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suunto ambit 2

‘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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead I shall draw a few conclusions about the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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I’ve reviewed the Kent Roadrunner before, a relatively local race to me and a really fun day in the sun – please note this race review contains poo, pain and a giant piece of bling – you have been warned.

On the Friday I packed the smallest amount of kit in the universe, buff, shorts, t-shirt, socks, race vest, iPod and brand new Inov8 Xtreme 208 (that’s not much when you’re used to ultra sized I ate a reasonable sized bowl of carbs and some delicious ice-cream, laid out my kit and went to sleep to the delicious sounds of Pearl Jam.

I didn’t sleep very well but nothing worse than normal and managed to get ready and to the race in plenty of time – as per usual it was the same mix of warm sunshine and party atmosphere as it was in 2013. I met up again with several runners I knew or knew of from my local Parkrun and in the distance I had spied TP100 runner Naomi Newton Fisher and several of the ultra runners from the National 100. Given my recent performances and a less than memorable face I kept my head down and went to drink coffee.

The race itself is 17 laps of the rather wonderful Cyclopark facility near Gravesend in Kent. My plan was simple, the first half would be bang on 2hrs and the second half would be about the same – this would give me the confidence to know I could pace @hitmanharris for the Summer Breeze Half next week. I trundled slowly around the course, waving at my partner, occasionally grabbing at some liquid refreshment and generally doing okay. My pacing was proving to be bang on the money despite the gradient of the course and because at 13.1 miles I was rather pleased with myself I tweeted out a picture of my Suunto.

There were however two rather large problems – the first was that at just 11 miles in my hips started to give in on me again and the second well that was a call of of nature at around 8 miles in.

Let me roll back an hour or so to being sat curled up on the loo trying to make haste with your morning deposit – but my body just wasn’t playing ball – so I lined up to the race knowing that I was carrying around the course a dump that could have fought off Godzilla. Anyway with my pacing going so well I decided that I would thrust aside my problems and clench deeply and as I hit 13.1 miles I knew what would be my first port of call – the portaloo. I’d very much like to thank TZRuns for having a well stocked and clean portaloo which made my 12mins 18secs stay more pleasurable than it had any right to be.

Leaving the portaloo I felt lighter and much more refreshed but now that one troublesome weight had been dispensed with I had to deal with the other – my useless hips. I pushed on through each lap, waving merrily at several of the runners and hurling slightly abusive encouragement at others. In the hazy memory of the melee that were the last few laps I finally managed to get into a bit of a rhythm and plodded onwards until hearing the sound of the bell to signal my final lap was ringing in my ears. I drifted around the course much as I had done all morning and it wasn’t until the final push up Tourette’s Hill that I opened my stride out and flew forward like the wind, crossing the line in my customary sprint finish and beating the two runners who had been significantly infront of me only half a lap earlier.

It was a disappointing time, a disappointing way to run but a great race and I’ll probably be back next year to see if I can actually run a decent time on this lovely track.

I did learn a few things though regardless of my disappointment – the first is that you probably shouldn’t wear new trainers straight out of the box for a marathon – my Inov8 are lovely and comfy but it was my first time in any of their road shoes and my first time in minimal trainers for ages, a mistake I feel. I also confirmed to myself that tarmac running probably isn’t my primary thing, nor is sunny running – winter trails seem to be were I am happiest. I can also see that I am steadily getting worse at running because of injuries and running too many races and I am finally addressing this issue after more than a year of suffering. The GingaNinja who was at the race described my running as painful looking and that I wasn’t enjoying myself and she was right, there was very little in terms of big strides, sprinting or good form – so I am finally being looked at more seriously to get to the root of my problems.

TZRuns put on excellent races, offering really good quality medals and a handsome goody bag. The quality of the event and the marshalling is unquestionably good and it’s a small enough field for this to still feel intimate but not too sparse. If you haven’t run this one before then do consider adding into your late spring schedule – you won’t regret it.

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Sssscccrrreeecch

This was the sound of my flight landing at Gatwick on Friday evening, I’d been in Budapest for a week enjoying the cultural highlights of the city – highly recommended is the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.

It was now just short of 9pm and we were off to get the car – I needed to spin round the motorway and get to a Sainsbury’s fast as I had no running food supplies. My other half put her foot (legally) to the floor and by 9.38pm we were filling a trolley with falafel, malt loaf, lucozade and a gigantic lasagne thingee from their nicer tasting food range – it was going to be a long night.

I got home at around 10.30pm – the GingaNinja threw some lasagne at the oven and I started to get my kit ready for the National 100km. It normally takes about 2 weeks for me to prep for an ultra – this one took less than 40 minutes, it’s not that I’m getting faster it’s just I was being tired and sloppy. At 12.54am I was in bed and exhausted, my hip stinging gently in the darkness of the early morning hours and me with the knowledge I needed to wake in just over 4 hours to run my third ultra in a month.

At 5.00am I turned off the alarm of my phone and stood exhausted in a shower of steamy water and thought to myself why do I do this? Regardless I applied the usual liberal amounts of Vaseline to all the usually affected areas and proceeded to get dressed. I’m much happier preparing for trail ultras but I figured this would be much the same, albeit with the addition of my box of goodies from Sainsbury’s. When I arrived at the Gravesend Cyclopark I could see that it got treated very differently. The other runners were mainly in low profile racing flats (I’d gone for Hoka Tarmac) and nobody was carrying a pack, I felt that my inexperience on the track was now showing a bit.

