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Sunday was a weird kind of day, I should have been completing The Fellsman in Yorkshire but an injury meant that I had withdrawn a few weeks ago as Yorkshire from Kent is a long way to travel for a DNF. However, I didn’t fancy not doing any racing this weekend and so with a bit of a look through the listings I found ‘The Chicken Run’ at Herne Bay on the Kent coastline. A 5km race isn’t a distance I do very often anymore but today was a reminder that this is a distance that I love.

Anyway let me roll back a little and to about 8.30am when I get into the drivers seat of the Big car for the first time and started the terrifying near hour journey to the coast. The weather was grey and overcast and my newly minted bad mood was as grey as the sky given my new found mental strength to bad food. However, unlike the weather my bad mood abated and we parked up half a mile from the start line at Herne Bay pier. I always get a lovely sensation when I arrive at any British seaside town, presumably derived from my university time in Blackpool and so with a spring in my step I bimbled onto the pier with ASKruns and the GingaNinja.

There was a small queue of runners who had arrived before me to face the whipping winds of Herne Bay pier and who, once they had registered, hid behind a nice big wind breaker near the California food stall! The team of volunteers from the Strode Park Foundation were doing a top notch job getting everyone geared up with the obligatory costume and keeping everyone’s spirits up with cheer despite the slightly soggy conditions.

I did as all other runners did and hid behind the wind break and put my costume over my usual 5km kit of t-shirt and shorts. It was a little while later that all the runners were called over for the ‘photo opportunity’ – this involved sitting astride the merry-go-round and getting to know some of the other runners. It was a really nice way to set things off. This was followed by a bit of a chicken roast from the guys at Bay Running as they got us warmed up for the run.

All this was taking place for my daughter to see who, during races, traditionally sees me nervous and a little stressed. Today though she was seeing me dressed like a chicken, flapping my wings and generally having fun.

We were taken to the beginning of the race at the start of the pier, I took up my customary position near the back of the field and with a crack we were off! Dozens of flapping and running chickens headed off along the coast. Despite the weather being grey the rain was mostly light and it was near perfect conditions for running. Yes there was a wind that was making progress harder than it might have been but the sight of so many lovely fowl based runners was quite the inspiration.

There was a problem though about a kilometre in and that was I found myself at the front of the race. Now some may say this is a lovely thing but for someone who hasn’t led a race for a long time this was quite confusing and as I passed the army of volunteers and supporters who were lining the course I felt compelled to say, ‘help, I don’t normally go this fast’.

Thankfully at about 1.5km I took a wrong turn and Lucy who had been acting as my shadow called out that I needed to follow the coastal path.

Runners were now catching up too but I put this out of my mind and pressed Lucy as hard as I could until I was keeping pace with her. We reached the turnaround point together and both put a spurt on and as we were together we began chatting a little more. We reached the one significant climb in the race and I put all my mountain running experience to good use and pushed on.

My companion started to lag a little and so I called out to her that she could easily take me if she pushed a little harder – and she did push and pushed really well – which in turn gave me the incentive to keep going outside my comfort zone!

Behind us the other runners were not that far and with the pier now in sight I could see a top three finish being possible!

Normally my more selfless self would come out and I’d have helped her keep pace to the end but the selfish side of me wanted to hear the winning roar of the crowd and for my daughter to witness me coming home first. I pushed the afterburner button and my legs found that final sprint, probably 400metres from the end and I was determined to make sure I would hit the pier first.

I took a sneaky look over my shoulder and saw the two male runners creeping up on second place but I was clear enough that I could shout to ASK who cheered me home.

My chest was pounding and on fire but I hurtled through the ribbon to my first win over any distance for 4 years!

Conclusions: it might not have been The Fellsman but this lovely inaugural event was really, really well organised, it was a whole load of fun and really good value (chicken suit, medal, lots of support, water on the course and of course some post race chocolate egg – chicken and the egg… get it). The volunteers (I’ll assume from the Strode Park Foundation) were superb and must be both thanked and congratulated in equal measure. The course was really quite testing – with a decent incline on the way out and a nice steep incline on the way back with as fast a finish as you could ever want. The costume element of the race was a bit of fun but most welcome if I’m honest. I would highly recommend joining this lovely 5km by the sea – even if it’s blowing a gale! Brilliant.

