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As we walked down through the rain and wind from the campsite to the Kerrera ferry I think we all wondered what madness had we gotten involved in, but here we were, as a family, about to be part of the Craggy Island Triathlon from Durty Events.

In a twist to our usual family adventures it was the GingaNinja who was competing meanwhile I and the child would be on volunteering duty at the junior triathlon event. We headed for our crossing to the island about 8.30am and lined up with dozens of other competitors, spectators and volunteers. It was a real electric atmosphere as we waited those few minutes to board one of the many boats that was whizzing people and gear to the registration.

What I can say is that in organisational terms the whole team worked brilliantly and not just Durty Events but also the islanders who help make this happen. Boats moved across the water transporting competitors in a constant sea of movement – it was a magnificent sight and when we arrived on the beautiful Kerrera we were greeted by the brilliant hustle and bustle of the event that was even more electric than the mainland.

Before we had departed the slipway we made our first new friend of the day – a lovely chap called Adrian, who had competed the day before and had come back to volunteer on day two. Myself and ASK chatted with him and others for quite a while as we awaited the beginning of the briefing for volunteers.

At a little after 9.30am (too busy chatting to competitors, so we were a few minutes late) we headed to the volunteer briefing and caught up on where we were supposed to be and what we would be doing. Diane lead the briefing and gave clear and easy instructions and noting any pressure points that might occur during the day. ASK and I had been handed junior stream crossing duty on the bike and run section and we needed to be there for about noon – so we had time to spare and with that we got chatting to other marshals like Linsey and Freya who were both awesome and ambled around supporting the GingaNinja and some of the other competitors as nerves started to get the better of them.

Thankfully the GingaNinja got into the spirit of things and made a few new friends herself including the awesome Pauline and Jane who were competing as a relay team in the triathlon, I had no idea that there would be so many brilliant options for this event and this gave the whole thing a vibe of being super friendly and incredibly inclusive – it had a really welcoming feel that just lifted the spirits even if the rain was bouncing down on top of you.

But with time ticking away competitors needed to head back to mainland for the start of the race – yep that’s right – registration is on the island but the start is on the mainland – you’ve got to swim back to the island to complete the bike and run sections!

What a superb and brutal idea!

Anyway ASK and I took up a spot overlooking the swim exit and cheered everyone into transition while awaiting the arrival of our athlete. The GingaNinja should have been quick in the swim and I was probably expecting a time of about 11 or 12 minutes but as the first swimmers came out and then the next and the next she wasn’t there.

In the water you could see the current was strong and it found swimmers being dragged significantly off course and this was going to be a massive drain on them as they pushed for the slipway. The GingaNinja, who would argue that the swim is her strongest discipline, struggled in the early stages and resorted to breast stroke until she found her footing.

By the time she was in gear and back into front crawl mode she had used up the energy reserves in her legs and lost a bit of the competitive advantage that a good swim would have given her ahead of the sections she wasn’t so confident in.

However, she pulled herself out of the water to a rapturous roar from the crowd, pulled the big girl pants on and managed to jog up the hill into transition where a battle with a wetsuit awaited. ASK and I followed as quickly as we could offering as much encouragement as we could.

ASK and I shouted advice down to her but she looked pretty pissed so I let her get on with it and instead turned my attention to the gentleman who had just approached me. Paul is one of the key organisers of the event along with the rest of the Durty Events team and the awesome Duncan (the wonderful ferryman and also my original co-conspirator in the special reason for being on the island).

What was my special reason for being there? Well, I had contacted the team at Durty Events to ask if they could help me in proposing marriage to the GingaNinja.

On one of of our test trips to the island, in the months before the event, Duncan had identified himself as co-organiser and so when we were there for our final test trip I stopped and asked if he might be able to help. Duncan with his broad smile and a little twinkle in his eye said, ‘leave it with me’.

And now as the GingaNinja was pulling the bike up from the grass to head out on the course, plans were being finalised for me to be able to ask her to marry me front of all her fellow triathletes.

But before any of that could happen there was the business of marshalling the junior race. ASK and I had been stationed at one of the outlier but most beautiful points. So at about 11.45 we, and Adrian, made our way up to our marshalling points, saying hello to the other event volunteers as we went by and cheering the adult race competitors as they hurried past us.

Looking into the sky, the grey had now disappeared and what remained was beautiful, blue sky! This was wonderful and I had no doubt would make marshalling a much easier task (especially with a 7 year old in tow) and also a more mentally enjoyable effort for the juniors.

ASK set herself up by the directional signage, grabbed herself a hot chocolate from the flask I had brought and sat upon her recently purchased inflatable seat (from race sponsor and local Oban outdoor wear store Outside Edge, a really good shop to visit might I add). The only problem, that I wouldn’t discover until we were packing away was that she had planted the seat in the sloppiest sheep shit imaginable!

Could have been worse of course she might have dumped herself in it.

Within minutes of our arrival at the marshal point we saw our first bikers, ASK steeled herself for motivational cheers and frantic arm waggling to inform the athletes the direction to go. I on the other hand found myself a little rock amongst the sea of sodden ground and stood just above the stream of water that the competitors would have to get through to continue onwards.

Adrian would later describe my motivational cheering as like an old style PE teacher on steeplechase or cross-country day as the runners were hitting the water! That said I like to think I was a little more encouraging to those that looked like they needed to hear that they could do it! We whooped and hollered at all the young athletes until both ASK had become rather hoarse.

What is undeniable though is that I was incredibly impressed by the skill, speed and tenacity of these young adventurers and I very much admired their abilities – from the youngest to the oldest they all did an amazing job. ASK also really enjoyed being part of it all and wanting to have a go herself. She called over to me at one point as one of the younger athletes came through and said, ‘that boy only looks about 8, I could do this next year when I’m 8’.

Of course I explained she was a bit too young yet to meet the age requirement but when she is old enough she’s welcome to try – but she’ll need to improve her biking skills first because there’s no way she’d get through the mud with her current bike riding.

What I do know is that while the biking was impressive from the juniors it was the running that really impressed me, those who had perhaps fought with the bike a bit, looked sharp in the run, and even on the boggy, muddy, slippery conditions there was real grit shown from everyone. If I had been wearing a cap as I stood on my rock I would have doffed it in the direction of each and every one of them.

With the race all but over ASK and I ate some lunch, a delicious curry pie for me and a macaroni pie for the child. As we were finishing them and with no athletes having been seen for some time we caught sight of the other marshals heading towards us collecting signs and so we joined them, clearing the field of event signage – leaving no trace.

It was a lovely wander back with some lovely people, good chat and Teddy the black Labrador that had been hanging round the food tent earlier and looking to snack on any tasty treat that a careless athlete might have lost.

But now it was back to the real event of the day for me and that was taking place back at the finish line.

We deposited the race signage at the registration tent and then ASK and I set ourselves up at the finish line hoping that the GingaNinja would be here soon. The Durty guys were keeping a special eye out for her so that they could time things as efficiently as possible and this meant that when I arrived back I knew she had already been out on the run for about 45 minutes.

I spoke to Paul and said if she isn’t back in 15 minutes then they should just go ahead with the prize giving – I had no intention of keeping cold, hungry and exhausted triathletes from getting home but the Durty team seemed very relaxed about the whole thing and just played it by ear.

I however, was anxious, very anxious.

Although the GingaNinja knew the deal we agreed many years ago – complete an ultra marathon, a long distance walk of 100 miles or an any distance triathlon and we would get married she would have little or no idea that I would have roped in the help of the event organisers to force her, through embarrassment, into saying yes!

I kept checking my phone to see if she was in trouble but nothing she was still out there. Other triathletes crossed the finish line to great applause and while I was happy for them I was nervous for her and then Paul came over and said, ‘she’s a few minutes away’. My heart started racing but I got myself together and headed down the final strait so that ASK could finish it with her mum and then with prize giving underway I needed to move the GingaNinja and ASK into position quickly without giving the game away.

I stripped her of her soaking kit and hurled her dryrobe on, I gave the child a camera and with just a minute to spare we were settled at the prize giving at which point I was almost immediately called up to the front of what felt like a million people.

Now I had relayed my story and what was about to happen to lots of the people at the event and almost everywhere I looked I saw someone who knew what was about to happen.

With microphone in hand I began.

‘We’ve been on a million and one adventures together… I wondered if you fancied a million and one more… starting with this one…’

At which point I removed from my pocket a ring that had been specially made for us by a wonderful lady called Sally Grant in Burntisland and moved to the traditional single knee position.

‘Will you marry me?’

The GingaNinja moved from the crowd, looking rather sheepish and then whole world fell silent and disappeared. She came, took the ring from my rather trembling fingers, which would refuse to fit on her triathlon fattened sausage fingers and said yes.

I informed the crowd of the answer and there was a cheer to break the silence and more importantly there was an easing of my breathing. Hellfire I even cried, which is most unlike me.

Holy turd. She said yes.

The Durty Stuff
But enough of this you aren’t here for the emotional proposal stuff you’re here because of Durty Events. What I can say is that the Craggy Island Triathlon must be a massive logistical challenge but the team make it look effortless. It was smooth, it was brilliantly executed and it seemed to be very elastic, if something needed to adapt then the team could move with that need. Brilliant.

Location
In terms of location I think Kerrera might be a little hidden gem in Scotland’s arsenal of little gems. The place is full of little secrets to uncover as you explore and it is certainly worth seeing the castle and the views across to Mull and the mainland but there’s so much more to the island. The islanders themselves that I met on my various visits were incredibly friendly and welcoming and there’s a real community spirit about the place. Then you’ve got the event route which the GingaNinja described as ‘absolutely glorious’ and you’d have to agree, it has absolutely everything in it, all muddily packaged in to about 22km of eventing and the junior route was equally exceptional – you don’t get this kind of thing everyday.

