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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘I think I need another race,’ where the unlikely words to come out of the GingaNinja after the Mince Pi Run. It’s not that she has suddenly become enamoured with the idea of running or racing its more to do with the need to be healthy and a healthy example to ASK. With that in mind I found the Lamberhurst 5km event on New Years Day – a little road bimble that I had imagined would be a nice and easy leg stretcher. Let me assure you readers that the Lamberhurst event (the 5 or 10km) is no easy bimble but it is a shedload of fun – this is what happened…

Living about 30 miles from the race start I decided to use the opportunity to practice my driving along the country roads of Kent and with the rain being heavy this was going to prove a big challenge for someone who finds the idea of driving a nerve shredding experience. Thankfully I pulled into Lamberhurst at about 9.30am just as Google had predicted with all three of my runners intact.

Our GingaNinja inspired attendance was supplemented by myself and ASK for a 5km party of three. We ambled along to the village hall where I got a sense that the route wasn’t as flat as I had imagined… hmm. Still we grabbed our race numbers, a toilet stop and then waterproofed ASK (as she would be ‘running’ on the Unirider offering inspiring words to her mum) and soaked up some of the post New Years Eve cheer that clearly was still in the air.

As is often the way at races where ASK runs with us on the Unirider we receive lots of attention and this was no different with many of our fellow runners wishing us well or offering a cheery nod to ASK – something that I believe makes the experience much more positive for my toddler.

At the start line we chatted with more runners even as the rain began its downpour! ASK advised that she was getting wet but I promised that we would soon be running and wouldn’t notice the rain. At least half of that was true and we soon set off with the GingaNinja a little behind us.

The first challenge was a wonderfully steep hill and we shouted encouragement to the GN to keep on going as the hill got steeper. ASK and I powered past people and reached the first section to flatten out and gave the GN a chance to catch up, but our respite was short lived and we were all soon pushing onwards and with the field clear of the faster runners we could trundle happily along in the wet conditions.

ASK and I weaved in and out of the route and the remaining runners as we headed downward and back toward the village hall, giving the Unirider a real race test on the tarmac rather than the trails we normally run on.

Straight from the downhill though we entered our second significant climb but the GingaNinja had paired up with one of the lovely runners and I had got chatting to a lovely chap called Kev who like me had a youngster and was a Mountain Buggy user for taking his son out. Of course we chatted about the Unirider but also general running and this helped make the event much more fun for all. Of course ASK and I circled back to ensure that we all stayed together – this was very much a family race – and we continued to shout encouragement as the race progressed.

As we entered the next downhill we went a little quicker but my problem was that the heavy rain had stayed on the race course and ASK was getting mildly wet feet, actually very wet feet – thankfully like the superhero she is she didn’t complain and we thundered down the hill being greeted by the returning runners from the turnaround point.

We passed through what looked like a country house at the turning point and passed a grandfather and granddaughter running together – both looking brilliant and I used the young lady as an example to ASK of what she could be doing if she carries on being active. ASK was excited by this as the girl was almost all in pink!

The final climb was also the most challenging given the water on the course and its steep nature but both myself and the GingaNinja gave it our all and I suggested that we would wait at the top of the hill for her (and shout out support of course). I wheeled in behind the lovely marshal but had made a minor miscalculation in my turning circle and ASK fell off the Unirider for the first time. Thankfully we were almost stopped and no harm was done other than some wet gloves and a bit of a shock. There were also a few tears and so I cuddled my awesome little daughter and said, ‘don’t tell your mum’. She replied with the, ‘alright dad’ and jumped straight back on. However, her hands were now cold and with the rain still heavy she wanted to finish.

I told the GingaNinja what had happened and all credit to both of them we sped up to get back to the warm as fast as possible. The downhill was fun and I think we all enjoyed the run into the line with people cheering my daughter in and I heard the GingaNinja gave her name called out.

We finished and collected medals (mine immediately becoming the property of ASK) and headed indoors where we stripped off and put on warmer kit. What a belter!

Conclusions: Incredibly family friendly, lots of youngsters doing the child’s race, lots involved with their parents and grandparents in the main race. A nice, warm village hall at the start and a really, really fantastic route that could be as fast or as sedate as you wanted. The Lamberhurst races should be everyone’s start to the year and with the opportunity to grab a wonderful medal who wouldn’t want to do this on a wet New Years Day? Another great event from Nice Work and thanks for letting ASK take part with the Unirider, we are very grateful.

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  • Running poles making ascents and descents easier
  • GPS to making navigation a doddle
  • Compression kit to reduce muscle fatigue

What do all these things have in common? These are all aids many of us use to help complete long distance endurance events.

I use running poles when allowed, I almost always use a GPS device even if a map isn’t loaded on to it and before I realised compression kit was causing all sorts of injury problems I would often be found in ridiculously tight fitting attire.

There are two aid types though that I wonder about, the first I don’t use, the second I do (when I can convince the GingaNinja to rock up to a race registration).

Pacers and Crews: The aid I don’t use that I’m referring to are pacers and it was after seeing some amazing finishes at hundred milers and the like that got me wondering if using a pacer increases the likelihood of a finish and whether by using them are runners on a level playing field?

The other aid are crews – which I do, on occasion, use and I believe that in the early days of my ultra marathoning I really wouldn’t have gotten very far without a crew and the support they offer. But do they give me and others who use them an edge on race day?

Reading lots of recent race reports and talking to runners it’s clear that there is an appetite for the use of both pacers and crews but does it take away something of the challenge? Increasingly my view is becoming that yes, these things are taking away from something that, at its best, in my opinion, is a solo sport.

Perhaps if they’re going to be in play there should be greater scrutiny about how a crew and pacers can be used as I’ve witnessed some things during recent races that has made me wonder if too much crew access and too much pacing is creating an unfortunate imbalance in ultra marathons.

I met a Spanish runner at about 30 miles into an unsupported race recently and we ran together for maybe 12 miles. I enjoyed his company very much but the curious thing was that his crew met him at five different points along the route during the time we were together. Each time he would stop, chat, change kit, have a nibble, check his route, have a sit in the warm vehicle etc. It felt like the spirit of the race was not being adhered to and there were others too during this particular event that had cars literally following them down the roads – with family members joining in for a few miles as pacers – picking up food at McDonalds, etc. I’ve met people who’ve run past their homes or near enough to detour and been witness to them going indoors, changing wet or filthy kit, filling up food and then simply popping back on the route – all I should point out, within the rules of the race. I don’t begrudge this level of support – hell, if I could get it my DNF percentage wouldn’t be so high! However, though I’m far from a purist in running terms I do feel this takes some of the shine off the effort required.

The pacer question is very much a personal choice and are often subject to specific race rules but for me these are an aid that detract from one of the most important aspects of a race – the mental challenge. I could pluck an arbitrary percentage out of the air but I’d suggest that most endurance races are won and lost in the mind and not in the body. The pacer therefore can have a real, tangible effect on a racers performance and we are back to the point about imbalance.

All this said though I’ve been known to buddy up with runners on a route in order to ensure a finish although always with the agreement that if the pacing didn’t match we’d say goodbye and good journey. That changed a little bit when on the South Wales 50 when myself and two other runners joined up on the course then formalised our pacing/team running strategy to ensure that we all finished. It was perhaps this more than anything that got me wondering about just how much of a difference a pacer can make. Now to be fair Ryan, Pete and myself were all pretty ruined by the time we’d hooked up and it was as much about surviving the night as it was pacing but it gave me an insight to what a fresh pair of legs or a fresh attitude can do for a very tired ultra runner.

These days I’m much more a social ultra runner rather than a competitive one and I tend not to think too much about my position in the field, preferring to concentrate on taking in my surroundings and having a lovely time. However, this has got me wondering just how much better I might be if I had a team right next to me pushing me forward?

The purity argument: The reason I suppose I don’t do that and put together a team to get me through these things is simply because of my belief in the solo element. I probably would be a better runner if there was someone in my ear for the final 50 miles pushing me that little bit harder or if I had a crew with lots of kit ready and waiting. However, for me ultra running is being out there, facing myself and a trail and although I can very much respect other people’s decisions for using pacers and crews it’s less and less suited to me. Perhaps evidence of this was that the last time the GingaNinja crewed for me was the Thames Path 100 in 2015 – here she met me several times armed with chocolate milk, kit options and a regular stern talking to but since then she’s mainly been at starts and finishes if there at all and in truth I prefer this. Although it’s scary to think you’re on your own it really does heighten the elation (for me) upon completion.

All this said I’ll still be using poles (periodically) and GPS – I’m not giving those up anytime soon, I mean I’m not completely stupid! Therefore am I a hypocrite for suggesting pacers and crews detract from a level race but I’m perfectly content to gain an edge by using kit that some call ‘cheat sticks’ or by buddying up inside an event? I suppose it’s an individuals view and more importantly a race directors view and if you (or perhaps I) don’t like it well then I don’t have to sign up to that race.

And so… I’m curious about your views on pacers and crews, do you feel they offer you a better chance of finishing well? Do you think they give some runners an advantage that others don’t have? Would you consider them a hindrance? Or are they simply part of your ultra running armoury?


As I was stretching my calves yesterday within minutes of arriving home I realised for the first time in the near 5 years I’ve been running just how much time my favourite distraction takes up in my day.

And I began to wonder ‘is this normal?’

I started to look for research but most of it centres around what runners think about when they’re running. I’m interested in knowing if it’s healthy that I spend most of my day salivating at the prospect of running and looking through run related things.

My Daily Breakdown Let’s assume I get up around 5.30am and conclude my day around midnight – that’s a minimum of 18.5hrs per day to put running into.

So I wake up, showered, cup of tea, perhaps a yoghurt for breakfast and straight into my running kit. Place last few items of stuff into OMM 25 classic running bag. Spend at least a few minutes deciding which running shoes will cause me the least amount of aches on my RunCommute. I then begin the stretching that I need to do to make sure my glutes and calves don’t start firing the moment I leave the house and then at exactly 6.29am I leave the house for a couple of miles of running to the train station.

I usually arrive with seconds to spare, grab my seat and immediately reach for my phone to begin writing running blog posts, reading running blog posts or tweeting about running. That journey is about an hour and I usually get something out in the time, my only challenge being WordPress refusing to upload my photographs and a loss of signal as I enter Charing Cross.

As I leave Charing Cross I usually hit the afterburner and allow myself around 20-30 minutes of running through the backstreets of London, grabbing a snap or three of interesting buildings, sculptures or installations. Post run/pre work shower later I’m then usually hitting Instagram, replying to blog responses, etc – by 9am I’ve already done a reasonable amount of run related activities.

I’m lucky in my working life that my boss is also a runner and an extreme triathlete, this means much of the conversation during the day is about races, running, cycling and the Barkley. We supply each other with links to things such as stupid distance runs and ridiculously difficult OW swims.

