had some fans, just not me.

Just prior to the race start though there was a disagreement between a couple of runners and I had stupidly gotten involved, I found myself in a heated exchange that I really didn’t want to be in and to be honest it really ruined the start of the event for me and while I won’t go into details I think it may have ruined the race for others too.

Still, this was a fell race and I was going to enjoy it but then we turned to the tarmac and headed down it, up it and around it. Hmmm. Now I realise I’m not a regular fell racer but I was fairly sure that fell running usually involved mud, trails, off trails, beating back the bracken, Walsh trainers and generally being covered head to toe in shit.

This was not that and the events at the start line were weighing heavily on my mind, although outwardly I was doing my best to project the happy go lucky, expletive delivering runner that I usually am recognised as.

Eventually we did finally leave the tarmac behind and climb a bit of trail and this was really good fun running, I leaped and lumbered up the hills chastising Nicky any time I felt she was starting to slip behind. The 30 minutes that we were actually on a hill, on an actual trail were really enjoyable and if the bulk of the running had been like this then the Tour of Tameside would have been right up my street but it really was just these 30 minutes that were like this.

Because we were at the back of the pack when we came to the narrow descent off the hill the pace slowed to a crawl and we couldn’t move any faster than the person at the front of the queue and so I was a bit disappointed as this would have been great to hurl ourselves down in the way the front runners had. However, once clear of the backlog we, like everyone else, began to fly down towards the end.

At this point Hatty had joined us and so I took the opportunity to mess around a bit and make aeroplane noises amongst other things, I’m sure both my lovely companions must have been wishing I would once more sod off but I didn’t I just carried on regardless. As we approached the finish the marshal advised me of a step down and I advised him that I was stopping, which must have looked strange but I was keen to capture the finish line moment as Nicky and Hatty battered towards the line. Annoyingly though another runner came thundering through and so I decided to put a little spurt on to the finish, stopping just short of the finish to allow him to cross the line before me – he must have thought me a dickhead too.

Boom, we crossed the line and collected another medal as the man on the PA system commented on my video-ing of the event. Something I noted as I entered the final day was against the rules of the race.

There was still a finish line photograph to do and then off but in all the excitement of the event, thoughts of podcasting were lost but I’d suggested ice-cream post race tomorrow to help celebrate Robs birthday and hopefully we could do it then.

Race 3
Hero Half Marathon

I can’t remember my last half marathon but I think it might have been the 2013 Royal Parks Half Marathon and the half, in my opinion, is the toughest of all the race distances – it’s the one I struggle to judge in terms of pace and so I’ve found I don’t bother with doing them any longer.

Therefore it was going to take an amazing route and experience to make this one a great day. Once more I arrived early to ensure that I managed to get parking in the large field the organisers had arranged and I felt fortunate that the weather conditions were overcast and a little cooler than of late which meant that running conditions would be fine.

Not knowing much about the race I asked one of the organisers if I was better in road or trail shoes and he immediately advised road – I was glad therefore that I had invested earlier in the week in the Fli-Lyte 3 (a shoe I shall be reviewing once I’ve fully tested it).

I also had the good fortune to meet fellow instagrammer and ultra runner Karl and it was lovely chatting to him about the event and also about Topo Athletic shoes. It’s always fun meeting people from the internet, I very rarely recognise them, but my collection of Oddballs T-Shirts, wild beard and brightly coloured race packs makes me and easy spot. I’ll assume this is also how Nicky and Hatty picked me out of the crowd too!

Therefore, phew we had made it to race 3 mostly in one piece – but this was the one I was worried about. My already destroyed hamstrings, after the previous weekend of racing at the Solway Coast Marathon (read the review here) and the Splash & Dash (read the review here), were on fire and the hill race the night before had done them no favours – nor had my titting about on the route.

I knew that I had to run this one slowly if I had any chance of making it to race day 4. Although to be fair I was already having serious doubts about whether I wanted to continue with the Tour of Tameside given my experiences at the events and also in the wider Tameside area.

However, I was here and Nicky was here and that meant I was running.

We set off at a leisurely pace and ambled along the course, we passed through the village that sat just before the start line and then headed for an out and back race along a hard packed path. Annoyingly the day was now warming up but thankfully the course had a good deal of cover and we able to avoid much of it. I don’t recall what we talked about as we ran along the path but I punctured our chatting with attempts to soak Nicky as I launched myself into every puddle imaginable. This tactic didn’t start well when I found myself sliding towards the water instead of leaping into it but it was something I stuck with – although I think that Nicky soon became well educated to my sly watery tactics and knew how to avoid me.

Puddle after puddle I ran through and I’m sure it wasn’t only Nicky that I soaked but few complained and so I just happily did my own thing. I’d also taken my Insta360 camera so that I could capture the race and at one point one of the marshals told me to put it away (it would later be explained to me by the marshal that she thought it was a whip – wtf?).

The landscape and the scenery in the background was as pleasant as you can get but the route itself was a little devoid of excitement and interest, hence why I found myself leaping into the puddles and the second half of the out section felt like a real slog and mentally you knew you had to come back this way. The benefit of the out and back though is that you can cheer on runners that you have met along the way and I passed several runners that I was happy to cheer on or give support to because at the back of the pack there was some tremendously tenacious running and that deserves a cheer.

I noted that Rob was checking to see if Nicky was interested in a new PB because he was clearly keeping an eye on the clock but this is something that doesn’t really interest me and I’d decided that if they fancied cracking on for that new personal best then I’d just sit where I was and finish a bit behind them. However, I think Nicky picked up a bit of injury somewhere here and the PB looked like it would have to be saved for another day. Therefore once more the three of us just plodded back towards the finish and with me just looking to finish without incurring the wrath of my already dilapidated body.

Rob being relatively local knew quite a lot of the runners and would say hello or be able to provide interesting insights into people, places or clubs and that was fun and we as a trio would interact with other runners.

Then in the latter stages of the race I met a lady called Emma who was clearly having a crisis of confidence using terms like, ‘I’ve failed’ and ‘it’s such a disappointment’ and I immediately took her to task. The thing is, with 3 miles still to go you really don’t want to punish yourself mentally like that and so I hope that I gave her the tough love inspiration to finish.

Emma eventually managed to power her way back up to running properly and it was so pleasing to see her do so – watching her power away from me was a joy. That said I caught her on the final climb to the downhill sprint to the finish and I urged her on, well shouted at her really – I don’t really remember the final push but I remember that she crossed the line about the same time as me. Nicky and Rob were close behind but it appeared that Nicky really was nursing an unpleasant foot injury. Not exactly what anyone wanted for her and we would have to see if it would clear for the final race.

Again there were some finish line photographs and I congratulated a few of the runners I had spoken with on the way round – including Emma and Hatty. Nicky, Rob and I headed off into what I assume was Glossop in search of some ice-cream but ended up with a coffee, a poor choice of cakes and Rob feeling rather sickly after the race (not a great start to his birthday!).

Nicky and I agreed that we’d do the podcasting therefore after the race on day 4 and so ended the half marathon, I’d survived but it seemed that the rest of my little band had been given a right kicking by it.

Race 4
Dr Ron Hyde 7 mile

By the time I came into the Dr Ron Hyde 7 mile I had pretty had enough of the Tour of Tameside and Tameside itself. I had considered not racing and just returning to Scotland but having gotten this far into the event I felt like I should at least finish and obviously there was Nicky to consider who I had enjoyed running with and didn’t just want to not turn up.

Therefore, I parked in the town centre, as advised, but with all my gear in the car and pretty exposed I became a touch worried when the driver next to me fitted his steering wheel with a huge stoplock… ‘is this not a nice area?’ I inquired. I don’t know Hyde at all but the man suggested that it wasn’t the nicest of places but it was too late now – I was here.

I ambled around once more, attempting to avoid the bits of rain that were hanging in the air but without going into the town hall as there were too many runners congregated with very few of them wearing masks or socially distancing. I realise that the pandemic has been hard for people but I didn’t really want to expose myself any more than I felt was appropriate.

The race was busy and had attracted what looked like every racing snake from far and wide but I did my usual and headed to the back, only really looking round to see if I could see Nicky or Rob – but there was no sign. Then I saw Nicky coming to the barrier and she was still hobbling with what sounded like a nasty foot injury, I did for a second think – ah fuck this, perfect excuse I can just go home – but she was visibly distressed by not being able to compete in race day 4 and therefore I felt it wouldn’t be right for me not to complete it.

That said I really wasn’t in the mood for it, I wasn’t in the mood for running on tarmac once more and when the race started I just tuned into my own personal little bubble, avoiding eye contact with my fellow runners and I just wanted to get this done.

However, Rob caught me up after a mile or so and started chatting but whatever it was he said it opened the floodgates to my frustrations with the last few days and I wasn’t in an appeasing mood and when a fellow runner passed comment I was rather unapologetically robust in my commentary. Ho-hum.

‘There’s no need for language like that’, she said,

‘The thing is’, I said, ‘if you know who Paul Dacre is – there is need for such language’.

As road races go this one was okay, the route itself didn’t have anything spectacular in terms of its scenery to write home about but there were some up hills, there were some down hills and there were a few bits were you could stretch your legs on. I met a young lady in the middle of the race who I joked with that I was going to make her earn her overtaking and she was a fabulous little pocket rocket of a runner who did in the end overtake me – but I really did make her work for it.

Now I was simply bumbling my way round, once more silently sitting in my own bubble and for a change focusing on just getting to the finish, I stopped only to say hello to the wonderfully colourfully attired spectator in the dungarees who I had seen the day before and had a bit of a laugh with.

As the race was winding down to its conclusion I could see that the route was mainly going to be downhill and so I pulled my big boy pants on and gave it some welly.

I ran hard along the road, I could feel the energy burning through my legs and in the distance I could see a young girl and her dad perhaps coming together to hold hands – I didn’t have the time to move around them and so shouted, ‘out of the way’ and barged through them.

In the distance I could see the little pocket rocket I had encouraged earlier and overtook her – closing a huge gap. As I went past her I turned and told her she could overtake me again but she just didn’t have a last blast of power in her legs and then another chap who had gone past me earlier thought he could race me to the finish but I still had a bit in the tank and having hit the afterburner of rage I pipped him to the line.

I slowed in the finishers funnel, ‘did you enjoy that?’ asked the marshal.

‘No’ I answered honestly.

Annoyingly I couldn’t find Nicky or Rob at the finish and after about 40 minutes of cantering around looking for them where I saw Hatty finish and Karl come in I had to leave because it was going to be a long journey to Scotland and I couldn’t risk time slipping further and further away. So the Tour of Tameside came to a conclusion but it’s not one I enjoyed writing about and I am confident you didn’t enjoy reading about it either.

Overview

  • Distance: 10km / 6 miles / Half Marathon / 7 miles
  • Date: July 2021
  • Location: Tameside
  • Cost: £65
  • Terrain: Mixed
  • Tough Rating: 1/5

Routes
The Tour of Tameside has been going for 40 years and I am sure that most of the people who run it, love it. I’m confident that lots of them are relatively local and know this area of the world well and love battering around their own stomping grounds. I on the other hand travelled a reasonably long way to test myself on what I thought would be awesome routes and I’m sorry to say that for me they were not.

As I mentioned earlier the second half of the ‘Hell on the Fell’ and some bits of the Hyde 7 were a bit of fun but mostly I found the routes uninspiring – the half marathon and the X trail being the least inspiring. It actually pains me to write this because I don’t want to put anyone off doing this, but I, as a mostly trail runner and adventurer, found these routes disappointing.

Who might these routes suit? Well if you enjoy tarmac running in mostly closed road situations, where supporters can line the routes then this would be a good series for you to consider.

Organisation
There was a lot of organisation that went into this I would say, from the road closures to the permits required, to the actual on the day organisation and setting up the starts and finishes which were not always located in the same place.