This is an event worth doing as a seasoned eventer or first timer – it’s something you’ll never forget and never regret.

Marshalling & Volunteering
As for marshalling? Well I definitely had a pretty easy time of it, I answered a few questions from some of the competitors and spectators, then got a fantastic view of the junior race for a couple of hours – it was a truly wonderful experience. What I can say is that it was brilliant and everyone should try and give a bit back by doing some volunteering and let me assure you that you’ll have a great time if you choose to do it in a Durty Events kind of way. Importantly though any kind of volunteering and marshalling makes a difference in any kind of endurance sport and your participation makes it so much easier for events to take place and for athletes to be supported.

Mountain Rescue
It’s also worth noting that this event also serves as a fundraiser for the Oban Mountain Rescue and I can’t think of a service that deserves your support more, you can donate to them at any time (or your nearest mountain rescue) because without their dedication and commitment, events like this wouldn’t really be possible. We might think we’ll never need their aid or their exceptional skills but on the day we do then I’m glad I’ve donated to keep them going.

Thanks
And now to a few thanks, first of course is to Durty Events and team, not only did they provide a triathlon event that my partner was keen to participate in but they made room for me and my little piece of proposal mischief. Paul & Diane especially you have my thanks.

To Duncan, our wonderful ferryman, co-organiser and all round star I must say thank you for being a brilliant support and a real gentleman, you inspired all of the madness of the proposal at the event! Plus being sped from the island by you was the perfect end to a perfect day.

To Freya, Linsey, Adrian and all the other volunteers and marshals – your company, wisdom and videography skills were much appreciated, I hope we one day come across each other in another muddy location.

To the many competitors who took part, especially those such as Jane and Pauline who we chatted to throughout the event it was a pleasure to share the Craggy Island Triathlon with you. Congratulations to everyone who took part you were amazing snd my apologies if I’ve forgotten to mention you.

To my little munky, ASK, the 7 year old marshal and daughter who managed not to moan at all, despite soggy feet and missing her mum. She was a superstar and came away wanting not to be an ultra runner like her dad but be a triathlete like her mum.

And finally to the GingaNinja – thanks for finishing and for saying yes.

And so that’s one of the Tales of Kerrera, what’s yours? And what will your next adventure be?

Durty Events have lots of lovely looking events to get your teeth into (or volunteer at). I know I’ll be signing up to a first triathlon with them (probably Craggy Island) and the GingaNinja is already eyeing up both the Foxlake and Aviemore Tri events. It wouldn’t surprise me if we become not just durty but filthy regulars because these guys know how to put on a splendid event. You can find out more at durtyevents.com and let me assure you I’m not paid or sponsored to say any of this they are just a brilliant events team.

Apologies if I got a name wrong or if I missed anyone out – it has been a mad few days but thank you to everyone and see you again soon!

The end of January is almost upon us and for the majority none of us will have raced for quite some time.

Now in the context of the pandemic this is a very minor thing but with glimmer of light in the distance and much hard work being done by so many to return humanity to a more traditional lifestyle, I am led to wonder about running races again.

For me the last race I did was Ultra North in September 2020, nestled between what many of us thought was the beginning of the end for COVID 19 and the ramping up of restrictions as the pandemic worsened across the globe.

2020 races, as of April, all got cancelled, some were moved on a number of occasions in an effort for events to happen but most simply didn’t take place. This means that those event organisers who have thankfully survived have moved their events to this year (2021) and this is where we can then only speculate. Is there a value in speculation? Perhaps not but I feel it helps me to write down how I’m feeling about this in order to remain focused in getting ready for the races I am aiming for.

Sadly a few days back I received my first postponement email telling me that the Pennine Bridleway has sensibly been moved from April to September. On top of that I’ve made the decision to pull out of the Quebec Mega Trail in July because I’m convinced my trip to Canada will not happen and therefore I have cancelled the flights and aim to go in 2022. It’s all starting to feel a bit 2020.

That said I’m one of the fortunate ones – I’ve got a lot of races booked in and therefore my racing agenda is set and all I can do is wait. For organisers, participants and those involved in the running events supply chain there are stresses, frustrations and disappointments coming from all directions and you can’t help but feel for everyone.

The 2020 that should have been
My 2020 had been billed, by myself, as the year of the comeback. I’ve spent a lot of time treading water and running events at the back of the pack but I had assured myself that now I was settled in Scotland I could finally focus on running again and so even entered my first ultra marathon grand slam. So with that in mind my 2020 looked pretty good, with lots of variety, interesting routes and ball breakers, take a look below;

  • Tyndrum 24 / January (Completed)
  • Vogrie Park 5km / January (Completed)
  • Falkirk Trail 8hr Ultta / February (Completed)
  • F50K / March(DNS)
  • Skull Trail Race / March (Completed)
  • Pennine Bridleway / April (Postponed)
  • Bonnie Prince Ultra / April (Postponed)
  • To the Pike & Back Again / April (Postponed)
  • Chacefield (3 race series) / March / April / May (Postponed)
  • Ultra Scotland 50 / May (Postponed)
  • Loch Ness 360 / May (Postponed)
  • John Lucas Memorial / June (Postponed)
  • Quebec Mega Trail / July (Postponed)
  • Run the Blades / July (Postponed)
  • Ultra North / September(Completed)
  • Yorkshire Three Peaks / October (Postponed)
  • Dark Peaks / November (Postponed)
  • White Peaks / November (Postponed)
  • Cheviot Goat / December (Postponed)

I had loaded my 2020 calendar for the year end when I had assumed I would be fittest and more ready for the challenges that awaited me and to be fair by the time October and November had arrived I was much fitter than I had been when I raced at the Tyndrum 24. Who knew that I wouldn’t be getting to showcase my new found fitness! I think that most of us hoped that by the time December and therefore The Cheviot Goat had come around that the opportunity to race would have been restored.

As we all know though 2020 would end without the resumption of running events.

It couldn’t be helped and I was very much of a mind that I would rather have tighter restrictions for a significant period to allow all governments globally to get the pandemic under control rather than the half hearted restricting and easing that had been par for the course in the previous 6 months.

Feelings?
The running community seems to have been sympathetic to the plight of race organisers, especially the smaller, more intimate events that have gone over and above to do their best for the wannabee participants.

I know there have been exceptions to the above statement and that some events have been found wanting in terms of communication, etc but organisers must have been dealing with enormous logistical, financial and commitment issues and so hopefully there can be some level of forgiveness if communication, rearrangements and the like were not as swift as it could have been.

Virtual
Many runners have taken to engaging with the virtual events that almost every organiser has put on and this will presumably help in a small way to recover costs the organisers incurred in amongst other things venue rental, insurances and the production of 2020 materials such as medals and shirts.

Sadly, I fell out of love with virtual events some years ago and therefore found myself less inclined to do virtual runs. The only one I took part in was the ‘To the Pike & Back’ half marathon but this was because I was in the area on race day and was able to run the route at the time the event was supposed to take place.

Had I been running this at home in Scotland rather than in Bolton I would have felt like I had cheated the race and wouldn’t have been able to put the medal with my collection. Odd isn’t it? Maybe it is a little like a t-shirt I have from an event I DNS’d some years back (shirt was posted out pre-event) I don’t ever wear that shirt but I keep it as a reminder of being a knobhead and to stop doing stupid runs the day before a race.

Refunds, rearrangements and re-entry
When I received the medal and the shirt a few weeks later it wasn’t with any real elation and this was perhaps the confirmation I needed to say that I would instead focus on training over virtual events. This may seem a little selfish, being unwilling to spend money on the virtual events to help keep organisers going -especially given the amount of benefit I’ve had from racing over the years, but having already spent nearly £1,000 on events and a lot more on extras I was keen not to spend money on things that I had little interest in.

However, I also had no interest in trying to recover any of the money from the events that were being cancelled and postponed because I want these businesses to survive, racing is an important part of my life and I remain happy to participate whenever racing returns. To this end where refunds have been offered and if I couldn’t do the rearranged date I simply donated my entry fee because the money was already used and I had moved on from it.

For example I donated my fee to the Quebec Mega Trail because my Canadian trip had been cancelled, when I rebooked the trip for 2021 I simply re-entered the QMT and now even though my trip has been cancelled again I will not be asking for a refund. Most importantly when we rebook our trip for 2022 I will then enter the QMT again and pay a third entrance fee.

I will continue to support events in my own way.

2021
The other reason I don’t feel particularly guilty for not doing the virtual events is that the moment there were 2021 races to enter – I started entering them. I had wanted to run the Moray Trail Series but given the hold overs from 2020 I could only run the long form of the Speyside Way, I entered within seconds of the event opening. I am hopeful that other opportunities will arise, not perhaps in ultra marathons (I’m pretty much fully booked for that) but in other smaller more community led events – 5 & 10km races, maybe the odd half marathon (to give myself a real challenge). I will happily enter as many of those as my old body will allow.

2020 was a tough year for everyone and 2021 looks like being little better as it stands but there are glimmers of hope, what I remain confident about is that most of us would like race organisers to survive this difficult time and bring racing back (whatever your distance preference).

How and when do I believe they will return?
Well nobody has a crystal ball but you’ve got to remain optimistic and believe that during the second half of the year that some level of conventionality will have reached us but nothing is guaranteed, 2020 most certainly taught us that.