If I ever got a lunch break then I’d be unlikely to run during it but I would (and on rare occasions do) go walking for an hour, this I feel helps keep my legs active despite having a sedentary desk job. However, when 5.30pm arrives I do my best to get out, get changed and hit the pavement – time and distance vary depending on running needs but I can be out for anything from 30 minutes to about 4 hours.

Once I arrive at a commuter train in the evening my time is usually spent doing one of a few things a) as tonight, blogging b) looking up races c) looking up kit d) looking up reviews for races or kit.

I might, if the fancy takes me, go for a bit more running (sometimes swimming) once I’m home but if not then it’s straight into foam rolling, stretching and preparing my running kit for the following day and so the cycle sets in again.

By the end of the day, if I’ve got either any energy or time left I’ll sometimes process race and running photographs for some slightly more creative, run related, projects I’ve been been working on but it amazes me how much of each and every day is spent revolving it’s way around my running endeavours.

It should be tiresome and dull, there shouldn’t be that much to blog about, there shouldn’t be that many races to look up or routes to run – but there is.

Do other aspects of my life suffer?
This I suppose is the real reason to ask the question. As a runner with a young family and a full time job both of these have been known to play second fiddle to my love of sport. However, I’ve never neglected either in favour of running, I think I’ve developed the art of multitasking and time management. I’ve let less important things slide in my life, things like peripheral friendships, days of hardcore nightclubbing, alcohol and working all the hours because these things were not improving either my life or aiding in the fulfilment of my running dreams. Obviously nothing’s perfect and sometimes I do misjudge the balance but I’ve come to understand how my own life works and I’m a better person for it.

Does running influence decision making?
Without a doubt running and the dominance of it in my life has a serious impact on decisions. The GingaNinja made certain choices about her new job because I wanted to ensure enough weekends were left free for me to be able to commit to racing. Running has been known to dictate holiday destinations, food choices and many other things. However, to me this doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, this feels like making the work/life balance right for me and the people around me.

However, I remember discovering the GingaNinja was pregnant. She told me from the shower cubicle and saying ‘Have you entered the CCC (2014)? Because you might want to rethink it as we’re probably having a baby that week’ – that’s the only time I’ve cancelled an entry and credit to the GingaNinja she provided a bloody good reason.

So does running dominate my life?
Yes probably,  however, I’m happy about the impact it has and I’ve developed it in such a way that it doesn’t negatively impact everything else, in my opinion it improves the rest of my life – but then I would say that. The benefits of life that is dominated by running are too numerous to list but my physical and mental wellbeing are infinitely better for it.

How about your running life? Do you spend most of your day in run related thoughts and activities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the line! I was delirious. 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Crossing the finishing line of the TP100 with UltraBaby. I was in a bit of a mess as I crossed the line for the finish but I insisted that I do it carrying my daughter who seemed somewhat nonplussed by the whole thing but for me it was a finish I will never ever forget. I’ll also never forget the paramedics trying to take her off me in case I dropped her as I crossed the line – as if I would.
  2. The Halfway Point of the Saltmarsh 75. Sat in the pub at the overnight camp for Saltmarsh was an experience in friendship. I feel compelled to mention  the awesome Ian Brazier, Simon Oswald and co who provided the most enjoyable mid point company possible. What made this even more amusing viewing though was the departure of several pairs of trousers so the runners could sit in nothing more than their compression tights. I’m not sure I ever want to see that again 🙂
  3. Returning to racing at the Vigo Valentines 10. Having had more than 6 months off in the previous year I hoped I had finally recovered from injury. This race gave me so much confidence to go into the rest of 2015, I wasn’t fast on the day but I had such fun.
  4. Thayer, Emma, Emma, Kat, Jools, Rachel, Traviss, Joanna, Kate, Joe, Conrad, Ben, Ian, Ian, Sam, Gill, Clare, Rob … The list is near endless of awesome runners I’ve had the opportunity to meet this year, and with each and everyone I’ve had a particular experience you can’t properly explain or put into words that would do it justice. The absolute highlight though was finally meeting EmLa and discovering she’s as awesome in person as she is on Twitter. If 2016 offers the same level of new/old and interesting people I’ll be a happy bunny.
  5. Medway 10km sprint finish. 200metres to go and I kicked a bit early – I mean who was I racing? Just me surely? Turns out the lanky streak of piss next to me didn’t want to be beaten by a short, middle-aged man wearing a buff and so he kicked with me! Ha! I kept pace with him until about the 90metres from home point and then I shouted over the fury of those final metres ‘You’ve got me kid, well done’. The problem was my legs were no longer attached to my mouth and I broke for a second kick and as I raced to the finish my opponent drifted into the distance behind me. Turns out in the timing chip scenario I’d beaten him by nearly a minute but there’s nothing more fun than a sprint to the finish line – especially on a track. Awesome.
  6. Jo! The TP100 had so many highlights but one of my absolute favourites is the one I keep retelling to other runners because it amuses me. I’d just finished having a very long piss when a young lady came across me. When she asked if we could run together for a bit I was perfectly happy to do so however, it was the ‘you don’t look like the type who’d rape me’ that ensured I would never forget Jo. She was some of the best (and strangest) company I’ve ever had on a race but it was a delight to come across her again at the Saltmarsh 75. Thanks Jo.
  7. A family race. The GingaNinja and I don’t often do the same events anymore, she’ll sometimes roll up to a 10km and I’ll sometimes do a swim but when the Westminster Mile reared its head I asked if she fancied it (and we invited her mum, who accepted). The four of us rolled up to the start line – UltraBaby strapped to my front and 8minutes 39seconds later my daughter finished as about the 200th fastest female – not bad given her feet didn’t touch the ground!
  8. New job, new boss, some understanding. Most people think you’re bonkers when you tell them you run hundred mile races or run through the night across mountains or spend hundreds of your hard earned pounds on Lycra but my boss (The Big G) is a bit of an extreme triathlete and therefore understands why I do what I do and I’ve spent most of the last working year chatting about upcoming races, looking up new races and discussing strategies. It’s possible I wouldn’t be running the Isle of Skye ultra in May if it hadn’t been for our conversations about it!
  9. Birthday. I’m a notorious grumpy bugger at my birthday but the GingaNinja made it much better this year by ordering, from France, without my knowing, the difficult to acquire at the time, Altra Lone Peak 2.5 (what a shoe!)
  10. Goodbye Verucca. I’d had this bloody thing for ages and it kept opening up incredibly painfully on long distance trails (especially the TP100). I’m useless with medical stuff so the GingaNinja dealt with it every night for nearly three months and managed to kill it off just prior to the SainteLyon. The reward was that my feet held up so much better on the trails because of her tenacity in dealing with a  terrible patient.

So fellow runners what about your highlights of the year?

*Please note that the above list is in no particular order

  
‘You’re still going?’ my grandmother cried, exasperated by how far I’ll go to run, ‘but those Muslims are killing people in France!’

My grandmother I should point out is an old style racist, the kind that makes snide comments about race, colour, gender, sexuality or appearance. She doesn’t appreciate that the attacks in France were NOT committed by Muslims, Catholics, Christians, Jews or any other religion – they were committed by people who hate and more importantly people who hate everyone and everything.

Obviously my grandmother is concerned that I’m off to race the Saintelyon in a few weeks time. She’s worried that a big event with runners might be a perfect target for a terrorist attack and in this she’s got a valid point – I mean let’s not forget how vulnerable runners are – Boston was not so long ago.

But at no point after the horrific events of last week did I think ‘maybe I shouldn’t go to France’. Infact I think it’s vital that I go to Saintelyon, it’s vital we all go and when asked on Twitter if I’d been put off I suspect my answer was already known.

I remember growing up with the IRA bombing cities and towns not far from me but there was never any doubt that life just went on, we got on with things and while I realise that this modern warfare is a whole new level of danger we must ensure we stand strong and simply ‘get on with the life we were leading’. Disruption, difficulty, suspicion, hate, panic these are the things that the attacks are meant to create – so why play into their hands? I’d rather be tolerant, supportive and tenacious.

So I am going to continue to be.

I’m not changing my avatars on social media instead I’m going to do what I always do and that’s be me. I’m going to go to France and enjoy the Saintelyon, I’m going to continue as a citizen of the world and embrace its diversity and I’m going to hope that there aren’t too many people like my grandmother out there because we all need to pull together whatever your background

Vive le France

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One of the dangers of being part of any running community is that you get dragged into things that later down the line you think ’what the hell was I doing? Was I drunk?’ The other very dangerous thing is that Facebook, as evil as it is, does have it uses.

Steve (our organiser) perhaps was a victim of both these things as he set up the wonderful group ‘2015 miles in 2015’. It’s similar to the fun some of us had doing the ‘2013 in 2013’ but this wasn’t organised, this was just random individuals posting their achievements on social media.

Steve’s excellent approach to bringing people together in 2015 is more organised, more social and more inclusive. The interactive spreadsheet that we all log our numbers on means that we have numbers to reach both in terms of staying on target for 2015 miles but also targets of catching other users on the list.

However, it’s the community aspect that’s really positive – we are all in this together, trying as hard as we can to beat the cold mornings and wet evenings. There is a lot of drawing on each other’s experiences without the stupidity that seems to be pervasive in other Facebook running groups. It’s got the members fired up and one look at the spreadsheet is proof enough that we are all going at this hard.

I’m sure there will be drop off – injury, disinterest and fatigue do take their toll and 2015 miles is a long way but I believe we’ll see most of those who started this journey reach the finish line (hopefully myself included).

Now as January and therefore the end of the first month has come around I figured it was worth adding just how far I’ve gotten.

Total: 268.36km
Cycling: 138.19km
Running: 130.17km
Days Effort: 19

At current rates I should just about scrape in for the 2015 distance but I’m aware that I slacken off a little in July and August to avoid the heat and I’ll be mindful of preparing myself for the CCC and the various other ultras I’ve got in the early part of the year. One of the things I really want to avoid is causing myself further injury, leaving me frustrated for the second half of the year but I’m hoping that being part of this group will help maintain my momentum and yet keep me grounded if I look like I’m about to go training bonkers!

So after my first month I’m really pleased and I look forward to a year of adventuring in and across mountains, in lakes, streams and mud, glorious mud but most of all I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with you and vice versa. Thanks guys.

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Whilst this post seems like it’s going to be a never ending bag of ‘isn’t my running life shit’ I hope the ending for those of you who get there is worth it. This post was written in three sections over the last 3 weeks. And apologies for the moaning tone.

Day 1 of writing this post
My physiotherapist has been very generous and kind, she did all she could to keep me on the road until the end of my 2014 race calendar but with each medal won she gave me a gentle reminder that these races and in fact each run was making things worse. She advised me that while I was continuing to do long distance running I wasn’t giving my body the required amount of rest and therefore wouldn’t be injury free. Now though I’ve reached the end of my 2014 race calendar and she’s not being quite so nice.