There must have been a massive logistical effort that went into staging the Tour of Tameside. The amount of volunteers and marshals seemed enormous, the amount of toilets seemed enormous and the amount of road closures seemed enormous – I can’t fault any of that.

On course signage and marking was also excellent and that can’t be faulted.

I also liked that the parking at races 1 and 3 were supporting local community with a £1.00 donation per car, this meant that unused parking space was generating income and helping a race happen. That said the field that race 3 used for parking looked like if any more rain had come down then we might have needed a tractor to get out. I do very much enjoy it when the community gets involved in local races and this was very evident at the Tour of Tameside.

However, I did feel Covid took a real back seat at the Tour of Tameside and that was both surprising and disappointing.

Late in the day there was an email that suggested lateral flow tests should be taken for each event you attend and I did do these tests for each day but I wonder how many of the other runners did? Social distancing would have been near impossible because of the numbers involved and the amount of spectators but there wasn’t much evidence of people trying not to get too close or wearing masks even in indoor settings.

It must be incredibly difficult to balance the needs of the event against the pandemic but I’m not sure a good balance was struck here. However, I did note that race numbers were sent out ahead of time and that did at least reduce the need for queues at race starts – so it wasn’t all disappointing.

On a final note and one very large positive is The Running Bee Foundation who organise the event use these races to generate funds for charity and the winners cash award of £3,000 is given, not to the winner of the tour but, to a charity of the winners choice. In that sense the Tour of Tameside is a community project that benefits others and for that the organisers should be congratulated.

Litter and sustainability
So sustainability is something we are seeing increasingly in races – numbers are not posted out, information is provided digitally, goody bags have been dropped in favour of say one good quality item such as a medal or decent technical t-shirt. Sustainability is less of a buzz word and more of an action word but I’m not sure the Tour of Tameside was quite as sustainable as it could have been, it is important to note though that if you want a sustainable race then it is the responsibility of both the runners and the organisers to make this happen and I hope in the future the tour addresses some of the issues around sustainability.

Let’s start with the good – the race handbook was digital and most communication was via email. Race numbers were sent via the post but I imagine this was a Covid issue.

There has been an increase in plastic reduction at races by suggesting that runners should carry some form of cup if you want water and while is mostly relevant at ultra distance running I have seen an increase in the idea at shorter distance races too. To be fair the water bottles are recyclable and there was clear guidance at the race about disposal to help marshals clear them away but there were water cartons spread over a very wide area, much wider than I imagine the race organisers would want and therefore some cartons might have been missed.

This brings me to the other issue – I have gotten very used to not seeing litter on race routes but here there was litter, not tonnes but enough for me to notice. Now be it deliberate or accidental it still gives runners and running a bad name and makes it much more difficult to say that races are good for the community. I’m sure the organisers will have done the best job they can in clean down but littering is something we as people, never mind runners should not do to our community.

And then there was the goody bag at the end, the tour really didn’t need it and it was a very mixed bag of stuff, the tour top was excellent quality as it was Ronhill but there were bits of plastic nonsense from the sponsors and the bag that it was all in was just more plastic. Then of course there were the bits of paper to advertise future races – I think in future the organisers and sponsors might be better finding more sustainable ways of presenting themselves to the audience.

Value for money
It was about £15 per race when you break it down and for that you got a lot of stuff, there were medals each day, there was lots of marshal support, there were so many toilets, the road closures, etc. If you like racing and you don’t care about running beautiful routes then this represents excellent value for money.

Awards
Let’s start with the good stuff – the Ronhill top that I mentioned above for completing the full tour is excellent. In addition to this you could purchase a range of other tops and vests (which I did) and they were also excellent quality and will be used as training shirts.

The bag, stress balls, piggy bank, cup, etc are less welcome – the race didn’t need it and I would rather the money was funnelled into the charitable aspect of the race and I hope that is a conclusion the race directors come to as well.

The other thing is the medals – there were four of them, one for each race and that’s lovely, as a runner and racer I am rather partial to a medal.

However, there was a problem, the medals are made of either glass or perspex with a sticker stuck to the reverse of them. They feel very cheap and that the stickers are not going to be in it for the long haul. I compare this to the 2015 set of medals which I saw displayed at one of the races and there was no comparison – they’ll still be going strong in 100 years but these ones I doubt will. It also comes back to the sustainability issue again, either get rid of the medals or maybe consider wooden medals which once they fall apart will simply be recycled. I wonder if the stickers on the back of the medal is recyclable?

Volunteers & support
There were lots of marshals, lots of supporters and for the most part they were hugely supportive and fun, I really enjoyed laughing and joking with them as I made my way – mostly being a bit silly. There were a couple who were a bit miserable when I tried to have a little joke with them but then I suppose if I was stood for an hour on the top of a hill in the rain I might be a bit sour. Volunteers and marshals have a tough job as they are committed to being out for a long time and while the runners may be out for an hour or two the team will be involved in the set up and breakdown of an event – it can be a long day and they should be applauded.

On the whole though there was some lovely support and of course my ridiculously bright and colourful shirts always attract comments – mostly positive, although there were one or two comments that seemed to draw into question my sexuality, which is fine, I don’t mind you thinking I’m gay, I take it as a compliment.

There was one woman in particular that I must mention and I think she must have had a runner in the races and on the final day she had these wonderful dungarees on at the top of the hill and I’d seen her the previous day when she wonderful colourful trousers on – she was soooo positive and soooo lovely, I really enjoyed chatting to her as I ran past.

Special Mentions
There are lots of people I could mention such as Rob, Hatty, Karl and Emma but the special mention must go to Nicky, she was very much the reason I was at the Tour of Tameside and meeting her was an absolute pleasure. She’s a great runner and only going to get better and is a wonderful human being. Despite not having lots and lots of race experience she smiled through most of it and laughed through much of it. Well done Nicky.

It was a massive disappointment to see her injured on the final day hobbling towards me, although it hadn’t come as much of a surprise having seen her the day before, I was also sorry to have missed the opportunity to record the podcast in person and will now look to organise that for a zoom call or some such in the near future.

There was so much to say and talk to Nicky about and I look forward to another opportunity to do so.

Conclusions
Well I want this to be as positive conclusion as I can because although the Tour of Tameside wasn’t for me it clearly has a loyal following and is very popular year in, year out.

The charitable aspect of the tour is a wonderful thing that should be supported and the thing is that the issues I had could very easily be resolved by revising the awards given to the runners and examining how the routes could be improved.

If you’re local runner or somewhere relatively nearby then the tour or a couple of the races, even in their current format, are probably something that you do or would consider doing on a semi regular basis and I can see how that works. However, I’m not sure I could justify recommending that you travel any significant distance to come and do this.

I did have some fun during the Tour of Tameside but that was more to do with some of the people I met than my race experience and usually I’ve found that my best races are the ones were I can have a laugh surrounded by stunning scenery.

If I were to recommend any of the races then probably the Hell on the Fell is the most scenic and the most fun. I don’t enjoy writing negatively about races because I know the effort that goes in to staging them and so if the organisers wish to discuss my experience of the Tour of Tameside then I would be happy to go into further detail but it could be that the audience for this series of races is a group I’m just not a part of.

You can check out the Sports Tour International website here for more information on the races and you can check out the excellent work of the Running Bee Foundation here.

Terry Pratchett wrote that the Discworld sat atop four giant elephants that stood astride a giant turtle that flew through space. If Scotland were Discworld then the Solway Coast Marathon would be in the space beyond the edges of the known.

I had no idea what to expect from the Solway Coast Marathon but what I did know was the following;

  1. I don’t like road marathons
  2. I don’t like running in the summer months
  3. I had raced less than 12 hours earlier in St Andrews
  4. I had pulled my hamstring in the race in St Andrews

So when I woke up at 4am, after just 3 hours sleep I asked myself do I really want to drive for the next three and half hours to do a race that isn’t my usual cup of tea? I showered and put my shorts on and decided that, ‘yes – what the hell, there’s a medal in this for me’.

What I didn’t expect was to thoroughly enjoy myself and have a truly wonderful time at a stunningly good event.

I drove down along the M74 in what is some very misty conditions and I wondered if the promised sunshine might hold off long enough for the race to take place but as I drove further and further toward the marathon I could see that the sunshine had arrived and by the time I pulled into the airfield car park it was already far too warm.

Now being in England the Covid rules have been relaxed further than in Scotland but when I went to collect my number I ensured that I sanitised my hands and wore a mask, while I’m happy to be racing it was good to see that many of the runners at the start maintained social distancing and I didn’t feel like some sort of freak for following Scottish guidance over the English rules.

Number collection was swift and there were good facilities on hand to make sure that we all got to the start line having been to the little boys or girls room. Afterwards I headed back to the car, got into my race gear and then opened the boot of the car and got comfy, just watching the world go by. Despite my feelings that a road marathon was not what I needed I found myself feeling rather comfortable here and there was a lovely relaxed vibe being given off by both the runners and the organisers.

About 8.30am I headed back to the registration point where the runners were starting to congregate and after a short safety briefing we headed down the road to the start line. I met a young local runner called Claire and we chatted for a little while about our various experiences, there was something wonderfully down to earth about Claire and had she been a back of the pack runner she would have made an awesome companion but she was aiming for a sub4 marathon and I most certainly wasn’t.

When we reached the start line I wished her a cheery farewell and hoped she succeeded in her aim for the day but I knew the place I had to take up and so I headed to the back.

It was here that I met the first of many runners who would help define my day in the sunshine. Mick was a runner with a fine pedigree and, as befits a running legend, was wearing a Saxons, Normans & Vikings t-shirt which instantly put him on my radar as someone who would know Traviss Wilcox. I very much enjoyed our gentle first few miles as we talked about all things SVN and beyond. My time with Mick took away from noting how hard going the tarmac was under my feet – something that in my training runs isn’t an issue as I mostly run trails.

Mick clearly had a plan though and was keen to stick to it, whereas I was aiming to do what I usually do, run the first half as fast as I can and then die in the second half. I suppose when I think about it that’s a plan too it’s just not a very good one. So with the sunshine beating down upon me I pressed on through a few of the runners ahead of me and settled into a reasonably steady rhythm.

In the early stages we were running mostly through some of the little villages near the Solway Coast and it was full of little picture postcard scenes that made you feel like you’d stepped back to times gone by. I was rather enamoured with my surroundings and soaked it all in as I gently plodded along.

It was in these little picture postcard villages that I came across a young gentleman and what I assume was his daughter armed with musical instruments and a hose. The sound of music from supporters is something I really enjoy and the little girl was shaking her rattle like her life depended on it. Wonderful. I had seen the gentleman hose down one of the runners and clearly he was doing this for all that wanted it and so with all the gusto I could manage I shouted, ‘in the face, in the face!’ and he duly obliged – spraying my hot sweaty face with cool refreshing water. I didn’t realise it until much later in the race but the soaking of my buff visor by this lovely pair probably helped maintain my ability to run this event as despite the heat and sunshine my neck remained cool.

Now that I was all cool and feeling refreshed I turned my attention to a different issue. The trouble was that my right hamstring was already on fire and I knew that it was only going to get worse but it was joined by a wobbly left hamstring and I did wonder what I had done to deserve this kind of misfortune but regardless my time was looking okay as I completed the little 6 mile loop and started on the long journey around the coastline.

It was here that I came across one of the two most important people I would meet during the race and his name was Sachin and what a lovely chap he was. We ran together for several miles, moving back and forth and forth and back and we shared stories and philosophies and I really enjoyed chewing the fat with him. He was running with such fantastic consistency that he really helped me keep on target, when he finally meandered past me after several false dawns I watched as he slowly, consistently pulled away from me. Looking his time up he was about 20 minutes ahead of me and if he keeps running like that his times are only going to get quicker.

