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This week has seen a huge number of race cancellations – The Highland Fling, Fellsman various marathons and lots of smaller, local events. Thankfully the race I had entered was the Skull Trail Race and this went ahead, I mean I say thankfully but what I think I mean is something very different.

I awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of BBC Radio 4 going on about the crisis of Covid-19 and as I drank my coffee I felt like the world had rather gone mad and so with gay abandon I pulled up my running tights and headed off to the Kingdom of Fife to mingle with other potential future Covid-19 zombies.

The registration was lovely and quick, though I felt like something of a pariah as the two ladies behind me kept several metres from me despite the gentlemen behind them remaining butted up tightly. Perhaps they were just adopting a cautious and sensible approach.

In an unusual twist the guys at the Skull Trail race give you your medal before you’ve run which I found odd as I returned to the car and sat there contemplating whether to bother facing down the hills and mud. Thankfully my funk was addressed by ASK requiring the toilet and so off we ambled to the village hall, I was plonked outside with the dog while my family disappeared off to the loo.

It was here that I once more ran into the lovely and local to me Fiona, at this rate I may have to start referring to her as a friend – given I see her more than most and I find her rather delightful. We chatted about stuff while I got annoyed at the dog and the amount of time my little daughter was taking on the loo.

Thankfully they surfaced and I was able to head over to the start line where all the runners and supporters were milling about casually. There was a lovely atmosphere that permeated the race and the mood was good. Thankfully the sun was shining and it was a delightful day for a run which was lucky given our purpose there. We were soon called to the starting line and with a loud shout from the start line we were off.

The race was two laps of Balbirnie Park in Markinch and you’d think it couldn’t possibly be that hard given it’s in a park and at a mere 4 and a bit miles the distance wasn’t even that bad.

So as I pushed through the throng of runners I felt confident I’d be able to keep my friend Fiona within infection distance rather than see her bound off miles ahead of me as usual. Sadly my undertrained body was willing to remind me that the last few weeks have been incredibly testing and I stated to feel the drag of no running since mid February.

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I ran up the first couple of hills and kept a fair pace going but the ground was claggy and the hills were absolute bastards – this was a route to inflict maximum enjoyment or endurement on its competitors. Even as I weaved around the undergrowth within the first kilometre I could hear myself saying, ‘Two laps? Bloody hell!’ Still I bounded onwards and found a pace I could work to, all the time watching the clock and the distance hoping to hear the cheery sounds of supporters at the finish. I reached the first of the main climbs, a little zig zag up and then a quick return back down. I forget as I watched runners young and old bounding up the hill that some people actively run up elevation. However, as a seasoned ultra runner I know my limits and so gently jogged upwards (some might even call it walking), the Speedgoats thundered past me but I was here for a laugh and as I came to the downhill I pressed the accelerator myself with a giant squeal of ‘weeeeeeeee’.

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At every mud pit I encountered I pushed my new Altra Timp deeper into the mire and they were grateful for a small but fast flowing river crossing. I paid no mind to the runners aside me as I went sloshing through the water, nor did I apologise for spraying water everywhere – if you were at the Skull Trail Race then you were not here to keep clean and stay dry! Thankfully the combination of drymax socks and Altra always dry off really quickly and by the time I was at the next significant climb my feet were toasty once more. I dragged my feet wearing up the hill, noting that I’d have to do it all again shortly and that I had barely registered 2 miles of running and I was absolutely shagged.

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I reached the hill turning point and joked, ‘I thought this was a flat time trial’ – the truth was that this was anything but a flat time trial. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was but I could finally hear the voices of the supporters in the distance and bumbled gently along the path towards lap 2. The problem was I had completely forgotten the bog and as I meandered towards that second lap I could see it getting closer and I could see runners being submerged in its muddy depths, this was going to be shit – literally. I flew into the muddy water with all the gusto I could manage until the water simply dragged me to a halt. I found myself wading through the gloop with everyone else until I reached the tree branch that you needed to negotiate to free yourself, I pulled one leg free, then the other and hurled myself free and there I saw the finish or as the foolish called it, lap 2.

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2 and a bit miles!!!
2 and a bit miles!!!
and I’m ruined.

Lap 2 was tough starting out and was destined not to get any easier as I desperately groped for some semblance of the runner I used to be. My legs were still shaking from the bog and I only started to feel properly stable again about a kilometre after the start of lap 2 and now I knew that my ingenuity, experience and guile would come into play. There was no sense me hammering downhills or trying to sprint uphills – I had to be smart. So I moved quickly when I could, I moved smartly when I couldn’t and I used a succession of the runners ahead of me to pace me to the finish.

I had a problem – a regular one with Altra – the insole had slipped and become desperately uncomfortable but it was too late to start fidgeting and so I pressed up, over the river, up the hills, through the mud at its squelchy underbelly and on to one final encounter with the bog.

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At this point I was running for a bit with a girl I met called Kiera who was giving it her all and heading straight for the bog. I offered her the gentlemanly ‘ladies first’ then followed her in, though taking a different line through what has probably served as a watery grave for many a hardy runner. Still I thrust myself across the log, losing my footing on only a couple of occasions and crossed the finish line before falling to floor, hailing my piss poor performance at a truly outstanding event.

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What can I say? What a great, well organised and tough as old boots running event. Never have 4 miles felt more like 40 – I’ll definitely be going back and well done for defying COVID-19! Oh and a lovely little medal, great value for money – get signed up for the series.

Thanks to everyone involved and I’ll look forward to next year.

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Time: 8 Hours
Target: 8 Laps

It was about 5.30am, I’d had a lovely big mug of coffee whilst sitting upon the old porcelain throne and yet no matter how much I jiggled and wriggled – nothing would be released. So with much trepidation I rose from my perch and slapped on a handful of lubricant and squeezed it into every crevice before putting on my running kit – for today was Falkirk 8 hour Ultra day.

Surprisingly I’d been quite relaxed about the race as my week had been busy with a disaster situation over Scotland’s status in the European Union and Saturday had brought me the opportunity to go racing with my daughter and also join a pro-independence rally at Holyrood Park. So the reality is that the Falkirk Ultra came as something of a light hearted surprise to my week.

Let me roll back about three weeks to my status as a very unfit, very overweight, very slow runner who was about to attempt Tyndrum 24 (read about it here). While I had very much enjoyed the event I’d also been left feeling a bereft, missing my fitness and my turn of pace but mostly I was missing my ability to endure. I’d run less than 8hrs in good conditions and managed a paltry 30 miles in that time – Falkirk with forecasted cruddy conditions seemed to be headed to an even worse result.

Still with a coffee inside me and dressed for a race I drove the few short miles to the car parking and then grabbed my stuff with the aim to be at the registration tent nice and early. As I ambled through the park I wasn’t quite sure what would greet me outside Callendar House but I hadn’t imagined that an entire race village would be being constructed – yet here it was, being built before my very eyes.

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There were dozens of little tents and shelters going up for groups of clubs and runners and suddenly I realised that there might not be anywhere for the solo entrant to dispense with their stuff, thankfully my fears were unfounded and the registration tent would become the excellent location for drop bags. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I dipped into an empty registration tent at about 6.45am and picked up my bits, including a goody bag. Now normally goody bags are rubbish and when you’ve entered a race that costs £30 you don’t expect much in the way of extras but this was different.

In the paper bag we were given a Tunnocks tea cake, some Brewdog beer but most importantly was a lovely lightweight hoody and a pretty cool buff. I’d requested one of the cowbells too and made an £8 purchase of the race woolly hat. I felt like I was fully loaded on merchandise.

For the next hour I ambled around making a nuisance of myself as runners I knew came in for registration and said hello and had lovely chats with them all. There were a couple of guys from the Tyndrum 24, some local runners that I’ve gotten to know over the past few months and even a few of the Linlithgow Running Buddies that I’d had run with a few times.