What I do believe though is that for a while racing will feel different, if my experience at Ultra North is anything to go by I think that events both running and non-running will be a little more nervous and perhaps lacking some of the confidence that is exuded from a great race environment. I also feel that the mass participation events will perhaps still struggle to operate – think of the amount of people that are involved in the major events, not just the runners, but everyone and you have to wonder if it is perhaps a risk that organisers, supporters and even the runners will be unwilling to stomach.

As for what 2021 should look like? Well my calendar is below and you can see that there are no real mass participation events, I’d say that some of these events would be as low as 50 participants while most will be in the low hundreds taking part. I live in hope that most of these events will go ahead but as I said earlier the first has already been postponed from April to September and one I’ll definitely be DNS’ing the QMT because I’ve now cancelled my flights to Canada.

My Calendar
So, my race calendar looks a lot like last year;

  • Pennine Bridleway / April (Postponed)
  • Chacefield (3 race series) / March / April / May
  • Bonnie Prince Ultra / April
  • Ultra Scotland 50 / May
  • Loch Ness 360 / May
  • John Lucas Memorial / June
  • Quebec Mega Trail / July (DNS)
  • Run the Blades / July
  • Speyside Way / August
  • Yorkshire Three Peaks / October
  • Dark Peaks / November
  • White Peaks / November
  • Cheviot Goat / December

Going forward
What would I like to see going forward, well that’s easy, I want to see rewarding running events that are safe (from COVID) but not safe from danger. I would like to see runners returning in big numbers to events that have brought them joy year on year.

I would love to see the return of the little events that litter the running calendar each year that draw the community together and often involve little old ladies handing out race numbers and giving you a little twinkle of their eyes to suggest that they still hold the course record.

I’d like to see event organisers having the confidence to put on new events to replace the ones that will inevitably have been lost and I’d like to see the running community supporting them.

Perhaps a positive of the various lockdowns and the pandemic is that we’ve seen a greater uptake in activity of all types and we’ve been exploring our local routes. What would be awesome is if some of those who have taken up running during the pandemic joined in with these wonderful racing celebrations of running. Races and the race experience cannot be replicated by a virtual events or even (in my opinion) by wonderful things like Parkrun, both of these do serve a very real need in the running community but they don’t do what racing does.

I’d like to think I’d even consider starting my own race or race series, though having seen the struggle of race directors during the good times to organise and fill an event, I’m not sure I’m ready to join their ranks just yet (if ever). But it is something I have been considering for quite a while and also something I feel that my natural organisational skills would be well suited to.

What have I been missing?
Before I sign off I want to try and remind both you and myself about what racing does for me and maybe you’ll recognise some of this yourself.

Racing brings me nerves and anticipation, that anticipation leads to a dry mouth, clammy hands and sometimes sweaty nuts. Mostly it leads to a case of the epic shits (something I have detailed many times).

As I approach a start line I can feel the hairs on my arm standing up awaiting the order to race and as I barge into the throngs of runners ahead of me, trying to edge forward in the pack even before the race has started, I feel excited.

As I set off and my legs feel tense and yet like jelly I’ll find a rhythm and I’ll push as hard as my body will allow. I can hear the pounding of my feet on the floor, I can hear the sound of the different terrains, crunching through the leaves, sloshing through the rain and drumming deeply on the pavement. I can feel and hear the wind, it makes teeth chatter, it makes eyes narrow and it whistles across my face drying the sweat into salt that will later melt into my eyes.

But what I’ve missed most is seeing a Neil MacRitchie, Fiona Kirkaldy or Michael Hrabe, a face I know ahead of me and that feeling in my gut that is so desperate to catch them and overtake them that I feel the blood pulsing around my body and giving me that one final injection of speed. I never do catch them of course, I’m old, fat and ruined but I cross that finish line with aplomb and a little flourish.

No amount of lovely training and lovely muddy, hilly or wet running can replace that.

Let’s hope for racing this year.

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I’ve been locked down for a few days now – unable to leave the house, never mind go running. I mean I could have visited the treadmill but I don’t have a good relationship with the treadmill – we treat each other with disdain.

I’ve also been having a huge amount of fun eating toblerone and eating toblerone requires concentration and so you can’t run. When I haven’t been working, I’ve been eating and vice versa. Life is a super exciting rollercoaster at the moment.

Yesterday though I said to ASK would you like to go running in the garden?

She replied, ‘yes please, can we have a race’ and I told her that if she ran 100 laps of the garden I’d give her the virtual medal she hadn’t quite earned from her March running, and that yes we could race it. 100 laps of the garden would be enough to cover the last couple of miles she needed and she seemed happy to try it. I told her that I’d carry on and do maybe 200 laps and she seemed pretty happy about the arrangement.

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The trouble is that the layout of our garden is not very conducive to running for a number of reasons;

  1. It’s on multiple levels
  2. It’s multi-surfaced
  3. The runnable bit isn’t very big

Regardless I managed to devise a route that would take in the bulk of the paths of the garden, a rock jump and some steps – all this in under 50 metres. Had I been smarter I could have used the front garden too and the two side passages wither side of the house which would have made it more like a 200 metre loop but I figured the pain of torment of such a small loop would at the very least test our mental strength.

I told ASK that we must move at slow and steady pace and that the garden was full of opportunities to injure ourselves and so we must be careful. Anyway ASK was off like a rocket  and calling out to me to hurry up – I was choosing to run just behind her incase any of the garden obstacle proved the undoing of my rather slight five year old. 

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I had instructed both of us to put a layer on and also a buff to help keep us warm but as the laps started falling we found that both of us were wildly overdressed and quickly disposed of our layers. ASK was quick round the course, racing up the steps and then bounding down the narrow path down and making jolly good fun of the rock leap at the bottom of the narrow path.

She refused to let me pass and lead the way – even when we had water stops she would say, ‘dad are you ready?’ and then immediately step out infant of me to get a bit of a head start. As we hit 50 laps she started to slow a little bit – not on the downhill but on the steps and the climb back up to the top of the garden. I offered words of encouragement and gave her regular updates as to how many laps we had completed and more importantly, how many were left to go. 

Thankfully her mid-run lull lasted about 10 laps and then she had some fire in her belly as I said there were barely 30 laps left. With all the energy she could muster I could see the pumping of her arms driving her ever forward. 10 laps to go and I called out to her that there were about 20 laps still left, because clearly she wasn’t keeping count, and as the entered the last 3 laps I finally revealed we were nearly there. She shot off but I called out to her that there were still 3 laps left – and thankfully she slowed a little bit, allowing me to catch her up.

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As she passed the ‘checkpoint’ for the final time I called out to her that this was the last lap and that I was going to win. With gusto I started tailgating her around the lap, making her call out to, ‘stop it dad!’ to which I replied, ‘well go faster!’

She did.

The last 20 metres were quick as lightning and she crossed the line with a little jump in the air and a big slurp of water in the late afternoon sunshine. A very happy young lady was soon awarded the virtual medal she had now finally earned – that makes it about medal number 26 that she’s achieved and this one was in very special circumstances.

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img_2097This is less a review and more a thank you to the Millar Foundation for putting on a truly awesome Superhero Fun Run this weekend.

I’m sure that many of my fellow geeks, nerds and coolios will recognise the name Mark Millar from excellent comic books such as Kick Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Superior as well as more instantly recognisable names such as Spider-Man.

Beyond comics though he founded the Millar Foundation with the aim of providing transformative opportunity and community in the place he grew up. What a thoroughly decent idea and well worth an internet search to articles about the projects the Foundation is involved in or click here to see the photographs from recent events

This latest event was just the kind of thing that a running and comic book obsessed father and daughter would be very attracted to. And so we went along.

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When we rolled up to Drumpellier Country Park the sun was shining wonderfully but thankfully it wasn’t too hot as being in superhero garb was a little different to my Ronhill and La Sportiva technical tops. We had traded in our usual monikers for a crack at being Supergirl and Mister Incredible (some might say that’s no change for me – I jest) and we delighted in a bit of cape swooshing as we left the car park.

As we ambled along the path we were picked out by the local press photographer for a quick snap and then directed to the registration point. All was lovely, everybody hugely welcoming and there was some delicious fruit juice, bottled water and bananas available to the runners pre-race. Awesome.

We were half an hour early so Supergirl and I sat enjoying our fruit juice and admiring the many wonderful costumes on display.

As it was ‘Batman Day’ (The Caped Crusaders 80th birthday) there were lots of dark knight detective themed characters but there was a significant amount of Captain America, Hulk, Supergirl, Wonder Women, Spider-Men and Supermen ready to race. I did catch sight of a couple of Deadpool runners and even one Gecko from PJ Masks, it was an eclectic and wonderful mix.

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Before long it was race time and after a bit of a warm up from the team at the local gym we were thrust on to the course. The race kicked off at about 11 and I had taken up my customary position at the back of the pack and had instructed Supergirl to take it steady as this was her longest race to date.

As the gaggle of superheroic runners set out we began to find our stride and it wasn’t long before we began overtaking all manner of caped competitors. The key for me, in the run, was that Supergirl maintain a sensible pace and run consistently throughout the distance. Many of the young people running were prone to bursts of speed and then being forced into walking as they had expelled all their power. No such issue confronted us and we gently ambled our way through the field and down the tarmac path with it’s wonderful views across the lake.

It was about a half a kilometre in when the tarmac turned to woodland trail and both Supergirl and Mister Incredible were much happier – both of us kicked on a little bit and started to target runners ahead of us, picking them off one by one. Occasionally a runner from behind would overtake us and we enjoyed watching the spirited displays of running from the young and old. The effort was really very inspiring and that was such a great message for my daughter to take away. There is something powerful about seeing kids, not much older than her, both succeeding and struggling but fighting for that finish and the reward of the medal.