But it was in the weaving of being ahead or behind Sachin that I met the runner who would really define the race for me. I met Allan at about the 10 mile point and we had chatted for a little while during a period that I had scooted ahead of Sachin but then I’d lost both of them at one of the many excellent checkpoints (more on them later). Anyway I’m getting ahead of myself – as Allan approached I was looking into the distance and trying to decide if I was staring at Scotland or if I was staring at the Lake District. I decided it must be Scotland as there were clearly visible hills but Allan assured me that actually I was looking over into the Lakes and that Scotland, or home as we both called it, was in the other direction.

Allan was cool, not bullshit cool, just cool, kinda like the Fonz, in his superdry sunglasses and Highland Fling vest – when I grow up I thought, I want to be like Allan. But when we pulled into the next checkpoint neither of my fellow runners were there and so for the first time in an age I was alone.

It turned out that Allan was a little bit behind me and Sachin was a little bit ahead, I chose to keep moving forward assuming that at some point Allan and every other runner would probably go past me – no need to slow down when I still had energy in my legs.

It’s at this point that I’d like to mention the course and the checkpoints, we were now at about the second checkpoint and it was clear that there was an army of volunteers on the route, all willing you on and the checkpoint teams were just super, super brilliant. Not just in encouragement terms but also in getting you what you wanted. I’d forgetten about marathon checkpoints looked like as I have gotten so used to ultra marathon checks. The tables were pretty simple – water, cola, electrolytes and jelly babies – I don’t need anything else, they did the job they needed to and armed with 2 x 300ml bottles full of active root in my race vest I was well catered for.

That said had I not had my race vest with me then the checkpoints had bottled water that we could use. There were also lots of water stops – I lost count in the end but they were positioned between 3 and 5 miles apart and this meant that you had enough support. The organisers clearly appreciated that running during the summer months can be a challenge and were fully prepared for it. Unlike at some other races I’ve done (looking at you Vanguard Way – read the review here) there was never any hint of a lack of supplies and as I passed that second checkpoint I was very happy with the awesome support that I and the other runners were getting.

Now out on the coast I could finally appreciate the absolutely beautiful location I had come to run at. I spent much of time gazing out across the sands as I pounded the pavements, watching runners in the distance. I wound my way further and further round the route and looking at all the little nuggets of trails with their tree lined shade and thinking, ‘I bet you could have an awesome trail race round here’ and I wonder if they do?

But to the matter at hand I continued forward and up into the next checkpoint, passing two supporters who were following their runner – I think it might have been Micks partner but I couldn’t be 100% sure. However, as I trudged up the little hill in the town I was passing they offered some much needed support – although when I asked them for an ice-cream that was a lot less forthcoming! Ha.

At the top of one of the few little hills on this course there was the next checkpoint and I stopped here for a few minutes, pouring more water over my head, having a bit of banter with the wonderful volunteers and watching as Allan caught me once more.

I set off after I had refilled my now empty bottles and spent a little bit of time with Becks who was doing what good runners do and maintain a good consistent pace and with her I was able to catch up a little on some of the pace that I had lost. Becks soon left me in her dust though, quite rightly might I add and I was once more left to soak up the views. But I could feel myself slowing all the time, the gusto that I had approached the first half had now left my legs but, and this was important, I found myself still running.

Thoughts of finishing in around 4 hours had departed to be replaced by a dose of reality but I realised that I might actually be able to mostly run this one in and so I pressed on bit by bit, making my way slowly to the next checkpoint at mile 18. Somewhere along this section Allan finally caught me for the final time and we got reacquainted after our short chat earlier. He really was a top fella and the kind of person you want to sit down with at a roaring fire and listen to him tell stories of his adventures, his accent was so wonderfully melodic too and I found that very reassuring, it was like one of those velvety voices you used to get on the radio. I didn’t tell him that but I cold have listened to it all day.

Anyway we were running it in, although Allan was employing a walk-run strategy and that seemed like a sensible thing to do and so I found myself joining him and we spent the next little while chatting about adventures, races we’ve done, Daniel Kershaw and how awesome he is, the race to 100 marathons, the race to bagging all the munros and so many other things that filled me with joy. I think the thing I liked most was that he was soon to racing with his 27 year old son for the first time and that gave me hope that my little ASK Adventurer will still take me out when she’s in her 20s.

We pulled into the checkpoint at mile 18 and there were a couple of the most lovely volunteers, as is always the case I try to thank each of them, have a little joke or flirt. But there was something at this checkpoint that I noted and it was a hardcover edition of the Terry Pratchett book ‘Maskerade’ and I found myself chatting to the lovely lady who was reading it. I love a Pratchett novel, with ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents’ being my absolute favourite and ‘The Truth’, ‘Mort’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ also being firm favourites – little did I know that my fellow Pratchett fan had a little surprise for me at the finish, but more on that later.

Allan and I pressed on, saying hello to the odd runner that might pass us by or that we might pass, this was one of the friendliest marathons I have ever taken part in and I recall turning to my companion and saying, ‘you know what, I’m really enjoying this’ and I was – I was having a blast. Yes my hamstrings were ruined, the sun was baking, my second toe on my left foot was blistered and I should really have worn some road shoes instead of an older pair of Altra Lone Peak but you simply couldn’t take away the fact that I was smiling.

Allan and I dipped into the mile 22 checkpoint and said hello once more to the volunteers who were here – this was also one of the earlier checkpoints before you disappeared on the long loop of the coast. Once more we had a bit of a laugh and a joke and then we went off, crossing the little bridge and into the clapping hands of supporters and volunteers. ‘You’re doing well guys’ they cried out – now that was very nice to hear but it wasn’t true, I was dying inside and when Allan and I approached the turn to the final few miles I said, ‘you’ll have to go on without me, I might just amble the last few miles I think’. As I was saying this the ambulance that was running up and down the course came hurtling past us with its lights on and I remembered why I often run with other people during races and its because I do better if my mind isn’t fixated on my inner darkness.

As I watched Allan disappearing into the distance with less than 5km to go I made a choice that usually wold elude me, I found my inner grit and I caught up to Allan and decided that I would hang on to his coat tails for as long as I could.

We were now 40km and I had managed to hold on, Allan seemed to be struggling a bit at this late stage but there was no way I was going anywhere without him and so we kept on going together – he pointed in the direction of a couple of towers that represented the finish line and I could feel the finish. A young lady went past us in the final stretch but I was too pleased to care about trying to race her, I was just glad I was going to finish in one piece (ish).

On the final stretch a group of young chaps started to cheer us in but I advised that really I’d appreciate a sarcastic slow hand clap more and they duly obliged – cheeky buggers 🙂 and then the finish, and the people started clapping and cheering to which I shouted, ‘you’ve started too early its going to take me an age to reach you’ and a young lady told me that there was a special gift for me at the finish – I assumed she must have mistaken me for someone else as I didn’t know anyone there.

Anyway the finish was at the bottom of the hill and I said to Allan, ‘let’s sprint this one in’.

All I recall was the hullabaloo of my own voice crying out, ‘I’ve finished, I’ve finished’.

And it was done but the story isn’t over – I was handed my medal, some water and the copy of ‘Maskerade’ that the lovely volunteer had been reading, she had left it for me, and I’ll mention this a little more below as it was an act of kindness that I found incredibly heart warming.

Overview

  • Distance: Marathon
  • Ascent: 112 metres
  • Date: July 2021
  • Location: Kirkbride and the Solway Coast
  • Cost: £30
  • Entrants: 67
  • Terrain: Road
  • Tough Rating: 3/5 (mainly due to the heat)

Route
The route was through a beautiful part of the UK that I had never seen before and would be keen to explore further both on the English side of the border and the Scottish. If all road marathons looked as good as this then I’d probably run more of them. The route is a curious one though and quite confusing if you’ve never run it before, the initial 6 mile loop throws you because you don’t expect to end up back near the start after only an hour out of the blocks but it really works because then when you have done the bigger loop around the coast you are rewarded with a bit of running that you’ve done before. I found I drew mental strength from knowing that I was nearly there.

Organisation
I like a well organised race and this one was brilliant, on the day everything was just right, there was ample parking, there were toilets at all the checkpoints, the volunteers all knew the drill and the general feeling around the event was really positive. The checkpoints were plentiful and each of them was outfitted with everything that a marathoner might need – plus the organisers were happy to take your own bottle of something to some of the checkpoints.

What’s not to like?

The finish line was as well organised as the start and although Covid remains a shadow over events like this it didn’t dominate like it has at other events – possibly given that the rules have been relaxed a bit further since I raced back in May. That said the organisers (and runners) continued to respect the issue that Covid presents and this event was small enough that we all had space and time to adhere to regulations.

Value for money
Seriously guys – you need to charge more!

£30 (ish) isn’t enough, there are races that charge so much more and give a whole lot less. I would add that I had never heard of this race before I entered, therefore it needs more marketing or more social media or something. The race had less than 100 starters and for an event that was crafted with this much care and value I think it deserves a bigger audience. This was a truly great value for money event with a really lovely medal, top notch organisation and a lovely experience all round.

This is probably one of the best value races I have ever run and that’s high praise indeed for such a tight fisted gimboid like me.

Awards
The medal was a real cracker and one that sits proudly with its siblings, my extra gift of the copy of Maskerade by Terry Pratchett was an unexpected and much loved bonus.

Volunteers and support
We all know that the running community needs the support of a large volunteer community and this race looked like it had it by the bucket load. There were lots of volunteers out on the course who were providing directions on an already well marked course. The checkpoint teams were exceptional and couldn’t have been more helpful. I’m a very fortunate runner and have had some great experiences in running but that fun and enjoyment is often built on the hard work and dedication of those who stand in the wet, cold, sweltering heat and worse. The volunteers and the team here were top class and deserve all the plaudits – thank you.

There is also the community to mention – people from the various villages that we passed through waving us on and wishing us well in addition to the pair with the musical instruments and hose and also the second chap who hosed my face down for me at about mile 10 or something. Cyclists, other runners, walkers, even people in cars offering words or signals of support and that really helps when you’re feeling like crap.

Special Mention
I really want to say thank you to the lovely volunteer who left the Terry Pratchett book for me at the finish, I want you to know that it was a gesture that will be repaid, as I ‘pay it forward’ by doing something for someone else. I didn’t get your name, but if you read this and want to get in touch I would love to thank you personally. As I sat in my car on the journey home this thing made this race just that little bit more special.

Runners
I met some awesome runners during this event, Claire, Mick, Sachin, Becks and of course the awesome Allan. Each of you played a very important and critical part in getting me across the start and the finish and I’ll be thankful to each one of you. Allan especially though, your wise words, fantastic company and endurance were the thing that made sure I ran a reasonable time for a change – I hope our paths cross again on either a hill or in a race, maybe both at the same time.

My race
I ran better than usual but my hamstrings are ruined and the Tour of Tameside is going to be absolute murder.

Conclusions
If you are looking for a fast, flat marathon then the Solway Coastal Marathon could be it, if you enjoy running in the sunshine of July then this could be for you. However, if like me you dislike road marathons, you dislike sunshine and heat and you’re a dilapidated old fart of a runner then this could be for you! I absolutely loved this race – don’t ask me why, it has so few of the ingredients I look for in a race, there are no hills, no trails. The thing it does have though is a stunning personality, great views and that small marathon vibe running through it.

If you were considering running this race I would say that on a cooler, crisper day this is most certainly a route that you could run a personal best and even in the heat the amount of checkpoints mean there is enough support to run fast and not suffer too much.

Could they improve anything? Yes… a bit more social media in the right places – I know there is a Facebook page for Sport in Action but I really only came across this by accident and a slightly better website with some of the awesome photographs might really help this wonderful event have more attendees. Hell I’d help them do it because I genuinely thought my days of enjoying tarmac were over but the Solway Coast Marathon defied my own definitions of what I enjoy and that is the gift that will keep on giving.