Check out the Strode Park Foundation here and their charitable aims and I’m sure the Chicken Run 2019 will be available for entry later in the year!

It’s such a cool experience being on the supporting side of a race that I don’t know I haven’t done more of it! ASK and I love shouting, ‘hurry up mummy, we’re cold!’ as incentive to the GingaNinja to get round a bit quicker.

This weekend the Team UltraBoy found themselves at Alice Holt near Guildford for one of the self proclaimed ‘Brutal Runs’. A 5km bimble through some pretty nasty boggy trails and waist high waters. Having recently passed my driving test I decided that I’d do the driving to the event and try and experience what my OH describes as the slightly dull task of being chauffeur and main cheerleader. However, I found the drive to Alice Holt rather pleasant and we parked up nice and early so a toilet stop could be had and a bit of a warm up.

ASK and I ran round the muddy fields, through some of the trails on the Unirider – for a bit of a laugh – spraying muck all over ourselves and found a playground to play on. The GingaNinja meanwhile had collected her number and was waiting for the start.

At about 11, post warm up we all headed to the start line. ASK and I ran to the bottom of the starting hill to get a few photographs. Then they were off. BOOM – 120 women ran past us and as the ginger one ran past us our daughter shouted out with all she could muster, ‘run mummy run, run faster!’. With the race now we’ll underway the child and I jumped beck on the Unirider and headed off into the mud and to find a suitable waiting location.

We took up residence at the 4km marker where we had a clear sight of the runners coming towards us and we could holler support for several hundred metres. It was here I met Joe, from Bournemouth with whom I had a delightful chat about parenting, running , eventing and a life outdoors – he too was awaiting his partner but we took it upon ourselves to cheer the runners as they came round.

With his other half having passed by he made his way back to the start and we were left to await the arrival of the GingaNinja and we were soon rewarded when I saw her in the distance. I told ASK I’d seen mummy and before the sentence was finished she was already shouting, ‘I can see you, come on mummy!’

She looked in surprisingly good form and cleaner than I imagined she would look as she passed by with less than a kilometre to go. There was lots of waving and cheering from us before we got back on the Unirider and thundered after her. The final ascent was tough going but the runners were pushing themselves and the GingaNinja hurled herself to the top. At the final turn there was a nasty final dip into the waist high water which I didn’t fancy with the child so we flew down the trail to find a shallower crossing and although we managed it we missed the finish at the line by seconds!

However, many hugs were awarded to the quite stinky GingaNinja who really had earned them. Well done.

As for the event, I’d recommended the Brutal Run as I had so enjoyed the Brutal Enduro a year or two back and this event proved just as well organised, just as well supported and just as brutal. The organisers should be very pleased with the events that they put on and the medals are wonderful.

Keep up the good work guys.

I’m getting in my excuses early for the terrible state of my running over the next 10 days … but I’m still going to be running.

  • I’m an old fart
  • I’m a grumpy old fart
  • I’m a grumpy anti-social old fart
  • I’ve currently got a chest infection and can hardly breathe
  • I haven’t been able to train very much for the last four weeks because of illness and injury from my last race
  • I’ve got a hamstring that burns every time I run
  • I’ve got glutes that cause shooting pains right up my back whenever I run
  • I’m racing in the 74 mile, Skye Trail Ultra – across big hills – in time 10 days time
  • I’m running in the 78 mile Hillsborough to Anfield Run in 4 days time

and 

  • I’ll be taking part in the 5km ‘Run for the 96’ in 5 days time on Sunday 22nd May at Stanley Park between Goodison Park and Anfield – the homes of football in Liverpool. 

What’s my point I hear you cry? Well I was getting to that, if I can do this then surely you can come help me do the 5km.

Go on you know you want to!

Online entries for the Run for the 96 close on Friday or you can enter in person at BTR until Saturday morning. Find out more here and you can enter here

See you on Sunday, you bring the crutches I’ll bring the tears, blisters and manky feet.


I’m not going to discuss the outcome of the Hillsborough inquest yesterday as others will offer more insightful and useful commentary than I. However, what seems to have come from it is an enormous outpouring of relief and thanks.