The Falkirk Ultra was turning into a bit of an ultra meetup and there is nothing wrong with that.

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As light came the little race village that had been built the atmosphere began to grow and then the music started and the PA system kicked in – all systems started to ramp up and then we heard the announcement that we would be kicking off at 8.15am – so take your place behind the line and get ready to go. Here it was that I ran into Frances and Kieron from the Linlithgow Running Buddies – I felt compelled to complain about his wearing of ‘Shites’ (shorts and tights) but before we could get into the rights and wrongs of it we were off.

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Now for those of us that are local we will have been  well aware that Falkirk had recently enjoyed a healthy dose of rainfall and some snow too – this meant that the course was bound to boggy and with hundreds of runners passing through the route on multiple occasions the surface was going to be churned up extensively. The course itself had undergone some reconfiguration in the days leading up to the race due to the creation of a small temporary duck pond/lake just outside the main house – therefore what the next eight hours looked like were anyone’s guess.

For the first lap I went out pretty hard  – I knew that the aim was to produce 1 lap per hour or thereabouts and if I could add in some contingency while my hip and back were in decent shape then I could slow down later without too much concern about finishing. I put myself in the middle of the pack and gently hunkered down to my race strategy, not keen to chat to anyone on the first lap – I barely acknowledged the wonderful volunteers and marshals that were at regular intervals on the course.

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I ran to the first and only significant climb on the course and for the first lap made great strides up it, I was determined that I would run up this bugger at least once today and I managed that but no more (I promised myself, it hurt far too much) and it was a decision that a number of runners would make.

As I reached the top of the hill I could see ahead of me the ‘shit show of mud’ that awaited us – on a good day with fresh legs or being a good strong runner you’d eat this up but being neither strong or good I was going to struggle through this – and I did. I enjoyed this section of the course, it felt the most ‘trail’ and despite it being a little bit narrow because the mud was so churned up it was still a delight to see it on each and every lap.

In the early laps I could see runners both slow and fast avoiding the worst of the conditions trying to protect their feet but for me I was confident that my combination of Lone Peaks, Drymax socks and Injinji toe liners could easily go through the worst of it and still protect my rather sensitive tootsies. Infact in these early laps as others went around mud I chose to go straight through it and enjoyed it as it the spray attached itself to my legs. I do love it when you’re absolutely coated in mud before you’ve done your first mile and this reminded of running my beloved Vigo Tough Love 10.

As I came out of the mud and back onto the more traditional country park paths I found myself slowing down a little bit, this was harder packed and therefore less good for my old and knackered hips but still very runnable and much more to my tastes than the harder trails of Tyndrum 24. I bumbled along letting runners go past me and occasionally overtaking a runner and soon found myself heading downwards to more enthusiastic volunteers – possibly the most enthusiastic I saw all day, however, at this point I was still on a mission – how fast could I get round that first lap.

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The lap from this point was still headed in a generally downward direction and it was still going through the more heavily wooded area of Callendar Park  – this was rather enjoyable and I was confident that I knew were headed to the turn out of the woods before rejoining the park a bit further down and then along the tarmac back to the start.

Sadly I was only half right.

I was right about the downward curvature back into the park but in the distance I saw a procession of runners heading back to the tarmac via a rather dippy, slippy field and even at this early stage you could see runners pretending to be aeroplanes with arms aloft looking for balance.

I reached the turning back on to the grass and moved slowly down it – this was nasty already and I swiftly sought out a return to what looked like a path. I ran along down into the dip and then climbed back out with all the skill of man with no skill whatsoever. This climb down and the clamber up proved to be some of the most comical viewing during the day and would give you a little smile as you watched runners struggling with it and knowing that you’d shortly be the entertainment for some other poor unfortunate!

But it was soon over and we were back on flat, sensible tarmac… but that was not a good thing. I didn’t yet know it but this section of the route would be the real mental test, every looped race has one, the bit you really hate, the bit that makes you think you should pack it all in and for me it was where you hit the tarmac again until you were back at the checkpoint.

Thankfully the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra had something of an ace up its sleeve and that was the four sets of checkpoint volunteers that saw you through this horrible chore and even on lap one I needed the inspirational words of these lovely people. Ambling alongside the lake for what felt like an age I looked enviously towards the other side of the water to witness runners completing their first lap or in some cases getting well into their second. It wasn’t until I made it to the other side of the lake that I wished I was back on the other side…

Before a single runner had set foot on the checkpoint side of the lake it was already a well churned bog – the runners weren’t going to improve that but it was going to make for an interesting battle between us and sliding feet first in the cold lake just a few feet below us. I crossed the thick oozy mud in good time and propelled myself forward in about 33 minutes but a toilet and food stop made it more like 39 minutes before I set off again.

My stop was probably the longest one I had during the whole event as I’d missed breakfast and wanted to make sure I ate regularly. I chowed down on some kinder chocolate, a couple of delicious Caramel Freddo and a chocolate milkshake before filling up my water with Active Root – damn fine stuff that is, probably stopped me crapping myself!

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I soon returned to the drizzle and the course having removed my long sleeved layer in an attempt to stop me overheating. I am led out waving at those who gave a cheery hello or supportive wave and offered encouragement to those coming in – loops makes it easier to wish people well and you’ll sometimes remember those who, like myself, might benefit from a word or three of encouragement.

My second lap was nowhere near as energetic and the first section of the loop was getting muddier and more treacherous with every step, but this I was enjoying and the volunteers at the bottom of the slope seemed to be having fun with it too (well as much as you can have within health and safety guidelines of getting your runners safely through). I continued to stretch my legs until I reached the bottom of the hill and then my body told me that this was it, each loop was now going to be a case of hanging on and seeing if we could get to the magic 8 loops.

What happened next is a bit of a haze of names, hiking and sheer bloody mindedness. I met Ed a few times who was a lovely runner that was having a bit of a day of it – but actually going really rather well, there was Heather who had this awesome hat on that had a charm almost as big as it’s owner and then there was the lovely Susan who I ran a really brilliant lap with having a lovely chat with.

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The ever amazing Neil passed me a couple of times – always with practical words of encouragement and Fiona 1 and Fiona 2 both gave me lovely supportive boosts as they too saw fit to pass by me. It wasn’t just people I’ve met before though – there was Julie from Strava that turned round in the registration queue to say hello and I ran into a couple of other runners who shouted out, ‘hey are you UltraBoy?’ To which I of course reply, ‘ sort of…’ and I was either known through this blog or Strava.

The Falkirk Ultra really was a running community event.

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However, I did meet one runner that made me laugh every second I was with her and that was Tracy (without an e). I think we were both on lap 5 she was ready to call it a day over an injury concern and I should have been thinking the same thing as my hip and groin were ruined. But some days you meet a person who lifts your spirits enough that you forget about the trauma and you’re reminded that you’re actually going okay.

In the time we ran together I found new energy, I was a bit lighter on my feet and I forget about the previous laps and the tiredness of my legs. I did promise she’d make it into this blog and she makes it in not so much for how brilliant she was (although she was) she makes it in because she said, ‘my mums at the bridge, I’m getting a hug’.

Well that’s a red rag to a bull.

‘I’m getting a cuddle too. What’s your mums name? I’ll ask her does she remember me, dip in for the cuddle and then tell her it was a hot steamy night in ’83 – she had the white wine spritzer and I had the babysham’.

I have no idea what Tracy’s mum must have thought but I hope she understands that what happens at an ultra stays at an ultra (wink, wink – I joke).

Tracy (and mum) were awesome and I am pleased to say that both of us made it back out on another lap.

By lap 7though I was sore, really sore and although I was still well within my strategised time I was hoping the short loop would open soon so I could forget the long loop and I’d probably still reach 50km (a shorter loop opened up at 3pm to allow runners to continue running without forfeiting distance when the bell went for the finish at 4.15pm).