I highly, highly recommend this race – next time I’ll be wearing road shoes though! Thanks Solway Coast Marathon – you were awesome, probably see you next year.

You can find out more at the Sport in Action or at the Race Best website.

NB: this is an 100% independent and there is no sponsorship, promotion or paid for benefit in this review, just sharing some thoughts on the race. Professional photography courtesy of Carlos Reina Photography

Stood on the beach as the other runners ambled down I could feel that sensation you get when you know that you’re about to do something brilliant. Having recently run the Frostbite 5 with wonderful Trails of Fife, at Lochore Meadows, I was confident that I was in for another belter of a race.

And let’s be fair what more do you want from a race other than to have to run out into the middle of the surf and stare down a giant red lobster? More on that later.

I had made the relatively short hop across from sunny Falkirk to an equally sunny but also rather windy St Andrews, a place I had not yet managed to get to. Therefore, when the Splash & Dash came up and I had very little planned I knew I had to finally pay St Andrews a visit and this would make a great starting point for an epic week of running.

With a marathon to run the next morning I knew that this evenings event should be taken as easy as possible and so as the start line was being set up I made my way to the back of the hundred or so runners. I had no intention of sprinting off like a startled gazelle, no sir, I was going to sit at the back, come last and bloody well enjoy myself.

As these thoughts were running through my head a fellow runner with those, ‘can’t see your eyes’ sunglasses on approached me and asked, ‘do you have a running blog?’

Now occasionally I might have said something to piss someone off in my blog writing so I’m rarely swift to admit being the author and because I couldn’t see the young ladies eyes she was difficult to read but I figured it would be fine and so I carefully answered ‘yes’.

Turns out she had read the Frostbite 5 posting, the previous race I did with Trails of Fife (you can read that here) and I ended up chewing with fat with her little group for a couple of minutes – mostly extolling the virtues of running up Benarty Hill.

I must have gotten rather caught up in chatter though as I barely noticed the start of the race and I found that my legs had assumed control and decided to thunder away with the rest of me. The afterburner was spent pretty quickly though and I had just enough juice in the engine to catch up with local legend Fiona. It is always lovely to see Fiona, she’s one of my favourite runners and a genuine inspiration – I was also very impressed with her choice of top for the race (I’ll be looking that one up and making a purchase if I too can get it in orange!) But now it was time to press on and I slowly managed to pull away from Fiona and the group of runners behind me, not something I can usually do but I thought I’d put a bit of effort in before the old hamstrings gave in.

But here’s the thing – I couldn’t find my groove and the hamstring that has given so much woe since March had clearly been pulled and the tightness was impressing on me, the need to slow down. However, there was a problem – I had picked up a shadow in the form of another runner and she was sat right in my blind spot but I knew that at least for a while I could try and use her as my own personal pacer. Therefore, every time she got within a few metres of me I would open out my stride and pull ahead of her again. I must have done this about 10 times on the run back to the start line of lap one – I’m sure she could have cheerfully put my head in one of those sandy pools and drowned me but instead she simply ran a superbly consistent pace and it was hugely impressive.

At one point I turned to her and said, ‘you can overtake me but I’m going to make you work for it’ but really what I meant was, ‘chase me, I’m desperately trying to stay ahead’. In the end of course I was overtaken but it was a fun game to play even as the sand sapped all the energy from my legs.

Despite only being a mile down the beach and back twice this felt like a very long loop and as the first lap was concluding we were ushered by the amazing volunteers into a meeting with the race mascot.

In the North Sea there was a vison of red loveliness awaiting us, it’s claws ready to snap at unsuspecting runners and a massive flag stood proudly blowing in the wind. Yes we must face the lobster in the water before the lap could conclude.

In less covid times I would have been very happy to have gone and had a little nibble (cuddle), I mean lobster is delicious, and this lobster looked very tasty indeed. However, the times being what they are, I had to settle for a cheery smile and photograph – but I’d see the lobster again on my run to the finish line.

As I am sure we all know that running through water is a real bum ache, it drains your legs, it drains your spirit and it makes everything feel tough – but running in the sea is also the greatest buzz and gives me a tremendous joy. All the time I’ve spent in the water recently has meant that I’ve become rather adept at moving reasonably quickly through moving water and so while some found it a struggle to get out of the water I was able to make reasonable progress up the beach and in to lap 2.

Lap 2 was much like the first in that the beautiful beach at St Andrews gave us an amazing backdrop whichever direction you were running in and the conditions being warm and windy were absolutely magnificent. A couple of runners passed me by, including a chap who was running barefoot and brushed me aside with ease! I could also sense that I was slowing and bit by bit the pretence of a reasonable time was being eroded. However, once past the volunteers at the far end of the course I started to work my way back – I’d found a bit of a second wind and I got chatting to another young fella who was also clearly feeling the burn. We said hello and exchanged a bit of banter that really gave me some encouragement as we entered the final run back down to the water – speaking to him at the end I think he thought he’d get beyond me but I have my little secret weapon for race days…

Yes I’m a terrible runner but there’s one piece of advice that I have stuck by through the thick and thin of racing, ‘always finish strong’.

So as my feet entered the water I pulled my knees up and cried out my love and thanks to the lobster before blasting through the water to a sprint up the beach. I did give a little half a glance behind me to make sure I wasn’t going to be overtaken by the young fella I’d done those last few hundred metres with, thankfully though but he was a few precious seconds behind, though given how much ground he made up on me he more than deserved to finish ahead of me.

However, I crossed the line and inside all I could do was smile. Absolutely wonderful.

Conclusions
Trails of Fife are quickly becoming my favourite race organiser, I’ve now done two of their races and both were just the most fun filled experiences. For me part of the joy is that they aren’t ultra marathons or long distance races, I can turn up, race and have a bit of laugh. I’m sure some people take this very seriously indeed but when there’s a giant lobster insisting that you run to him in the sea, well you just can’t take it too seriously can you?

The beach setting of St Andrews was amazing and the late start meant that there was lots of parking available and most of the tourist traffic had departed. This certainly helped with the use of the excellent toilet facilities and in fact by having the race later in the day there was a lot less pressure overall I felt – more early evening races I say!

The organisation was as brilliant as my first experience of Trails of Fife and the volunteers were that lovely blend of cheering you on and making sure that you were going in roughly the right direction. The volunteers are always the stars of the show as far as I am concerned and at Trails of Fife they make you feel that enormous warmth that I find comes with these lovely local races. So my thanks to you. However, I must of course say a special thank you to the lobster for whom standing in the sea for the best part of an hour cannot have been as much fun as it looked – the sea gets cold pretty quickly and he didn’t look like he had a wetsuit on under his outfit. His good humour and commitment to the role was outstanding and my only problem was that I didn’t get to take him home and put him a pot of boiling water and have him for dinner – still there’s always next time.

As for the medal? Well Trails of Fife seem to know how to do a damn fine medal – they’re big enough to make them feel special and nicely designed as a lovely memento of your event. I’m a big fan of these races and the organisers should be very proud of themselves for putting on such fine events. Easy collection of race number? Yes. Good facilities? Yes. Beautiful locations? Yes. Amazing team and volunteers? Yes. Cool medal that you’ll treasure? Yes. Really fun route and event? Yes. Any complaints? No.

If this returns with a winter edition I’ll be adding my name to the list because this is a corker and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for further events from the lovely guys at Trails of Fife.

You can find their Facebook group here and see what’s next.

The only downside about writing this is that you may now feel the need to sign up to their races and I might not get a spot but here’s the thing – I feel everyone who loves running and loves a trail or being outdoors should do one of their events. Being as inexpensive as they are means they are as accessible as races get in cost terms and although I can guarantee you’ll love these events I will say that if you don’t have fun then you’ve probably had your fun bones removed.

Enjoy and see you next time.

Covid 19 has created so many delayed and cancelled races with medals having being purchased and monies committed and the Frostbite was probably one of those affected. However, with restrictions eased a little the organisers managed to put on a little 5 mile blast around Lochore Meadows Country Park and it was a real corker!

I happened to be visiting Lochore Meadows that weekend anyway and so the race dovetailed perfectly into my planned weekend of paddle boarding, open water swimming, cycling, running, exploring, kayaking and eating. If you haven’t been to Lochore Meadows Country Park then it is worth looking up and well worth a visit as it offers an abundance of exciting things to do all in a wonderful space.

I woke up in the motorhome park nice and early and went down to the water before the day properly got going and then headed back to Rona for a cup of coffee and the change into my running gear. The day was already scorching and it was barely 8am. By the time I was ready the organisers of the race had set up and were ready to hand out race numbers and medals – presumably one of the Covid secure systems that they had in place to minimise groupings around the finish line.

I gave in my allocated number from the email that had been sent round and excitedly took ownership of number 185 in papery form – it was lovely to be sticking a number on my shorts again. I then bimbled around the start line and the loch for a while before making the short 5 minute walk to the start line down at the golf course.

It was here that I ran into a local Falkirk legend and it was a delight to see her after all this time.

Although I didn’t say it, the last time I ran into Fiona she gave me a proper pasting at the Skull Trail Race and that was 100% fair because I wasn’t fit enough to compete at any distance, but when she came over at The Frostbite 5 to say hello my immediate thought turned to revenge, albeit a very quiet and understated revenge. Actually this isn’t true at all really – my thoughts were around the bloody scorching temperature but keeping ahead of Fiona was certainly in my head as an aim for the day.

And so as 11am approached we all headed down to the start line and spaced ourselves out appropriately, I turned around, as I often do, to look over the other competitors and noted every single one primed with their fingers ready to hit the buttons on their GPS watches. I on the other hand was fumbling around trying to put my camera back into my race vest. I did manage to get myself set just before the off and I even managed to switch on my Garmin and then like a rocket I thrust myself forward around the field that we would circle on our way out to the course.

The course itself was a lovely mix of gentle up and down with well maintained paths offered throughout and the course had been thoroughly marked and was incredibly well marshalled by cheering and presumably overheating volunteers! For my part I felt the heat of the day affecting me but I pushed on with all the energy I could muster and although I was overtaken by a few of the runners I had blasted past in the early stages I was mostly holding my own and found myself at a comfortable pace as I thundered into the main section of Lochore Meadows Country Park.

Knowing this was an out and back meant I was memorising how the course went in terms of where I would need to give it a little bit of a push and as I ran alongside the loch side I knew that the turning point had to be soon – although I had still seen no sign of the returning front runners. On I pressed and into what would be the final straight to the turning point and I could see runners approaching, one then another and another – but not as many I expected. I have very much gotten used to being at the back of the pack and so it was a surprise as I joked with the marshal at the halfway point that I was still running rather well.

I’d now warmed up a bit too and found myself cheering on the runners coming towards me and then something happened to ensure that I maintained my pace.

Behind me I could feel the hot breath of another runner which proved a little dispiriting given I thought I was doing okay and so I casually moved over and offered my breathy shadow the opportunity overtake but he didn’t.

Now whether he was being polite or he didn’t have enough in the legs to shoot past me he remained in my shadow for the next mile. We introduced ourselves and said hello but there wasn’t really time for any ‘ultra type’ chat – both of us where clearly busting a get to get back. John though provided the inspiration I was looking for and I was able to hold my pace and my position ahead of him.

Occasionally I would turn around to see where he was and he was moving from just behind to several seconds behind me and as I approached the field that we had started I had about 10 or 12 seconds on him and knew that this should be enough to get me to the finish ahead of John because I felt a sprint finish in my legs.

The field was long though and I felt myself slowing as the heat beat down upon me and against the short stretch of tarmac I started to slow significantly, I was looking downwards rather than concentrating on what was ahead and so I raised my head, looked forward and pulled myself together for a suitably flying finish.

Bounding to the finish, bouncing along like Bambi I felt amazing and hurled myself across the finish line and enjoying just a little moment of pleasure knowing that for the first time in ages I had run pretty well.