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As for the course – the news was good – for all the runners as the path was lovely and dry with a mildly spongy feel to it which gave wonderful bounce as you ran. Had Supergirl not been with me I’d have happily done half a dozen loops here. But instead as a dynamic duo we steadily ran through the woodlands and said hello to many of the other runners and as we approached the turnaround Supergirl put on a little spurt – determined to claim her medal as quickly as possible.

The distance to the finish was quickly disappearing and we were flying. I was incredibly proud of her performance and then all of a sudden, as happens with ASK, she lost concentration for a second and was sent sprawling across the trail.

We immediately stopped running and tears fell down her little face and I took right hold of her in a big hug and said the thing I always say when she falls, ‘what do we do when we fall over?’ To which she always replies, ‘we get back up and keep going’. I dusted her down and checked that there was no serious injury or bleeding and checked she was fine to continue…

She was.

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With the tears dried we picked up the pace – Supergirl though wanted to hold my hand – she was keen not to fall again – so together we came to final turn and the sound of the finish line PA system blared music in our direction. The lovely volunteer at the final corner made note of my delightful backpack that I was sporting (I was carrying a teddy bear on my back brought home from school for the weekend to go on adventures – and my daughter wanted the bear to race).

Supergirl decided that now we were back on tarmac she no longer needed the company of Mister Incredible and hit the afterburner. With around 250 metres to go Supes started her sprint finish, both feet off the ground and arms pumping – my little superhero crossing the finish line to collect a most well earned medal.

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Great racing, great event.

  • Distance: 2.5km (2.7km GPS measurement)
  • Time: 18 minutes of moving time / 3 minutes of crying and dusting ourselves off

Conclusion
Thanks must go the Millar Foundation but also the Drumpellier Park Parkrun team who made the event happen – the volunteers of the Park Run team really worked hard to make sure everyone had a great time and it was.

The nice thing was that the whole event was free and there was a lovely sense of community and that will certainly have helped to bring people out but given how many people got dressed up I feel this was simply the kind of event that draws families out to do something fun and active, together.

I hope this runs for many years and I hope it inspires other towns to run similar events –  they don’t have to be free – they just have to be on. The fun run at the recent West Lothian Running Festival (read about it here) for example was a lovely and well organised event too and these things really do bring people together. I feel it important that our children and young people are able to participate in events like this to ensure that being active is a habit and not a chore.

And in closing I’ll simply say that I look forward to donning a bit of spandex next year for this wonderful event.

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‘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?

I’ve been trying to pay it forward a little and say thanks in meaningful ways. It all started last week when I saw that lots of the big names were once again lined up for the #RunUltraBlogger nomination and as much as I love some of the names on the list, it was, to my mind, mostly uninspiring and I wanted real runners who motivate me and so I nominated the two that have inspired me most over the last 12 months or so.

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The blogs therefore I nominated are UltraRunnerDan (dan-fattofit.blogspot.co.uk) and Totkat (www.totkat.org). If they make a shortlist (or whatever the process is) do be sure to give them some support – they both highly deserve it for their awesome running and tremendous contributions to ‘run’ debates and healthy living. And even if you don’t vote for them do go along and visit their blogs and see what can be achieved with a bit of tenacity. They really are excellent reads.

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Now, while in awards mood I also slid over to The Running Awards website and both put my tick next to some of the nominees and also nominated a couple of races.

The most important things I nominated were the SainteLyon (best international race) and the Skye Trail Ultra (best endurance race). This seemed like a good positive thing to do – the SainteLyon is (I believe) the second longest running ultra marathon in the world and is an inspiration – I recommend that all ultra runners look it up and take part (there were only a dozen or so English runners there last year).

The other nomination for the Skye Trail Ultra is for three reasons 1) it’s a small local race across a tremendous landscape 2) it deserves to compete against much larger races because it has a spirit not found at places like VMLM and 3) the race director Jeff Smith is a brilliant, brilliant man who gives up his time to put on the most amazing event!

You can click links here for both The Running Awards and Run Ultra Blogger awards to find out more. Run Ultra Blogger awards are available by clicking here and the The Running Awards can be found here

Now before I go I wanted to discuss a different way I’ve been paying it forward via running; but as many readers will probably be aware I’ve been heavily focused on politics the last few months. This is very much because the referendum result has left a shit show which I feel has shown how nasty, insular and intolerant the UK has become. It saddens me hugely that many people, I had once considered friends, voted leave with the key reason being immigration.

Roll forward to the last week… twice in the last week I’ve been running slowly home and it’s been cold, really cold – winter is finally upon us.

On one of these cold early evenings I saw a man reading a book, a little bedraggled, trying to remain warm – he looked homeless, he certainly looked like he had troubles. I asked if I could buy him something to eat and he accepted. It wasn’t much but I bought some hot food and drink to take to him because who knew when the last time he’d eaten properly.

He was English or at least had an English accent, white, young(ish) probably my age actually – we didn’t speak much because I was cooling down post run and I didn’t want to embarrass him by standing over him as he ate. I wished him well and we shook hands.

I wondered if I had done right?

I did a similar thing tonight, a young(ish) lady who spoke little or no English, not enough clothes on, carrier bags with possessions that looked like her entire life and no hope. I was at Charing Cross with 15 minutes to spare before my train and I spotted her. I mimed the idea of food to her, tried to explain I’d just be a minute or two (I was) and thankfully she was still there when I returned. Given she couldn’t understand me, nor I her, I didn’t feel the need to make small talk but as I stood to leave she grabbed my arm, pressed it firmly and smiled thanks.

I could have cried.

Instead I smiled and waved gently before getting on the train to write this.

I see lots of homeless people as I run, people selling the big issue, refugees desperate for help, the mentally ill, the runaways, those hiding in plain sight and I don’t know how to help but what I do know is that too many in the UK see these poorest of people as a blight and a problem.

But maybe we could look at it differently?

Instead of seeing a homeless woman, try and see a woman who needs help. Instead of seeing a starving refugee, see a hungry man. If you were displaced, tired, hungry, distraught, abandoned wouldn’t you want someone to help?

Post referendum result I’m scared what my country is becoming.

So I’m asking you to do something for someone else. I’m asking you to pay it forward, help someone else or if you can’t help someone else then consider helping yourself by fighting to overturn the stupidity and the rhetoric of this country.

It’s never too late to start making a difference. #IAmEuropean

‘Bye bye’ UltraBaby said as I wandered down to the back of St Pauls Cathedral and the start line of the City of London mile. I’d accidentally put myself forward for the 5mins 30secs club but post Skye my feet have been playing up with bruising, bleeding and generally not being very useful. So when I ran into Ben (the beardy one offa Twitter) who was starting a wave behind me I was a little bit worried. The truth was I’d only run about 3 times since Skye and none of that had gone very well.

Still I was at the very least well rested.

I stood nervously at the back of the pack and when the start came I pushed as hard as my little feet would carry me. I’d chosen for the race my Altra Instinct which in all honesty are not noted for their speed – I had wanted to use my On running shoes but my feet were a bloody, nasty mess and I required the soft, extra wide, cushioned feel of the Altra to even get going.

I realised about halfway I was losing ground on the front of the pack but I also wasn’t at the back – clearly others had also over-egged their ability but at the turn I still felt okay and as I came up to the 400 metres to go sign I hit the afterburner and put my mid-race slump behind me.

At 200 metres to go I could feel the power of the crowd behind me and my arms pumped hard to cross the line in a little over 6 minutes – not my best time at the distance, not even close but I’d enjoyed it.

The route took in the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral so it was familiar territory and I knew this would be harder than the Westminster Mile but in the end I’d just had a nice time and an opportunity to run without a race vest or hydration. There were other benefits – I did get to say hello and see running Gemma Hockett who is as exceptional a runner as her social media suggests and I picked up a very nice medal for my efforts but there was something else – the GingaNinja was back for a raceday.

The GN had signed up for one of the last waves, clearly I had bullied her into taking part but it was a nice day and I felt she’d appreciate taking part in something with such a tremendous atmosphere.

The problem was that UltraBaby was feeling a little clingy. We hatched a plan, a simple plan, move the GN to the ‘family wave’ and she could then run with UB who would walk/run as much of the distance as possible and then I’d take her off the course to follow in the buggy along the route shouting support.

With approval of the plan from the organisers we got UB warmed as she ran up and down the street, carb loaded and did a bit of stretching (of her very loud lungs). Then problem two kicked in – UB fell asleep.

Some quick thinking saw me remove the timing chip from my race number and join in the family wave with the GN and the buggy containing the baby. For a second time I prepared for the off and this time I enjoyed the ambience of the event, sedately running through the City of London, waving at children, taking in the Steel Drum Band and generally having a lovely time.

The GN in her first run in ages and her first race in even longer powered home the last few hundred metres and was greeted warmly by the excellent volunteers who handed her and UB medals. Great work, especially just a day after completing the Great East Swim.

The Amba City of London Mile (and the Westminster Mile) is a truly great event run in the spring and having done it, I can recommend it (and its Westminster sibling). It’s a ball breaking distance, the mile and one you can really put your foot to the floor with but the sense of achievement is huge regardless of your actual running ability. I love the mile, its my favourite race distance after the 10 mile.

The City Mile is incredibly well organised coupled with a great route and a stunning atmosphere, its unbeatable. if you’re looking for a community event next year that can draw people together then this would be my recommendation (along with the Westminster Mile).  As a final note I think a great deal of goodwill should be shown to Amba Hotels who sponsor the event and help to make it a free to enter race. Without organisations like them events like this simply wouldn’t be possible.

Anyway, don’t delay get training – you’ve got a whole year before the next running! and most importantly get involved!