Sat on her table at 1.30pm on a Sunday afternoon is quite a scary prospect. She listened as I explained about the explosion of pain at my last ultra, she listened as I highlighted the various points that have been troubling me and she grimaced as I went through the length of time I have been struggling with these things.

She told me the following; I’m not allowed to run for several months and that if I don’t want to be in pain for the rest of my days I need to sort myself out. She spoke to me in just the way I needed and deserved – like I’ve been being a child. She did say if I work hard I’ll get back to running – IF I work hard at it.

She’s known, as well I have, that this day was always coming and for me it wasn’t until she got really stern that I finally just went ‘ok’ and aort of just broke down. That was a week or so back and it’s been just over 10 days or so since I was halted in agony at my last ultra and I’ve been working like there’s no tomorrow to try and fix this but I’m not even sure why.

I feel more like giving up than making a comeback.

Stretching, core, strengthening, core, more core, more fecking core, did I mention fecking core? I’m told I’m not allowed to pass the point of pain because I’m pretty ruined and pain is bad in this instance. The only pain I’m allowed is when I jam either a tennis ball or the GingaNinjas elbow in my glutes (then I cry). I’m doing what I’m told but more because I’m being told and not because I want to. Have I lost my mojo or is this just how you feel post DNF?

Day 2 of writing this post
My motivation is zero to do other exercise and that’s now perhaps the worst thing, I can’t be bothered. I look at my epic amount of running kit I own and see nothing but failure, perhaps what I see is a great big eBay sale but ultimately I’m scared I’ll never run again, scared I’ll never run a Centurion hundred mile race, mostly I’m scared that I’m a failure. A chap I know (reportedly, I didn’t hear it directly) took great pleasure in announcing my failure at my last race, that hurt a lot because my aim has never been to say ‘I’m better than you’ it’s always been to say ‘look at what you can do too, let’s go’. So while my physiotherapist helps me put my body back together how do I put my head into the right space?

My partner has refused to let me cancel any of next years races, she says they are my targets and she’s insisting I enter the CCC when the ballot opens because she believes the lure of a big race will create in me the fight needed to break my lethargy. Maybe she’s right, maybe she isn’t. But right now I’m going through the motions to try and find some mojo, some anything if truth be told.

Day 3 of writing this post
18 months of stupidity have potentially ruined my favourite activity but last night as I lay down with UltraBaby in one arm and my iPad in the other watching Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor heading through France in the excellent ‘Long Way Down’ I saw the mountain that originally inspired my love of ultra distances – the Mont Blanc – and although my desire to run that race has waned a little I felt all the desire to race to the top of it, through it, along it, around it. Even this morning as I feel the aching pain and sharpness running through my pelvis and right down into my foot I can hold on to that positive image of running once again up bitchingly steep elevations. As you can see I needed something and my glimmer of hope came from a most unexpected source at a most unexpected time and even if the end result is that I’ll never run properly again at least I’ll have tried which is a far cry from how I felt just a couple of weeks ago. Young Amy a wannabee ultra runner (SDW50 2015 entrant) told me only yesterday that time is a great healer – it seems she’s got a point.

On a final note I’ve been the recipient of some brilliant support. I’m not sure I appreciated it at the time as I was looking far too inward but I’m grateful and thankful for being a runner because we do support each other when things go wrong – so thank you.

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It’s Monday morning and I’m still a little bit tired, yesterday I spent my day painting an awesome new dinosaur mural for UltraBaby in the UltraCave or as my partner likes to describe it – the baby room. I woke up around 8.45 and threw myself almost straight into the haze of paint fumes and the cleaning of paint rollers, but that isn’t what I’m here to talk about – because a mere 18hrs earlier I was at one of the most wonderfully epic events I’ve ever done – the North Downs Way 100.

Most people who will read this are now probably imagining a tale of woe filled with grim images of my feet, complaints about the weather, underfoot conditions and all manner of technical hiccups I encountered but fear not, it’s not about that at all. Infact this is a tale about a guy who wanted to give something back to those who had supported him over the last 18 months of ultra running, this is a story about volunteering.

Now let me roll back about 8 weeks to my anguish at pulling out of the NDW100, that was one of the best and also most horrible decisions I’ve had to make as a runner – this hundred was my ticket into the UTMB, it was also the biggest test of both my physical and mental prowess but injury and having run too much on that injury have proved my undoing and I simply wasn’t going to be ready.

So when Nici at Centurion put out a call for people to help volunteer at CP10 Bluebell Hill I knew that this was the thing for me. I arrived therefore on the Saturday about 3.30pm and awaited the arrival of the chaps from Centurion so that we could unload the wagon and begin the process of setting up. gazebo, tables, hundreds of litres of water, tonnes of food and a team of excited and experienced runners all wanting to help provide support, solace or a kick up the arse to these hundred mile legends.

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Set up was reasonably quick and within an hour we were well on our way to being ready but Bluebell Hill is a notoriously windy spot and the gazebo didn’t look like it would take any kind of battering, this combined with the addition of walls to the gazebo meant that it simply wouldn’t stay down. But these are ultra runners and this is a highly regarded Centurion event. With the wave of a magic wand a new tent arrived with James Elson – lower to the ground, sturdier and bigger, this would be ideal and even with the attached walls this felt more secure and so in the wind we did the switch over – secured her down and knew we were ready ahead of time.

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Then came two lovely surprises, the first was some of the most amazing ‘Chocolate Crack’ from the equally amazing @abradypus and the second was a visit from the lady herself. My most kind thanks to you as ever my sweet! Your confectionary delights kept the crew going through the night!

We had heard rumours that some of the checkpoints had themed themselves as pirates and Christmas and while this wasn’t the case for us we were no less enthusiastic about the task at hand. We had a wonderfully energetic team of six – Sharon, Ellyn, Ronnie, Paul, Chris and myself. Ronnie as station manager was the one we looked to, but his calm was perhaps his best quality, which meant that we could simply set about making the food, getting up the seating and awaiting the first runners while also offering our conversational services to the crews and supporters of the runners.

Sharon took up her allocated position as time keeper atop the mound just outside the checkpoint, while the rest just waited for that very first runner. I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous – I’d never really met the super fast ultra runners and had no idea how quick they’d want water replenishing or service etc. but as Duncan strode in to CP10 to a very warm and rousing round of applause life became much simpler – he like every other ultra runner stopped, had a chat, ate some food – filled their water supplies. The thing I learnt very quickly was that the super fast ultra runners want the same thing I do (generally) help, support and a bit of respite.

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It was a bit of a battle of the titans at the front and we saw the first three runners in reasonably quick succession but then there were the inevitable lulls – but this allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the crews and supporters and even the marshals I was sharing the evening with. This was one of the things I was very happy to do because I know from my own crews experience that a friendly face and a friendly conversation can make all the difference to those waiting for loved ones.

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As more runners rolled in it became a busier job but actually it was never so hectic that we struggled. We welcomed each runner with a big smile and as best we could a humour filled heart. We knew that the more traumatic tales would start rolling in just in after midnight and this was very much the case – runners tired, sitting down, desperate for respite. It was now our job (as Ronnie reminded us regularly) to get the runners up and out. It was a combination of ‘you’re alright, keep going’ and ‘get off your arse and move’. It also started to become vital that we reminded runners to eat and drink, something I’m guilty of avoiding at the latter stages of an ultra. The saddest part though was the DNFs – boys and girls who had no choice but to retire and for them I felt every sympathy. But for every shattered dream there were a dozen other runners smiling and bouncing onwards – it was a glorious sight to behold.

It was about 1am (ish) when the heavy rain came down and therefore got even worse for the runners – lots were soaked to the skin but equally many remained jolly and the spirit of the ultra runner was in evidence the whole way round.

 

IMG_2319.JPGIMG_2326.JPGInside and outside the tent we continued to give the best support we could – I dried and compeeded several runners feet but I thankfully managed avoiding having to lance any blisters. There was one lovely French chap I helped dress in bin bags for the next leg, when I asked him if he wanted food he told me he was quite picky – ‘being French’ he said. However, I think hunger may have gotten to him and the wonderful array of fruit convinced him to eat.

CP10 started to wind down it’s operation at about 4.00am for a 4.45 cutoff – we had about 10 runners left to welcome, some very tired support crews and lots of fingers crossed they would make it. Volunteering had felt like the hardest type of fun you could have and I think (well from my perspective) that we had a well bonded unit that worked really well together and I hope all the runners felt that they received the support they needed. It was an amazing experience, a great honour and a challenge but most of all it was something I will most certainly go back to given the opportunity.

Next year I intend to run the NDW100 not because of volunteering and not because of having to pull out this year – I’m going to run it because it’s awesome.

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This weekend I stupidly entered the Challenge Hub 24hr.

Why stupidly?

Well this was my fourth ultra marathon in just 42 days, my sixth ultra of the year and thirteenth race of the year. I was exhausted going in and despite warnings from both my partner, running friends and my own body I had the desire to go for it because I’d heard so many positive things about the event organisers.

Now normally I would go on to talk my race through but I don’t really feel the need – we all know it probably went badly 🙂 however, I did pound out another ultra distance, claim another medal and have the honour of meeting some of the most amazing runners running today – you know who you are (Mal, Peter, Chris, Mike, etc).

What I would like to say is that Mike at Challenge Hub puts on events to rival anyone’s. You go to his event and it immediately feels like family, everyone involved in the set up (organisers, volunteers, medics) are amazing characters, and hugely friendly, as well as 100% effective. All the runners came away feeling very well looked after and having been put through a heck of an endurance event. If Challenge Hub comes back next year I will certainly be signing up to it. There was something beautiful and blissful about running around a multi terrain quarter marathon track as many times as you can with nothing but the sound of the frogs to scare you witless.

This was 100% awesome.

I learnt so much about endurance this weekend both in terms of how to treat your body but also how to keep running big distance into your 50s and beyond. This felt very much like a lesson in how to ultra. I’m so grateful to everyone. So for those that don’t get in to the North Downs Way 50 or some other equally interesting race can I recommend that you campaign vigorously (and sign up) for future Challenge Hub events and be involved in something truly special.

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I was sat alone in the large chamber of Lime Street Station when I decided I would actually review the WNWA96, I was tired and hungry and in need of being in my bed, I was done.

Before I start and before you read this there are a number of things I should say, the first I am going to get peoples names wrong, I am going to get some of the finer details wrong but this is an event like no other and so I’m going to tell it in the best way I can.

It was about 11.45am at Bluewater in Kent, my partner had wanted to return a few bit of a maternity wear to a shop because they hadn’t fitted and I had tagged along so that I could offer the opportunity to eat a dirty burrito. I figured what better way to carb load, I even had the mild salsa to avoid any serious complications in the ‘Paula Radcliffe’ department.