John came in a few seconds behind me and I thanked him for pushing me all the way – I would have slowed down if I hadn’t felt his chasing in the early stages of the second half of the race – really inspiring.

But what of revenge? Well Fiona made it back a minute or so after me and looked as cool as a cucumber, out for a morning stroll rather than a hard race (I looked like a fat bloated and sweaty pig in comparison). I have no doubt that had she had it in mind she would have given me another drubbing but I’ll take a finish ahead of her – just this once.

I ambled back to Rona, the motorhome, taking my medal out of the pocket I had kept it in during the race and put it around my neck, I felt a deep swell of pride wearing it and felt like a million dollars for running on that hot Sunday morning. Awesome!

Conclusions?
What a great race, great location and brilliantly organised. This is one of the first times that racing has felt like it is returning and I’ll be looking forward to more events from the guys at Trails of Fife (you can find their Facebook group here) and I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to do their race at the end of June. It is races like this I feel that really being the running community together, for not much more than a tenner you get a medal, a well organised event, a classy route and the opportunity to run with runners from your community – what more could you ask for?

When I am not off doing ultra marathon events these are the types of races I enjoy the most, relatively short distance with a wonderfully mixed group of runners and an inclusive, friendly atmosphere.

Great job guys.

Video
Below is a short video of the race from my perspective, enjoy.

Have you ever looked at a bar of chocolate and thought that looks amazing?

It’d be oozing caramel chunks, little flakes poking from the sides and then you taste it and you realise it’s a giant turd you’ve just bitten into but you’ve got to keep going because you’re in polite company and don’t want to miss out on the thing that everyone else is devouring. Welcome to my review of the Ultra Scotland 50!

I should at this point mention that the metaphor suggests I didn’t enjoy the race but the truth is very different – I very much enjoyed this like chocolate but also endured the race like a tough as buggery turd, but we’ll get to that later.

I suppose this is very much a tale of the pandemic and so that’s where it begins.

I, like lots of others, in 2019 eagerly entered our 2020 races assuming that we would once more spend the year running around beautiful trails and the occasional bit of cruddy car park. When 2020 came around I found that I wasn’t in the best place either injury, fitness or weight wise and I trudged my way through the mutually awesome Tyndrum 24 and Falkirk Trail Ultra, I then missed the inaugural F50K because of my grandmother dropping dead but figured with a race calendar full to brimming it would be fine. At the start of April I’d start my Ranger Ultras Grandslam and that would swiftly be followed by the Ultra Scotland 50 from GB Ultras.

I think we all know what happened nstead and races became consigned to the dustbin, albeit on a temporary basis.

And so when offered the chance to run the Ultra Scotland 50 as my first race of 2021, mere days after the latest lockdown ended, I knew I had to be on the start line whatever my condition.

As I stood at the side of Clatteringshaws Loch, watching the beautiful stars twinkling in the dark skies park with Rona at my side, a cup of tea in hand and I was listening to the man outside his motorhome playing bagpipes truly beautifully, I realised that I am a very fortunate person who was being presented with another awesome opportunity and I would not waste it.

The various lockdowns have meant that I’ve been able to focus on some of the key problems I’ve had when I’m running – so I’ve dropped more than 20kg in weight, I’ve returned to active, focused training and I’ve mostly been injury free and this triple gave my decent confidence as 2021 arrived. It was therefore with great dismay that despite my desire to race as I stood looking at those stars that my hamstring hurt like an absolute shit and I’d been struggling with it for over a month.

Typically, the moment there’s a race opportunity and my body decides to send me to a start line hampered.

However, as I gulped down the last of my tea I knew that my hamstring wasn’t going to deter me from leaving the Loch side in about 8hrs and set off from St John’s Town of Dalry and try and reach Moffat, a mere 56 miles away.

Rona, the motorhome, afforded me a nights peaceful and relatively luxurious sleep and when I got up the following morning I was able to get ready close to the race start with the benefit of my own toilet. For those who aren’t regular readers then you should be aware that my pre-race poo ritual is a well established marker in my race preparation and should not be disturbed. Milkshake, milky coffee, poo time – it’s simple and effective and reduces the need for me to spend half a race looking for a place that a) nobody will see me drop a turd and b) find a place to bury said turd.

What I can tell you is that, despite following the ritual, very little happened in the bowel department and this was next worry of the day but I just assumed I’d be going ‘full bear’ and making a mighty mound somewhere on the Southern Upland Way.

Having read the Covid guidelines for the race and watched the video from the organisers I felt quite confident that I was turning up ready to race and arriving ‘just in time’. The race start was very well organised, in covid terms and despite the mildly wet weather most runners were managing to stay dry and knew what to do in preparation for the start line.

We ambled into the registration point, in race number order, which I felt was rather cute, were given a few course correction notes as we entered and then were processed

  • Temperature check
  • Bag drop (I had chosen not to bother)
  • Tracker
  • Queue up for race start

All very easy, all very seamless – you’d have thought that GB Ultras had done it like this a thousand times – I was actually quite impressed.

The thing that was less impressive, and is no fault of the organisers, was the muted start.

Covid guidelines meant we were sent out one runner at a time in 15 second intervals and although practical did take away from the atmosphere. That said because the start line was located in a town it meant that there were people lingering around, including friends and family who cheered runners on which provided an improvement over the covid start line of Ultra North (my only comparison).

Anyway pretty much bang on the money of 6.07am I set off from the town and headed on the first of many uphills, waving goodbye to ASKadventurer and the GingaNinja knowing that it might be as much as 18hrs before I saw them again.

As I rolled out of Dalry I could immediately feel my hamstring but I was determined that I wouldn’t resort to using running poles unless I had no other choice and so I pushed on enjoying the early delights of the Southern Upland Way.

Despite the Covid guidelines it was still very likely you’d meet other runners on the route and as we entered the trail, after less than a kilometre of running, I came across my first major runchat opportunity – Patrick (first time organised ultra runner) and Alistair (seasoned mountain goat he looked like). We bimbled along, with me mostly bemoaning Falkirk’s lack of mountains to train on and they in good spirits. The trails were fun and fast but with less than 4km on the clock I made a huge mistake jumping on a bridge and sliding straight off it and landing on the edge – cracking my hip, leg and back in the process – this was not a good start. Although I leaped back up quickly I had to let me running colleagues slowly disappear into the distance as I needed to let the wind fill my sails once more.

I was shaken by the fall but mostly alright and I managed to pick myself up enough to start picking up the pace but there was pain in my knee on my already bad leg and I’d clearly hurt my shoulder as that was now acting like a dick. Thankfully I had a wonderful course to distract me and I was provided non-stop entertainment by the sheep bleeting at me as I ran and being the fool I am I chose to converse with the sheep whenever they were in range.

Heading downhill I could now see the 8 mile point and watched as it drew ever closer, the thing was I hadn’t yet touched my water supply, nor my food and so with little more than a nod and wink (with my mask on of course) I simply ran through and stopped a little way up the road to adjust myself and stow my face covering.

The adjustment was necessary as the fall had left a painful reminder on my shoulder and I found myself regularly readjusting my pack to try and reduce the pain on the injury but nothing worked.

Therefore with a gob full of kinder chocolate I began the real assault of the Southern Upland Way and from here it really felt like a proper trail race and with 15 or 16 miles until the next checkpoint across some tough ground this was going to be an interesting test of my body.

What I was still working out was how the breadcrumb mapping trail works on my Fenix 6X because despite following the signage it was saying I was off course… how the sweet arseholes could I be off course? I was following the map! The thing was I was heading up a hill with no path and no clear way forward – I was clearly off route and then I turned around and saw two runners heading in a different direction and I hastily headed towards them. Down I strode through the rough undergrowth and spilled my way back into the path – another knee trembler of a mistake, how many more of them was I going to make today?

I was a little bemused as to why neither of the two runners just a few feet ahead of me had issued a warning of my impending stupidity but maybe that’s just something I do when I see a fellow competitor about to do something navigationally erroneous. But ho-hum I was back on track now and heading towards the first big climb of the course.

The route here was overgrown and very green and a real delight, the trail wound upwards and onwards and as you climbed a little higher the temperature dropped despite the morning getting brighter.

Why was it getting chillier you might ask? Well that was simple – there was snow underfoot to chill your hard working and burning feet.

Having recently dropped my second layer of socks I could feel the cold through my Lone Peaks but it was a lovely sensation and it wasn’t very thick and therefore nice and easy to run through. On I ran and picked my way through the gently rolling hills and the short sharp ascents but all the while knowing that there were some significant spikes to come.

It was here that I came across Wayne Drinkwater, the race director and what a very welcoming sight he was and also a pleasant surprise as we had a bit of banter and he pointed the dreaded GoPro at me. I did ask that if I said horrific things about companies like Glaxo and GE would he not be able to use the footage? Thanks to Sue Perkins for that little tip.

I passed Wayne and pushed on up the hill and noting runners behind me, it was a steep but wholly achievable climb and in the distance I could see one of the key markers on the course, a large stone arch overlooking the Southern Upland Way. Obviously I stopped to grab a few pictures and the like and then set off down the path off Benbrack.

Mistake.

After a few minutes the path started to disappear and so I veered off to the fence line to see if that was likely to hand me a clue as to the direction I was supposed to be on. The Fenix 6X map was also about as much use as a chocolate teapot – simply saying ‘off course’. Over the top of the hill I had descended I saw two runners and scrambled across to meet them. Kirsty and Christophe seemed in good, but equally lost, spirits and between us we figured out a direction and once more headed off.

Down and down and down and down we went, heading towards what looked like the tree line on the map.

Mistake.

‘Ring, ring’ went Kirsty’s phone and it was race HQ to tell us we had fucked up big time. Bottom of hill – go back to the top, find the arch and start over. Another mistake that would lead to jelly legs but the three of us powered up the hill and retraced our steps. When we arrived we had clearly all been distracted by the sculptural arch at the summit and wholly ignored the way marker – now corrected we thundered downward in completely the opposite but correct direction.

Kirsty was a bit of a powerhouse and looked incredible as she bounded across the route and Christophe reminded me of all those tall French runners who would tower over me as I straddled the start line of the SainteLyon, it was quite comforting to be in their company. However, their pace was outstripping mine quite significantly and I was forced to say goodbye too quickly.

Thankfully I enjoy a little solitude during a race and the route wound it’s way through the hills and provided glorious views and well worn trails, I was probably alone for a good couple of hours before I came across a fence. ‘Hello fence’ I thought.

Through the fence I could see the next southern upland way markers but couldn’t reach it. I had a choice, follow the fence line low or follow it high. If my decision was incorrect it would be a long way back.

Time ticking, decision time, come on Ultraboyruns.

I chose high, assuming that if I messed up I would have less climb to correct and then I was off, soon regretting my choice between a wire fence and a dry stone wall with barely enough to squeeze through even the most snake hipped runner.

This ‘path’, I use that term loosely, was hard going with near non stop up and down and surrounded by construction work but the map said roughly ‘yes’ and I could see another marker but as I came to the top I’d lost all sight of the markers, I was lost.

What now?

Retreat or amble around looking for directions? Well I did both until I felt my Garmin shaking telling me my phone was ringing.

‘Let me guess I’m off course,’ I said as the GB Ultras team said hello. They told me that I and others were off course and they advised how I could correct it. I said I understood but I didn’t really and I just headed back – jumping walls and wooden pallets and fences in the process hoping that I could correct my direction with relative ease.

Thankfully just when I was about to say ‘fuck this for a game of golf’ I saw other equally lost runners, I think it was Dave, Michelle (more on Michelle later) with Kieran (more on Kieran later) and Nick (more on Nick later) – sorry Dave (but I did like your spectacles/goggles). We were all either going the wrong way or about to and after introductions were completed and we had bemoaned our lack of good fortune, having all done extra distance, we caught a break – a sign for the Southern Upland Way.