At the off though there was a very nice atmosphere as the group of runners straddled the start line and Ian, the race director, gave us a few final instructions and the location of the toilets. And then we were off!

The leaders from the national teams set off at a blistering pace and while we watched on in awe I think it dawned on most of us the challenge that lay ahead – 48 laps of a tarmac track with a couple of bitchy hills. Now I’ll be honest this, on the face of it, wasn’t going to be as tough as any of my previous ultras and as I drifted along at 5.05 per kilometre I was perfectly happy. In fact things couldn’t have been going much better, the toe infection I thought would be causing me problems was nicely secure in my Hoka and the various blisters from the WNWA96 and SDW50 that still hadn’t healed were holding up beautifully thanks to some strategic strapping and compeeding. Even the exhaustion I was expecting from my late night exertions at the airport hadn’t kicked in and so by about 14km in I was a very happy bunny. I was even remembering to eat and drink regularly which is something that often kills off decent times on an ultra for me.

It was when I making my second stop at the feeding table and having a bit of a laugh though that I ruined the race. Here’s what I think happened.

1. Stuffed Jaffa Cake in gob
2. Told a moderately smutty joke
3. Set off wiggling my arse and throwing hand shapes around in the air
4. Wasn’t looking where I was going
5. Slipped off the tarmac
6. Twisted right ankle and knee
7. Cursed myself – may have dropped the C bomb a couple of times

Before the end of the lap I knew that the 100km was out of reach as I was hobbling pretty horribly and even the 50km would be a tough ask within the time limit of six hours – to say I was devastated is an understatement as I’d be running well enough to do the distance in 10.5hrs which was the Spartathlon qualifying time. As I meandered what would have been about lap 8 I decided that I’d risk further injury and give it everything I had for the 50km.

I was now much, much slower and the pounding of the tarmac was making my feet feel heavy and combined with the injury the wheels just started to completely come off. I stopped remembering to eat and drink properly, I was leaning away from the right leg too much which meant the weight was pressing heavily on my already destroyed hips and worse was the sun was coming out and I didn’t have any sun cream – nor had I put any on.

15 laps in and I’m a bit dazed and confused but still going forward having finally figured out a method of movement that didn’t cause too much discomfort, I was back to eating sensibly and drinking but my skin looked a bit like crispy fried duck – I’d burnt badly. However I stayed in good humour and chatted with runners as I passed them or they passed me.

As I passed into the final lap I gave a little jig or two to offer a bit of amusement to the crowds and then pushed on doggedly. Despite it having been a disaster of a race, the like of which not seen since the Bewl Water Marathon last year, I was feeling okay if a lot despondent. I approached the final ascent up the unofficially titled ‘Tourette’s Hill’ and crossed the line.

‘Are you okay?’ was the question
‘Disappointed’ I answered wearily

I took my medal but stupidly left behind my excellent goody bag, I wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate as I crossed the line. For a while I sat in the coffee shop mulling over my disappointment and my scorched skin and decided to leave both of these behind in favour of supporting the other runners home – probably the best decision I’d made all day as this really lifted my spirits seeing dozens of runners completing the race and achieving such amazing feats of endurance.

A few words about the race
The chaps at TZRuns are Amazeballs, they really care about racing, running and runners – it is all extremely well planned, well executed, brilliantly supported and reasonably priced. The National 100 was a race you could enjoy and while I had a personal nightmare that was nothing to do with the organisation.

The Cyclopark in Gravesend is a great course with great facilities, toilets, coffee shop, children’s playground – if you want a family friendly race location then this is it.

Special Mention
The supporters, photographers, medical guys and the marshals – epic. At every turn they offered a friendly face, a bit of a laugh and the right amount of food and drink. I wanted for nothing (except sun protection cream). In fact all the personal stores I took along with me pretty much went home because the feed stations were so well stocked.

Conclusion
Great race, with the 100km record time broken, stunning supporters, amazing organisation and great facilities. Add to this a course that was challenging and hard on your feet but fun to get involved in and you have perfect race conditions.

I’ll be going back for the Kent Roadrunner in a few weeks time (just 17 laps this time) also organised by TZRuns which I think says more about the organisers than anything I can possibly commit to my writings.

The only problem with this race was with this runner and I aim to fix that in time for the marathon.

Happy running guys

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Amazingly this was ultra number 6 for me, I’ve now got more ultra marathon medals than I have marathon medals – that to me seems a little bit crazy. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the SDW50 and am looking forward to tackling it again but this was a real beast of a course over some challenging terrain but enjoyable conditions.

Anyway, as is often my way, let’s roll back a few days to incidents that I have no control over and that most certainly had a detrimental effect on my race day face! On Monday of race week it turns out that my grandmother (whom I’ve written about before) took a reasonably serious tumble in her home, breaking her ankle and injuring other bits of herself as she went down. It was a hospital trip and then a hospital stay, even as I write this she’s there – and miserable about it.

What this meant was a lot of preparation. I squeezed all the work in the universe into a couple of days, managed to get a work laptop for designing on the go, advised my pregnant partner that I’d be away but be back in time for her hospital appointment on the Friday afternoon, slipped in a desperate appointment with the physiotherapist to try and fix my knackered hips, kit check with Mick (more about that running legend later) and even fit in a last minute race to Waterstones to pick up a couple of maps that were needed just in case kit checks were very thorough. This was then all topped off by my partner being on call until 1am in the morning on race day and me not finishing my kit packing until well beyond this time with a 5am start – let’s be honest this wouldn’t qualify as the best of race day preparation. This all meant that by 5am on Saturday April 5th I was pretty much over the race and fancied DNSing for the first time.