However, I finished lap 7 with about 90 minutes remaining – I felt the need to go and do the big loop one final time – despite having already said most of my thanks to amazing volunteers. It very much felt like the only sensible thing to do… well maybe not sensible but I was doing it anyway.

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So steeled for one final battle I headed out and this time with nobody but myself and the clock to run against I found my second wind and started running up inclines, more fool me of course but I was making a much better fist of lap 8 than I had on a couple of the others.

I danced and twirled my way around the course – daring the mud to take me – daring it to cast me groundwards bit it never did. In truth, despite the conditions I remained sure footed throughout but never more so than now. I battled down the hill to a meeting with ‘The Badger’ (more on him later) and onwards toward the finish – there would be no short loops for me.

As I crossed the tarmac in the distance I could see my daughter waving feverishly toward me, and I to her. I picked up my feet and my pace to continue the illusion that her dad is the worlds greatest runner and as she called out I lifted her high into my arms in a display of muscular movement I did not consider possible.

I stopped for a few moments to talk to her but time was pressing and I wanted to make sure this lap counted and so I waved goodbye to my family, thanking the lovely marshal at the turning point and then I headed for home.

One final lurch across the mud and there I saw the finish and most other runners on the short lap – I didn’t want to limply cross that line – I wished to show my mettle and so with the GingaNinja and ASK at the finish I picked up my feet with 100metres to go and raised hell with a sprint that swerved between the short loop runners and crossed the line in a flurry of my own excitement.

I’d actually done it.

I’d made it.

  • Distance: 3.8mile loop (ish)
  • Ascent: Nothing hideous – just felt it (under 100 metres per lap)
  • Date: February 2020
  • Location: Falkirk
  • Cost: £30
  • Entrants: 350 (inc. relay runners)
  • Terrain: Muddy, undulating
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

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Route
What do you want from your route? A route that will be predictable or one that surprises you? The Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra has something for everyone to love and something to loathe. I loved it for the most part, the mud was challenging, the inclines & the declines were awesome and the tarmac that threaded it together was minimised.

Even with last minute changes to the route this still felt well prepared and overall you’d be silly not to fall in love with this. Obviously I’m a little biased as I live near Falkirk and run often in or around the park but this route took in some fun bits and even in the grey weather we had it’s still a lovely place to run.

The route was incredibly well marked and heavily marshalled but not in an intrusive way, you just felt secure in the knowledge that the race really did have your back.

My hope is that the route recovers quickly from so many runners racing around it so the event is welcomed back next year – this is a great place and a great place to have a route of this nature on. Scotland needs ultra marathons during the winter to support runners like myself and Falkirk will benefit from the goodwill of runners and a deepening reputation as a place where great events can be held (let us not mention Epic from the week before!)

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Organisation
I’ve been to a few races in my time and I’ve seen good and bad organisation but let me assure you that the organisation, preparation and selflessness of the organisers went so far above and beyond any expectations I had.

The organisers deserve a huge amount of credit for producing an event par excellence!

I was impressed by the race village that popped up (which the organisers might not be 100% responsible for but made sure it was sensibly located, etc), facilities such as toilets were excellent, parking was sensible given we, quite rightly, couldn’t use the main facilities at Callendar Park.

Even the organisation of the short loop, the updates for race timings seemed to be so effortless, it was a joy to behold – you, as the runner could simply get on with the business of dying out on the insanely fun course! Of course we all know that only a lot of hard work makes something like this look effortless, so my huge congratulations.

As a solo runner I was also mightily impressed about the way the big registration tent was cleared down and our bags were elevated off the ground to ensure that we had very easy access to our kit and I found myself very happily dipping in their briefly each lap and then coming back out onto the course to be welcomed by the race supporters – it was really nice.

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Value for Money
I normally have to question just how good the value of an event is but I can be effusive in my praise that this is probably the best value race you’ll ever do – £30! Let me put this into perspective – that’s the same as coffee and a toasted sandwich at Starbucks for two – and this race gives you a lot more than any corporate monster will.

Compare this with say the Epic Falkirk race at Callendar Park a few days earlier and you can immediately see the difference.

The route was fun, the time and dedication of the people who put this together was clearly evident. The excellent thought that went into the items in the goody bag was really appreciated and then the bespoke medal – what a corker.

People of Falkirk, people of Scotland, people of the world – this is an amazingly good value event and while I would highly recommend it to all of you could you make sure that I get a place every year as this is my local ultra and I’m going to look forward to it year in, year out!

Volunteers
I promised I would get to ‘The Badger’ and here we are but first I want to say a huge thank you to every single one of the marshalling team, on a cold, wet day at the start of February you stood out and supported hundreds of runners that you probably didn’t know and you gave each and every one of love and encouragement from start to whatever our finish was.

I was particularly fortunate, I got to have cuddles with just about everyone, the lovely ladies who were at the bottom of the hill and gave me both cuddles and the odd kick up the arse. The cowbell ladies who must have had ringing ears by the end of the day and the poor young lady who lost her leopard skin print gloves – amazing. The dancing ladies, the downhill turning point marshals, the chaps as we ran back into the park – all of them had a cheery smile no matter how many times I told terrible jokes.

The guys on the tarmac – couple of lovely beards there (one ginger and one badger), these guys I looked forward to seeing each lap and got lots of big hugs from them. There is something wonderful about drawing big chaps into a cuddle with a fool like me – plus it gives you a lift and hopefully it reminds them just how much they are appreciated.

I’d also like to say thanks to the great ladies who were at the two bridges who accepted my flirtatious charm with all the humour it was intended with.

And then the couple of guys at the run back to the checkpoint, one to advise us to get closer to the water as the ground grew ever more treacherous and one to bang his piece of metal with a drum stick – I may on lap 7 have suggested that I knew were he could put that drumstick… you can guess the rest.

If I missed anyone out, believe me you aren’t forgotten – every marshal and member of the team contributed a massive amount to its success and I am confident all the runners would bow down before your dedication and tenacity. Brilliant, just brilliant.

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Awards
Lovely hoody, lovely buff, Tunnocks teacake and an awesome bespoke medal. Do I need to say anymore? Brilliant

Conclusion
This looped race jumps to the top of the list of my favourite looped races and just a favourite race in general – toppling the Brutal Enduro for loops and I am sure my enthusiasm for this race will live long. If you have never attempted the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra then you should consider it, if you aren’t an ultra runner then get involved in the relay as that looked incredibly competitive and you could have all the fun without the pain.

As for me, well I had a lot of fun but my hips will pay the price for that fun – they started to feel pretty crappy at about the 25km mark, this though is a significant improvement on the 5 miles they managed at Tyndrum 24. The important thing for me was that I am starting to improve – it’s true I’m still a shit runner but a shit runner that is getting mildly fitter and with that I’ll hope to improve pace and distance.

I went into the Falkirk Ultra with no expectations but hopes that I would make this my 53rd ultra finish and I managed that – it might have been at the bottom end of the ultra distances but after a rubbish 2019 of running I’m pleased with the way this weekend went. I can now go to the F50K with a bit more confidence (just need to learn to navigate).

Ultimately what can I say other than this was stunning and I hope to see you all next year for a few extra laps.

Related

After four months of near inactivity the Tyndrum 24 (a looped foot race near the West Highland Way) had to be looked at with a bit of common sense. Even before I arrived I knew that running 24 hours was highly unlikely and I had joked that I might sleep 4 hours for every 1 hour of running but that’s getting rather ahead of myself.

For those of you who read my previous blog post (read it here) you’ll know that my training and racing has been almost non-existent since September and even before that it had been sporadic at best. I’d gained a shedload of weight and worse – I’d grown lazy and unfit. The truth is that I’d grown so lazy and unfit that during the 2019 festive season I had very much considered not running the Tyndrum 24.