It’s things like this that could turn an atheist into a believer… actually no but you get the idea.

A convey of runners is always a slightly odd thing and this one split itself into little micro-pockets of covid-secure groups which moved fluidly between one another.

For the most part I found myself with Nick (looking forward to that YouTube channel fella), a truly spectacular dude with a big positive outlook on life, we chewed the fat extensively, as you do and he explained that he had entered the 215 mile GB Ultras Race Across Scotland.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I could clearly see that he had all the attributes needed to complete such an effort – his hill climbing was fast and furious even without poles and his general pace kept me going at a reasonable speed for all the time we were together.

We arrived into checkpoint two at Sanquhar together and were greeted by Nicks other half, the GingaNinja, my little Satan and our respective dogs.

At nearly a marathon in we both needed to refuel and we did so in the Covid secure hall. Chocolate (Mars and Snickers), cake (delicious and I believe homemade) and a belly full of cola were on my menu followed by a resetting of my race kit. I did dump a couple of items on the GingaNinja such as my water filter and waterproof trousers – neither of which it looked like I would require and I stuffed my waterproof jacket away properly to balance my pack better and then, after thanking the awesome GB Ultras team I was off, hunting down Nick in the process.

The first half had been quite eventful in terms of navigation, injury and pain management but it had also been filled with really beautiful trail running and as the day wore on I hoped for more of the latter and less of the former.

The good news was that the next two sections were relatively short at just 8 and 6 miles or so and I should be able to make up a bit of time here. Nick and I continued our jibber jabbering, much I am sure, to the annoyance of anyone else within earshot but that’s the thing about these races you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get through.

In the early stages of the climb out of checkpoint two Nick, myself and now Kieran came across a complete sheep’s skull and it was with some great surprise that Nick picked it up and attached it to his race vest. I’ve done some batshit stuff in my time and collected stuff off the trail but never a sheep’s head and certainly not while in a race! It was here that Nick also started pulling away and much as I tried to keep up I had to slow down a touch.

Slowing down isn’t always a bad thing though and it gave me an opportunity to soak in the route which in terms of its look had changed. The earlier stages seemed more confined and tighter trails but these seemed to have been replaced by large swathes of rolling hills and all around us was a sea of green. I was very much enjoying the scenery and Kieran had become my new running partner and we ambled along as briskly as our little bodies would carry us.

Kieran was aiming for a GB Ultras 50 mile Grandslam in his 50th year – although delayed due to Covid 19. If my recollection is correction he’s already got L2M done and was now north of the border taking on the Ultra Scotland 50, and much like me, delighting in the surrounds.

We chatted for hours about all things, from races to politics to family and everything in between – it was easy chatter and quite delightful.

It was early into my time with Kieran that I welcomed my biggest issue of the race though – an inability to move downhill if the there was any level of steepness. Holy turd there was a horrific burning in my knee and ITB with every single step downhill and running it off wasn’t really an option.

If I thought the fall had been bad or my hamstring had been shit, it was a truth that neither of these had anything on the excruciating pain I was in now. I mean I must really have pissed someone off to have this much go wrong.

In my head I looked over the remaining elevation and realised that there was still a significant amount of climbing to do, which meant a significant amount downhill and while the magnificence of the hills was a truly beautiful sight, my legs cursed them for being there.

The odd thing was that my uphill movement was actually pretty good despite everything and so I would set the pace uphill and Kieran was setting it in the down.

I was surprised that we managed to reach checkpoint 3 still at the head of the little group of runners that had all met about 10 miles back but there was nobody very far behind and I’m sure that as they came down from the hills and into the old mining town they’d have been impressed by beautiful summit ahead of them and the chocolate box town to our right.

As we approached the village one of the volunteers laughed with us a bit and gave us cheery advice about the next section – cheery I think because she wasn’t running it! The GingaNinja and ASK were also at the village just before the checkpoint and gave both of us cheers and waves before leaving us to find solace in some serious checkpoint chow down!

Checkpoint 3 would be our last significant stop, as the final checkpoint was in a lay-by, and so we made sure we took what we needed here. Kieran used the time to deal with an ever expanding foot (don’t ask, he didn’t) and some blistering and I did my best efforts at amusing the volunteers.

We didn’t stop long as other runners were making their way in and it seemed sensible to avoid creating a Covid hotspot at the checkpoint and forcing the awesome volunteers to move us on!

The next challenge was a nice, seemingly never ending and mildly dull climb – punctured only by the tarmac that looped through it several times. It was here I first noticed the cold and that our speed had dropped a bit. Although I was pressing hard I wanted to keep sight of my companion as I knew that both of us stood a better chance of finishing together than we did alone – this though had the effect of chilling me and as we arrived at a bit of a peak and a little mountain bothy I considered layering up. What stopped me though was a look at the time and Garmin’s estimated time of arrival – I relayed the bad news to Kieran and then set to work increasing our pace.

However, even as the clock ticked down both of us stopped to draw breath and capture some images of the sun going down over the hills because it’s moments like this that we run ultra marathons for.

But tick tock, it’s about 6 o’ fucking clock and we need to get a move on! And we did, Kieran increased his pace on the uphill and I swallowed the pain and went as quickly as I could on the downhill. This section though was full of steep, difficult terrain and I found myself using every expletive known to man and creating a few new ones along the way. I found myself apologising several times for my rather fruity language but Kieran simply shrugged it off and was hopefully not offended by my potty mouthed antics.

There was a lot less chatter now – partly due to being about 10 metres apart but also because of a need to concentrate – with time against us we had little capacity for further error. Then the route hit us with a series of difficult and slow going ascents and descents. In conventional circumstances you’d have laughed them off, enjoyed bouncing up and down them, but, on a day like today they felt cruel and unnecessary. We battered up and down, never quite losing hope that a friendly checkpoint smile awaited us.

We could see the road to our left as it wound its way through the hills and assumed that we would be heading down there to find some much needed respite because in front of us now loomed a large, steep climb, Kieran and I clearly had fingers crossed but as we closed on both the turn to the road and the steep ascent we were fired up the ascent. Our creaking bones and cracking optimism were pained by this latest news but ascend we did and with a little pool of runners now below us.

I was in no mood to be beaten to the next checkpoint though and I think Michelle and Dave were both in this little group that was around us and we may have had a bit of banter to try and boost moral – but moral seemed low and we needed that checkpoint. I remember reaching the top of the summit and noting that the checkpoint would surely be down there.

To improve my mentality I set to thinking about the spectacular borderlands that were laid out before us were and how they were probably oft missed by visitors – on another day, were I wasn’t chasing a clock, I’d very much enjoy a jaunt along the Southern Upland Way and it’s surrounds.

Kieran and I made it to the road and while he strode purposefully towards the checkpoint I felt like giving my legs a little shakedown and ran up towards the final checkpoint to devour as many of the little cakes as I could.

Here I found myself in surrealist territory as I asked questions like, ‘if Linford Christie was half a teapot which half would be the teapot – top or bottom?’ I believe I may have confused or befuddled the lovely volunteers but then I was 40+ miles into my first race in ages and my biggest distance and biggest elevation since last September – I was probably delirious.

Kieran rocked up a minute or two behind me and filled up on water and then we were off to the finish. 14 miles left but only about 5hrs to go until we had extinguished all of the allocated time.

Invigorated by reaching the last checkpoint we pushed on hard, assuming that most of the elevation had been dealt with, therefore it came as something a blow to realise that there was enough elevation in the final section to slow us down and that our efforts to push were being hampered by both the course and our exhaustion. Add into the mix that darkness would also soon be upon us and I made the decision to stop briefly and put on my waterproof jacket to protect me from the wind and also to grab my head torch. With this done we ploughed on and straight into a lovely big boggy section of trail that permeated straight through the Lone Peak 4.0 that had served me so well.

My feet felt cold for the first time since the climb up Benbrack and it would be a couple of minutes before my awesome Drymax socks warmed my feet again.

Chatter was now reduced to the minimum, I was doing the mental maths and calculating my likelihood of failing and being determined not too. Kieran, for his part remained on ‘team get to the finish’ and knew what needed to be done to claim a medal.

Up and down the course went with Scotland beautifully illuminated by the dancing darkness in front of us and the couple of twinkling headlights. In darkness this was lovely but by day I suspected this would be fantastic and much more reminiscent of the route in the first few miles of the race.

We knew that every step was a step closer to home – Kieran had salted caramel chocolate milkshake awaiting him at the B&B, I had a walk to find my motorhome wherever it was hidden! Ha – how different our post race experiences would be!

Before either of us got to an after the race situation we had more work to do.

Darkness had now surrounded us completely and even with less than 10km to go there was no sign of Moffat in the distance and time was ebbing away, we hurried through mostly good, hard packed trail and followed the way markers home – that was until Kieran had a dose of the batshit and thought we were going the wrong way.

I should have ignored him as the signage was pointing the way I had headed but I was also nervous of making another mistake with so little time available. We therefore doubled back and retreated to the last way marker and Kieran went thrashing about in the undergrowth looking for a way through. Two runners managed to catch us again in the time that we had spent doubling back and searching for an alternative route and as they headed off in the original direction I called out to my comrade that, ‘it’s this way, let’s crack on’. Kieran seemed rather trapped in the undergrowth but after a couple of minutes he fumbled his way back and we were off again and in hot pursuit of the couple ahead of us.

We made swift progress in hunting down the runners ahead and once we crossed paths again we travelled together to make this final push that bit more enjoyable. Martin and Nicola were relatively new to ultra running but they looked mostly strong despite a tough day (I understood that) and were from Berkshire, an area I know very well having run several races in the region.

Once more chat consumed us but we were driving forward with purpose. I found myself chatting with Nicola, while Martin and Kieran took up the rear but we ended up starting to separate a little and after so long together I wasn’t keen on leaving Kieran.

I always feel a sense of togetherness when you’ve come so far with a person or people and I genuinely looked forward to getting through this together.

Mere moments after the couple had departed we found civilisation again, tarmac, roads, lights, life. My spirits immediately lifted – we must have made it? but the watch still said 4km.

Surely it must be wrong? It wasn’t wrong.

I found myself waddling along as quickly as I could trying desperately to finish but also trying desperately not to release the shit I’d needed for the last 10 miles, this would be the final ignominy – shitting myself on the side of the road just a mile or so from the end.

I wonder what it says about me that I’d put a medal shaped piece of metal ahead of my bowel health in terms of life importance? Still no time to think about my poo or question my life choices because a support vehicle broke the thoughts of my introspection

The vehicle pulled up alongside us and I did wonder if we were being timed out but Wayne simply checked we were all okay. Well the answer to that was no, I did for a moment consider asking for a lift and a load of bog roll, but I’d worked too hard to give up now so bollocks to that and we replied, ‘yeah, all good’.

The road to Moffat seemed to take forever and again seemed a little cruel, having already travelled much more than the 50 miles of the race title and more than the 56 miles offered in the race description. At this point we picked up another runner who had been round the houses in terms of going in the wrong direction, Mark (may have gotten your name wrong, it was a long day) despite this he remained intensely jolly and I feel he helped make this last stretch seem that little bit less agonising.

But when we arrived into Moffat and the town square there was no immediate sign of the finish, our exhausted brains couldn’t see the thing we needed, a sign, a person, a marker – we found ourselves hunting round the town square and then I saw the bus that would be headed back to Dalry. I ran through the town and asked the driver if he knew where the finish was but he didn’t, thankfully one of the members of the bus did and they showed me on their phone but as I turned to race it in the RD rolled up with a grin on his face. ‘I’ll take you down’ he said.

I was relieved – though my ever gurgling bowels were at the point of collapse!

We ambled through the town and Wayne asked if fancied running it in as we closed on the finish line and of course I’m such a sucker that’s my feet rose and sprinted those last few hundred metres, in fact I was going so fast that I overshot the finish line and had to double back. What a numpty.