However…

At about 5.03am I stepped into the shower and allowed the hot pillows of water splash over my exhausted body and for the first time in days I looked over towards the mirror and I stared ahead and said to myself ‘you are an ultra runner’. I dried quickly but thoroughly, added in a copious (but as I would discover later, still insufficient) amount of Vaseline to those areas most affected by chaffing and then grabbed my kit from the top of the stairs, stroking my previous race medals as I went past for good luck.

My race preparation usually means that I get dressed in the dining room – this is where the remainder of my kit is usually laid out and also it stops me disturbing the rest of the house. Kit is now pretty settled thankfully, Ronhill VIzion LS top, my much loved tech shirt from the Snowdonia Marathon, 0.5 OMM flash tights, CompressSport Calfguards, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Drymax socks and my still beautiful Hoka Stinson Evo all topped off with my Buff and sunglasses (just incase) – I’ve still never quite managed to fix the underwear problem but I live in hope that I come up with a solution soon.

With this done I scoffed a bit of Soreen, had a big cup of tea and even a couple of those kids yogurts, a breakfast of champions I hear you cry. Not really but I’m not sure I’ve prepared well for an ultra marathon ever – though I am trying to amend some of my poorer habits.

With all of this done I said goodbye to the GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraHound who were staying in bed to recover from a challenging week and then I headed off to see Mick who would also be running the race as well as supplying the transport to the start line. I arrived at his house, feeling surprisingly perky, said hello to Nicola his wife and met his in-laws who were joining us for the journey to the start line.

It was a thankfully uneventful journey to the start line and as we approached the parking area I could see @abradypus in the distance – sadly she failed to notice me, but it was nice to see a smiling face so early in the morning and as we arrived at the main registration area with just an hour to go to the start everything had a wonderful air of calm about it. I suppose that is the benefit of going to an event that has such a distinguished, even if short history – you got the feeling that they really knew what they were doing.

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So a quick kit check, followed by the collection of my ‘chip’ to get my number and within a couple of minutes I was done and ready to go. Mick wasn’t far behind and we drifted over to the excellent changing facilities, what was a college or school on the field changing room with little benches that reminded you of being 14 again.

I was already changed so I used this an opportunity to tidy up my bag after the kit check, have some Lucozade sport, clip on my number and chat to a couple of the other runners. Strangely nerves had pretty much deserted me, which given my level of preparation and on reflection was a bit of mistake.

We were thankfully early enough to have nice and easy access to the toilets and after a few minutes we were simply stood around basking in the ultra indulgent atmosphere of the beautiful Worthing morning. We were soon joined by running and Twitter royalty @abradypus and @cat_simpson_ and also @annemarieruns who I had originally met at the White Cliffs 50 just over a year ago – again more running royalty. I introduced Mick who was at SDW50 losing his ultra cherry and suddenly it went from pleasant to having that carnival feel. The whole Centurion atmosphere that everyone raves about kicked in and you really were being pulled along by it.

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With mere minutes to go we hurled our bags into the van for delivery to the finish line and then strolled over to the start. I’ll be honest I didn’t take a lot of notice of the safety briefing as I was too busy chatting to Mick and Anne-Marie but it all seemed pretty straight forward and then it all happened in slow motion – the start.

I started moving forward rather gently and within a few seconds I found myself setting off in the traditionally too fast manner that has been the cornerstone of almost every race I have ever done but regardless at the first corner I saw @cat_simpson_ thundering past me and what a sight she is to behold in full flight! However, ultras are very much about your individual challenge and I had originally said that if I could come in with a finish that started 10hrs … something then I would be pretty happy.

The first few miles I was finding reasonably difficult and as I stormed up the first hill I could already feel my hips, additionally the uneven ground was a challenge even in my Hoka. The good news was that it was pretty dry and actually within a couple of miles the sun had really come out and I was forced into my first of many changes which was the removal of my under shirt.

I slipped my shirt off, attached it to the back of my Ultimate Directions and then quickly set of again, this time with Mick who had caught me up. Suddenly from behind came a runner – at sprint pace – to hand me back my sunglasses that I had thrown away rather recklessly on the course. Grateful, I thanked him for his sprint and carried on – Mick and I joking that the chaps sprint might well cost him dearly later!

The next few miles passed by pleasantly and with a nice troupe of runners both in front and behind I progressed at a steady but reasonably sedate pace. I had eased myself into the race, become familiar with the terrain and was feeling pretty good as we dipped down a rutted path about 6 miles in, my legs were feeling fresh at this point and as we headed across the first of many rolling hills I finally started to understand the enormity of the task ahead – because in the distance lay hill, after hill, after monstrous hill.

Mick and I caught up with one another again and at this point I had to confess that there was going to be need of a Paula Radcliffe moment and I was forced to abandon my comrade and seek shelter in the bushes just before checkpoint 1. However, there was a hiking group just across from me and I felt rather ashamed to ‘Paula’ all over their hiking destination and therefore I made haste for the checkpoint and filled up on the goodies that the amazing Centurion volunteers offered. It is quite possible that I guzzled down about a litre of Coca Cola on my own but feeling refreshed I set off again at a bit of canter.

From here we were marshalled across a busy road and onto the next of our many climbs, we came to the top and once we had headed out alone the road I decided I would once again try and stop and deliver ‘paula’ which was becoming an increasing burden and I was confident that my ‘paula’ need was affecting the way I was running and therefore no good for my hips. However, once again I was thwarted by a lack of sufficient cover and therefore I rolled back up my 0.5 OMM Flash tights and continued onwards where much to my surprise the lovely @abradypus caught me up.