However, after a short test of the route just before new year I decided that I would put the months of R&R and overating behind me and use the T24 to open my 2020 race account and see just how fall I had fallen.

A mid winter looped race in Scotland is always going to be a challenge – weather likely to be unpredictable, underfoot conditions likely to be grim and the cold… the cold. However, I approached this in a practical kind of way and packed up every bit of kit I could and worked out how I could stop semi regularly and rest so as to not push myself too far and risk injury and avoid failing to turn up at my next event.

In the run up it was confirmed that conditions were set to be kind and as I left the house on Saturday morning I was hopeful that the light drizzle would disappear and we’d have a lovely event.

I drove the back roads through Duone and Callendar up to Tyndrum and enjoyed the snow dusted hills and the dawn rising around me. I find driving through new parts of Scotland and the many little towns one of the delights of being here. I pulled up to the Green Welly about 8.30am and after meeting the first couple of volunteers (talking about you Andrew) I started to set up camp in the car. Here I imagined that I’d come back from the route jump into a sleeping bag – have a snooze, change and get back out – all part of the plan.

I disappeared off for a few minutes to have my pre-race poo and when I came back the window of the car next to me opened and the gentleman in the seat said hello.

Now as regular readers will know I am not a very sociable chap – except in a race scenario and so David and I chewed the fat for a while, especially over our mutual appreciation of the Skye Trail Ultra. Weirdly there was something familiar about him and much as I tried I could not place him but I’m going to guess that he may well be the David I met at the start line of the Tweed Valley Ultra in 2018 – perhaps I’ll never know.

I digress.

As the clock moved on I suggested we head down to registration – which gave me the opportunity to meet up with the wonderful Linlithgow Runner, Brian.

David and I rocked up the The Way Outside site and headed into registration after a bit of a bimble around the drop bag site and a watch of the other runners milling around as they waited for the start. The site seemed well set up and there was space for runners, volunteers and supporters to move around without pissing each other off – a good move from the race organisers. With time moving on though we headed upstairs to the registration point and were processed both quickly and efficiently (weirdly it could well have been fellow instagrammer Karmac70 that gave me my number but I can’t be sure).

Anyway, ID check was done, number was handed over, car details handed over to ensure any problems could be mentioned to us during the race and then we were sent outside to grab the lap dibber. All very easy, all really well drilled.

On the way to collect the dibber (from the awesomely hairstyled Jeff/Geoff) we ran in to Brian – saved me going to look for the bugger and it was a genuine joy to see him.

Brian and I have gotten to know one another a bit over the last few months as he’s been progressing his distances for bigger challenges to come and was ready to step up again with 12 hours at Tyndrum. We did brief introductions and then headed down to the Real Food Cafe for a cup of tea and a chat in nice warm surrounds. This, for me, was a wonderfully relaxing way to start a race and as we chatted about running and races I looked back with rose tinted specs to all those races were I’ve run terribly. Ha! Still saved me thinking about the terrible running I was about to do.

Post tea Brian headed off to get ready and David and I drifted off to the car park for a final change of kit.

The next hour or so there was mostly hanging around and although friendly and conversational  you could feel that runners were keen to set off, there was a nervous energy about the place and  even I, the fat hobbit, was keen to set off.  However, I managed to fill my time with a few photos and exchanges of strange tales with some of the other runners.

Looking round the checkpoint you could see a broad assortment of runners, mountain goats, road runners, first timers, old timers and misfits (I was in the misfit camp) – it was a real mix that had been attracted and in my experience that makes a for a good time. I’m always fascinated about what brought all of these wonderful people to a looped running event? in Tyndrum? on a cold and chilly day in January? That was something I’d be exploring with the many runners I came across during my time on the course.

After a short briefing from Stacey Holloway, the Race Director, we were off and rather annoyingly I found myself near the front and so immediately set about rectifying this and slowed my pace dramatically. During these first few hours where daylight existed I was keen to soak in my surroundings and enjoy the clear, crisp weather that’s one of the key joys of having this as my main hobby – the opportunity to see bits of the world that others do not and with loops you get to revisit the experience several times over and take in different details each time.

We ambled down the course jumping across the pools of water that had settled and a couple of short water jumps that were included as part of the entry before coming to the main river crossing. Given the heavy rain recently this could have been treacherous but actually it was fine and there were multiple good crossing points.

I was actually rather enjoying myself – I even leapt across the rocks in the run up to the bridge and then broke out into some genuine running before the first major hill that I knew I’d be hiking up. The hill brought many of the runners to a plod, myself included and this was a good chance to chat to people and wave on the speedgoats who would be crossing the hundred mile mark.

I was more concerned that Brian would overtake me on the first lap and so I plodded on – very keen to get the first loop in the bag – he could then overtake on loop 2 (I wouldn’t mind that so much). The climb wasn’t horrendous but it was significant – perhaps not in these early loops but as the day wore on this would increasingly feel hard and I noted that the ground below our feet, throughout the course, pretty much, was hard, unforgiving and unrelenting – this could be a worry given that neither my back or hips have ever responded well to sustained hard trails.

The descent from the high point of the course was going to be equally challenging but both of these seemed in line with expectations – it was the middle part of the course that looked the most challenging to me. Benign undulation and a long relatively dull stretch of path was what awaited the runners – this would be the part that divided opinion either as a rest from elevation or a chore between the interesting bits.

I battered down the mine road towards the (well used, given how many runners I saw going in and out of it) mid point toilet stop and then clambered up towards the final section of the route beyond the highly amusing medics who were preparing the fire and clearly a BBQ! Then it was a relatively single track path back towards the checkpoint which was rocky, undulating, challenging and yet very enjoyable. The short bursts upwards and the fast bursts downwards made for a bit of movement in the legs – something that felt very necessary after the grind of the mine road.

The final burst back up to the checkpoint was a gentle lollop back along the river with a rather cruel loop in the checkpoint  before reaching the dibber and our dibber checker.

I rolled into the checkpoint feeling reasonable but not without concern – fitness was obviously a concern but that was feeling steady – the problem was that my groin was feeling like shit. I started on my second lap with a light burning that was going through the same highs and lows as the route but lap 2 was finished within a reasonable time and I was still moving. Hurrah! However, the pain was now fully formed and sending shooting signals down my leg and up into my back.

I started to think about my options, one lap for a medal – well that was done but mentally that would be bad – I had originally aimed for 50 miles but that was rapidly being repurposed to a 30 mile run. In my head that was still going to be a failure but a chat with the GingaNinja reminded me that having not run for months those 30 miles would represent a reasonable return.

By lap 4 those 30 miles looked so far from achievable – I was in a really poor way, this felt like a DNF in the making and not reaching the minimum ultra distance was going to be a DNF to me.

It seemed to me though that on each lap I was going to meet someone that would help me reach the minimum distance. There was a Jennifer, John, Karen, the wonderful long distance walker Paul and many more. Occasionally I’d see Brian, David, Fiona or Neil who would provide a bit of a lift to get me over another hump. There were cuddles and conversation with (I’ll say husband and wife) Andrew and Susan – each one of these people and many more provided the incentive to keep going long enough to get six loops done. I heard amazing stories from the young, the old, the speedy and the slow and each one felt like stardust that kept me going just a little bit longer.

Laps 5 and 6 were well into the darkness and there was the greatest joy as I was able to sample the night sky of Tyndrum and the beautiful twinkling of all the stars in the sky watching over us. I stood at the bottom of the main climb, alone with my headtorch off wishing that I had a decent camera with me to capture this moment – I did something similar on the single track back up towards the start need the little mini loch and felt both the joy and appreciation of freedom I enjoy to be ale to be out here. However, as I swtiched my light on during those last few hundred metres of lap 6 I knew that a decision had to be made.