At the finish line was Kieran and a few others collecting their medals and without much fuss it was all over.

I was relieved to have survived but survive I did and just in time.

  • Distance: 56+ miles
  • Ascent: 2800 metres
  • Date: May 2021
  • Location: St John’s Town of Dalry
  • Cost: £79
  • Entrants: 50
  • Terrain: Trail
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route
I’ve often driven the M74 and wondered, ‘what are those hills? They look fun, one day I’ll go and run amongst them.’ Well GB Ultras helped my achieve an ambition and the route for the most part did not disappoint. There was a really good mix of scenery to keep you entertained and it was often breathtakingly beautiful – reminding me a little of The Pentlands but without the monotony of their nearby sibling.

The little villages that we came across on the route served as excellent stopping points and often reminded me of those little chocolate box towns that you only get in places like the Cotswold or the Highlands. These border locations really are a treasure that deserve a greater degree of exploration by those visiting Scotland.

I really appreciated that the race route was mostly trail – sometimes a race can be described as trail but with have large swathes of the route on tarmac, but not here. The Southern Upland Way offers a route directly through and mostly over Scotland’s greenery and the race is all the better for that.

Perhaps that is the benefit of being run on one of the great trails of Scotland – the trail has already been defined. This though is also one of the downsides of the route – the hidden paths and trails around the Southern Upland Way clearly had so much to offer and although we got some fantastic views and a great route there were so many interesting pockets to explore that the route bypassed.

I understand the practical and technical reasons for following the Southern Upland Way but I could see how there might be opportunity to return to the area and experience a very different running or hiking day.

The elevation at around 2800 metres was fine and although steep in places it was nothing to overly concern yourself with, regular hill training would cover what is effectively like climbing three small Munros. Over the course of my additional mileage I managed to clock up nearly an extra 500 metres of elevation – my legs felt every single centimetre of that! Ooof.

The downhill of the route was different and reminded me of some very rough and tough races I’ve attempted like MIUT. I was incredibly grateful for my running poles, as once my knee had gone I needed the poles to reduce the searing pain while descending even the lightest incline.

Ultimately the route was beautiful and wonderful but also very, very cruel and it asked much of those running it, I suspect it asked even more of those, like myself, who haven’t seen a hill in the last year.

What I will add is that the Southern Upland Way for all its beauty lacks surprise or perhaps one great money shot moment – perhaps I’ve been spoilt by things like the Skye Trail Ultra which is mostly money shot or the SainteLyon which has a couple of really outstanding ‘take your breath away’ moments. The trouble with that is that when I look back on this I won’t find a defining moment of the race in terms of the route, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing and worth pointing out if you like your routes filled with those ‘Instagram’ moments.

Organisation
GB Ultras remind me a little bit of Centurion Running in that they are well organised, highly regarded by the running community, have a decent social media presence to create strong word of mouth for their events, have good, well marked routes and put on events that people want to run. As the RD, Wayne Drinkwater is very visible and this I think gives confidence to the runners that a well organised event is upon them, and they’d be correct – it is well thought out and well executed.

Pre-race communication was lengthy but full of detailed information and the Covid video was helpful (though I did struggle to find the mandatory kit video).

The thing that was hardest was probably the social media stuff – lots of different pages, lots of different events, lots of crossover and that was a little confused – perhaps some rationalisation of these pages would help in terms of finding things and knowing where to ask questions. For example despite reading through everything I could not find mention of whether running poles were allowed and I didn’t want to bother the RD and the team knowing that they would be incredibly busy in the final days leading up to the event. I’m sure that information is available but I couldn’t find it.

The covid secure systems they had in place seemed to work very well and although they reduce the overall atmosphere of the event they did allow it to take place. I found the race start to be perfectly well executed and despite my trepidation about doing these covid secure events I would say GB Ultras got it spot on.

I would also like to mention the tracking which although perhaps not 100% accurate was certainly mostly accurate and when you were off course the team knew about it and were trying to get in touch with you. This is a vast improvement over some of the tracking we’ve witnessed over the years and that’s a clear indication that the technology is finally catching up with the idea. It’s also worth saying that the Southern Upland Way has pretty good phone reception and so if the GB Ultras team is trying to get in touch they may well actually get through. Not all locations in Scotland have phone reception on a race route – something I quite like because you can’t be disturbed and you can keep your phone in airport mode!

It’s also worth noting that there were pictures and videos aplenty flying around the event and it’s quite an achievement that the GB Ultras team had time to be capturing pictures and footage as well as ensuring the more important stuff got done – like feeding me cake! Well done guys!

All in all the GB Ultras organisation was on point and handled incredibly well given the Covid guidelines.

Value for Money
This is always a big one for me in terms of determining whether I would run it again or perhaps more importantly whether to tell other runners about this race. So the cost is £79 and what do you get for that? For starters there’s the race itself, the excellent indoor checkpoint locations, the race tracking and the support when you go significantly off route. There’s the medal and there is a decent crack at good and varied checkpoint food.

So £79 (plus about £10 for the bus back to the start if you need transport) is it worth it? I think so – it’s not really much more than the magic £1 per mile which used to be a significant marker in race costs – what you’re getting is a lovely, tough, well managed day in the hills and that is well worth the money being charged.

Awards
Medal, big medal, golden medal. Done.

I was glad there was no t-shirt because I’m not sure I could wear one that had the Union flag on it, as a pro-Scottish Independence, SNP voting Englishman living in Scotland it would have felt weirdly hypocritical to put one on, however, I thought the medal was very nice and really quite understated – it sits proudly at the top of my stairs with its brothers and sisters.

Volunteers
I remember thinking at my first ultra marathon all those years ago as I stared at the poor volunteers, ‘fuck I hope I don’t die because you guys couldn’t handle dealing with the dead body’. As I ran into each and every checkpoint of the Ultra Scotland I knew that each member of the checkpoint probably not only knew how to deal with the body but probably had a good idea on how to dispose of me too. The volunteers were exceptional, every single person knew the drill and they remained Covid secure throughout.

Kudos to them for remaining both diligent, supportive and in some cases amusing. Being a volunteer at an endurance event can be a cold, lonely and thankless job but these guys were amazing – so thank you all.

The Runners
I sometimes think that when we consider races or write reviews we forget that actually it’s mostly about the runners – we tend to focus on medals, routes, organisation but having the race against the background of the pandemic reminded me that without runners willing to train, travel, get wet, potential fuck themselves up – well then races wouldn’t take place at all.

I’ve mentioned the awesome Kieran whom without, I wouldn’t have made it to the end, I’ve mentioned Nick who was simply brilliant and I expect to see his name against some really big challenges in the coming years – there was something about him and I’ve mentioned a whole host of other names but I did say I’d come back to Michelle and here we are! I was introduced to Michelle via social media a few days before the race through a mutual acquaintance – the evergreen Grant Wilcox. Anyway we exchanged a couple of messages and wished each other well saying we’d chat if we saw each other.

Well I met Michelle several times over the course of the race and even stated out loud that I hope she was going to make it back in time – what I didn’t realise was the Michelle I met on the route was the Michelle I had spoken to via social media.

What a dumbass I am.

Worse than that it would take me at least another couple of days to connect the two. Bloody numpty! Anyway the good news was that she made it and I’m happy about that. Should I meet her again I will definitely tell her the real story of the Snowdonia Marathon though and how I came to meet our mutual buddy – Grant!

I suppose the thing about this running of the Ultra Scotland is that only about 50 runners turned out for it but actually it felt like many more and the runners should be congratulated for their part in making the event of the success that it was.

My Race
Well as you’ve read I had a both brilliant and torrid time, I went in injured but reasonably well trained and I came out injured further and totally ruined. That said I had a great time getting this ruined and despite a late finish I got up to hike Gray Mare’s Tail the next morning and was back running on the Monday. I wish my knee had held up because I knew about my hamstring and felt I could manage that but the knee was unexpected and that both threw me and slowed me significantly. So it wasn’t a disaster for me – I mean I finished but I didn’t finish the way I wanted and that’s disappointing.

Conclusions
What can I say about the Ultra Scotland 50? Well it’s a tough as old boots challenge that lives up to trail running label, it has superb organisation and a great team behind it. GB Ultras deserve all the plaudits they get from the running community and managing to stage a Covid secure event deserves extra credit.

There are a few niggles though, but nothing dramatic and certainly nothing that would stop me entering – the big bugbear was that this is closer to 60 than 50 miles even in the official distance and by the time you’ve added on your extra mileage it is definitely reading more like a 60 mile race, I suppose I could try and get better at navigation but where’s the fun in that? I understand that for marketing it’s better to have a set of 50 mile races but it is inaccurate.

I enjoyed the race and I feel like it’s one that you could easily have a good crack at regardless of your level but it’s a ‘no prisoners’ kind of a race and if the weather was shit then this would be a real ball breaker – something to think of given this is Scotland, in early spring and snow, wind and rain isn’t unusual! We got pretty lucky with the weather but even in decent conditions the wind at the hill tops was cold and happy to give your face a good blasting.

Would I do it again?

Well I’d be in no rush to sign up again because I feel that I’ve experienced the Southern Upland Way path and if I were going to run there again it would be on new trails. That said I enjoyed this enough to consider going back and improving on my performance at some point in the future and I felt that GB Ultras put on a great event and therefore I’d be very happy to go and try one of their other races next year – the Pennine Barrier being the one that most interests me.

Is it worth you doing it? Well that’s up to you – you can find out more about this race and their other events on the GB Ultras website.

As for me I’ll be polishing my medals (not a euphemism) and reviewing the Great Glen Ultra in July, once I’ve run it – 71 miles, argh!

Ultraboyruns: The Adventure Podcast episode 5 will be released before the end of May (previous episodes here) and there will be further YouTube adventures coming up (previous adventures here). See you out there.

Thanks to GB Ultras for some of the checkpoint and finish line photographs.

Much has changed in the last few months, I’ve dropped over 13kg in weight, I’ve finally grown an ultra beard, I now own two kayaks and a paddleboard, ASK Adventurer turned 6 and oh yes… COVID 19

You’ll all be aware that racing has been off the agenda for most of 2020 due to the pandemic and only in the last few weeks has it really shown any return, albeit, that return, at the time of writing, is in jeopardy.

While I realise that running events not happening isn’t the end of the world, it does effect me, but being so long since my last race I wondered if this enforced absence might have seen my racing love, wane somewhat.

Then along came the lovely Luke Gow who I’d met at the Nocturnal Ultra a couple of years ago (evening geezer) and he suggested that Ultra North in Northumberland might be going ahead and would have spaces. What a cheeky little bugger manipulating me like that…

Well of course I immediately checked out the website and given I’m susceptible to even the lightest race persuasion* I soon found myself stumping up the entrance fee. (*this seems an odd phrase on re-reading, I need to practive my writing more).

Ultra North comes from the same people who do things like The Great North Run and the Great Swim Series – as a larger events organisation I would normally avoid them – because experience suggests that the profit motivation goes before the quality of the event. However, after swimming in a couple of the Great Swim series I had high hopes that this would be one of the better ‘large’ events.

Ultra North was targeting a wide running base in its advertising as it was being suggested as suitable for both speed demons and those of us with more of a snails pace and in this sense it opened its arms to all who were willing to give it a go. With generous cut offs and lots of support – plus two race distances this was, on paper, a good novice ultra event. Perhaps on paper you’d have read this as a road marathoner and thought ‘I could do Ultra North’.

Ultimately I was quite happy that I was signing up to a race that wasn’t to my usual tastes but the question is did it prove to be better than my expectations and dud it reignite my racing fire?

We’ll get there in a minute.

Anyway we drove down to a place about an hour outside of the start in Newcastle called Bellingham and camped overnight – this meant there wasn’t a near 3hr sprint from Scotland to the start line. This enable me to have a much more relaxed approach to reaching the registration point and with all the COVID regulations in place you really wanted to be arriving in a semi relaxed state.