I ran with her for a few minutes but the problems I was facing and her overall pace meant that there was no way I could manage to keep up at that time – if I was lucky I might catch her later but there was the ‘paula’ issue to deal with. The last time I saw @abradypus she was thundering past her pinked topped nemesis and she looked like she had a lot of energy in the tank, so much so that not only did she dip in below 10hrs at the finish but she overtook both Mick and Anne-Marie on her way to South Downs Way success! Huge congratulations to her!

Anyway, after the next major hill climb I finally found some respite in the form of some thorny bushes that straddled a road and here I hid for a few moments checking that runners were not going to be alarmed by the sight of a 36 year old man trying to recreate a moment that simply shouldn’t be recreated. Anyway having achieved a measure of success I hit the trail again and this was were I would meet Sue.

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Sue, I am sure wouldn’t mind me sharing that she was a 61 year old ultra runner and an amazing lady with lots of energy and a nice zippy style that put my old hips to shame. We chatted for a few minutes and realised that we were gong at roughly the same pace and ended up progressing through the miles together. We chatted about lots of things including Springer Spaniels, Greyhounds, our respective partners, races, etc. And actually this partnership proved crucial I think for both of us for quite a long time. When I was struggling up a hill, she would put out a cheery little something and vice versa, it became like a mutual appreciation club but I was fully aware that with the way that my hips were feeling I would need the company for as long as possible.

Sue and I continued climbing the hills and making progress through the field, so much so that we actually passed people we thought would have had a much better chance, of a much better time than we were aiming for. Still we had a plan and the plan was a good one – sub 11 hours. We picked up a couple of other runners on the route and as we passed into third checkpoint we were in remarkably good cheer and my thoughts of handing in my number had disappeared. And so we ambled onwards and the next few miles meandered past us like an old friend – or perhaps more akin to the miles already achieved!

The volunteers at the fourth checkpoint and just beyond the 33 mile point were wearing sombreros and handing out both excellent advice and delicious snacks. The route from here looked a little ominous though but it was met with a happy heart and the little team we had amassed spread themselves out a little bit and trudged up the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse either of the summit or of the crew at the bottom of the hill. After ten minutes of straight climbing we could see neither the top nor could we see the volunteers and crew at the bottom and so, still laughing and joking at our good fortune to be out on these wonderful hills we pressed on.

At this point @ultrarunnerdan who had been stalking us for some time finally joined the group and being a veteran of the SDW100 gave us some excellent advice about what was upcoming (even though he lied about the severity of what was to come) and together we ambled in and out of each other’s company. It was here as the group had spread itself out that tragedy on the course almost caught me out.

I had been bumbling along at my own little pace, Sue had decided to push forward a little bit without me and @ultrarunnerdan was a few hundred metres behind me and I decided then to give a little sprint to allow my legs a slightly different movement. I was going pretty well for a guy with no hips left and I was keen to give the good looking girl, holding the gate open a show to remember …and then I did.

As I passed the gate, flashing my winning smile I caught my Hoka on a rock and tripped and was sent sprawling. I managed to stay upright long enough to get my hands in front of me – but it was too late, the damage was done. I had twisted one ankle, bloodied the other – though I wouldn’t know about the blood until nearly midnight. I picked myself up and in the haze of pain and shock I simply started running, telling Sue that we’d never make the 11hr finish time if we stopped now. Progress was steady but I was in pain and again the thoughts of DNF came to the forefront of my mind! I urged Sue to push on with Annalise (spelling?) a very nice Swiss lady who we had met earlier in the race and adopted into our little posse, but we all remained together for the most part. What could have proved to be the end of the race for me proved to be the point I managed to pull myself together and head into the next checkpoint taking over Annalise, Sue and even @ultrarunnerdan who exclaimed ‘here he comes’ as I thundered past him and into the hall, almost blasting straight past it.

‘Milky coffee,’ I called, ‘you lot are my favourite checkpoint since the last one’

I slurped down my coffee and in marched Sue … ‘4 minutes 37 seconds’ I exclaimed. We knew if we left this checkpoint with 2hrs remaining we would probably make the 11hrs. Sue drank her coffee quickly and we stepped outside – there we the noted the patter of the rain on our skin and decided this was the point to whip out our waterproofs. Now fully waterproofed the three of us set out in search of @ultrarunnerdan, we once again hit the ground running and finally the urgency of the run became apparent, we could finish this in time, we could finish this in the light, we could finish this.

The three of us headed up another killer hill and the grounds remained this rather difficult stony affair that offer respite to our feet and here on the difficult terrain the combination of my hips and my ankles meant that Sue and Annalise were finally pulling away from me and I urged them forward, knowing that my sub11 was now quickly fading away. I took a cursory glance down to my Suunto and saw that I was still 10km from the finish and had less than an hour to go. Yes I was going to get a medal but it wasn’t a medal I would ever look at with pride.

However, with a thrust of guts and determination on the downhill into the churchyard I was cheered in by a combination of locals and volunteers and there were Sue and Annalise – I had caught them.

I had a sip of coffee and no food

‘Are you okay?’ Sue inquired rather urgently
‘Yes, now move, let’s go’ came my rather gruff and dogged response.

I bounced down the stairs out of the aid station and never looked back, my ultra running colleagues were now behind me and I pushed quickly up the final ascent, infact it was some of the quickest movement I had managed for several hours. Yes my ankles were on fire and my hips resided at checkpoint 3 but I really didn’t give a flying fuck about any of that. I could smell the finish line. Annalise briefly powered past me but in the descent I knew that I would be more surefooted and I thundered down the hill in a positive and yet controlled manner – a fall here would bring the race to its conclusion a mile or so too early and so I made sure that every step was the right step.