Mr Corbyn,

I’m writing to you on behalf of my daughter, UltraBaby, she’s not even two years old and I’m worried for her. I’m worried about a United Kingdom not in Europe, I’m worried about the consequences of the actions of the people of our nation in just a few days time and ultimately I’m worried about the future. So I’m writing to you because I want her to be involved in a United Kingdom that is an integral part of a culturally and economically rich Europe.

Is that too much to ask?

Therefore I’m imploring you to do two things for my daughter and for those who can’t or won’t vote across the UK.

  1. I need you, without caveats, to get behind Europe and our position in it and rally sleeping labour supporters.
  2. I need you to get on a platform with the Prime Minister and rally the whole damn country. If Clement Attlee could share a stage with Josef Stalin and Harry Truman you can do it with David Cameron.

Help my daughter remain European Mr Corbyn, because she isn’t being given a choice in this decision and I believe she deserves the best possible future and the best possible future doesn’t include leaving the EU.

Thank you in advance for anything you can do to truly help.

UltraBoyRuns


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph copyright: Liverpool Echo


It’s nearly 2 years since I completed the WNWA96 (read about it here), a walking event that for me turned into a running ultra distance event. As some of you will remember it was a very special event as it was organised by my dad and it was with a great sense of pride that I completed the entire distance despite looking like I might pass out at the end.

I recall being sat outside Anfield, the home of Liverpool F.C. at the end of the journey silently recalling what had taken place and watching the joy on the faces of those who took part. Importantly though I listened to the moving tributes being given to those who had lost their lives all those years ago – it was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone there.

Since the WNWA96 I’ve completed a load of ultras, a few marathons, had a brush or three with serious injury and gained a daughter. For the families of the victims they have had the long running inquest into the events of April 1989, which as I write, is in the summing up stages and therefore hopefully drawing to its conclusion. Given all this it seemed the right time to get involved again – at an event where I can hopefully make a difference. Now perhaps it’s just good fortune or serendipity but an opportunity has arisen for me to get involved.

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I’ve been aware for some time of Dom Williams, an ultra runner (excellent finish at the RoF to prove it), the kind of ultra runner you’d want to be and the man behind the Hillsborough to Anfield Run in memory of the 96 people who so tragically lost their lives in 1989 as well as the Run for the 96 5km run.

A conversation between us arose out of my blog post concerning the Run for the 96  (read about it here and then enter here). We eventually discussed whether it would be possible for me to run some or all of the Hillsborough to Anfield 79 mile route as part of the team that will be attempting it. However, because I am racing the Skye Ultra Trail a week after the H2A Run I said I’d love to do it another year but that 2016 was unlikely. I also had family joining me in Liverpool that weekend which made it all the more difficult and so I knew it wasn’t to be

What a difference a couple of weeks make
That was a couple of weeks ago and I was looking for a way to say ‘yes I’m in’ because this was an event I felt I wanted to do. I was especially keen as I knew that my dad was involved once again and running with him is always quite a special experience. Thankfully, it seemed destiny had a place on that team for me when the GingaNinja said ‘I can’t get up to Liverpool that weekend’ I now had a little more flexibility in timings.

But what about the race the week after?
Ah, well I figure its going to be great training for the Leeds to Liverpool Canal Run 130 in August and sometimes when amazing opportunities present themselves you just have to do them.

And so I spoke with Dom over the Easter weekend and suddenly I find myself ‘in’. The team will run around 79 miles from Sheffield to Liverpool with the aim for the whole team to arrive in time to take part in the Run for the 96 5km at Stanley Park (the ground that lies between Goodison Park and Anfield). So, a little over 80 miles in around 21hrs, it’s far from a walk in the park but its very achievable.

I’ll be writing about my progress periodically and I’d appreciate your support whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter or I know you in real life. If you can make it then I’d love to see you at the 5km run on Sunday 22 May or simply come and wave the team in when it arrives into Liverpool. Events like this are all about community, the community of the runners, the community of the supporters and the community of the families that have fought for more than a quarter of a century for the truth they deserve.

This is is a special event, take a look at the Hillsborough to Anfield Run here, I hope you’ll find it as inspiring as I do.

I saw a post on Facebook a few nights ago (yes even I use Facebook) and saw that OMM were on the look out for people who could serve as ambassadors for the brand in 2016. For the first time ever I thought ‘maybe I could do that?

 

I’ve always been quite proud regarding the fact that I owe nothing to any brand if I review a product or event but OMM is a little different.

OMM is a brand that’s been at my side since I started running again in 2011 – my first running bag was the epic Classic 25 (still RunCommutes daily I might add). I ran my first ultra almost totally decked out in OMM stuff because it was the right fit and feel. Today I still use OMM kit, not because I’m brand loyal, but because it works but that’s not to say I don’t love other kit because I do – I’ll always be an advocate for using the kit that is right for you.

There are other considerations such as the platform that something like like gives you. That is an opportunity to, hopefully, inspire other people. Let’s not forget I’m no Scott Jurek, I’m just your average runner, getting out and doing, proving (mainly to myself) that anybody can do this.

There is also the allure that they want real runners and people who could take on The OMM race and that appeals a lot. The race is the right time of year, right kind of endurance, right kind of challenge and it has UltraBoy written all over it.

So, I find myself in new territory, having looked at their application process, even writing down answers to the application questions I’m genuinely tempted to apply, but also apprehensive.

The GingaNinja says I should apply, she tells me that I love testing kit, I’m always blogging, tweeting or Instagramming anyway and that I use their stuff daily – to her it’s a no-brainer. To keep my grounded though she did remind me that a slew of great runners will also apply and that my chances were slim – thanks GingaNinja.

So do I apply? 

I suppose I’m also writing this to encourage all those that read my blog to apply. It seems like a great opportunity to be a part of something interesting in a sport you do everyday anyway. More details are available here and if you do apply then best of luck.

Happy running.   

 
Watching the awesome Susie Chan this weekend head into the record books was really quite spectacular and in the heat of that great piece of running it gave thought to me about the rise of celebrity status within the running community and why I’ve always leaned towards community over the famous/infamous.

Let me explain my thinking. In days gone by your average fun runners might have looked to the track to find inspirational athletes that they could aspire to be. I remember watching people like Linford Christie, Michael Johnson, Roger Black, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram at various ‘meets’ and thinking that they were amazing – but interestingly I never wanted to be them.

From an early age I wanted to be like the only marathon runner I’d ever heard of – my dad. However, I saw this type of running as something people did for fun – not competition and perhaps back in the 1980s this was more true than it is today. So there was an immediate disconnect between say Cram and Mr. K (my dad).

Let’s paint a picture – my very Liverpudlian dad (moustache and curly mop in place) on race day would don his 5 inch shorts and very thin vest and a pair of old Hi-Tec (or whatever, probably Adidas) and go and run 26.2 miles – I don’t have memories of the races themselves, nor of him racing in his heyday, just random images in my head but the photographs and medals suggest he was pretty good. So maybe I was copying him or seeking approval when I took up running? As a child I was influenced by this very real runner and by runners like him (beer in one hand, trainers in the other). What I do know is I never thought about wanting to emulate Coe or Ovett, they were too far removed from me (in social terms as well as talent) but my dad was just a normal everyday runner and as an adult I think I appreciate better why that was important to me.

When I started running again nearly five years ago, this time to prove something to myself I still struggled to be inspired by the tremendous feats of runners like Liz McColgan, Paula Radcliffe and Steve Way they were people I could admire but not be inspired by. There remained this giant gulf between those people and what I felt I could ever achieve. However, Sue and Kirstie, two lovely ladies from SE London, who had started training for the Grim Challenge provided me with a little bit of running community and inspired me to get fit, get filthy and have fun. I recall the sense of achievement when I ran quite well that day but moreover I remember the sense of elation when I saw Big Liz, Little Liz and my two running companions. I’d found the missing piece of my running jigsaw – people.

Soon after I joined the modern era via t’internet and we saw the rise of social media as a gateway to running. This has changed the dynamic in our interactions with runners and we see the rise of runners who are both real and touching what you might describe as ‘celebrity’ as well as building ‘community’.

This seems to be especially prevalent trend in the ultra running community at the moment, people like Cracknell, Karnazes, Jurek and Krupicka are at the heart of this but also on that curve we’ve got rising stars like Tobias Mews and Anna Frost whose individual achievements have merited a deep and loyal fanbase but have a more nuanced ‘realness’ to them. We should perhaps consider ourselves lucky in the ultra community that money isn’t rife or we’d see more people wanting to rise to the top – as it stands these runners and others like them are at the top of their game because they’re exceptional athletes.

However, much like those on the track I watched as a child I still struggle to be inspired by them. I couldn’t look into a mirror and see a future Tobias staring back at me. So why the disconnect? It’s partly about the gulf in brilliance, but that’s not unusual when you’re looking at the elite, I’m not an Olympian, nor an endurance running legend but I think it’s more that I’m inspired by those I feel I could emulate with a bit of hard work. I find inspiration not in glory but in story and those that inspire me have interesting stories to tell. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the tremendous achievements of Susie Chan this weekend because it walked that fine line between community, celebrity and talent.

So who then? I was asked recently who my favourite ultra runner was and without skipping a heartbeat I answered, ‘well truth be told there are three ultra runners who really inspire me, Dan Park, Louise Ayling and Emma Lawson‘ – not exactly household names, but exceptional runners in their own way and I’ve been following their adventures since I first decided I was embarking on a social media and running journey about four years back. Perhaps it’s their mishaps and struggles, perhaps it’s because they don’t seem invincible, perhaps it’s because I can aspire to be them and most of all it’s because they’re awesome.