And it is the thanks I wish to address in my latest blog post. 

When Dom Williams wanted to create a living legacy to the 96 I doubt even he would have thought how much of a celebration of life the ‘Run for the 96’ could become. This year after the verdict in Warrington the ‘Run for the 96’ should be like a carnival, celebrating a result that is richly deserved – and if you can please do join in.

Undoubtedly it will act as a memorial to the 96 victims, a tribute to those who fought for the truth but didn’t live to see it brought into daylight, a reminder of those who fought and supported through all the years and a doffing of the cap to everyone in a city brought together by such a tragic event.

But this is more than a reminder it’s a celebration, a thank you and it will be made all the more poignant if you’re there.

A special request to Everton Supporters. I realise you’ve had a rough season chaps and I know you were looking forward to going to Wembley for the F.A. Cup final but it wasn’t to be – however, let’s look on the bright side – you’re now free to join in with the ‘Run for the 96’. If you can’t celebrate lifting the cup why not help celebrate this momentous moment.

The support the families have received from the blue half of the city has never failed and my own father a life-long ‘blue nose’ would be delighted if you’d help him help make a sea of toffee blue amongst all the red.

A personal request from one runner to another. I’d love to see you all on the start line of the Run for the 96 on May 22nd. I suspect it will be an emotional occasion and everyone should be able to share in this hugely positive community event. So, bring yourself, bring supporters, bring me a 99 with a flake (just kidding about the ice-cream) but help make it a day to remember and ensure this sporting tribute lives long in the memory.

You can find out more here and enter the ‘Run for the 96’ here


As I ran to the train station this morning for the first part of my RunCommute I thought about all the damage I was doing to the grass verges and pavements I ran on. Those same verges and pavements I run on every day, the ones that are run on by lots of my local community every day, the ones that help keep me and my local community fit and my thought led me to wonder what the hell Stoke Gifford Parish Council are on about.

I’m sure you know by now that Stoke Gifford Parish Council want to ‘tax’ runners for running at Little Stoke Parkrun – yep that’s right – we might already pay for the upkeep of our roads, parks, etc by the taxes we pay but this parish council think we should dig deep once again to take part in a community, volunteer led initiative.

I don’t want to lambast the council too much because that’s not going to help but I thought I’d tell you about my Parkrun experience and why I believe it’s important that it remains free.

Sadly I don’t Parkrun every week because of the amount of racing I do but I do it a reasonable amount, especially with my daughter, who loves the early morning get together and seeing people congregate around a love of community running.


She has no siblings so Parkrun is a great way for her to meet other babies while I get to do some running with her. I’m trying to encourage both her participation with and her understanding of people and the diversity and the positive energy that emanates from Parkrun is an easy win. I don’t go to Parkrun to annoy other park users, I don’t go to get a PB, I don’t even go on the off chance there’s a bit of cake or chocolate floating round as a reward for running 5km, I go because it’s good and I go because it’s free running with new and interesting people.

Is Parkrun free?
Parkrun isn’t really free – to the individual there’s the cost of transport, possibly accommodation, the cost of running kit, the cost of tea and cake afterwards – all worthwhile though. On my last visit to a Bristol based Parkrun I stayed in the city for the weekend and ate out, went to the zoo, did touristy things, perhaps I should have saved my money and put it elsewhere? I’m not the only one who does this – just look at Parkrunner and ultrarunner extraordinaire @abradypus who has racked up this weekend 250 Parkruns – I’m sure she’s kept the entire British economy going on her outlay!

Benefits
There are so many benefits to doing and having a free Parkrun, these are some of my favourites;

  • Parkrun helps brings to life (sometimes underused) green spaces
  • Parkrun is a community event drawing on people from all ages and backgrounds – important when as a country we need to build bridges in community not divisions
  • Parkrun gets people who might not normally exercise, exercising
  • Parkrun allows you to run with your child (something very important to a buggy running parent like myself)
  • Parkrun draws in tourism and these people can and do contribute to the local economy
  • Parkrun is good PR for any council
  • Parkrun will perhaps be the lasting legacy of the Olympics, I wonder how many of our greatest athletes have started here, will start here or have been to Parkrun – imagine if Kelly Holmes had rolled up to Little Stoke – would you have charged her to run?
  • Parkrun as an initiative does more to help the nation remain healthy both physically and mentally than any other

So if there’s so many benefits what the heck are the council on about? Let’s look at the response from Stoke Gifford Parish Council.