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I trundled home and started to get changed, everything seemed to be going well and laid my kit in front of me before applying lashings of wholesome Vaseline to almost the entire of my body. I clipped my Hoka to the side of my bag and headed off to the train station. As we sat outside the station saying goodbye it felt very different from all the other events I do, infact there was a sense of dread about this one and the tension in my face was visible. I kissed each one of my home team, The GingaNinja, UltraBaby, UltraHound and of course Thunderpad and waved them goodbye.

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I decided I would record the event in photographic terms, uploading them across various social media outlets, but the first would be Instagram and I would update on my progress in the event through blogging, Twitter and Facebook updates. I began snapping away on my rather uneventful journey to Sheffield and after a couple of trains, some short walks, a coach journey, tram ride and taxi hop plus a solid 8 hours in transit I arrived at Hillsborough.

I strolled down to the small car park where, in the glare of the lights, I could see the first of many friendly faces I would come across during my journey – Glen from Scoff Events. As I got down the stairs I said hello and he grabbed me a cup of coffee, what a guy. We chatted a little while and it all became clear that we had already met at the Great London Swim where he, myself and my dad had laughed and joked about life and stuff and now he was here making sure that we were all 100% fed and watered.

Feeling cheery therefore – although a little cold – I sat down in the car park and started to set myself up, compression sleeves on, buffs on compeed on my feet, Hoka on, water bottles filled, food compartmentalised, Suunto ready, iPod loaded. As I was doing this more and more people turned up including one of the event co-ordinators Cherie Brewster and they all set about the business of doing the things necessary to get us on our way. There was a nice air of relaxed panic about the place as people who clearly knew their places and hat to do worked hard to ensure that everything went off at the right time and in the right place and much of that is down to both Cherie and Steve Kelly whom we had the utmost faith that they would get it right on the day.

By the time 11.15 arrived the party was ready to hit full swing and I had the pleasure of meeting lots of lovely people. Gordon, on holiday in the Peak District had come over to support us. Owen, one of the walkers who had come on over from Houston – awesome. Nasher, gentleman, legend, poet and musician. Multiple Paul’s, a Debi, Brian, Des and of course Jimmy, the event mascot.

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As time was ticking on we were all called over to the memorial at Hillsborough and here would be a reading of the family names and Brian Nash would read a specially composed poem about his feelings on the tragedy. There was a sombre silence as the words echoed around the memorial. Brian read his poem with a beauty and sincerity that brought many to tears – including myself and as I saw my dad again I could see him ready to break down, it was here that I realised that no matter what else this was an event about community and the value of retaining your dignity and humanity.

Anyway, we returned to the general fits of giggles and laughs that would become the hallmark of the event, this was scousers on tour, yes it was nearly 1am and yes we hadn’t started yet and yes it was in memory of those who were lost in the tragedy, those who had survived and those who had supported everyone through the years but that didn’t mean we had to be downbeat – this was a celebration of the human spirit.

And so at 1am in the cold of Sheffield we set off. The organisers had prepared a couple of support cars with medics and supplies such as water, there was also a sweeper bus that was intended to keep us on our toes for the journey. Unfortunately there were only four copies of the maps to be distributed between most of the walkers, which on the whole was fine but meant for safety purposes it was better to have a photographic copy of your route. However, the support vehicles were never very far away and they helped to guide us – something I would be very grateful of at around 100km in.

The group quickly dispersed into several pockets – the first of which had me at the front of it. I was joined by two chaps, Ian and Brian – both of whom were survivors of the tragedy and talked a little about the feelings they had and why they were so determined to do this walk. Their stories were remarkable and their pace incredible, especially given their relative ages combined with the incredibly hilly start we had it was a stunningly fast pace we were pumping out. We reached the top of the first hill in great time and slowly but surely I could see that Ian was dropping back a little, I checked over my shoulder to ensure he was okay and with that seemed to be a wave of his hand Brian and I pressed on ahead – safe in the knowledge that there were another 30 odd walkers just behind us.

I kept about 50 metres ahead of Brian for a little while as the darkness was all consuming and I needed to focus on my own walk, but I had broken up the lack of light with my own entertainment which was belting out Elton John and Glee songs at the top of my voice, there is nothing like the sound of ‘Don’t go breaking my heart’ with hardly a soul in sight – something quite liberating. Anyway at about the 20km marker Brian finally caught me up as I was keen to take a photograph of the sign for ‘Penistone’ – how true that sometimes the ten year old inside never quite grows out of knob humour.

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It was probably now about 3am and together Brian and I set off at a fair old pace with the agreed intent of finishing it – the whole distance. For a little while I was feeling the effects of running through the night and at one point felt as though I was actually asleep standing up but then I sa the first signs of day break and we came through a little village and up onto another hill and we were greeted by the best sight of the night – Liz! Liz was the photographer who had been tracking our progress and ensuring we didn’t come unstuck for quite some miles and as she snapped at us I threw her a few of the UltraBoy moves and grabbed my own snapshot memento before moving onwards and sadly upwards!

The next few miles passed without incident and as passed by a place called Thunder Bridge Lane even I couldn’t help but feel buoyed by a renewed sense of vigour. This was of course all helped by the arrival of some chocolate croissants and the support vehicles giving us the clear thumbs up as they were sweeping some of the other walkers to the 24 mile point. Brian and I descended into Huddersfield in a great mood and in a great time – we were still under 6hrs and even with a diversion and getting a bit lost finding the Huddersfield Town stadium we made it inside 6hrs 20mins – not too shabby.

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Both Brian and I had spent most of the first 24miles thinking about Bacon sandwiches and thankfully upon arrival there was a tray full of the stuff provided by Glen and Scoff – and scoff it down I did along with about a litre of hit delicious coffee and even more delicious fresh orange juice. This was a significant break with about 90 minutes left for everyone to play catchup and I used this as an opportunity to change from my ridiculously uncomfortable thunder crackers to something more pleasant and also add another tub of Vaseline to my nether regions.

The guys at Huddersfield Town were amazing and the grounds people who helped direct us in and the chaps in the sports centre were very accommodating and I can’t thank them enough.

I also at this point decided to change shoes and mvdd from my Hoka Rapa Nui Tarmac into my classic and much travelled Hoka Stinson Evo. There was something warming about putting on an old friend who has completed thee ultra marathons with you. I used the rest of my time to chat with some of the other walkers who had by now warmed up and were feeling a little more lively, albeit with a few more blisters. I met many lovely people including Tony and Owen and Des (one of the drivers) and also the outstanding Eric who had a lovely ‘feet on the ground’ mentality to the whole thing and declared he was amazed he had managed 12 miles in his Adidas Samba! There was also the coordination of the news reporting and some filming took place but all in all it was well organised here and this helped settle nerves.

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It was then that we saw legend and all round hero Stevie Kelly come trundling round the corner and despite rumours that he was struggling he looked in remarkably good shape and when both Eric and I went over to join him there was nothing but good cheer as the first 24miles were done. There was a lot of truth in the phrase that ‘theres life in the old dog yet’ and he was living, breathing and hiking proof of it.

Anyway with everybody fed, watered and greased up it was time to go and a small group of us left Huddersfield and after some minor navigation challenges through the streets of the town both Brian and I once again headed the group and hit the hills with as much might as we could muster. It was a vertical climb, certainly as tough as anything that the SDW50 had thrown at me and probably a bit worse but my pace was strong and as we reached the top of the hill and crossed the motorway I was feeling in control of my own situation and knew I had the 96 in me. Then disaster started to strike

Bang.

I tripped and fell – my thigh straight into one of the motorway barriers – sharp shooting pains erupted down my right leg. I quickly thrust my hand down my running tights and checked for blood but it was okay, it was just going to hurt like nobodies business later.

We ploughed on at pace, Brian looked strong and for a while he certainly took the lead in keeping spirits high and maintaining the gusto with which we had started. What I knew was that I had to put this to the back of my mind and soldier on for a little while until the pain had subsided and before we reached the next checkpoint I was back in control and admiring the now beautiful scenery between Huddersfield and Oldham.

Our composure was fully gained and our tenacity growing as well as our confidence as we arrived at the next checkpoint – sadly there was no support vehicles and no supporters, curious. Suddenly the medical guys (Ian and Andy) rocked up and advised us that the bus had developed a problem and there would be no hand over of walkers. Within a minute or two my dad came thundering in and advised us that we should keep going and that some of the other walkers would do the next leg and more would join as soon as the bulk transporter was operational again.

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For the first time I felt a weight of expectation on my shoulders – that we, Brian and I would just continue, so with a map photographed and a straight run to Oldham ahead we picked up the pace, waved a cheery hello to the other walkers who had managed to reach this stage and then flew onwards into the highly exposed and therefore windy hills. Brian had made the unwise decision to strip himself of his bag and extra clothing at Huddersfield and therefore was feeling more exposed than he needed to. We stopped briefly while I layered us both up with additional clothing and buffs to keep things like necks and heads warm. All of this proved sufficient for us to progress in the cool morning sun and by what would be considered lunchtime things were looking pretty rosy, the bus had passed us and the walkers were back on the road.

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I, of course, being of a competitive nature on hearing that the walkers had been given a half hour head start proclaimed that ‘we’ll have them Brian’ and so from the second of this stages mini checkpoints we hit new speeds in our stride and launched ourselves towards the heart of Oldham. As we came across the hospital I saw the other walkers in the distance and called back to Brian ‘I can see them, lets take them!’ and so we began to run beyond them, giving them an enormous smile as we passed by. I was then in full stretch and I used the opportunity to widen my stride further and give me legs some release from the walking, this paid dividends as I hurtled into Oldham Athletics ground to be greeted by the grinning face of Desy the bus driver. Oldham was a bit of turning point for people I think, firstly there was a major stop – physiotherapist, hot food, rest, sleep for some and secondly it was a bit of a dawning for some that the road was coming to an end and that they needed to conserve their energy for supporting those that were going to continue walking or to save their energies for later on the route when it would be more important to have a visible presence.

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Both Cheri Brewster and Steve Kelly showed optimal skills in the division of labours – for my mind Steve (or Dad as I usually call him) organised the human element, people and Cheri dealt with the logistics, this provided, for those that wanted it, the respite needed for the upcoming assault on the final 50 miles. The other big plus was that Oldham Athletic were simply amazing – the show of support they offered was unbelievable with both space and time afforded to this posse of Liverpool fans all making their way home – there was even a cake baked and most were hugely grateful to the two physiotherapists who gave excellent support to aching muscles and relief from blisters. Some bothered with sleep on the terraces, others chatted, I took time to get to know some of the people and discussed many things including impending fatherhood, the art of breaking down time, the relative greatness of Shanks compared to Fergie and lots of other exciting topics. For me personally the break was too long because my long suffering muscles were unable to rest, if I had sat down I know that would have finished me off and so I was required to continue my standing throughout and by the time we were all ready for the off I was really ready.