So I’ll continue to watch the amazing feats of Anna Frost or Scott Jurek because they’re exceptional but I’ll save my fanboy admiration for when Joe finishes the Hardmoors Grandslam or Louise finishes the Lakeland 100 or Roz does another canal double  

How about you? Do this new generation of runners inspire you, this social media generation? Or do you find its your best buddy at your running club who is the one that inspires you to go further and harder? Or are you inspired by the classics and look to the feats of years gone by? 

Happy running

  • 315km run
  • 50 ‘Cultural London RunCommute’ photographs shot
  • 44 sculptures/statues discovered
  • 43km longest run
  • 24 days of running
  • 13km daily average
  • 12 Classic, handwritten blogs
  • 9 Blog posts
  • 8 Buffs used
  • 6 ThunderPad Runs
  • 5 UltraBaby Runs
  • 4 days of the galloping trots
  • 4 rest days
  • 3 running events
  • 3 medals
  • 2 pairs of trainers
  • 2 events entered (Green Man, Skye Ultra Trail)
  • 1 Beard grown
  • 1 round of Tonsilitis

The Poppy Challenge started at the emergency doctors for the GingaNinja who was rather ill with Tonsilitis – a rather infectious illness. As we sat with all the sick people I started to think that on November 1st at 9am I was supposed to be well into my first Poppy Challenge run.

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Anyway the Tonsilitis was confirmed by the doctor and the GingaNinja duly took note and went off to her sick bed to try and get a little rest and recuperation. I took this as the sign I needed to get the UltraMobile out and take baby running. There were a number of problems with this though, the first was that the fog had left the air feeling incredibly moist and therefore dressing UltraBaby appropriately would be difficult, the second thing was that I was planning a nice hilly run and the combined weight of baby, buggy and extras was nearly 30kg. About 90 minutes after we had departed UltraBaby and I returned with 17km completed and had managed not to get completely soaked.

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By Monday morning though both the GingaNinja and I were feeling even worse and I could have used this as an excuse to cry off the challenge but fearing I’d end up on November 30th having only done the 17km I dressed for work in appropriately neon clothing and set out.

My RunCommuting is split into four or five zones – the race to the station – 1km, the run to the office – (between) 3 & 5km – the run from the office (between 3 & 8km – the race from the station (between 1 – 9km) – a late night jaunt (between) 5 & 10km. This is roughly what can be squeezed in between parenting, working and general life stuff during the week. But I’m also planning on running everyday so I’m looking at running the lower end of the numbers so as not to grind to a halt as I have been known to.

So as I left the house on Monday, my legs felt like lead and my head felt too cloudy but I pushed on to complete nearly 10km and on the Tuesday I followed this up with 9km. However, the grip of illness grows ever tighter and no amount of paracetamol is making it better.

However, I did realise I on uploading my data to Movescount that I had passed the minimum distance required for this event and that was heartening. So now it’s just to the next challenge and ensure I make it to over 100 training kilometres this week.

By Wednesday morning I could now barely move – you know that feeling when every muscle aches and you just hurt to even swallow air. I let ThunderPad out for his morning dump and rather unnervingly he bolted straight back in. I stuck my head out the door and it was bucketing down. Ace. I dug out my WAA showerproof gilet, loaded up the OMM , waved goodbye to UltraBaby and the GingaNinja and started the process all over again. London was no more forgiving with its weather and my effort to get to work in a timely fashion was hampered by busy streets and giant umbrellas but as I pushed and harried my way through commuters I realised that I was enjoying the challenge and the opportunity to run. The evening was slightly less pleasant as although the rain had eased the morning session had left my clothes with that unpleasant dampness and worse, that wet dog smell. Still I remain on target for my first 100km week in quite a while and despite illness I’m feeling okay.

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On the agenda for Thursday is 13km of running, enough to get me within spitting distance of 58km completed – a strange target? Well it means I only need to do 3km on the Friday and then I’m into the marathon for Saturday and hey presto – 100km achieved. It all sounds pretty simple when you type it but it’s rather different doing it when swallowing is a challenge and your breathing is fucked.

Thankfully work over ran in the evening and I did think about cancelling my run in favour of going home and getting some sleep but instead I’d decided to go and find some ‘Sculptural London’ and so with a banging headache and busy streets I set off northwards towards Regent’s Park. Some 9km later, having taken in one of the JFK memorials, Queen Square and the window displays at the Wellcome Collection I made it home to find UltraBaby asleep and a Yorkie waiting to be demolished. The extra mileage had also meant I had surpassed my target and reached the 58km I needed to ensure that (subject to completing Saturdays race) I will reach 100km.

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So as Friday arrived I decided I was going to take it easy. The illness that has been knocking me for six all week has slowly gotten worse and I just felt unpleasant. But I reckon I had 4km in me but for some bizarre reason – partly involving the nigh on useless South Eastern trains I ended up running closer to 10km and finishing the first 6 days with a decent total of 67.1km.

How the wheels came off: my advice to all runners out there is if you’ve got a marathon on a Saturday morning when you’ve been ill all week, overtrained that very same week but had hardly done anything in the few weeks prior then just stay in bed. The marathon was a glorious disaster but I made it thanks to the power of friends – old and new and I finished my first week with a decent 110.1km total.

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Lessons learned? Take it a bit easier this week, I’ve still got 23 days (at time writing 22 days) left to reach the magic number of 300km and I’m over a third of the way there already.

As a final point or three, first up I’d like to say a warm thank you for all the positive messages that have been sent during the first week of the challenge – more needed please. More importantly though is a huge congratulations to those who are participating and grinding out mile after mile – you’re all brilliant and I’m enjoying reading out your epic successes and occasional (GPS) fail. Keep running.

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It’s day 18 of Juneathon and I’ll be honest I’m not really enjoying it. The chest infection I’ve been fighting for the last week has put a damper on the fun of running but it’s not just that – Juneathon for the first time seems quite isolated and I don’t think I’m 100% alone in that feeling.

I’m not the first to mention it but the Twitter community part of Juneathon seems a little lost – yes there’s lots of us posting times, distances and blogs but without any connection. Having done a couple of Juneathon and Janathon events before the thing I liked the most was the connectivity of it all.

I met ultra running legend @abradypus through Janathon at a time before either of us had started our ultra journey and I met the awesome @follystone through the same event. It’s fair to say that Jan/Juneathon very much started my love affair with the online running community and perhaps this is why I am disappointed by the online community aspect of it this time around, it has previously given me so much and this time it’s just not got going.

Now in defence of Juneathon it’s fair to say I’ve had lovely moments with people like @iRunSalt, @follystone, @drdavehindley and many others and we’ve been supportive of one another but there hasn’t been that big party vibe that was once the hallmark of Juneathon. I suppose it’s also down to me to bring the party along and in truth I haven’t – I haven’t tried to get near the top of the running part of the leaderboard and I’ve been cheating on the blogging by handwriting my efforts. I’ve also avoided the Facebook element of the event because I prefer the semi anonymous nature of UltraBoyRuns.

So is anyone but me to blame for my lack of exposure to the fun side of Juneathon? Sadly it would seem not. 

There’s also the lethargy that’s kicking in with the postings in the last few days. I suspect that many of us who sign up to something like this believe it will be easy to run, log and blog for 30 straight days but they’d be wrong and we are starting to see sore knees, ankles and everything else as the effects are taking their toll. I’m including myself in the negative output as a chest infection is curtailing my efforts somewhat, but with my chest starting to clear a little bit I’m going to make much more concerted effort to congratulate, cajole and motivate people to finish Juneathon with a bang. I really wanted to feel the highs you get from community running and sharing and we’ve got 12 days to make this feeling happen …

So come on guys and girls – let’s make this happen, let’s get our totals up and not let our legs give in.

    ‘I don’t feel well UltraBoy’ came the whine from UltraBaby, ‘look I’ve got big horrible spots everywhere, I’ve been crying all night, I’m full of snot and I look like a B movie monster on a reduced budget’.

She did look unwell, she sounded unwell and she moaned miserably, it’s fair to say that Friday had been a rough night on both the GingaNinja and I. At 5.30am we decided it wasn’t worth fight in her anymore and we all got up. Breakfast happened, puking happened and bath time happened. At 7.30am I said to the GingaNinja, ‘I’m going to take her to Parkrun, let you get some sleep and hopefully so will baby’.

Then it was race on – I hurled out the UltraMobile (or the Mountain Buggy Terrain to you), inflated it’s tyres, relocated the changing bag to the Salomon 14+3 vest, chucked in a bottle for her and a bottle for me and we bounded out of the house like a pair of runners possessed. I hadn’t decided which Parkrun we would be attending but I’d enjoyed Dartford a few weeks earlier and so we trundled along to the start line with just moments to spare.

  UltraBaby was wide awake in the MB Terrain and as we started out we made our away from the back of the pack to sit quite comfortably in the middle, we even made a few sprints round people, taking in larger than needed cornering to let the ‘real runners’ through but by the time we had hit the end if the first lap we were fully into our stride and decided that we had the edge and would not be so generous in letting people past.

‘MeMeep’ I called out several times as we swerved round runners who had started to flag a little and ‘woohoo’ as we tried to stay ahead of the ladies who UltraBaby had decided were pacing us – Danielle (we left her at about 3.5km) and Jo (almost had us at 4km but we put a bit of a spurt on to finish just ahead of her).

UltraBaby crossed the line a little ahead of me as I pushed the MB Terrain forward a bit and we finished in a time of 27:28mins, not bad when you consider I’ve been ill for two weeks, she’s ill, my feet still aren’t recovered from TP100 and the MB Terrain as good as it is, is still a challenge to push.