And it is 100% true that I didn’t make my final decision to halt at six loops until I was almost on top of the checkpoint. I felt sad, I felt drained but this was the only decision that could be made if I wanted to build on what had been done at the Tyndrum 24.

I had very much wanted to continue as the night time running was going to be spectacular and weather conditions were such that the route was going to be good overnight but my injury woes were getting worse and I knew that at some point I would need to drive home – injured.

I hobbled into the checkpoint and saw Jeff/Geoff and his beautiful hair (he let me touch it) and exited the race with a medal and my tail between my legs – there was no pride in my finish or my distance but it was a finish.

Key points

  • Distance: 5 mile loops over 6, 12 or 24hrs
  • Profile: Bumpy
  • Date: January 2020
  • Location: Tyndrum
  • Cost: £80
  • Terrain: Hard Trail
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Route
I’ve already described much of the route but what I haven’t said is that there is a plethora of stunning scenery to delight in and despite being near civilisation you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere too – it’s a clever place to put a race like this. However, I felt the hard conditions underfoot took away from the picturesque nature of the route but it is a minor thing yet something some runners might want to consider if you’re thinking about entering. I’d been out and tested the route over the festive period as I was in the area anyway but I’d gone in reverse to the way we ran at T24 and felt that the reverse was easier – but again it’s all opinion and ultimately you’re doing the same elevation whichever way you went.

Organisation
The organisation was faultless, yes there were challenges – the on route toilet became unusable for a number 2 apparently and there was the occasional headless chicken moment as someone was running round looking to fix a problem but everything was handled well. What felt like an army of (I’ll assume) volunteers and the RD looked effortless on their exertions both at the checkpoint and around the course. The checkpoint layout, the race registration and the lap counting was all super easy and that’s high praise indeed, especially when you consider that this is an inaugural event. Tyndrum 24 should go from strength to strength and I expect it to be well supported in the coming years.

Communication
Regular communication across email and social media channels was excellent, I felt it was very important that the organisers did not rely on social media as a number of races now do. The email communication means you are more likely to catch those runners who don’t use these. In the run up there was quite a lot of information being put out – I would expect that in year two this will be streamlined as the issues that cropped up (such as transfers after the deadline) will be ironed out. Great job on the communications and marketing.

Value
When you think about this the race is quite expensive but not outrageous at £80 and well within the average price of similar such events – however, I believe it is excellent value for money, especially compared to its peers.

There was clearly a good deal of organisation that went into the event, there was lots of support such as a toilet on the route, ample quality parking, a good spacious checkpoint base, accurate lap timings, what felt like a load of volunteers, kit purchase options, headtorch loans, etc). There were upcycled race t-shirts and wooden medals which were a nice touch too.

Ultimately the money spent by the runners on entering the race felt like money used on the race.

Volunteers
The team behind T24 were really exceptional, I’ve met a lot of great people manning checkpoints or standing out in the cold but these guys were right up there. I’d like to mention once again the lovely Andrew, Susan, (their poor daughter for having to listen to my flirting with her dad) and Jeff/Geoff – they all made me laugh.

The guys on the course – especially those by the little bridge must have been freezing but always had a cheery smile, the medics were unapologetically hilarious and annoyingly inspiring with their nice warm fire going and the lady in the big wooly hat – she was so brilliant – mostly just telling me to get a move on. Ultimately it was a great team that came together to give the runners the support they needed.

My thanks guys.

Loop v Loop
I’ve run a few looped events over the years – Challenge Hub 24hr, The Ranscombe Challenges, Brutal Enduro, Endure 1250 and how does the T24 compare?

Thankfully the Tyndrum 24 compares very favourably – it felt very modern and forward thinking, it was incredibly runner friendly and supportive and it felt like an event that was put on for runners by runners. Sometimes looped events can feel like an attempt to get your number of completed marathons up (not that there is anything wrong with that) but this felt like a genuinely challenging event in its own right and you needed to prepare for it whereas sometimes lap races can feel like a turn up and give it a crack – I felt with T24 you had to want to do T24 not just another looped event..

I remember running Endure 1250 and felt that was a ‘numbers’ event where I was just putting another number on my ultra total but here I felt like runners, myself included were racing whatever clock they were facing. In another year when I was a little fitter I would feel very confident of running 75 miles or more because I wanted to and I could train for that.

As looped events go this was one of the more fun ones and sits up there alongside the Ranscombe and Brutal loops as a favourite.

Medal
The medal design was very nice, and as readers will know I do love a medal, my only concern is that the thickness of the wood suggests that this might not survive much of a bash. When I compare this to say the thickness of the wood of either Ben Vorlich or the Nocturnal I feel both of these will be a little more hardy. I’d have been quite happy to pay a couple of pounds extra for a few more millimetres of wood to ensure that my memento of this event lasts for the duration of my life.

Eco
No plastic cups? Wooden medals, upcycled race shirts, local suppliers – all things I can very much get on board with and I doubt you’d hear any runners complaining about this. The race encouraged users to use public transport where possible – going so far as to have a race start time that made this possible (something that just two years ago I’d have been very happy with given I didn’t drive). Issues around sustainability in running is likely to become a bigger and bigger selling point as the years go on and it is good to see a race taking a lead on issues like this.

Conclusion
I suppose the conclusions come down to whether I would run the event again and the answer is a well considered yes.

Tyndrum 24 is a strange beast of an event given the location and time of year but it is a much needed addition to the UK ultra running calendar as winter running events in January, especially in Scotland, are nowhere to be found. There is a reason though why this is so and that reason is that Scotland can have hideous weather in January and the possibility of cancellation presumably remains high.

These things are something you will have to factor into your calculations when you consider entering – this year the event was fortunate to have the best possible conditions – but next year and the year after may not be so lucky. How would you feel running in the driving rain up and down hill in the dark for at least 16 hours? Or ploughing though the snow for the same amount of time wearing every last inch of clothing you could manage just to get to 30, 40 or 50 miles? I’ll be interested to see how the event goes on in a year like that.

Perhaps the more important question for you is, should you enter? I feel the answer to that is easy – of course you should. This was a really lovely event with a wild mix of runners from all walks of life and the fact that the organisation was top class only adds to the conclusion that this is a top quality event.

I’d go so far as to say that it is race worth travelling for and 100 miles across the maximum time allowed is very achievable even if you chose to walk speedily the entire thing you’d be grinding out distances near three figures.

I also feel it is worth noting that the race directorship team is new to this and should be given a huge amount of praise for the amount of work they poured into this – it looked like a labour of love and that hard work paid off with a smooth and delightful event.

My own race, as I’ve suggested, was a failure but not totally, 4 laps away from my 50 mile target, I ran for less than 8 hours and I was in so much pain that this throws into doubt my participation at the Falkirk Ultra. Mentally though there was a hint of success – despite my lack of fitness and groin/hip/back problems from less than 5 miles in I managed to hold on and knock out 30 failure lacklusture miles but 30 miles nonetheless.

As I write this on Sunday evening while listening to some made people on the  post football chat on BBC 5 Live I can feel the pain rolling around my groin and hip, Every time I stand up I feel it and evry time I take a step I feel it. I made the right decision to pull out. The potential to cause further long term damage was real but I know how to solve it – I need to weigh 15kg less, I need to eat less rubbish and I need to get back out there probably tomorrow, even if it is only for a slow couple of kilometres, probably involving the hill outside my house.

Thanks T24, thanks to everyone involved and who knows maybe I’ll see you next year.

Next
Next I prepare for a solid weekend of Scottish fun starting on February 1st at the Edinburrgh Winter Riun where ASK and I will attempt to bring her mile time down a little and the following day I’ll be heading to Callendar Park in Falkirk to run loops again but this time deliverately for 8 hours (both subject to my injuries calmong down a bit).