The runner I was then shadowing soon hit the tarmac and we were finally in Eastbourne, ‘goodbye runner, I’m having you’ were my thoughts as I pushed through the roads of Eastbourne. Now following my Suunto very closely for signs that the course as coming to end I kept seeing floodlights and feeling that we must finally be there, but the end never seemed to appear.

10.49.59 was the time on my watch and I passed the final corner – another runner in my sights, boom, caught, onwards. Words of encouragement wee raging around my head and I threw out equally encouraging words with gay abandon. There was the sports centre, there was the track, there were the floodlights – follow the lights.

Boom

I could hear the cheer of the assembled group. @abradypus claimed that she thought it must be someone else by virtue of the fact that I was still running at all, but the watch said 10.56.33 and I wanted a 10.57.something time (watch not gun time). And on the final bend I gave it everything, every last ounce of strength that remained to me was thrown into the last 75metres and I crossed the line – more joyous than you can probably imagine.

At the finish line there was @abradypus whom I must sincerely apologise to for probably being incredibly rude. It was that moment when you finish a race and you just can’t see straight anymore and there was all the pain I was in and I just didn’t give the right response. I did of course go for sweaty man hugs later but still it never hurts to say you’re sorry.

A minute or so ahead of me @annemarieruns completed the race and I caught up with her as she prepared to eat some of the most delicious chilli available, she was all set to be running the Brighton Marathon about 12hrs later! Legend! Sue, Annalise and @ultrarunnerdan came in shortly after me and completed the final stage in stunning times. I know for certain that I finished under 11hours and I’m confident most of them did too for which I’m really happy.

So that was the experience but what about my opinions?

Race and Course
I don’t think that anybody could fault the race or the course, it was tough, it was challenging and it was ultra. The South Downs Way is a hard packed course and offers little respite on the feet. The runners I met who were wearing Hoka One One tended to be grateful and those in more minimal shoes such as the Salomon Sense Ultra said they were feeling the fatigue being caused on their feet by the course. I would highly recommend running the South Downs Way at any time of year but it is very exposed to the elements – so do be careful. The route also benefit from not being closed and therefore we, as a running group, were able to converse and be supported by the cyclist, horse riders and hikers who were out and about. 10/10

Support
The support was pretty minimal in terms of on the course support and often inaccessible to friends and family who might want to follow you around, with the exception obviously of those people braving the elements of the South Downs Way. The many smiles and cheers we received were much appreciated. The support at the aid stations though was simply fantastically 100% and it was my pleasure to offer at the bare minimum a smile as we passed through and the odd bit of flirting if I had the energy. 9/10

Aid Stations
The aid stations were all well stocked and well manned, the volunteers and Centurions themselves provided excellent checkpoint help. The food was generally of a very high quality although there was a lack of diversity in the savoury options and I struggled to find things I liked (perhaps I missed the chicken nuggets found on the St. Peter’s Way). However, that said I didn’t struggle to fill up and the biscuits and cake at Checkpoints 1 and 3 were particular highlights with the addition of coffee at the last couple of checkpoints a real lifesaver – the Centurions really know how to put a spread together. A word should go to the volunteers and crews also, they were 100% amazing and without them things like this would be impossible and we were all so grateful. 9/10 (10/10 for the crews)

Value for Money
As with the course and so many of the elements of the SDW50 you really can’t fault the guys, not one iota. And in the value for money department this is a race that delivers in spades. At £65 you are almost the same price as the Run to the Beat half marathon or the Royal Parks Half and what do you get for your money? Signage, support, an excellent well labelled supporting website, goodies and best of all an experience you will never ever forget. I even think there might have been showers at the end, but I was too busy trying to find trains to care about being clean. 10/10

Medal and Goodies
The medal is brilliant – not as blingtastic as say The Wall or as rich in heritage as perhaps The St Peter’s Way but it has a beautiful charm of its own and more importantly, as a young boy pointed out, it has a sword on it. The medal and the T-shirt were both very understated and I really liked that and will be wearing both to my next fancy dress party, where with mock indifference I shall wear both and tell people I’m a Centurion. 9/10

Conditions
The conditions on the course were excellent and the guys had clearly worked their magic to neither bring too much sun or leave it at home. I can’t score this, they don’t control the weather

Live Tracking
The live tracking was a bit of a bag of uselessness, it didn’t kick in until beyond the halfway point and then only once before the finish – but on the plus side they did attempt live tracking and I am sure this was simply a minor technical hitch. 4/10

Navigation
The navigation was faultless, I really didn’t need a map, compass or infact the GPS file on my Ambit 2 – brilliant marking 10/10

Conclusions
This is a bit of a strange one, despite everything, despite it being absolutely brilliant, it still wasn’t my very favourite ultra – that honour still rests with the St. Peter’s Way but the SDW50 is an outstanding course with outstanding levels of organisation and if you are an ultra runner I would urge you to try it. This felt like a labour of love for the guys who organised it and if they can retain that feeling going forward then they will have one of the best events in the ultra calendar. I’m very much looking forward to both the NDW100 and the Winter100 with these guys because I have the confidence in the team that they won’t let me down and all I need to do is not let myself down.