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Before we departed though there was a little bit of time for interviews with local radio – including myself – which felt very strange, it seemed that my attempt on the entire distance had not gone unnoticed and I felt rather uncomfortable in the limelight – even if only briefly. However, I was keen to do my bit and so answered as honestly as I could the questions. The thing I found hardest was the question, ‘What would your uncle Mike think about this?’ The true answer was that I had no idea what he’d think, so I went we the only sensible answer which was that ‘he’d think we were all mad, then join us for the last half a mile’. I was also tired when I was interviewed and my emotions were sitting on the surface and I found this hard.

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Anyway … we were off again … lots of us were off … ace.

This time I set off with Brian again and this time joined by Ian (what a guy!) – the Eithad our destination. Once again I took control of the directions and hit the full pelt button, stopping only twice. The first stop was to buy two bottles of Lucozade Sport as I really needed isotonic fluids and the second was to roar with laughter as Chelsea were beaten by Sunderland. That second stop seemed to give us a helluva lift and the walkers as a whole seemed visibly stronger. I found myself making to a little jig and telling our lovely medics that I was made of fairy dust. We pressed on to the outer ring of the stadium and started to make our way round. I waved my companions goodbye as I set off into the distance and around the far side of the stadium, running to the checkpoints was now becoming obligatory.

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Waiting in the car park was the bus, the walkers and some sandwiches. Yum. I took the opportunity to refresh my water bottles and have a quick chat with my dad who was walking some of the next stage and then I kicked on knowing that time was very much of the essence. As I wandered out of Manchester City’s ground I could see what a behemoth it was and every bit as impressive as I had heard, what was going to be more impressive though was how the event was to turn on its head for me.

I was still pretty much with Brian but he was now starting to flag, the soaking he had taken in the first 24 miles looked like it as taking its toll and our latest comrade in arms was keen to push on but was unsure of the way. I had no choice but to mention to the medical team that I was a little concerned about Brian and they simply asked me to keep an eye on him and flag it if anything serious was going to happen – I suppose my main concern was hypothermia – despite my best efforts to get him warmed up, Brian looked cold and I recognised the face he was pulling because I had been pulling it the night before. However, Brian continued, as did the rest of us and then at 99.8km I was called over to the medical wagon.

‘You’re out of time’

The words echoed hard in my head and I looked at the map.

‘We can give you 10 minutes to get to the next checkpoint – it’s 1.9miles’

‘The others?’

‘If they can make it, if not they’ll need to be swept up’

I turned, handed the map to Brian, and then ran like I’ve never run before. After 100km of travelling along some challenging hills I was pumping out 6 minute miles and every time Andy and Ian would catch me in the support vehicle I’d hammer home another burst of speed. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t think straight all I knew was that I needed to keep moving. I was hurtling beyond passers by, who at this time of night on a Saturday would be considering their social engagement option rather than being worried about my thundering body. The chaps in the support vehicle pulled up and called me back as the GPS had gotten them lost, they told me to start breathing and even as they did they started looking for a direction and suddenly they said

‘down there’

Once more into the breach and with with heart bursting in my chest I flew up the hill towards Bury football ground – passing my waiting dad – who would have to swiftly follow as I hurled myself face first onto the bus. I started looking for a change of shoes – goodbye Hoka and into my Inov8 Trailroc. As I was sat on the floor of the bus there was the sound of cheers and applause and much back slapping but I hadn’t achieved anything yet and I’d lost my hiking buddy. I called out for a couple of bottles of water and my dad passed them to me along with my much needed paper towel to dry the sweat from my feet.

I was still in the event and still on for the 96, but I was five minutes behind the other walkers and so with a rod of lightning jammed between my arse cheeks I hit the road again – roars of well wishing greeting my triumphant exit. In the distance I could hear that a medic was being sent to join me to which I could only respond with, ‘if he can keep up’. I bolted down a one way street and then down to the main road, I was being and feeling awesome and in the distance I saw other support vehicle and so slowed down a little bit – engaging in a little bit of a jig as I met up with Paul and a group of walking legends. I’d made it.

We set off at a respectable pace and where soon joined by ultra running legend Earle Jackson, who only a few days previously had completed the 96 mile Anfield to Hillsborough run. He rocked up without a care in the universe and simply started walking – Earle has the benefit of being one of those guys that is simply amazing and his calm and dignity shone through. And so the group ambled through the roads between Bury and Bolton, the problem was that despite a reasonable pace the timings seemed to be against us, I spoke once again to the medics and was told we were once again on the cusp – I urged the other walkers to go a little faster but it seemed we already had our foot to the floor.

I started to run. The medical wagon rolled along side me. Earle rocked up too. In my head I heard the sound of Brian, my dad everyone else who had shared a cheery smile with me this day and it was willing me on as I banged out each step downhill and then every step up the hill to the waiting bus.

Here Earle and I were greeted by more whoops but this time it was urgent – the two walkers on the road were 30 minutes ahead of us. I started to strip down, goodbye warm clothing, goodbye Ultimate Directions PB vest – I was going to run it, but I needed a pacer and support and that turned up in the form of Earle, who stripped down and said ‘don’t worry I can run in my hiking boots’.

And off we went and considering our exhaustion and injury status we went pretty well. Bolton was ablaze with the echo of our thundering hooves and as we entered the road to Horwich I knew we were going to make it. Earle had out me back on time and in fact Earle had put the walk back on time. After about 25 minutes of exhausting running we finally caught up to Cheri and Tony and although we stopped and started to hike again we needed to move at a swifter pace than the others because of our lack of clothing, water or anything actually useful. We therefore bid the others goodbye and set off to reach the wonderful Reebok stadium with more than 20 minutes to spare before the next break.

At Bolton we were allowed to use the wonderful facilities of the hotel and apparently even grab a shower, I saw people brushing teeth and catching their breath, lying down and catching up on sleep. I managed a brief toilet stop and had a gigantic bacon sandwich along with enough coffee to sink a battleship but time was pressing.

I reloaded my running vest, put my warmer clothing back on and layered up to try and avoid bringing my race to an early conclusion in exactly the same way Brian had. I greeted as many people as I could, passing on my congratulations to them because there was so much awesomeness going on that it was hard to keep up. I met some of the new walkers who had joined at Bolton and think I was suitably weird but I’m not sure that mattered now.

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What I saw though now though was that some of the steel had been eroded from the walkers, everyone looked exhausted, but nobody looked ready to give in. As I stood on the bus packing my bits I saw the lovely Paul who had both of his feet on ice and advised me that he’d be back walking for the final few miles, I saw my Dad who was having his feet strapped up and offered me a thumbs up both as a confirmation he was fine and a need to get reassurance about my own health. Nobody was ready to get off this adventure yet.

I don’t remember much about the journey to Wigan other than I may have answered the question, ‘how do you feel?’ with the one word response ‘shit’. I do recall singing ‘row, row, row your boat’ once again and telling Sarah and Tara that I might cry unicorn tears and I may have been mistakenly pairing different people up – well adversity does bring people together 🙂

Wigan arrived and I came across a double yolker of a problem ‘Paula Radcliffe’ time and I had serious sweat rash in my arse crack – awesome. My dad found a McDonalds and I swiftly headed over to it as the walkers moved on, here I was able to have a moments comfort as well as jammed a very tightly packed square of soft toilet tissue between my are cheeks and use that as a buffer – genius. I left McDonalds, purchasing some orange juice as a thank you for the use of the facilities and then set off. The problem was that I’d been cut adrift from the other walkers and so needed to run the hill out of Wigan. Here I caught up with my dad and then several other walkers but the hills out of Wigan and onto the East Lancs Road were epic and I was really struggling, it was here that my Dad and I finally had a bit of a catchup, he helped me over the hills and more importantly down the hills which were actually the much more difficult thing. Of all the moments that I needed help this was the most important and while I am hugely grateful to Brian and Earle for their huge individual efforts in getting me to those hills, the irony is not lost on me that it was father who guided me over that final very difficult section.

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Well I say final…

We hit the East Lancs Road and I think all the walkers were in various states of dilapidation but were continuing to plod on. Again though we were pressed with the threat of being swept up, with more than 2hrs before we were due to reach the Showcase Cinema we were being ordered to what I had now dubbed ‘the fun bus’ (mainly because Des kept making me laugh). I spoke to my dad and asked if he was capable of at least running to the bus and he said that he was – probably about 2 miles away at this point.

In my head I was playing the William Tell overture and I felt like I was the Lone Ranger upon my horse and slowly but surely the sight of Dad and lad started to draw other people into a gentle jog. It started to feel like Rocky as we collected more and more of the walkers – we were now the sweeper vehicle, but instead of draining hope we were filling people with renewed energy. I could see the support vehicles and the supporters ahead and my feet took over – blasting their way through the next few hundred metres – awesome. I ran past the bus, knowing that I was likely to be pulled but my dad caught me up and told me to head off, it was here that I was also told that the support vehicles would not be able to stay with me.

‘That’s fine’ was my answer as I turned on my heel and headed out to cheers from the crowd. I ran for a little while and then made a call to my OH, I needed to hear her voice and tell me that it as all okay and for a few minutes we stood either end of a phone crying to each other. She thankfully knew me well enough to tell me that there were only a few miles to go and that I was awesome. She also reminded me that when I am telling the story of the legend of UltraBoy to UltraBaby this will be the story that it won’t believe. It was a long call, probably 10 minutes and in that time I could see the bus had stopped and so I started a gentle jog again and as I got there the bus left and a support vehicle remained but what was also there was the most amazing sight I have ever come across.

Sue.

Sue, her sister and her niece were all there, I’ve only ever met Sue but each of them set about me with hugs and cuddles like we were lifelong friends. I couldn’t appreciate you guys any more – I soooooo needed you at that point. My medical support was now back as well and I stopped to chat to him

‘Your dad said I’ve got to stay with you’

‘What if I run across the field? Seriously go and get some ice cream’

He just laughed but together we pushed on and before 10am, with about 40 minutes left before the official leaving time I had made it to the cinema. Photographs, hugs, love, there was a massive outpouring both from and to me. Some people though I think thought that was it for me and it really wasn’t and I started out for Goodison Park.