Related

img_1777In times of turmoil we seek summits and points of vantage to gain clarity of vision.

When I was younger I would go to the Lake District to climb a hill and breathe clean air and give myself greater clarity. Given I didn’t drive (or ride a bike) I would often find myself in places you could reach by public transport and so Ambleside was a popular choice for a young man with a busy mind.

Roll forward a decade or two and my mind remains busy but I’ve added both a driving licence and an ability to ride a bike and so when I saw the inaugural Ambleside Trail 60 on the ultra event calendar I decided that this was for me.

The race was being organised in conjunction between the long established The Climbers Shop (find out more here) in Ambleside and charity The Brathay Trust (find out more here) – both well respected pillars of the community.

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I therefore had high expectations for the event.

When looking at the Ambleside Trail 60 on paper you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s rather easy and with a tad under 2,500metres of climb it all seemed perfectly respectable. The problem comes is that when deciding to do this I had conflated the shortness of the distance and relatively low ascent numbers to think this was going to be easy. How wrong can you be?

But anyway let me add a bit of context to proceedings – I’d had an excellent July, training had gone well and I’d come off the Ben Vorlich Ultra feeling pretty good and without injury. The truth is I’d felt so good that I’d returned to training the following day and was looking forwarding to maintaining my running mental strength by taking part in the Thieves Road Ultra. In typical fashion though disaster struck and I took a nasty tumble running up a hill and put a bloody big hole in my knee and this was supplemented by a shitty infection that I couldn’t shift. However, with August 10th approaching I knew that momentum was on my side and I’d be okay(ish) to race but it seemed my August ultra curse was set to continue and the race was cancelled due to the potential for adverse conditions.

What happened next was that race was reorganised for two weeks later, my illness got worse and on race day I spent about 8hrs on the porcelain throne. This time it was me cancelling the race and so I rolled up to the Ambleside 60 with very little training but a lot of chocolate eating done.

As I’ve said I’m a huge fan of The Lake District and Cumbria, it’s a truly spectacular place and so I was very happy to be there on a beautiful morning watching the world go by.

Strangely for an ultra it was taking place on a Sunday which meant I’d had the luxury of bimbling around the Lakes the day previously taking in the delights of Ambleside and registering with the event organisers at The Climbers Shop. Registration was both quick and easy and the lovely organisers were on hand to answer all of my ridiculous questions. I was also mightily impressed that race sponsor Rab (I assume) threw in a warm beanie which is likely to make its race debut later in the year. It was here that I bumped into Ed, a fellow competitor from Ben Vorlich and it was lovely to ‘chew the fat’ with him for a few minutes and catch up about what had happened at the race end. However, we soon parted and I found myself at a loose end but with lots of wonderful outdoor stores strewn across the town – I decide me to make hay while the sun shone. Lunch was a delicious spicy chicken baguette with a slab of honeycomb cake and this was followed by short trips to Kendal and Keswick to make the most of my stay.

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I had the luxury of having a six berth dorm room all to myself at the waterside YHA in Ambleside and I went to bed early to try and get as rested as possible. Kit was prepared, breakfast readied and I knew where I was going in the morning.

The organisers had suggested the pay & display car park in Ambleside, which given it was a few minutes from the start, made good sense. With water bottles now filled I headed to the start in Rothay Park and silently soaked up the friendly, banter atmosphere. I’ve grown rather accustomed to knowing runners at races, wherever I am, both here and abroad – so it was something of a surprise to not see any faces I knew. I wandered around a little bit before setting amongst the throng of ultra runners all keen for the start.

We were all instructed to dib our chips at the start which had been attached to us at registration. I found these mildly intrusive as they never felt very comfortable around the wrist and I fretted about them working loose and ending up in a puddle of mud somewhere on a hill. Thankfully it never did work loose but I found it uncomfortable compared to some of the alternatives that I’ve had to wear. That said the system was simple enough to use and the setup both at the start and at checkpoints was well thought out.

With an 8am start looming we were all corralled into the starting area and after a short briefing and some words of encouragement the 175(ish) runners burst forward and out of Rothay Park and into the wilderness. It’s fair to say that a number of ‘trail’ races that I’ve been part of have actually had quite significant amounts of road or tarmac involved but this experience was very different. From the near outset there was trail and nature surrounding the runners.

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As we wound our way through the first few kilometres it was clear that this was going to be s tougher day than I had originally imagined and as I looked down at my faithful Suunto I could see the elevation metres quickly stacking up. Those first few miles were easily the simplest on the route and with excellent route marking even I couldn’t go wrong. We wended our way through the variety of trails, up and down hills and along some of England’s finest scenery. For the most part I was making good time against the other runners – using my preferred tactic of ‘go as fast as you cN for as long as you can and then death march it in’. I made sure I was taking on board regular fluids and even a little food from early in proceedings as this would ensure I could still take on everything late in the event. I topped up my intake with some Active Root, which is about the only electrolyte style supplement I can stomach, and this kept me level and stopped significant dips – something to consider if you’re running well.

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I ran the first 15km pretty consistently and covered around 600 metres of climb – despite the recent rains the ground was in good condition and the route was runnable. Although I had poles with me I had decided that I would refrain from their use until I really needed them and despite the ascents I didn’t feel I needed them in the firs quarter of the event. The views were delightful and this was very much The Lake District of my youth – some places dragged up long forgotten memories and it was a very pleasant experience. It was here that I met Deborah – about 2.5 miles from the first checkpoint. We chatted for a while, as we bounded forward and this was such a pleasant experience that I barely noticed the run into the checkpoint.

Checkpoint one was brilliant with the marshalling team all dressed as chefs with big chef hats, the team were incredibly well drilled – timer, water, food, out, out, out! I was very impressed with the team and the organisation of the event on the whole, if I were to take a guess this was not their first rodeo. The quality of the food on offer was brilliant and as I left the checkpoint I felt buoyed by the energy the team have thrust upon me. In the distance I could see Deborah disappearing and continued my journey alone.

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The second section was going to be tougher with the first 600 metres climbed this meant that there was still around 1700 metres to climb and around a marathon to do it in. 2 hours down – 12 hours to go. I knew that the first significant climb was soon to be upon us and in the distance twinkling like little neon and Lycra clad stars were a succession of slow moving runners as the route moved up a gear in toughness.

It was now that the route threw challenge after challenge at us, the trail had moved from being mostly runnable to being filled with big lumpy rocks, it was wet underfoot and it changed from soaking to dry making your shoe choice irrelevant in the face of the varying conditions. I threw open my poles for the first time and began the slow journey upwards, happy in the knowledge that I had built up a reserve of time in the early stages of the race. However, as I looked ever upwards it was with a deep sense of foreboding – this was the first and easiest ascent and it was far from easy.

I decided that given I still had some strength in my legs I would do the climb in bursts and so would have a short stop and then powered up the next couple of hundred metres, stop and repeat. This technique helps me with the fatigue my legs get from the constant ball achingly monotonous striding of hiking up the hills (something I knew I would be forced into later in the day). My lack of training in the last month and the over eating was also playing a significant part now in my performance – runners were passing me as I struggled with the up hills and the beating my feet were now taking. However, I knew that on the downhill as long as the path was relatively runnable I would be able to make up some ground. Where some runners are guarded about running downhill too quickly for fear of a fall I am usually pretty surefooted and confident in my own ability. Therefore once the peak was reached I felt that I had little choice but to open up the taps a bit and go for it.

 

My descent was as quick as my ascent was slow and I found myself able to catch some of the runners that had managed to overtake me and I felt with nearly 1,000 metres of ascent done and about 20km in distance done I was feeling confident and then the ridiculous kicked in – I slipped. Bang down – on my back, on my arse, on all my weakest points. The two young runners ahead of me turned and shouted to find out if I was okay and I waved them on but I was far from alright. My back, which is troubling at the best of times, had shooting pain running through it and I had cut my hand open in several places and was bleeding. I picked my muddy form off the floor and cursed my own stupidity – I ran down to the little stream and put my buff in the water and wrapped it around my hand attempting to soak up the blood. I had been very lucky, within a few minutes the bleeding had stopped and I managed to clean up the various gashes that now covered my left hand – the realisation was dawning upon me that this route was going to give me a good kicking before it was finished.