Anyway we did post run chat with some of the runners, including the lovely @thayer who came to witness our inaugural Superhero Parkrun teamup. 

So lots of fun had at Parkrun and despite being unwell UltraBaby felt like she had definitely been funning.

Saturday night though brought more and more tears, angst and spot related pain that would culminate in us attending hospital the very next morning. Thankfully a big dose of antibiotics and creams are hopefully going to help but once again the GingaNinja and I were pretty exhausted and with the baby in the house never of us could really rest. Then UltraBaby piped up

‘How about a trail 10km UltraBoy?’

‘Saddle up pard’ner’  

  

 Out came the MB Terrain again, we loaded up, added in some sun cream as it was bloody hot and then started running with explicit instruction to the GingaNinja to get some rest. We flew, fast down the hills, fast up the hills, bounced along the technical bits and thundered through the narrow paths cutting a swathe through the undergrowth. The kilometres fell and so did UltraBaby (but thankfully just asleep).

Interestingly on a weekend of outstanding results at Dukeries, the NDW50 and lots of other great races I found myself being grateful that I wasn’t racing and simply fun running with my daughter in the Kentish sunshine.

There really is something to be said for funning. Happy running guys and thanks to Dartford Parkrun for some lovely running pictures.

   

   



@borleyrose, @conwild and @joeruns had arranged a pizza ‘tweetup’ sadly despite a very generous invite it looked like I wouldn’t be able to attend because my superhero sidekick ‘UltraBaby’ was doing her best impersonation of sick. However, I’d been very keen to meet them as my enjoyment of our stupid Twitter conversations is extreme. Therefore I took the pressure off myself to turn up, made me excuses and then when Tuesday rolled around I was able to put in a bit of a cameo pre-pizza.

I’d met Joe before (C2C – little legend runner) and kinda knew what Kate looked like but when I arrived I couldn’t see them. It turned out Joe had his back to me, Kate was in the loo (big poo I hear) and I wouldn’t have been able to spy Conrad as he’s almost as twitter anonymous as I am. So I wandered around until I noted the ‘Joe’ beard.

I digress, I sat down, Diet Coke in hand and it felt like being around great people – it was rapid fire – much like tweeting – only more fun as I wasn’t sat on a commuter train chortling to myself about the latest insanity.

Mostly though I’m writing this because the guys gave me good advice, listened, talked and reminded me why ultra running is valuable – you’ve pulled me out of a bit of lethargy – just in time for my assault on the Thames Path 100. So thank you.

What I’d say is if you get an opportunity to meet up with people from your online community – do it (obviously taking sensible precautions). Kate, Joe and Conrad in tweetup where super positive, brilliant and inspiring people, much like they are in virtuality.

Oh and if anyone ever hears tales of butt plugs, Whitby Goth Festival, spunk filled stalking or Preaching to the Perverted – it wasn’t me …

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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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Hi body,

I thought we should catch up. I’ve got stuff to tell you. As we both know there have been a lot of false dawns over the course of the last injury plagued 18 months, it hasn’t helped that during that time I was ridiculously stoopid too.

I’m sorry, I want you to know this.

I should have stopped running after I completed ‘The Wall’, that was were I really injured you but instead after that race we did another 15 races of varying distances during 2013 believing basically that we, as a team were indestructible. But even when you were screaming for rest I pushed you further than I should.

Then of course 2014 came and I took it upon myself to enter us in a dozen ultra marathons – 8 complete, 3 DNS, 1 DNF.

In the same year I made you run our slowest marathon time and our slowest 10km race time. We endured multiple dreadful race days together and my over eagerness to race you destroyed our training schedule. It all became patchy at best and eventually you had to succumb to the pain.

The real eye opener was when my physiotherapist (our fourth one) told us that I needed to stop running. I begged her to get us to the start line of the Winter100 and I promised her that after that we would rest and heal properly.

She agreed and with a lot of work and no training we rolled up to the Winter100 and I caused you more damage than was necessary. I regret turning up to the W100 – it was a mistake.

We DNFed at CP7 but I should never have started that race, you, my faithful and injured body, were in agony by mile 3.

I’d like to say we didn’t deserve it but the failure at W100 allowed some proper perspective, allowed me to realise that running is important to me and that if we wanted to get back to it then I needed to put the effort into fixing you my friend, my poor knackered body.

So I’ve given you three months off.

Almost total rest save for a bit of pretty wanky cycling and while I know you’re not quite there yet body, I’ve got a surprise for you – we’re running along the Mont Blanc in the CCC.

Yep we’re off to France, we’re back racing and we’re back in training and this time I won’t abuse you – I’ve learnt my lesson. You’ve been good to me body and now I’m treating you right. Less races, more training, better eating, lighter weight, more determined – we’re going to be fine

It’s good to be back

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It was a foggy day when I set out for Dartford yesterday morning, quite a cool beginning to the day, cool enough infact that the race top I selected was one of my heavier Ronhill long sleeved efforts. My dad drove us to the start as he would be entering the fun run later in the day and clearly with him he brought a cheery smile and the sunlight (it was therefore the wrong choice of top).

For those who follow this blog or those who stumble across it you’ll know that I ran this race last year and had nothing but good things to say about it. That opinion has not changed, here’s why.

New Course
The location is the same, the course is new – roads that we previously needed to cross have been removed and the route itself felt a little bit tougher. It felt a slightly more exposed course but it was a bright and warm day and that made it feel really rather pleasant. Add to this that the two lap and winding nature meant that you could keep an eye on those behind you or infront and so you were well served for your overtaking manoeuvres.

Price
A bargain! £16 on the day, cheaper in advance, decent facilities, great course, medal, the best volunteers lovely catering company and biscuits and pain au chocolate at the end. This was all topped though by some top notch organisation from the race director who says of the race ‘I just want people to enjoy themselves’. My belief is that you’ll need to go far and wide to find someone who didn’t enjoy themselves.

As for me I’m still in that comeback phase of things so I was glad of running in 54minutes and although the hamstring gave me crap all the way round I felt it was manageable, whether I’ll feel like that at the Winter100 is a very different matter.

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And then this happened …
The race also had a fun run option … I’d suggested to Pops (my dad who was visiting) that he could run this with his son (UltraBoyRuns) and granddaughter (UltraBaby) – unexpectedly though we also had the GingerNinja join us so it became a real family affair. 1.8km or as my GPS read – 1.98km, easy.

UltraBaby would be using the UltraMobile while the rest of us were powered by foot and we set off quickly but soon decided that it’d be better to peg ourselves back for the sprint finish. UltraBaby took in most of the details of the day and gave serious eyeball to the other competitors.

We flew around the course, clearly unlikely to come first but having a grand old time with three generations of a racing family doing what they do best.

https://vine.co/v/OZ02gBuvEaB

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For the final 300metres I sent Pops on his way to ensure UltraBaby beat our nearest rivals and he thankfully pipped them on the line with a sprint finish and myself and the GingaNinja came home at the back of the pack but roared on by an awesome crowd.

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But this wasn’t it!
To finish our day we discovered that UltraBaby had been the fastet baby of the day and therefore not only claimed her first medal but also her first trophy.

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Thank you Dartford Bridge 10km – we will be back next year! And if you’re looking for a great PB 10km race course or just a great Raceday out in Kent then this it it!

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On my day I’m okay at running, I can cycle and I’m pretty shit at swimming, so I thought I’d enter the Virtual Triathlon and see if I could stumble my way to a medal. On Monday of this week I got out the old iron horse, prepared my swim kit and then went to work. The idea was that I’d do the run first then jump on my bike and then off to the pool to finish off before it closed. It started well I did a very hilly 5km in 24minutes, changed swiftly into my cycling shorts and hit full pelt uphill into the wilds of Kent. I was moving swiftly and well and the first 10km couldn’t have been more fun. I charged up the final hill and into a local country park where I allowed myself a lap or three of the car park to ensure I got to swim having done more than 20km. With my distance about right and Movescount keeping track I thundered out of the park for my favourite bit – the fast downhill.

As I did I could feel the first heavy splashes of rain and I knew I was going to have to ‘give it riz’ if I was to avoid the oncoming storm. I pushed on through the now heavy headwind and felt the rain bashing against my face. I could feel that my control wasn’t all it should be and yet despite my lack of skill in cycling I pushed on. I hurled myself into the big downhill, now thundering along and it was here that I was caught with an intense combination of head and cross winds. The bike (otherwise known as Ultrette) dipped into the space between the road and the grass and what control I had disappeared.

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I was in a bit of a heap and bleeding but thankfully not too seriously – as far as I could tell in the darkness! I picked myself up, photographed the scene, called the GingaNinja, switched off Movescount and then ran 3km pushing my bike so I can meet up with transport home. I was cold, soaked and I didn’t know how to reattach my chain (not that my bloodied hands were working!).

I got home and tweeted my experience – and thank you for all the very kind support – but I was deflated. I’d damaged my bike, failed to get to the swim and just plain old fashioned failed. What to do?

The following day I did the swim, I fixed Ultrette and then yesterday I got my arse back out running and cycling.

The sad thing was that the fall dented both my confidence and my body and so it was a slow swim (525metres), a slow cycle (21.8km) and a slow run 5km). When I went out first time I felt really alive – but the second time I felt like I just wanted to get it done. However, this shouldn’t detract from what a bloody awesome idea for an event the VirtualTriathlon is and I would highly recommend getting involved in either the sprint or super sprint distance.

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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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It has been several weeks since I last posted here and that’s been for a number of key reasons – the primary one is that I’ve been injured, depressingly so and I really didn’t want to be one of those who was constantly banging on about it – which was something I could see I was becoming and that’s not a positive train of thought.