My feet was sore, so very sore, my hips were destroyed, my ankles a mess, my head annihilated and I couldn’t focus. I slipped behind the group, I could no longer keep up and then something amazing happened, some of the walkers – I’ll never know who – left a breadcrumb trail of human beings all telling me it wasn’t much further, telling me I could do it and when I came across the fourth or fifth I said ‘I need to catch up’

‘No you don’t’ she replied, ‘you’ll get there whatever speed you go’

I however, decided the speed was going to be ‘fast’ and so I ran into Goodison Park and collapsed onto the ground. The group was there a little while and I avoided the photographs as I felt as though I had hogged enough of the centre stage and I just wanted to concentrate on the last mile or so. Goodison brought with huge positive feeling and an enormous swelling of pride from the city. It was here, more than ever, that you could see the immense respect that Liverpool had for the 96 and equally, the survivors. At this point I chatted with a number of the hikers, most notably Ian and Andy the medics and then Brian Nash who had read the poem at the beginning of our epic journey. It had seemed the wrong time to speak to him just after the reading in Sheffield but I wanted while I had the opportunity at Goodison to tell him how moving and how human his words had been to me. He gazed down at me on the floor and there was a moment where I thought we might both burst into tears but thankfully the moment was punctured by the guys from 96 footballs who are preparing an exhibition in honour of the 96 (details can be found at the link below).

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Anyway our time at Goodison Park was short and we quickly moved on towards Anfield, the home of Liverpool fans the world over. The final leg was passing through Stanley Park, the barrier between the two great football giants and here I again slowed down but this time it was for the purpose of being interviewed, I’m not even sure I was making any sense but I did my best and then plodded on until I met up with a young lady called Terri-Anne (or Nish I think she may have called herself). Feeling rather positive that I was actually now going to make it I suggested that she could help me up the hill by having a little race and so after more than 160km I gave a 100metre sprint up the hill to lick Terri-Anne – poor girl! But I simply couldn’t let her win.

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Anfield for me came and went, it was all about the celebration of the lives of the 96, the effort of the walkers and the legacy for the survivors. For me it was over, I walked over to the memorial, said ‘Hello’ to Michael and then disappeared into the crowd – waiting until the ceremonies were over. There was a huge amount of congratulations, hundreds of people all wanting to say thank you but for me that wasn’t the point – the point was I was saying thank you on behalf of those who couldn’t.

It was an unforgettable experience and there was so much to take from it, lots of positives and so few negatives.

A few notes and an opportunity to say thank you.
Thanks should go to Cherie Brewster for her organisation prior to the event and during, her commitment to both the walkers and the event was unwavering and I am sure all the walkers will of been happy to have someone like this ensuring they were safe and secure.

Earle Jackson will have my eternal thanks for his pacing of me for two rather hilly and significant sections, his contribution to this walk and the campaign as a whole will long be remembered.

I have nothing but wonderfully kind words for the Arriva guys, Des and Ian (if I’ve got your names wrong I apologise). These two chaps were amazingly chipper for almost the entire time and you can’t put into words how hard it is to keep your concentration over the time when you aren’t constantly focused – they also worked tirelessly to ensure that there was some transport for the journey, well done guys.

The photographer, Liz, who I only saw for the first half a day really but she provided stunning cover for Brian and I as we fought through much of the first 24 miles. She offered a winning smile and a regular thumbs up.

Then there are the walkers, some of whom I feel deserve a special mention for having kept me on the road. Debi and Paul – awesome, Paul with his ice packed feet – awesome. Both of the Ians – awesome. Poor Tara and Sarah for having to put up with my stupid unicorn tears – awesome and then of course there was Brian – 100km of awesome walking, he was and is a true gentleman and legend and also offered the best fun of the night when his hearing aid started going bonkers on the bus and the guys couldn’t figure out what it was. But ultimately all of the walkers made a huge impression on me, more than I can ever truly express in words and even if I haven’t mentioned you by name I will carry you in my heart and my memory for the rest of my life

All of the support vehicles crews were 100% amazing – these guys who crawled alongside us where pushing their bodies to the limits as much as the rest of us but I’d like to pay special tribute to Ian and Andy. These two guys had the measure of me, they could see my trigger points and whenever I was flagging they came along and gave me a kick up the arse. If I could take only one thing away from this experience then I would take a wonderful pair of friendships with the two guys who made this all possible for me personally.

The football grounds deserve huge thanks – especially Oldham Athletic though who opened up their ground and provided space for physiotherapists and food. All the grounds though proved very much that football is about community.

Of course, there was also Scoff Events (do look them up) who provided the food and ongoing good cheer. Glen and his team were amazing and his bacon sandwiches are ace, and his chilli, and his burgers… and his coffee… in fact everything he did turned to deliciousness

And a final thank you – to Stephen Kelly. Well done dad, you done good.

On other bits
Generally the event was well run and the best thing that my dad and Cherie did was get in professionals to help them – with the greatest of respect to both of them they aren’t professional event co-ordinators and they both have a daily lives to lead, so the addition of people like Scoff, the football grounds, Arriva and Home2Office meant that they could focus on the important things like the route and how it would translate as a celebration of the people who have supported the campaigns and the people over the last 25 years.

The route itself was hard and 96 miles (actually closer to about 101 miles) of tarmac was hard going even for an experienced ultra runner like myself and while the hills were all manageable there were a lot of them – even at the end and the timings offered little respite which was manly because of Everton’s game against Manchester United on the Sunday. i believe, in hindsight, it would have been better to have reduced some of the rest times and started a little earlier and that way I am confident more would have completed the entire distance. However, this is very much in hindsight and the event was an enormous success and we should pay tribute to all those who played a part.

And Finally
As a tribute to the memory of those who died and those who have survived as well as those who have campaigned this was a success beyond all measure – it has touched hearts and minds all over the world. As a symbolic gesture I can see how the 96 miles we have completed is nothing compared to the 25 year journey in honour of the 96 that the campaigners have endured.

I write this now having walked the entire distance and having learnt so much about myself and the tragedy, I am humbled by the people who surrounded me last weekend, humbled by the survivors, campaigners and supporters and I am honoured to have walked a tiny part of this road with you and for you. Thank you.

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

There has been so much going on.

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

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

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

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

The walk and final preparations 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As part of my support of the WNWA96 I will be offering up regular blog posts in the weeks leading up to the event about my training and how I’m coping with the demands of walking a big distance in a relatively short time.

The ultra running community would probably offer up big belly laughs when I say that I’m more nervous about the WNWA96 than I have been about any of the endurance challenges I have attempted so far. I mean let’s look at the facts, I can stop if I want to, get swept up to the next marker and start again once I’m rested a bit further along the course. There will be food, significant stops, beautiful scenery and a team of people who’ll be super supportive doing it – in addition to the support crew who will be keeping the walkers on the road. Why would I be more worried about this than say the Thames Gateway 100 in the torrential rain having done no training?

Well, there is the thought that there is an art to running and there is slightly different art to walking and I’m more geared towards the running…

Training
My walk training will have consisted of about 5 miles a day crossing London as I go from Charing Cross to Regent’s Park and back again. I will have done very little long distance hiking and this isn’t a lack of interest it is simply that I don’t have the time. Now this suggests that I haven’t been training and that is also not true – I’ve been running somewhere in the region of about 250-300km per month since about November and on average about 100km a month over and above my normal daily walking and I’ve got to hope that this fitness will see me through?

Mental Approach
Saying this though I’m treating it very much like an ultra marathon, mentally if I look on this like I’m racing to the finish then I can compartmentalise the 6 mile stages and simply aim for one after the other and my own personal tenacity will ensure that I make it to the finish line at Anfield. This has been my mental approach to almost every race and it has served me well whether I’m doing 5km or 50km. I suppose the challenge will be thinking that each 6 mile stage is likely to take somewhere between 1hr 20 and 2hrs rather than a 6 mile stage taking an hour and the slowing down of things is where ultra running and ultra walking are different.

Getting into the zone with kit
I normally start planning my kit for an ultra about three weeks before a race (because I’m a bit anal like that) and this will be similar, I’m already thinking about footwear and clothing, the difference in the way that my body will warm up and cool down in comparison to an ultra run. I know for almost certain that I’ll walk in shorts because I have a tendency to overheat, I know that I’ll be wearing my Inov8 Trailroc for the most part of the walk but that on standby for when my feet inflate will be my truly knackered but perfect Newton Distance. My Rab merino wool top will be in the bag as will my Montane Minimus because they are always first on my kit list for any winter endurance event. I’ll have my Ultimate Directions pack on my back for the entire event because I’ll want to regulate my own water intake without needing to stop and ask for any (reloading at the checkpoints only) and this has the benefit that I can then be reasonably self sufficient and keep pace with the rest of the crew – but then this is different and it’s very much a team effort and I assume that the team will draw strength from each other and from the reason we are all doing this. There will be no looking on enviously as you’re being overtaken this is about the power and spirit of people, together, to take on a very long journey, physically, mentally and metaphorically.

I suppose the thing to note is that I can only prepare with what I know and what I’m used to, and that readers is ultra marathons. I’m hoping to learn things about myself during this test of endurance and hope to experience new levels of tenacity and to provide support to those that will undoubtedly be needed during the cold of the night or the breaking of a dawn.

The other thing I’d like to get from this, which would be a shared experience with the running is making new friends, people who share endurance goals with you, I’ve found, can often become friends. You learn huge amounts about people as you cover big distances with them – sometimes only very superficial stuff such as their favourite food or next holiday destination – but it starts a bond between people. It’s true that it’s perhaps not as strong as the lifelong friendships we all have, but they are friendships built on endurance and I’ve found these bonds do endure. So that is something very much to look forward to.

Dad
There’s the other fear too – that my dad will actually finish with more miles on the clock than me. If he did, I would never hear the end of it. Yes, my previous post may have described him as inspirational but if he gets the better of me he’ll be intolerable and will spend the formative years of UltraBaby’s life telling it how Grandad beat Ultraboy.

So that’s my update to training and preparation for the WNWA96, basically it’s going okay and this weekend as I prepare for my next event (the Virtual Runner Sport Relief Challenge) I’ll have one eye on my endurance preparation for this event and of course the SDW50.

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This weekend saw a number of runners tackle the challenge of the Brighton Half marathon and even one of the runners I’ve had the pleasure to meet take on the Midnight Challenge. I was barred from the Midnight Challenge by my ever loving partner who reminded me that she wasn’t going to attend nor offer me any help with this one as she wanted a quiet weekend. The compromise was that I would be allowed to take part in the Valentines Run in Vigo, a very small village in Kent. Hosted by Vigo Rugby Club I had no doubt that we would get a professional race but had no idea that we would get such a well organised and delightful race experience. Let me explain how the day went…

At about 7.30am I woke up still singing ‘everything is awesome’ the very catchy little ditty housed near the start of the Lego Movie. My head was still a little bit leaden and my chest was still on fire from all the crappy gunk that I was trying to exhume but I hopped into the shower and simply pretended to my now also ManFlu ridden OH that it was ‘race on’.