I learnt a lot of lessons as well on the course – the first was more hill work, more sprint work and more everything. The next thing was that I should try and prepare better for big races because when you have a crappy week in the run up then it shows on race day. But the most important thing I learnt is that you should never, ever forget to put a shedload of vaseline on your nether regions unless you want your balls to looks like a pepperoni pizza. 9/10

And on that note, happy running guys and thank you Centurions

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I’ve been racing quite a lot since the turn of the year and this has been helped by my participation in the VirtualRunnerUK events. I was incredibly pleased to see that they had decided to run a Sport Relief event as it made sense that we might all fancy a bit of a go at something different and so a few days before the Sport Relief weekend the entries opened for an any distance and time event in cycling, swimming and of course running.

Sat in the comfort of my armchair I mused to myself about the fun I could have doing all three and in no time at all I was signing up to the swim, then I was signing up to the cycle and finally the run. It was then that it occurred to me that I could turn this into a personal triathlon and so I set about planning a route where I could minimise the transitions – because the swim section would realistically have to be in a pool. I planned it to be a cycle followed by a run and finished with a swim.

What actually happened was this

On the Friday – the first day of Sport Relief, and the night of the televised event , I went out and did a light 10km, this was unintentional but it served the purpose of completing the run section if I didn’t manage to do anything else. The reason I was worried was that my OHs mother was visiting and this meant that there would be non sporting activities that I might have to engage in – meh.

However, I revised my plan so that everything could be completed on the Sunday morning – nice and early and with a shunt in the running order. My VirtualTriathlon would be a 5km cycle, 500metre swim and finished with a 5km run (although there was a second 5km bike ride to allow me to get home from the pool). The first part was the 5km cycle, I span out of the house and hit the road – pushing my bike as hard as I can manage, which to be perfectly honest isn’t that hard and I did the hilly ride in about 16 minutes. It wasn’t anything spectacular but I was saving myself for the swim section which I knew would be the hardest part for me. The transition from cycle to pool was just under 8 minutes, which I didn’t think was that bad considering I needed to lock the bike up, get entry to the pool and change.

I hurled myself into the pool and began swimming the 25metre lengths, struggling as always when I’m in the water. I was alternating between freestyle and breast stroke as I’m not strong enough as a freestyler to do the 500 metres. So with all the energy I could muster I powered up and down, over and over again – so much so that I lost count of my lengths and therefore ended up doing about 625metres, although the Suunto can’t be considered definitive in its accuracy in the pool and it was probably more like 500metres. However I powered though the distance in just over 13 minutes and even with the time consuming transition I was still in good form. As I was swimming I made the decision to dry as little as possible out of the pool and throw on my running gear and thunder out of the leisure centre – leaving behind my bike kit which I would pick up later. This method meant I was held up for less than 10 minutes between getting out of the pool and starting the run.

Straight out of the door from the centre I knew a slowish route up a hill and back again. It was at this point that I could feel the hunger I normally associate with about mile 18 of a marathon and I had neither food nor water on me. Hmmm, this was difficult but I wasn’t likely to stop now and in reality I was flying.

Bang, kilometre 1 gone, bang kilometre 2 gone – I was expecting my feet or my back or my hips to suddenly implode and I’d need to use my Friday night 10km as my run distance. Thankfully kilometre 3 and 4 ebbed away into the ether and I was on the return to my bike and other kit. Sadly I came up a little short at 4.89km but in an excellent 16.32 – probably looking at a 17.30 5km which is the fastest I’ve gone in a long time.

For a while I sat at the wheel of my bike, feeling like I was going to puke – but I didn’t and when I finally stood up I knew I’d done something brilliant and I have VirtualRunnerUK to thank for the opportunity.

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So I’ve been a bit quieter than normal on the blogging and tweeting front as I’ve been busy doing, as my partner puts it, real life. But now it’s back to more fun things and by fun I mean sport.

As regular readers will know there are a number of things I want to achieve this year but this has had a huge bomb thrown into the middle of it called UltraBaby. Advice seems to be suggesting that having a baby will have a negative impact on training, running and racing and I can see how that might be but I’m going to do my best to race as much as is humanly possible this year and then see what the future holds.

And so to my 2014 aims – the triathlon.

I haven’t yet been able to find a suitably timed, local triathlon that I can get involved in, that is suitable for beginners and available at the sprint distance as my swimming isn’t very strong and my biking is nervous. However, to the rescue has come my new favourite event – the Virtual Run, from VirtualRunnerUK (I’ve blogged about these guys before).

To coincide with the Sport Relief weekend they are offering the opportunity to go cycle, swim or run a sport relief distance, get a medal and also donate to a charity that I feel very positively about.

So how does this link up to my aims for 2014? Well, I’ve signed up for all three elements and I’m thinking that if I were really clever I could turn this into a type of personal triathlon. Sounds ridiculous I know but I’ve found that the virtual events have made me feel competitive during training and I’ll be transitioning as quickly as I can. Obviously for the sake of logistics it won’t have the same kind of feeling as a real triathlon but it will make for a bit of mid March fun before I head into the Tough 15, SDW50 and the hugely important (to me anyway) We Never Walked Alone 96mile Challenge. I’ll also be doing it in a slightly different order than a triathlon (as far as I’m aware), for the logistics side I’ll need to do my cycle first (only 3 miles) followed by a 5 mile run and then a 1500metre swim.