Therefore I have been extensively focusing on my recovery. Physiotherapy, strengthening exercises, swimming, cycling, stretching, dieting and a bit of reflection.

My enforced break also gave me the time to go and find a nice new job which starts in about 5 or 6 weeks, attend some music festivals and even try finishing the preparation for the arrival of UltraBaby so it’s all been pretty positive.

Obviously pulling out of the NDW Run, the NDW100 and (around an hour before it was due to start) the Race to the Stones I’ve been a bit upset but the benefit of the lay off is clear. My groin which was causing me all sorts of grief is much stronger again and although my hips aren’t sorted I feel like I’m on a sensible course of non-surgical action to resolve it.

This weekend I’m off to volunteer at the NDW100 and I’m hugely excited by this, I’ve just entered the Thames Path 100 for the first time, I’m back training – just in time for the Winter100, I’m tweeting again, I’ve entered the VirtualRunnerUK Sprint distance triathlon and 10km race and my new commute to work will include around 14 miles of cycling per day – which should be dangerously exciting.

Life feels like it’s all good and with UltraBaby just three weeks away there’s a lot of positive change (and a bloody giant dinosaur mural to paint).

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Plus the sun is shining, so let’s go have fun. See you out there.

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1. Don’t race too much
The last couple of years I’ve raced on average once every two weeks, this year I’ve raced big distance at around the same amount and what I’ve learnt is that the body doesn’t have time to recover and that training is badly affected because you feel as though you are in constant taper. Worse than that, when your training takes a hit then your race pace drops off. Racing should be part of your running I believe because it gives us targets and opportunities to test ourselves but it shouldn’t be at the cost of regular training.

2. Train enough
One of the things that many runners do is get to a point and suddenly think that’s it, they can do it and they can just continue to do it but the reality is a little different. We need to make sure that we continue to train year round to maintain the continuous health benefits of running. It doesn’t take much to actually feel much better from running but by the same token it doesn’t take much to feel lethargic when we don’t. Your training will be determined by many external factors but it’s worth keeping your running consistent and doing it regularly. Short but often pays bigger dividends than long and occasional.

3. Listen to your body
Believe me your body knows best, listen to it when it calls out for rest, listen to it when it says it go faster. Don’t ignore your body be they good times or bad.

4. You will be your own worst enemy
You’ll become a bit like a petulant child, wanting to do more, achieve more and you’ll push yourself, you’ll go too far either physically or emotionally – I think we all do at some point. Try and listen to common sense, if something sounds stupid then it probably is.

5. Make sure your shoes fit
I’ve spent the best part of my running in shoes that are too small for me. I should be a size 9.5 (UK) but I’ve been running in size 9s, it’s not a lot but what it does in my case is push my toes against the end of my toes and leaves them susceptible to blistering. Over longer distances this is exactly what happens and each person is different – so if you haven’t been fitted, please go and get fitted, there really is nothing worse in running terms than a pair of shoes that just aren’t right.

6. Don’t get caught up in technologies
Calorie Counters, GPS, video cameras, hydration systems, number belts, boosting trainers, minimal trainers … the list of things we apparently cant live without goes on and on. Running stores are constantly offering us new ways to part with our hard earned cash. Sometimes all you need is a pair of trainers and any old clothes. yes having the kit is great (and I’ve got a lot) but there is a lovely sense of getting back to those first few runs when you pick out a comfy pair of runners and hit the trail. Remember the joy of running.

7. Don’t run before you can walk
You know that feeling just after Christmas when you’ve put on a few pounds and you suddenly think it would be a bloody amazing idea to start running? Then you see yourself as a bit of Usain Bolt and that first run you feel like a legend – you probably did a kilometre, maybe two – then it takes you a week to get back out there? I’m not the only one who has been through these various stages. Anyway, the point is that as you come to running it is important that you take things slowly – build up your endurance, your distance, your speed, work on the way you breathe and learn how to get the best out of both body and kit. Plus remember that doing 5km where half of it was walking is still more impressive than sitting on the sofa watching cat videos on YouTube.

8. Eat for the running regime you do
I should listen to my own advice on this one – I’m a terrible eater, I don’t carb load, I barely eat vegetables, I don’t like fruit very much and my one remaining tastebud is targeting Mexican food and Mexican food only but because of this (partly) I can be prone to weight that bounces around and a lack of energy because I haven’t fuelled properly for my runs. Eat properly! Eat enough! Eat the right things!

9. Get to know other runners
Each runner is very individual and we all have our nuances and idiosyncratic ways but we’ve all been there and done it. We know what it’s like to lose toenails, to buy I’ll fitting shoes, to wear neon in public. I turn up to ultras now and there is almost always somebody I know or at the very least have met and chatted with before, infact I’ve raced so much in the last three years that even when I turn up to a 10km race there is a very good chance I’ll meet someone I know. This community spirit is in part why I really love running, but that same community is a great source of information, inspiration and fun. Next time you’re out running maybe just say hello to a fellow runner and see where it leads you.

10. If the plan isn’t working, change the plan
Training plan says ‘Monday AM – 10km jog’ and you get there and you simply can’t manage it or you don’t feel like it but by Monday PM you are feeling guilty. What to do? Change the goddam plan! No sense in being ruled by your training plan, you are in control and if something hasn’t happened then do something else. Don’t give up because you miss a deadline

11. Enjoy running, if it regularly becomes a chore something’s wrong
We all have days when the wheels have come off and you don’t feel like running and that’s fine but when it’s a regular thing you should perhaps ask yourself if there isn’t something else you can be doing. We run for pleasure (most of us) therefore if it makes you miserable step away from it. I’m the moments when my mojo has deserted me I tend to rock up and watch a race or two and I know that the moment I see runners streaking last me I’ll want to be out there – doing my thing and earning my bling.

12. Vary your training
A necessary evil? Probably. However, mixing up the way you train means that you are more likely to be successful on completing the races you do. For me I’ve found that varying my training has meant that I can roughly retain a respectable pace for a 10km while still running ultra distances. If I focused on one of these things I’d be much better at it but the training variations mean I can keep completing these races even if I’m not a a competitive any longer.

13. Vary your locations
There is nothing more fun that running down a new street, hitting a new trail, finishing up at a new cafe, getting lost in a country that you don’t speak the language in. Whatever you do try new routes, variation – see the world through running eyes because believe me it’s amazing what we miss as we drive to places. I found that I was getting bored of my evening commute from Regent’s Park to my mainline station in the evening and so to jolly it up I remembered that I live in one of the most exciting cities on the planet and so I started looking for memorials, sculptures, signs, famous buildings, infamous places and even culture events to run through, beyond and even in some cases – above. This meant I had to go via different routes, sometimes just a single street but now each night I see something new when I run and that fills me with joy.

14. Leave the GPS at home
I love my Suunto, I love watching running data and yet I love the freedom of not tracking what I’m doing and just running free. During races you can be held accountable to the watch, equally so in training – beating yourself up for not reaching the six minute mile, annoyed because you failed to do the whole 13.1miles, getting only to 13.02 before you’re stood outside the gates of your house. Humph! Leave the GPS at home sometimes and throw off this (very awesome) bind.

15. Do other sports
Running is very much my sport – I love every minute of it, even when I hate it but it does produce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on our bodies and we are susceptible to injury, fatigue and even occasionally a bit of laziness. I’ve found that by mixing up my running with other sports that I gain a better all round fitness.

I tend to find I focus on swimming, hiking, ‘countryside outdoor pursuits’, cycling and Pilates as my other sporting activities but team sports are equally wonderful and all you need do is tap into your personal interests and find something that you enjoy.

16. Run in the dark
Actually this should be ‘run at different points in the day’ but for me not enough runners run at night time and this in my opinion is an awesome time to do it – there’s peace, the roads are quiet and you really get to the heart of your thinking process and focus on the job at hand. For ultra runners the benefit is that we acclimatise to the fears that come during the night time, there is nothing worse than seeing shadows moving and fearing the worst – the dark can be a great friend.

17. Buy last seasons trainers
You want the latest kit? But the truth is that this stuff is usually untested by the majority – by buying last seasons kit not only do we benefit from runners experience and reviews but also it’s usually cheaper.

18. Always save something for the end
Jimmy McKenna, the only man who ever gave me running training (aged 8) left me with a piece of advice that has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. ‘Always finish strong, doesn’t matter how you run but cross that finish line like Steve Cram’. And he was right, I finish my races with a push, arms pumping, chest thrust forward and both feet off the ground. It always makes me feel good.

19. Don’t be afraid of failure or the DNF
Who cares? Well you will when and if it happens, you may well even cry but the important thing is to get straight back in the saddle. A DNF can show a positive attitude to your body, if you’ve pulled up with injury what’s the point in risking more damage by continuing. Equally though knowing when not to DNF is vital as you should try not to give up unless it’s necessary. Some of the most useful learning I’ve had as a runner have come when things have gone wrong, perhaps the most important thing is to learn from this and hope not to repeat it.

20. Have pride in your achievements
Wear your medal, wear your shirts, brag about distance, brag about times – like the manufacturer says ‘just do it’

21. Don’t mull over a slower than expected time
You’ll run pretty crappy times periodically – both in training and in racing – get over it. Don’t let one bad experience ruin a week or month or a years hard grafting on the road. To dispel he myth of bad running I simply adhere to the idea of producing a PW or personal worst, this means I’m always achieving some form of target even if it’s a rubbish one 🙂

22. Don’t forget the back end
Running takes huge swathes of our time in both the training and the getting ready to run. Sadly kit doesn’t clean itself, Suuntos don’t magically upload and races don’t book without you. Running isn’t a hobby it’s a lifestyle.

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