Weather conditions promised heavy rain so the outdoor registration system was a bit miserable but the team behind Ultra North were quick, effective and as enthusiastic as you could hope for. It wasn’t perhaps your typical Geordie welcome but these are unusual times we live in.

I collected my race number and affixed it to my leggings and then lined up, all very simple. The Eagles Arena car park had been set up to give the runners adequate space to social distance and runners were sent off in groups of 3. It wasn’t a race start to write home about – COVID has sapped the energy out of events – but this is to be expected and so as we were sent on our merry way I remembered that this is temporary and that for the first time since the Falkirk Ultra I was racing again.

The route lumbered its way through some very uninspiring kilometres which had me worried, the tarmac was hard and the roads grey and without joy – if the whole event was like this then it was going to be a truly miserable day. However, the runners, many of whom were from the north east had the lovely chatty, friendly personality I had come to expect and COVID had not managed to beat that. I both listened in and joined into conversations that passed me and that I went past. That was lovely and thankfully once we were closing in on the first checkpoint at 13km the route was becoming more interesting I started to enjoy myself.

It was in the last couple of kilometres to checkpoint one that I met the lovely Leanne who was a first time ultra runner and looking incredibly strong. We chewed the fat a bit before saying farewell as we set off for checkpoint two but I had no doubt she had a great finish in her. Her energy gave me the drive to push onwards to CP1 when I might normally have dragged my heels a bit – so thank you!

The checkpoints were very simply laid out with all the bits you could want and it was very much self help (which I prefer), a one way system through the CP and hand sanitising before you tuck in.

Now because I’m on a weight loss fight I decided not to stuff my face, so it was a small amount of cola, one chocolate pancake thing and then gone.

From here we crossed the Tyne for the first time and off for a series of climbs into the ‘wilds’ of Northumberland and the route provided those with road shoes on something of a challenge as we climbed muddy, wet, rocky trails. This was probably my favourite section but I did hear a number of the runners cursing this and describing it as tough (ha! wait until you try MIUT then you’ll know tough!). All the road running was worth these lovely little bits of trail and I was disappointed when the climbing and the mud abated. Still back to the roads and actually as I passed through little villages and lovely bits of England I had never before seen I found a great sense of joy – I’ll be honest this was mildly tempered by the soaking I had taken and continued to take.

I passed by the next checkpoint in good time and was only mildly concerned that one of the marshals offered me the ambulance. He must have misinterpreted my response to; ‘do you need anything?’ To which I had replied, ‘a lift back?

It was in this section that I met Chris (if I’ve got your name wrong my apologies), we chatted for a bit and I encouraged us to a bit of running – he told me that the running we’d done had been the longest he’d done in a while. When I left him to carry on running I was convinced he would make it and sure enough as I was driving home I saw him coming into the final kilometre looking as determined as when I had left him. Good job fella!

I was now into the last 20km or so and was bang on time, not too fast, not too slow. I hit the third checkpoint and was in and out pretty quickly but as I left the checkpoint I noted ASK and the GingaNinja approaching and waving wildly from Rona!

I stopped mere seconds to wave at them and tell them I had to continue – they would thankfully come and see me later in the race which was a perfect pick me up at about 45km.

More tarmac passed under my weary feet and for someone who had weak glutes, no core stength, trail shoes on and very limited training in the bank this was proving a killer, not that I’m looking for excuses, obviously.

There was also the back injuries that have plagued me since about 2015 resurfacing at 20km and made the weight of my race vest feel very heavy and draining indeed. That problem is going to be a very serious issue for The Cheviot Goat in a few weeks time. Here though the problem manifested itself as severe pain across the middle of my back and so I would hoist my race vest higher up my back to alleviate the stress points.

Regardless I pushed onwards as I knew that I was now not going to DNF, even with the back pain I could push through and claim my first medal in months. It was at about 40km though that the dynamic of the race changed for me and I met a young man with a nice beard called Lewis and we got chatting during one of my regular refuelling and walking breaks. We found ourselves chewing the fat over all sorts of topics and I found his company delightful and very distracting from my back trouble.

I could have run on from him as I had the energy to do it, but I made a decision that his speed walking pace was sufficiently excellent, my back was in pieces and if we maintained this pace I’d only be 40 minutes slower than if I were running and so despite both of us clearly stating, ‘please crack on if you need to’ we stayed together and talked (hopefully) about useful, useless and running things for the final three hours of the event!

As we crossed the Millennium Bridge across the Tyne I recounted my last running in Newcastle (Rat Race’s The Wall – review here), I was even able to identify the nightclub where a drunken Geordie lass offered to help myself and another runner up to the finish despite not being able to stand herself – I have no idea if there’s a euphemism in there but there might have been at the time of the original event.

Great memories.

I was surprised that lots of the runners I spoke to were considering or had run The Wall, I’d urge everyone to make sure you’ve looked round at alternatives, The Wall is very expensive for what you’re getting and the north and north east have a lot of great value, great running events. Just saying.

Anyway with the wind on our back and the rain on our faces Lewis and I ambled gently towards the finish. I was now very cold, partly due to an extended stop at the final checkpoint, partly due to a gruelling 8hr soaking, so I was keen to finish but the cold and the speed walking had drained any notion of running the last kilometre.

Lewis and I waited until we could see the finish before we put on a short burst of speed and crossed the eerily quiet finish line and the collection of our rewards.

An odd day, a good day.

  • Distance: 55km
  • Ascent: Around 550 metres
  • Date: October 2020
  • Location: Newcastle
  • Cost: £65
  • Entrants: 109 finishers
  • Terrain: Mixed, lots of tarmac
  • Tough Rating: 1/5

Route
This one isn’t going to win any prizes for being the most scenic but it has its moments, ultimately I think you know what you’re likely to be getting into when the compulsory kit says ‘debit card’ to buy supplies if you need them.

If you’re a fast road runner and fancying the transition to trail this would be a great route to get some testing into your feet or if you’re new to the ultra marathon scene then this won’t come as too much of a shock. The route has a lot in common with the aforementioned ‘The Wall’ in that the amount of road running is quite high. However, if you’re aware of this or have a preference for it then you’re going to enjoy yourself. If you’re an out and out trail runner then this might not be one for you.

These are also a couple of iconic moments on the route too – obviously the run alongside the Tyne is a must see if you’re coming to Newcastle and this brought back a shitload of great memories for me. Running the last bit with Lewis as well gave it a nice social element that we’ve all been missing since racing stopped.

Anyway I can’t actually be negative about the route overall, it is mostly quite good fun (well except for that shitty first few kilometres but every race has a bit like that). I would urge the Ultra North organisers to see if there are any ways to add in some of the lovely trails that lined the roads of the route – I realise this probably means greater organisation and costs but it would make for a more complete route and would certainly draw runners like me back.

Organisation
I would struggle to fault the organisation, it was very well oiled. The checkpoints were well spaced out and well thought out, the marshalls were all well organised and well drilled, all instructions, both on the day and pre-race, were clear and the COVID side of things was handled with all the grace and clarity it could be. Ultra North should be commended for managing to put on a city starting event and yet maintain the required level of protocols.

A special note of course to the marshals without whom these events could not take place, each and every one of them that I came into contact with was doing a spectacular job and while it might not have been cuddles and kisses there was a lot of support and encouragement and no hint of pressure to get out of a CP. Well done guys.

Value for Money
Always a tricky one, this race was about £65 which I consider a fair amount for a race. What did you get? You got a well organised, well supported race across a circular route and a medal and T-shirt where you could see were bespoke. The food at the checkpoints was plentiful, nice and varied and so, yes, Ultra North offered good value for money.

Awards
Bespoke medal and shirt (size medium, that’s what a bit of weight loss will do for you). I liked the medal and shirt, very vibrant, much like the rest of the excellent event branding.

Conclusion
Any runner, and I mean any runner or long distance walker, could find enough good reasons to take part in this.

It’s short enough for a a marathon runner to test their ability on a new distance, mixed terrain runners would enjoy the variety, new to ultra distance runners will find it not too challenging and experienced ultra runners will enjoy the day out in Newcastle not being covered in as much shit as usual.

It’s possibly not the event that you’ll remember as the best you ever did but does that really matter? It was a fun day out as far as I am concerned and remember I was soaking wet for 8hrs. Would I return to run it again? I would certainly consider returning – though I think the October date is much better than the original March date that is pencilled in for this and if the route was made a little more of the trail features found all over this landscape then you’ve got a bona fide hit.

Racing Fire
Did Ultra North return my racing fire? Sort of – I’m now looking forward to The Cheviot Goat much more than I was – but COVID 19 has removed a lot of the fun of racing for me.

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I’ve been locked down for a few days now – unable to leave the house, never mind go running. I mean I could have visited the treadmill but I don’t have a good relationship with the treadmill – we treat each other with disdain.

I’ve also been having a huge amount of fun eating toblerone and eating toblerone requires concentration and so you can’t run. When I haven’t been working, I’ve been eating and vice versa. Life is a super exciting rollercoaster at the moment.

Yesterday though I said to ASK would you like to go running in the garden?

She replied, ‘yes please, can we have a race’ and I told her that if she ran 100 laps of the garden I’d give her the virtual medal she hadn’t quite earned from her March running, and that yes we could race it. 100 laps of the garden would be enough to cover the last couple of miles she needed and she seemed happy to try it. I told her that I’d carry on and do maybe 200 laps and she seemed pretty happy about the arrangement.

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The trouble is that the layout of our garden is not very conducive to running for a number of reasons;

  1. It’s on multiple levels
  2. It’s multi-surfaced
  3. The runnable bit isn’t very big

Regardless I managed to devise a route that would take in the bulk of the paths of the garden, a rock jump and some steps – all this in under 50 metres. Had I been smarter I could have used the front garden too and the two side passages wither side of the house which would have made it more like a 200 metre loop but I figured the pain of torment of such a small loop would at the very least test our mental strength.

I told ASK that we must move at slow and steady pace and that the garden was full of opportunities to injure ourselves and so we must be careful. Anyway ASK was off like a rocket  and calling out to me to hurry up – I was choosing to run just behind her incase any of the garden obstacle proved the undoing of my rather slight five year old. 

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I had instructed both of us to put a layer on and also a buff to help keep us warm but as the laps started falling we found that both of us were wildly overdressed and quickly disposed of our layers. ASK was quick round the course, racing up the steps and then bounding down the narrow path down and making jolly good fun of the rock leap at the bottom of the narrow path.

She refused to let me pass and lead the way – even when we had water stops she would say, ‘dad are you ready?’ and then immediately step out infant of me to get a bit of a head start. As we hit 50 laps she started to slow a little bit – not on the downhill but on the steps and the climb back up to the top of the garden. I offered words of encouragement and gave her regular updates as to how many laps we had completed and more importantly, how many were left to go. 

Thankfully her mid-run lull lasted about 10 laps and then she had some fire in her belly as I said there were barely 30 laps left. With all the energy she could muster I could see the pumping of her arms driving her ever forward. 10 laps to go and I called out to her that there were about 20 laps still left, because clearly she wasn’t keeping count, and as the entered the last 3 laps I finally revealed we were nearly there. She shot off but I called out to her that there were still 3 laps left – and thankfully she slowed a little bit, allowing me to catch her up.

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As she passed the ‘checkpoint’ for the final time I called out to her that this was the last lap and that I was going to win. With gusto I started tailgating her around the lap, making her call out to, ‘stop it dad!’ to which I replied, ‘well go faster!’

She did.

The last 20 metres were quick as lightning and she crossed the line with a little jump in the air and a big slurp of water in the late afternoon sunshine. A very happy young lady was soon awarded the virtual medal she had now finally earned – that makes it about medal number 26 that she’s achieved and this one was in very special circumstances.

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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 cou