I’m fully aware that this won’t count as completing of one of my 2014 aims but it will take me one step closer and that’s very much what running and training is all about – making progress. So time to crack out the old iron horse, hope the Hoka dry and pray my swimming shorts don’t become any more translucent…

I know that a lot of the people I follow or are friends with via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram read my general witterings and then very sensibly ignore them but I would urge you all to support this outstanding event, if you aren’t doing anything this weekend, hell even if you are doing something this weekend then get involved. If you don’t want to sign up to the VirtualRunner version of things or even a Sport Relief event near you then can I urge you to open the door, smell the fresh air of the day and just doing something active. Take the kids, take your significant other, take an opportunity to challenge yourself.

My pregnant partner, the lady carrying UltraBaby, is looking at doing at least one of these events – possibly all of them, only at the shorter distances and she will speed walk the run section but if she can do it then so can you.

What’s holding you back?

Look forward to reading about your adventures on what could be a very active weekend.

3hrs sleep
Carried weighty 12kg OMM 25litre running bag
Wearing my Inov8 Trailroc 245
Strode purposefully out of my workplace
Kicked open power of Suunto Ambit 2 GPS
Started running
Hit full stride by the time left Regent’s Park
Jumped across traffic lights into Marylebone
Burnt down towards Edgware Road
Turn of pace to avoid old people
Sprinted out toward Lancaster Gate
Waved in an annoyed fashion at tourists in Kensington
Troubled a hill as darted towards Kensington High Street
Doffed Snowdonia Buff towards the Albert Hall
Pressed afterburner as crossed Hyde Park Corner
Lurched heavily towards Victoria
Stopped for traffic
Thundered along Victoria Street
Thanked commuter for getting the fuck out the way
Saw traffic gap, took it
Ran past Run and Become, scanned shoes in window
Looked to Suunto, 9.91km
Continued looking to Suunto, pace rising
Nearly hit man as stopping
Finished outside Scotland Yard
Virtual 10km complete in 51minutes
Hips sore
Back sore
Ordered Trailroc 235s
Acedemundo (see Fonzie / Happy Days)

7 ultra marathons I said, that’ll do for 2014 I said – 460 ultra race miles, that’s enough I argued to myself but in the back of my tiny little mind there was another challenge gnawing at my being. There shouldn’t be of course – the races I’ve already got planned and the races I’ve run would be enough for anyone, add to that we have UltraBaby due later this year and there are the long running variety of ongoing issues with my hips, knees ankle and back.

But, talking to my dad has inspired me to one final push.

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough football tragedy, I’m not going into the details of this as other people can do it infinitely better than I. But in the last year nearly a quarter of a century after the event, great strides have been made by the families in getting the one thing they all want, the truth about what happened that day.

It is important to note that the hard work that people like my dad and the other families have put in to getting to the truth has been enormous and it is vital to remember the support of so many people has been required to get to this point. My dad felt at this landmark juncture in the story that there needed to be something positive done – to say thank you to all those that had walked even the smallest part of this very long journey.

And so came to life the WNWA96 – or to give it a fuller title the We Never Walked Alone 96 mile walk.

96 miles of walking between Hillborough to Anfield in around 36hrs. I’d like to say that it’s a team of crack commando walkers who are ready to complete this task but it’s not, it is simply dedicated walkers, dedicated supporters and everyday people who want to help say ‘thanks’ but also do something special to ensure at this time we really don’t forget.

It was originally planned that the walk would be done as a group of individuals all completing the 96miles but given the enormity of the task at hand, the actual terrain and the time limit, it was decided to turn into more of a relay. Therefore, most of the walkers will complete as much of the 96miles as possible and then use the sweeper bus to rest and then rejoin at later points.

And this is where I come in…

I have such huge admiration for my dad, yes he’s a campaigner and all round good egg but he is also one of the reasons I run, he was a runner, he was competitive, he helped inspire me to my first marathon and most of all he is my dad and as I launch into fatherhood myself soon I finally realise what a difficult job that has been.

The thing is he’s not as young as the man who has run all those marathons – like London and Bolton Hill – he’s not as quick as he used to be and when I heard all about his trialling of the route from Sheffield to Huddersfield and his description of it as a challenge of champions I knew that I should probably be involved. Given that my dad is also set to become a grandfather for the first time shortly I was keen that he make it through the distance as safely as possible and what better way to ensure that by going along.

I figure that by donning cape and tights once more I’ll not only give myself some excellent preparation for the NDW100 / Winter100 but I’ll also be supporting my dad, the campaign and everyone who has ever dedicated a moment to helping the families. My part is tiny and in truth a bit selfish but my dad is a hero to me and I’d want to support him in something this special and ensure he gets through it to. Funnily though I expect it’ll be a two way street and it’ll be his experience as much as anything that will help me get through this challenge.

So dad, if you are ready for 96 miles so am I and I’ll see you on the start line and I expect to see you on the finish line.

On a final note …

This is not a charitable event, it is not raising funds, it is maintaining awareness. The guys who are doing this are all involved for very different reasons but are all united by their desire to maintain the legacy of the 96 who died in 1989 and the need for the truth to come out. They would I am sure welcome your vocal support via Facebook and Twitter and I know that as I am clambering across the hills between Sheffield and Liverpool I will need that vocal support too.

Find out more on Twitter at @25yearsWNWA or at facebook.com/WNWA25years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was done, in so many ways.

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

So to sum up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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For those of you who have been reading about my woes recently you will know I’ve been moaning about the agony of ecstasy of running. Tonight is very much about the ecstasy. Despite saying that I wouldn’t risk running much over about 5km, if at all I found myself with a need to go out and do a little 10km run because it was time to complete my virtual run. At exactly 5pm I threw my clothes in my much loved OMM back, changed into my equally loved Hoka and set out to run around the inner circle of Regent’s Park in Central London.