I pushed onwards through the next few kilometres, slowing a little to account for the worsening running conditions, the rocky terrain became incredibly hard going and in my opinion it felt more like fell running than it did ultra trail running but it all added to the complexity of the challenge of finishing. I finally reached the halfway point and was greeted by the most welcoming committee of marshals, supporters and runners. Given I was so far from the lead it was no surprise to see my fellow racers in various states of distress, I grabbed a bit of grass and threw my bag to floor and motored over to the food table and stuffed my face with the delicious sausage rolls with the amazing pastry (I’m going to assume veggie but don’t want to know as they were so delicious it would disappoint me to know I’d been eating something mildly healthy). I drank as much tea as I could handle, grabbed a bit of soft chewy cake, filled my water bottles and then followed the other runners out of the checkpoint.

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It was here that I would make the relationship that would see me cross the finish line, though it did not begin well but I’ll get to that later.

From CP2 we were presented with a climb up Stake Pass, a beautiful climb and no mistake but a technical, rocky ascent that required maximum concentration all the way and its windy nature meant that you felt progress was even slower than it actually was. I used my brutish bursts of power to push myself up the pass and once more in the distance before and ahead of me I could see the swathes of runners slowly climbing to the summit. I kept telling myself that this is something I enjoy when moments of doubt would creep into my thinking but the reality was that my feet were burning from the damage that rocks underfoot where doing.

My feet are brittle at the best of times but the damp conditions coupled with the rocks were crippling me, the only plus I could find was that my Lone Peaks combined with Injinji liner and Drymax socks and my beloved Dirty Girls Gaiters were working overtime in protecting me from the worst of the route.

About halfway up local legend Keith passed me with his wonderfully consistent pace and all I could do when he went beyond me asking, ‘alright?’ I responded with, ‘had better days’ but Keith may have misinterpreted my joke for sincere annoyance and he simply shrugged his shoulder and pushed on. I thought nothing more of it really but like the cut of his pace and thought if I could keep up with him I might well be alright – but he, like many before, was soon gone.

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I retreated the comfort of the nearest rock I could find and grabbed some food from my race vest and looked longingly into the middle distance as dark and detrimental thoughts crept across my furrowed brow. ‘More than halfway’ I thought, ‘but my feet are bruised to buggery, my race vest is heavy and worse than that my back and arm was on fire from injuries both old and new’. However, the sight of runners closing in on me made me get off my backside and hurl myself up the hill and eventually I made it to the summit. I could see some of the runners who had made it past me and so I picked Keith as my target – if I could catch him before the arrival of the next checkpoint I would continue.

The route off the pass was as unrunnable as the route up with rocks jutting up from every angle and care required about just where the hell you were putting your feet. If you were less cautious you might have avoided the path  and run straight down the hill – but given I had no idea where I was or how far behind the next runner was – I did not fancy falling off Stake Pass. With all due care I made it to the bottom and leapt through the thick nasty smelling mud and crossing streams with all haste attempting to keep my feet as dry as possible. In the distance I could hear the clatter of Keith’s running poles and I realised I was catching him – having a target to aim for had made the journey much more focused and much easier and as I caught him I opened with the much cheerier line, ‘I’ve been chasing you down for ages – thanks for the incentive’ and from here a new race friendship was forged.

Keith was a bit of a running veteran and with 20 more years on the clock the than me he had well earned the right to legend status. He strode purposefully through the route, questioning the runability of some of the course but all the time remaining strong in his continuous push forward – I like Keith very much and over the next few miles we got to chatting and getting to know one another a little. But as is the rule in ultra marathons you run your own race and he reminded me of this several times as he suggested I not wait for him or that he would be waiting long for me. However, we were both moving at about the same speed ad so it turned out neither of us could shake the other one.

Something I was very glad of.

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The road to CP3 was hard and long, we had come off the hill and now it was just finding the checkpoint, hoping that we would make the cut-off and then pushing through as fast as we could up the biggest ascent on the course – Lining Crag. While we both looked and probably felt a bit shitty we both also seemed to gain a newfound mental strength from each other – I certainly did from him and when I started to leave CP3 Keith joined me for some further adventuring.

The strange thing was that despite our low speed we were starting to catch people again and in the close distance we could see runners who had long left me behind and, though I shouldn’t, I was buoyed by seeing other runners finding this a challenge or perhaps I was simply developing a second wind that might carry over the Crag.

Sadly my second wind was very short lived and as I began the ascent I felt every bone in my body scream for mercy, even with the first few hundred metres being relatively gentle this was a climb of false summits and false hope.

One of the great things about Keith was his wide and varied local knowledge, this meant that he was able to be accurate in his assessment of our situation, so when we approached the scramble up to the crag I knew that this was not the summit and that there were further smaller climbs to come. The scramble was actually surprisingly simple and the change of pace on the legs was welcome, I enjoy scrambling although I don’t do it very often as I am terrified of heights. So I finally reached the safety of solid ground that wasn’t going to try and kill me I was very grateful. We  made good time as we crossed the high ground and started to overtake people again and other runners came past us as they picked the pace up a little. On reflection it was nice to know that we were still in a race, often at these type of events you’ll find yourself alone for hours and hours and not knowing where in the race you are, here the numbers were just right to be able to have significant time alone but also know that you could still catch someone.

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We knew that the final checkpoint was at about 53km in and so it was with a little dismay that the ascent to the top of the crag had pushed us forward a mere 2km of the 12km we needed to run. Running remained hard going over the rocky paths and went as fast and securely as we could but both Keith and I were losing our footing at regular intervals and many of the runners had soggy bottoms but perhaps none got the soggy bottom in the way I did.

While crossing a boggy path I lost my footing and into the mid thigh depth mud my leg went, the trouble was that my other leg followed me in and as I fell in my whole body lurched backward in some attempt to create the muddy equivalent of a snow fairy. Keith turned to face me, barely disguising his amusement at the predicament that I found myself in. I managed to stand in the mud and could feel the vacuum attempting to suck my shoes in but I carefully extracted one leg and then the other with no significant loss.  I was caked in mud from head to toe but I had clearly picked the right kit for the event and my wonderful new Runderwear long boxer shorts and Raidlight Freetrail shorts soon dried off and despite being in 3 foot of wet, shitty mud my feet remained warm and toasty.

After picking myself up we headed along the remainder of the route down to Grasmere with little further incident, but we were aware that the final climb and descent had taken much, much longer than anticipated and I was keen to finish as I still had hours in the car driving back to Scotland.

I noticed that both Keith and I were rather quiet as we landed in Grasmere, tiredness was clearly playing a part but seeing the race organisers at the final checkpoint gave us a bit of a life and knowing that we were less than 10km from the finish was the mental nourishment we needed.

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We had been quite quick in the checkpoints up until this point but we stayed a little longer in Grasmere as Keith knew both of the guys from The Climbers Shop (I’m going to go with Mike and Gill but could be wrong). Gill had been at the registration and she clearly remembered my idiotic face from the previous day and the warmth with which I was greeted felt genuine and heartfelt and for that I was very grateful. They tried to stuff our faces with all manner of food and drink but we were so close to the finish that I actually wanted just my water filled and then off and the guys obliged.

Keith and I were very keen to see off the race before the dark became impenetrable and with all the speed we could muster we set out from Grasmere. This final section had a few light climbs on it but it was mainly tarmac that we were following and there was nothing to concern ourselves with – I seem to recall that we spent most of the time on these final few miles being rather jolly and looking forward to food, drinks, showers and in Keith’s case being reunited with his wife and the lovely Border Colllies.