Why should Parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance? 

  1. Parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.
  2. There is no limit to the number of runners that use the park.
  3. They are sponsored by national companies.
  4. They monopolise the park paths and car park between 0830 & 1030 each Saturday and Sunday.
  5. They use the parks toilets and washing facilities.
  6. They use Council storage space.
  7. A large number of runners are from outside the Parish of Stoke Gifford and come from all across South Gloucestershire, Bristol and further afield to use the facilities in this area 
(which are financed by Stoke Gifford Council tax payers).
  8. Little Stoke car park is too small for their parking use.
  9. Complaints have been received from local residents relating to pavement & grass verge 
parking, park users and hall hirers regarding a number of incidents involving runners over the last three years.


The response from Parkrun is well worth a read but I’ve got some responses, not as fact and figure filled but still …

The the bit from the council that gets me the most is the ‘runners from outside the area’. I’ve run at Little Stoke and Ashton Gate in Bristol but I live in Kent and I’m from Liverpool – I travel a reasonable amount and where I lay my hat, well that’s my home. So which Parkrun should I go to? Come on Stoke Gifford Parish Council perhaps you can advise me? Am I supposed to stay at home and not go to events all over the country? Hmm.

I was amused by ‘they use the toilets’ – well yes I do and I’ll be honest you don’t want me leaving my case of GI distress all over your park do you Stoke Gifford Parish Council?

As for complaints I’m curious about this – as a runner I’ve been subject to unwarranted verbal abuse, being pushed into the road and other unpleasantness. However, I’ve never bothered to complain in any meaningful way – maybe some people are complainers and some of us just get on with life.

Then there’s monopoly – there were about 250 people in my train carriage today – we monopolised that, however, stood on the small concourse area we didn’t. I’m not sure 300 runners have the volume to monopolise an entire park.

The council are overreacting and blowing a half hour run out of all proportion. 

However…

…it’s true runners use the park, it’s true it’s an organised event, your car park probably is too small but maybe rather than complain about the car park size you could promote car pooling, cycling and running to the event itself more vigorously. I’m not convinced that your arguments are good enough to warrant discrimination against this free running event.

The Bigger Picture
Then there’s the bigger picture and this is what it’s all about really. Parkrun gets people up and about – inspires them to fitness, keeps them off NHS waiting lists, make them feel good, therefore keeping them out of the shrinks office and off the happy pills. If it disappears it’s sad to say but people will suffer.

I met an older retired lady at Ashton Gate Parkrun last year who told she had met many wonderful people since she joined Parkrun after her husband passed away. That she looked forward to her Saturday morning jaunt and catch up with people she would not have met in her normal day to day life. I wonder – will any of the six councillors go round to this lady and keep her company when her council too decides that they’d rather runners paid?

The funny thing is I’ve met lots of people like this – with stories to tell – about how Parkrun, a free, community event made life better.

Don’t ruin this for the people of your Parish and ultimately anywhere a Parkrun runs.

I’ll be writing to the individual councillors over the next few days if only to ensure that my voice is heard and to express my dismay at this act of vandalism to the health and wellbeing of the people you claim you want to support.

You have an opportunity to back down, to consider the corner you’ve backed yourself into and realise you’re wrong. Stoke Gifford Parish Council do something positive today and reverse this decision.

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

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

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

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

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

My dad. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4908
The Night Before
‘Burrito please’ I said as the lady behind the counter inquired as to the nature of my order. It had been a pretty lousy week for running and exercise in general – just 13.1 cruddy miles and I was now off to Bristol which I had assumed would offer no real running fun. So, on Friday evening before I set off for Bristol I chowed down on a big fat dirty Burrito.