I picked some sensible kit, long OMM flash leggings, my Ronhill VIzion LS top and my new Inov8 Trailroc, I’d coupled these with the Drymax socks I’d bought for C2C earlier in the year. The one addition I was glad I added was my Salomon race belt, I wasn’t sure how much water would be out on the course and this seemed like a sensible precaution out on the trail.

Vigo itself was about a 25 minute drive from us and so about 9.30 with the hounds packed in the car and the sun beating down above us, we headed out. Upon arrival we parked up on a slightly wet and muddy overspill car park but nothing that the car couldn’t handle although the local cadets were having to massage many a vehicle onto the mud.

I headed on into the race HQ or the bar as it’s normally known and spoke to a lovely lady who gave me my number. Given that I was a low number and had only registered a couple of weeks back I suspected that most of the entries would be taken on the day and in fact the race desk was very busy taking runners details.

I hung around the race start, chatted to some of the volunteers and some of the runners – introduced Indigo to the bustling nature of pre race, my baby springer spaniel was much in demand for cuddles and love. And then about 10.25 we all headed outside for the start.

We filed into a kind of pen just on the outside of the rugby field and as the starting approached the cannon fired off a round signalling the start – you wouldn’t have got that at the Brighton Half marathon!

The first section was to run around the sticky field of the rugby club and it was dense and hard going and I remember that by the time I got to the wooded section only a few hundred metres into the race my legs already felt heavy and my chest was on fire.

Regardless I crossed the log barred entry and started my run through the woods with their heavily pitted and watered tracks, with a desire to run reasonably steadily I lumbered from one side of the track to the next, trying not to get caught up in the overtaking through the puddles and focus instead on keeping my balance on the slippery ground.

The first few miles ran really quite well but I was going particularly fast and then the first of the major downhills came and I could feel my body urging me forward. However, the ground was rocky and uneven with large long clumps of thick wet mud to get through and my mind was telling me to be sensible. Thankfully body and heart won out and I was decided to give my Inov8 something to test themselves on and so we hurtled down the hill, bouncing between the rocks and I noted that despite being a reasonably minimalist shoe I felt very little trouble as went down, though I did feel suitable connected to the trail and therefore the Trailroc really where earning their spurs!

The course for the next couple of miles remained reasonably uphill, not in the ‘here’s a big hill, now climb it’ those I can deal with pretty easily, no, this was the kind of hill work that required a bit of tenacity and personality. I paced myself up most of it, going slowly but steadily and managing to take in some breathtaking Kent scenery.

At the half point there was a much needed water stop – located handily at the top of hill which was manned by a couple of lovely people handing out water and jelly babies. Having my own supply meant that I thought it best to leave the water for some of the runners behind me but used the opportunity to take on board my own fluid. I did take a jelly baby though and this yumminess pushed me up to the top of the next section and through onto the downhill where once again I pushed myself harder and chatted to a guy I’d met in the car park. It was a brief chat but in the few seconds we spoke he managed to curdle my blood with a tale of the last hill. Bloody hell as my only thought.

A shore while later I met Brendan who was struggling pretty badly and so we stayed together for the remainder of the race, I still felt pretty good, despite the ManFlu and knew that this chap needed a bit of push. I urged him to pull his finger out for the run up towards the hill and then we clambered slowly to the top. The hill as the photographs below show was a bit of a beast and required mental toughness to complete. I continued to support Brendan as best I could and had a bit of a joke or three with the girls at the top of the hill. I suggested Brendan catch his breath and then we headed out, the finish was in sight! well nearly. As we hit the track back to the rugby club we were ushered around the field once more. I had managed t claw back a place or two against people who had overtaken me earlier and it called back to Brendan that his goal was now not the finish line but overtaking me. However, I knew I probably had more in the tank than he did and so with a final push I crossed the line. Brendan came in a few seconds later looking tired but pleased as punch, he had given it his all. And if you read this, well done, you were brilliant.

I picked up my medal, my decent goody back (still wrapped foil blanket, mars bar, love hearts and a £5 Sweatshop voucher) and headed away with my loving Spaniels who had managed to get as filthy as their daddy.

This was a great race and highly recommended – especially if you like hills (nearly 1200ft of ascent and descent) and mud, lots of mud.

See you next year.

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I was reading a blog post some months ago about running and depression and how running can’t solve depression, further it talked extensively about the attitude of some runners who claimed that going for a run could clear the mists that cloud the mind of one who is depressed, it was a fascinating piece written by someone whose partner did/does have depression and at the time it really got under my skin. I’d meant to write something at the time but as with all things you get caught up in life, etc. but as I’m sat on the unmoving train this evening I was thinking about this very topic again and so I’m writing and I’m writing about two particular periods in my life when running was the thing that probably made the difference between surviving and not.

I go back to 2002 when I was at the end of a relationship, this was fine, I’d been upset but actually had moved on rather easily – met a new girl, was having a jolly old time in London and I’d started running again, not much but about 5 miles every couple of days and feeling really positive about it. I was running around the country lanes of Surrey like a man possessed some days, I remember the exhilarating feeling of having the wind in my hair and a good feeling all around me.

When the ex returned to the scene needing some emotional support it threw things into chaos, my whole life was, to put it mildly, flushed down the shitter.

I found myself in a situation of reliance, something I hadn’t been in since before I was at university. I found getting up in the morning, I had no motivation to do anything, even running had turned to crap and I couldn’t see beyond the end of the day, this was one of the darkest parts of my adult life. I had nothing positive to hold onto and wasn’t quite sure what was going to become of me and at that point I’m not convinced I cared. Even had I been able to run during this period nothing could have alleviated the despair.

Seeing the serious nature of things I joined my uncle in North Yorkshire for a little while to help remove me from the rat race and just let the wind beat against my face. It was a combination of him (a bit of a running legend in his home town) and later my father (just a legend) that coaxed me back into picking my life back up.

What they both knew was that the thing we all shared was a love of running and by making me join them on the road or in a field, in the cold and the rain that I could be forced to think about my physical condition rather than mope about my mental one. The running returned to me a sense of normality and strangely self worth. I eventually started going out on my own and running along the Yorkshire coast, often starting up in Scarborough and ending up 20 miles away somewhere new. The running invigorated me and as I would pound the deep, long hills of the north I was able to come to terms what I felt, at the time, had been treachery, deceit and my own stupidity. The running gave me the space to open up to myself and regain my self reliance. The running certainly hadn’t cured me of the issues I was going through but it did offer respite from the downward spiral and also gave me a goal.

However, it wasn’t until incident 2 that I realised that I can never give up running.

The second incident involved a relationship with a very particular lady – you perhaps are seeing a pattern here (although not all of my relationships have ended up being bonkers)? Anyway… my two year relationship was pretty damn rosy, we enjoyed each other’s company, had a couple of cats and even bought furniture together, we saw lots of RomComs, ate out at all you can eat buffets, played Nintendo Wii, dieting when not eating buffet, saw lots of Lloyd Webber musicals and lived in the east end of London.

When I look back at this time I realise I’m not a fan of Lloyd Webber musicals, I prefer dogs to cats, I don’t like all you can eat buffets, nor Pizza Hut, I’m not a big fan of computer games, didn’t need to see so many RomComs and never really got into the swing of East London, always preferring the south and most importantly I really hate diets.

It wasn’t until she had started cutting me off from my friends, had me going to bed by 10pm (the witching hour) and insisting that I give up running that I realised I wasn’t in a relationship I was a slave to somebody else’s personal tastes.

Funnily though it was really over the fact that I loved running that the relationship was ended, looking back both then and now I realise I would go for longer and longer runs because I was at peace hammering the streets of Ilford, Barking and West Ham. The thought of having running taken away from me showed to me how low my spirit had become around her because it was all I had left. You don’t see it until you are free but I was being turned into something she thought she wanted and what she neglected to remember was the me she originally met she liked because I was active, I ran, I watched foreign movies, I read classic books as well as absurd ones and I looked good in a pair of short shorts 😉 When she stripped away all the things that she did she removed my personality and I’m not sure she even liked the end product.

So one insignificant evening I left behind the furniture, the cats and a woman that wanted to take away me from me. I spent a lot of running time afterwards wondering if I had done the right thing and never once did i look back on it as a mistake. After the first incident I knew that if I wanted to avoid losing myself again then I should continue just the way I had been.

So running saved me mentally

Now, before anyone talks about personal responsibility, in both of these cases I am 100% aware that I had some very serious faults – most of which I shan’t be publishing here.

I’m also very pleased that both the people involved have gone on to find love, success and happiness and I’m pleased for them. These were complex situations though that left me emotionally and mentally drained and without the continuous presence of running I’m not sure what I would have turned to. Drink? Sex? Overeating? I have a over developed sense of anger and so maybe I’d have been violent? But running played a very major part in me surviving and so we come to today, why have I not fallen into a pit of my own self angst? is that down to running?

Simply put, yes.

Today I’m lucky my partner understands why I run, understands the phrase ‘I run to keep me balanced’. She comes to the races and sees my beaming face on the finish line, she appreciates that the occasional Sunday morning sacrifice stops me tipping over some imaginary edge. I don’t drink, don’t do drugs, nor do I smoke. I don’t even regularly attend nightclubs anymore (just occasionally). I run because it makes me happy.

Running is my vice and my friend, it offers both solitude and listening and I’ve been heard to say that if I ever declare ‘I’m giving up running’ that there is something seriously wrong or there soon will be. Running can’t cure depression but in my case, a man who is deeply emotionally charged, it keeps the possibility of depression and mania at bay.

Running makes me a better person, I’m 100% convinced of that.

So, when you find yourself in a difficult situation you must find and do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it but don’t be afraid to find crutches to ensure you make those first steps to a better life. I chose running and running chose me and I’m glad it did, what did you choose?

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I’m lying in the cold and the wet, I can feel blood on my leg, my beloved Asics running tights are ruined and all I can think about is not, have I broken my leg but, shit have I just pulled out of the C2C. 8 days before the race and I’m lying motionless wondering if I have just ruined my chances of grabbing my first UTMB point of the season. Roll on 8 days and 43miles later and the answer is that, no I didn’t.