If done correctly the inner circle is 1.06km in length, my journey to the train station is about 4km at it’s shortest route and so off I went, 6 laps then turn off and head into the city.

I ran surprisingly well, maintaining a sensibly slow 5.00km pace and drifted round the inner circle for 6 laps before rejoining the rest of our anarchic society for a jaunt across London.

Unsurprisingly my pace dropped a bit as I was hit by the human traffic, motorised traffic and worst – the traffic lights. However, despite at least 2 minutes of delay I did a little over 10km in 53 minutes. Now this seems slow and that number is slow but given the state of my hips, shin and back I feel pretty good about that.

The Hoka ran well, I felt okay and actually for the first time in ages I actually wanted to go on, I wasn’t thinking about stopping or wanting to stop.

This is good.

Today I’ve left the Suunto at home, I’m going to go and do a few kilometers in my Inov8 Trailrocs to continue breaking them in and hope they are ready for Sundays 10 mile Valentines Run. More importantly fingers crossed I’m ready for it.

Now on a final note and perhaps the payoff for reading my ridiculousness – it might amuse you to learn that I ran my Virtual Run a whole 2 days early and therefore will be repeating last nights exercise tomorrow! I feel a bit foolish but that’s what you get for not reading the instructions – but a slow 10km was just what I needed, thanks Virtual Run!

Have fun runners

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Two days off to rest my hip and knee and I’m feeling a bit better – the hip is a long term injury but I decided that a bike ride was the way forward. I loaded a route onto my Suunto that would take me to the start line of my next race – the Valentines Run in Gravesend – and off I set.

Now the Suunto is only as good as it’s user and human error kicked in about 10km when I turned down a bit of a blind alley and my road bike met the worst of Kent’s boggy fields. Holy shit, I had to push my bike through 5km of wet mud and when I finally reached the road again I got back on the bike and looked down to see I’d brought half of the mud with me. Thankfully, the roads of Kent are also flooded and so I was able to clean my bike and feet. I had a lovely time, just over 45km cycled, a shitload of mud, hills that could break you and a maximum speed of nearly 50km per hour. I might not have run this weekend but I feel much better for having gone and gotten the wind in my hair!

Hope everyone had a good weekend of exercise and a huge congratulations to @mia79gbr who completed the Thames Trot in a stunning time.

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I’d decided that I was going to run long on my Saturday jaunt.

I’d set the route at just under 36km with the option to dip out at 28km if my OH said that she had finished work and wanted to do the shopping. I shifted out of London at a nice slow pace with the intention to run the distance in about 3hr30minutes.

The real problem was that I hadn’t been the loo and suddenly after about 5miles the need kicked in – I managed to hold on for about 4 miles and thankfully McDonalds turned up and I was able to use the facilities but after just another mile the problem reoccured – nightmare – this time though to my rescue was Tesco, there is something to be said for the quality and warmth of a Tesco toilet area. Thanks guys, I won’t forget this.

The good news was that this was enough to defeat even the most tenacious of galloping trots and the remainder of the run was completed sensibly – there was even a bit of sprinting towards the end when there was a downhill. The better news was that Shooters Hill presented only limited problems, the distance work felt comfortable and the roads weren’t too busy plus I’ve managed to run more than 75km this week despite not running Monday or Tuesday. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll need to add in a few miles. Happy Sunday running chaps.

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5.30am and an email arrives – the Dartford 10 miler is cancelled, 3 years I’ve been trying to run this, once I pulled out because of an injury and now twice it has been canceled and I haven’t been available for the re-scheduled date. The good news is that the race organiser made the right decision, the River Darent had broken it’s banks and the water, several days later, hadn’t drained.

Instead I did a very hilly 10 miles in a pretty healthy 1hr 17minutes. So no medal but a really positive run and I got to test my Salomon hydration belt, nice and easy to use and very comfy – though it gave me a seriously sweaty back.

I hope everyone else had a lovely sunny January run.

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They were walking five strong, side by side. I’m not a big runner, I was wearing neon, they a) shouldn’t have been taking up the whole street and b) been more observant – I even memeeped at them.

The deafening scream of two of the women I ran through was ridiculous, you’d think I’d just attacked them.

If you were the women who screamed as I ran by (through) you then perhaps next time you can show some consideration – because I was going like fecking lightning and I need pavement too. Oh and look up from your text messages once in a while and look at what you’re doing.

In better news I ran 4.15kilometres today, just 4km run again but I’m pleased with that.

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My train journey in a morning is usually split between sleeping, playing on Twitter, replying to emails, working and even occasionally blogging or playing Words with Friends ( usually being beaten by @follystone ). However, this morning I happened to be tweeting the usual rubbish when I got caught up in a storm of my making. I mistakenly suggested that the way to be positive was to do something silly and my silliness was that we should walk 600metres into a public place and pretend to be a Gorilla/Ape/Monkey. Sara @4pairsofwellies seemed to agree that this was a good idea and that I should do it, so arriving at Charing Cross I switched on the Suunto, headed and out and 600metres later found myself at Trafalgar Square, under Nelson’s Column making ape like noises and wandering around going ‘oOO, oOO’.

Sometimes Twitter can you please advise me against my own stupidity or my efforts to make other people feel #Positive

I’ll point out that photographic evidence was submitted to Sara, but as I have a secret identity to protect (being a superhero an’ all) all you get is the second of the photographs which was taken next to the Big Blue Cock – rather apt I thought.

A big blue cock, next to a man pretending to be an ape, dressed in a big blue hoody – whatever next

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