Bristol
I arrived in Bristol to be greeted by the lovely Lynne and her partner in crime Anna – met up with my own partner The GingaNinga and of course UltraBaby. Despite the lateness of the hour I had mentioned to Lynne that there was an event called ‘ParkRun’ that she could join, with some trepidation she agreed to join me and between us we figured out which was the closest and most accessible of the runs – it turned out to be Ashton Court.

ParkRun
Now the name Ashton Court had me imagining some large council owned tower block out of Only Fools and Horses so when we pulled up about a kilometre from the start I was rather surprised to see that there was nothing but lush greenery and hills.

Vilma
Behind us another car pulled in and out stepped what you might describe as a senior lady, ‘are you going to the ParkRun?’ she inquired.

We all headed up together and Vilma turned out to be a little treasure trove of information about this ParkRun and bit about her own story. I got the felling that Vilma was a bit of a character at this event. She described this as quite a small event, about 300 runners (small I thought???). Anyway Vilma helped us find a loo, we chatted some more and then we lost her but Lynne and I mingled and introduced ourselves to lots of runners – it was an incredibly friendly atmosphere.

We went along for the newbies chat, Lynne as a first timer and me as a tourist. Our run leader was a very pleasant gentleman and kept the party mood going with a bit of banter.

Being a nice, cool and crisp morning meant it was ideal conditions for running and I’d be listening to tales of a 2.5km hill and then a 2.5km hill down, in ideal conditions this could be fun.

‘What’s your normal 5km time?’ I asked
’34, 35 minutes… came the reply’
I said I’d pace to make sure that’s what we ran but in all honesty I knew that Lynne would benefit from a PB on a potentially tough course with a fast finish.

The crowd gathered and Lynne turned and said ‘we should have started at the back…’
‘People will go round us, concentrate on yourself,’ was my reply and one that was reinforced politely by a lady who turned and smiled at us.

Run
I’d never seen Lynne run so she could have been really crap but actually she had great form and a steady pace. I ran a few metres ahead offering gentle words of encouragement as we pushed up the hill. Because we weren’t going near my normal 5km pace I decided I’d make a few jokes and had a few laughs with some of the runners we were passing.

IMG_4831

Then a tight left turn and onto the final ascent, here I insisted we start targeting runners. ‘Girl, green top, blonde hair, ridiculous leggings – let’s have her’ we started passing people.

Downhill
We reached the halfway point at the top of the hill and I asked how Lynne was going

‘Fine’

And then I put my plan into action. I had 30 minutes in my head and I pressed a bit harder, targeting runners, not letting Lynne lose sight of me. We briefly saw the lovely Vilma again and (the previously unmentioned but awesome) Craig (we waved).

Then it was race time ‘Breathe deeply, stay in control, don’t let your body just flip down the hill – push’ I said, ‘see that woman she’s our next target…’

Sprinting
Then a young girl sprinted past me, I laughed, turned to Lynne and gave her the thumbs up – she was on fire. The young lady however, needed teaching a lesson, and I was in a giving mood!

‘You’re quick!’ I shouted as I sprinted past her
‘My second ParkRun!’ She hurled at me as she thundered past.
‘You’re doing great, but I can’t let you beat me…’ and with that I hit the afterburner ‘…c’mon Lynne – faster’

250metres to go – woman in blue, going to a sub30 finish – she had maybe 80metres to go – uphill. I apologised as I blasted past her but I was feeling fun.

Awesomundo
I crossed the line, feeling better than I have in ages and then waited for Lynne. Each second felt a lifetime and then I saw her and she had stepped infront of the sprinting teenager. Holy shit she’s going to make it!!! Mere inches separated them but she had done it and in a very respectable time too.

Lynne collapsed to the floor, I think moaning about the level of energy she had just expended but she was ecstatic.

Cup of tea was now in order. Yum

So…
What can I say to make you attend this run? Well…

1. What a course, amazing – one of the best 5km routes I’ve ever done
2. Super friendly
3. Great facilities
4. Great views of Bristol
5. Well attended
6. Outstanding volunteers

As a final note I’d like to say thank you to Vilma for the note she left us on the car (if you know her and see her this week please pass on my best wishes). It’s that level of friendliness that makes me want to go back to this run or perhaps more importantly – try another one 🙂

IMG_4767

Thanks to Rich Kenington for the second of this posts photographs!

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