I rolled out of bed at about 4.30am partly because Project ThunderClunge needed some preparation before it could make its move this early in the day. I showered and put the final bits of kit together in my bag and we headed from the Garden of England up to Buckinghamshire where we met up with the other runners at the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Wendover. It was a bit like organised chaos but it kinda worked, one queue, lots of levels and a shedload of bacon baps. The worst part about the start was the man at Wendover train station – I asked for a car parking ticket and he issued me with a stern gaze and told me that the station was intended for rail passengers only. My view was that he was getting a full days parking ticket for not much more than an hours usage, this meant I had to go scrabbling round for change which I managed to get through the purchase or coffee and bacon for the OH. Parking sorted I lined up for my number, changed my emergency telephone and promptly left my coffee somewhere I couldn’t remember putting it. At this point I spotted the running top of @totkat and briefly said hello, neither of us knowing each other’s names she greeted me with the ‘hello Ultraboy’. I had stuff to do though and promised to catch up later which is what we did but prior to that I had a toilet visit. Two toilets exist in the pub and in the first of these options we were warned that it was a bit like the bog of eternal stench and this was correct – despite my need I couldn’t use it and waited for the other still functional and not full to the brim loo. Racing out of the loo I picked up @totkat again and had a brief chat about things, shoes and the like and then headed out to find the OH who had just left the front of the pub with my two hounds. Strangely though she had been stood within spitting distance of @cat_simpson_ who it was finally a delight to meet. Again a bit of a chat and then away – we both had stuff to do. But my tweet ups weren’t quite over and I was recognised for the stupidity of my Dirty Girl gaiters by the lovely @J0ERUNS – what a great runner, the man is a legend and I was grateful of the opportunity to meet him.

The start was pushed back to about 8.40 and I found myself at the front which was not where I wanted to be and so I pushed my way back and took up my customary position at the slow end of the race.

My aim was to complete between 8hrs 30 and 9hrs 15 but in my head I was hoping for 8hrs 30 and this was my final thought before the race started, I clicked the go button on my Suunto Ambit 2 and kicked off in my Hoka Stinson Evo. Now I’ll mention briefly my Suunto, I had loaded full mapping of the race on board and I intended to follow the little arrow the whole way – full review will follow shortly – but the huge crowd of runners all huddled together and we made me pleasant, accurate progress through some stunning countryside. Wendover soon disappeared behind us and we made our way through the first of the muddy fields. The weather was fine, beautiful January day and as we came across the first of the hills you felt as though was going to be both a very friendly and pleasant affair.

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I was trundling along to CP1, at this point still over taking people, going too quickly, dancing through the mud when I met a lovely runner, I’m going to call her Sophie as I think that was her name, but you meet a lot of people running ultras and names get lost in their stories. She was a genuinely fascinating runner who had completed the MdS, had been evacuated from Cambodia to Thailand when she fell into a coma! she made my life look dull and I’ve had a reasonably interesting life! Anyway with her at my side I was able to push on and floated into CP1 in 1hr 20minutes – 90 second stop and then off. Sophie was getting into her stride and I wished her well as I needed to bring my pacing down a little bit (she was going to be a fast finisher). Checkpoint 2 would also be the last point at which I would see my OH and my two hounds but that didn’t really matter, she needed to focus on Project ThunderClunge and actually that made me address some issues, the primary was, ‘what do I really need for the rest of the race’. What I didn’t address was what do I not need for the rest of the race, therefore after enjoying the best of the views in Buckinghamshire I thundered along the final road and up into CP2. Despite being a trail run there is a lot of running on pathways with C2C and this was generally fine but it meant that your footwear choice was very important and the route between CP1 and CP2 and equally CP2 and CP3 was varied and changeable – I was glad of my Hoka.

What CP2 brought with it was also the realisation that my knee had not healed properly at all, the fluid that I had recognised a few days earlier had not gotten any better and combined with the calf compression I was in a lot of knee pain which was translating to my time. I hit CP2 just after 3hrs but at nearly 18 miles in I was still confident I’d come in on time. My OH though was concerned about the knee and wondered if it wasn’t more sensible to stop – as a medical person she was worried and as my OH she was worried as she was about to head back to Kent.

I kissed her goodbye, drank Lucozade and headed off into the wilds. The next few miles were good fun and the Lucozade had given me a lift that I really needed as a lack of breakfast was really showing. I added to this a number of delicious Sainsbury’s sugar strings which helped me spike my sugar levels.

CP2 to CP3 also gave me access to a couple of lovely American guys ( Michael and Richard @broferd ). Michael was in his first ultra and his first run over 16 miles but in his corner he had a family history of Ultra Marathons as his dad had finished the Western States no less than three times and he was wearing one of his dads 1980s running tops, he was a great guy. Richard too was a great runner, inspiring, fun and provided excellent motivation to keep me going through some of the stretches along the canal and we spent much of the next 10 miles or so jockeying for position. Also between CP2 and CP3 I met Martin. He was running with two other guys and was in his third ultra but had DNFed in his first two, I found him an interesting and engaging runner who clearly had the motivation and was keen to run to the finish but the two people he was running with seemed more to be bringing him down and hearing their ‘motivational’ style was both depressing me and angering me. I really wanted to tell them to ‘fuck off’ but that wasn’t in the spirit of ultra running. Thankfully having looked at the results there is no Martin in the DNF list and there is a Martin who within 9hrs 30 which was his aim the last time I spoke to him and so I hope he is very proud of the achievement.

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I digress, CP2 to CP3 also brought my favourite race surprise because at mile 24 was @abradypus who is a bit of a running legend in her own right. Demanding sweaty manhugs and photographs was the least I could offer her for simply being there to cheer us along, I should point out that she wasn’t there just for me, she was there for the plethora of other Twitter runners that were running C2C.

The canal brought with it something I hadn’t expected which was a hint of boredom, the problem was that a) it was flat and b) there was no real scenery. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it occurred at the beginning with the bigger, slippery and dirty trails in the second half but that would have been something to get excited about, to look forward too. The canal felt like a truly metal challenge – the distance wasn’t the issue but seeing a never ending, ceaseless path of water in front of you meant you felt every single step. So although the path was simple to navigate it was not easy to negotiate.

Passing through the final checkpoints there is little to report really besides a worsening situation with my knee, jovial crew and a pleasant evening in terms of temperature and rain. As I approached Little Venice realising I had missed out on the 9hour mark by about 6 minutes was soul destroying but I managed to limp across the finish line and waiting for me was the ever wonderful @abradypus and because she had not long finished herself @totkat – thank you to both for providing support, both at the finish line and at the pub after.

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I’m glad I did this one, it was good fun and gave me an early start to the season – something I really missed out on last year when I didn’t run my first race until March. I’ve found there has to be a reason to run a race and the one here is that I enjoyed it (for the most part). You can forgive the running along the towpath because the first 27 miles are really good fun. You will enjoy the party atmosphere that was everywhere you looked, it wasn’t a nervous race – first timers through to highly experienced ultra runners were on show and all felt welcome. The pub at the beginning was a great start line and I’m advised the bacon sandwich was delicious. The map book was pretty decent, which surprised me as I had heard criticism of earlier years versions but compared to some of the directions I’ve had this was amazing. There were enough hills to make you think that this was a challenge but not enough for you to think you’ve just run up a mountain and despite the weather the land was torn up enough for the energy to be thoroughly drained from your legs by the time you got to the towpath. I would highly recommend this race whatever your ultra experience. All of these good things are supplemented by a nice T-shirt and a wonderfully thick but not too big medal. Sign up now (well when it opens for 2015!)

I’d like to finish though with a thank you to all the support crew, all the people on Twitter and on Facebook who provided me with encouragement throughout the day and especially my OH and the hounds, this medal and this race are very much dedicated to you.

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Three ultra marathons in 2013 (five in for 2014 so far) and the thing I really enjoy is the little nuggets of advice you get from fellow runners. Below are some of things they have suggested that I consider as an ultra marathoner to be worth listening to.

1. Walk the big hills
2. Walk the big hills as quickly as you can
3. Drink before you are thirsty
4. Eat real food
5. Prepare physically, do the miles
6. Prepare mentally, think positive
7. Train at night, prepare to feel lonely
8. Keep your feet dry as long as possible
9. Get kit you’re comfortable with, cheap, expensive, branded, white label – just make sure you’re happy with it and make sure it’s fully tested and fully prepared
10. Make friends as you run, chatting to make those miles drift away and if one of you struggles the others might offer words of encouragement
11. Know your route, maps, recces, GPS files (in my case my iPad mini has been known to go with me)
12. Always remember this is endurance and not a race, it’s more about completing it than sprinting it
13. Run your own race and own pace and don’t go out too quick
14. A crew can be invaluable, if you have people willing to join you as support on the course then take it
15. Be prepared to give up! Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop, injury, exhaustion or mental fatigue can kill an ultra. Not completing an ultra doesn’t make you a failure, it probably makes you a hero – knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to push on.

I’m sure there’s lots more advice, contradictory advice too in some cases, but these bits are things I broadly agree with. I’m looking forward to Country to Capital to pick up a few more useful things. One day I’m hoping someone will advise me about how to read a map…

Three ultra marathons this year, all over 12hours, all rather wet, one freezing cold and all of them a challenge but not for me, they were a challenge for my primary support crew, the wife and the dog. She’s the designated driver – I don’t drive, she walks the hound while I run , giving him probably the most fun he’s had in a month but even a dog walk can’t last the whole length of me running. She carries my additional supplies, usually changes of clothing, spare socks, additional food and good cheer. She’s also my primary cameraman which I have to say I’m grateful for because over the last few years of racing she’s got some rather nice shots of me. She acts as support for the other runners as she waits at the checkpoints, often helping out the official runners, she’s a bit of a legend and I couldn’t do it without her, which is why I say my medals are often run for in her honour (and the dogs). But next year I’m running at least four ultra marathons, probably more likely seven or eight in an effort to ensure I get the UTMB points I so desperately crave and this leaves me with a problem – my friends aren’t really runners and they are spread out across the globe so asking them to crew for me is a bit of a no go and I’ve discovered that this is a problem for many of the ultra running fraternity. It seems to me that this is the greatest struggle of the ultra marathoner – that our nearest and dearest do get a bit bored of standing round at checkpoints waiting for us to turn up.

So what do we do? One solution, which is the one I will be adopting for at least my first couple of ultras next year is to run them completely solo. This offers a couple of unique experience challenges – I will have to carry all my own kit, there won’t be anything waiting for me at the mid point, it would just be me and the spare pair of Vibrams and 12litres of space in my Ultimate Directions vest. But then there is the alternative, ultra runners by their nature seem to gravitate towards one another and I know that at the very least a couple of my lovely twitter followers offered to support me on my aborted TG100 attempt and this gave me a thought – perhaps the Twitter community could be helping each other out? Now I don’t drive so I wouldn’t be much use in the driving round stakes but I would make a decent pacer for so someone doing a 100 miler to help them through those most difficult of stages. Plus this would be an excellent way for practice on some genuinely tough trails but also what fun knowing that you helped someone achieve their dream.

It seems to me that this makes for a way to give something back in addition to the volunteering element – something I also intend to get into over the next year or so.

So there we go twitter and wordpress I am offering myself out as crew, to help support one or more of my fellow runners, of course it’s subject to being available, free of injury and the like but then you racing is dependent on those factors too, but what needn’t be a factor is a lack of crew support. I hope more of the wonderful social media community will consider thinking about this too because as the song says ‘we get by with a little from our friends’.

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