I remember Keith commenting that at this point he had one speed and although I had recovered a little bit and probably could have run this final section I had no desire to leave my companion behind and in truth I’d have only managed to get about a dozen metres ahead before he would have reeled me in again. Meeting Keith made the experience of the Ambleside 60 much more pleasant than it looked like it might have been given the struggles I know he played a huge part in me finishing on Sunday.

We rolled up to Rothay Park and the dark had finally arrived, we thanked the marshalling staff at the final corner and as is my way I tried to have a cheery word/joke and thank you for the guys who were stood there waiting in the cold ensuring that we didn’t take a wrong turn at the final point. In the dim distance I could make out the large finish line inflatable and in front of it were two dibbing points so that we could get a final time. It took me an age to get my bloody dibber in but once I did we were ushered into a tent and given medals, beer and times.

Keith’s wife was there with the dogs and I joined them briefly to thank him and to thank his wife for loaning me such a wonderful gentleman for the day.

We had made it, I had made it.

Overview
Distance: 60km
Cost: £65
Location: Ambleside
Date: September 2019
Tough Rating: 3.5/5

Route
What they said about the route…

starting from Rothay Park, the Ambleside Trail 60 is a 60km loop made up of some iconic Lake District running. From the park, participants will make their way up and over Loughrigg towards Skelwith Bridge, Tarn Hows and from there onwards towards Coniston. Before reaching Coniston, the route climbs above Coniston Coppermine and toward Lad Stones. Continuing onward, the route makes its way to Little Langdale and after a short but punchy climb reaches Blea Tarn. Runners then make their way up Stake Pass and then follow the Langstrath Beck before climbing back up Lining Crag, the biggest climb on the course. Runners descend into Grasmere and slowly wind their way back toward Ambleside..

I’ve run over 50 ultra marathons and I’ve run across some of the toughest trails in the crappiest conditions and I can honestly say that the route of the Ambleside 60km was a bit of a terror. I mentioned earlier that this felt more like an ultra distance fell race than a trail race. Although the path was defined it was, in parts, brutal – despite the shortness of the distance this was a route that really threw everything at you and there was a procession of the walking wounded on the course as the Ambleside 60 took no prisoners.

This is not a route for the inexperienced and had the weather conditions been worse then this would really have given the competitors a challenge that even more might not have finished. What I will say though is that the Ambleside 60 route gave so much back in views and beauty that you really can’t complain about the temporary pain inflicted by the course.

The climbs were tough, the variety was welcome and the route marking was exceptional – just a few less rocky roads would have made this a more complete running experience. Don’t misunderstand me though this was a brilliant route and I feel fortunate to have seen parts of the Lake District that only become accessible if you are willing to put the effort in. The highlight of the route for me was the second climb up Stake Pass, which as well as being as tough old boots, had the wonderful sound of gushing water on both sides of the pass, it had majesty all around it and there was a eeriness about it as you could see nothing of modern life as far as the eye could see – wonderful.

So, perhaps a few little tweaks to make sure that this doesn’t become an ‘only suitable for the mountain goats’ and the route cold be a real winner for everyone wanting to take part.

Organisation
The organisation was 100% top notch, from registration to the near army of marshals that were posted on the course – this was some of the best organisation I have ever seen. The route marking for the most part was fantastic, the little map we received at the start was perfect as a guide and the pre and post race information was concise and informative. A huge thank you should go to all the organisers and especially the marshalling and medical staff who offered friendly faces all over the day. Races like this do not happen without the support of lots of people behind the scenes – and it was clear that the work they had put in here had really paid off.

Kit
I go mountain running most weekends and I go hill running after work and I know what kit I need to carry with me, I know how to be safe in the mountains and in adverse weather conditions and to that end I felt that the mandatory kit list was a little over complicated. I understand completely that safety comes first and that not all runners are experienced in the hills but there does need to be a balance. I did note that a number of the runners had very small amounts of kit with them and you had to wonder how where they fitting all the mandatory kit into such a small space?

Given my back issues carrying all the required kit was always going to be one of the main challenges I faced during the Ambleside 60 and I have a preference to carry specific things that help my individual race needs. For example I have my ridiculously weak feet so spare socks are a must and I’m known to take a picture or two so spare battery is also an essential. But rules are rules and it is important that we all adhere to them – they are designed to ensure your safety isn’t compromised, might just be worth looking next year about a little more flexibility between the mandatory and recommended kit.

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Goodies
Having great sponsors like Rab and Ultimate Directions mean that sometimes there are excellent goodies and this time there was a delightful Rab beanie available pre-race and post race there was some Hawkshead Brewery beer, which if you’re a beer drinker is a great reward for a job well done – obviously as a teetotaller the beer is less relevant to me but I know someone who’ll drink it for me. The medal was nice and understated, which seemed very much in keeping with the whole ethos of the event and I appreciated that. I wore my medal proudly all the way home to Scotland and as I crawled up the stairs to my bedroom upon returning home I made sure that it took its rightful place with its brother and sister medals at the top of the stairs.

Value
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it, the value for money aspect is very much down to personal opinion about your experience. I very much believe that the Ambleside 60 was excellent value for money at £65 and to be fair if you’d charged a little more it would still have represented good value for money. The little goodies, the excellent event staff, the support both before and after, the photography and the challenge of the event itself mean that you have to say you really did get bang for your buck. Some people might bemoan the lack of race T-shirt but the truth is I would rather have had the beanie – it’s always nice to get something useful that most races don’t think about.

Special Mentions
I owe this finish to Keith – I would not have made it without you. Thank you.

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Conclusion
Is this a great race? Not yet.

Does this have the potential to be a great race? Oh yes!

2019 as its inaugural running was a damn fine event, it gave the best views of Ambleside and its surrounds that I’ve ever had the honour of laying my eyes on. The Ambleside 60 has much to recommend it and if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day as we did then you’ll bear witness to a visual treat. The medal for this one really  is worth earning and you will feel like you have accomplished something truly spectacular when, or perhaps more appropriately, if you cross the finishing line. The organisation of the race, for me, makes this one stand out in the memory too – there was genuine care for the runners and that should be recognised, nobody got anything less than 100% from the excellent team.

However, this isn’t perfect I’ve mentioned that it felt like a long distance fell run in places and the course was incredibly hard going at times, even in good conditions. I genuinely believe more responsibility should be on the individual regarding kit choices and I’d probably prefer to see the race run on a Saturday to give runners the Sunday and a chance to rest for their weary bones before a return to grindstone of work on a Monday (I found the drive back to Scotland really tough and Monday was weird in the office). However, if nothing changed, if the race came back next year in exactly the same format would I run it again? The answer is 100% yes, there is something special about the Ambleside 60 and it deserves its soon to be well established reputation as a tough as old boots brilliant ultra marathon.

So if you’ve read this and thought, he sounds likes you had a horrible time, then you’ve misunderstood me, there was no misery for me just a real ball busting challenge – which is primarily what I look for in an ultra marathon and if it is what you look for then you’re going to have a mighty fine time.

Check out the race details here

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.

 
My second race of the weekend wasn’t my race at all, it belonged to my daughter, ASK and I’ve never been more ecstatic not to be racing.
I remember when she was born, almost exactly three years ago that I decided I would enter a race with her and aged 15 days old she completed the Dartford Bridge 2km Fun Run with myself, the GingaNinja and Pops (my father).

Well much has changed since that race, ASK has become a boisterous toddler, my father and I fell out over Hillsborough (although it was always made clear he was welcome at our door to see ASK whenever he wanted) and both the GingaNinja and I have lost half a yard of pace due mainly to Dominos Pizza.

Anyway three years later we return to the scene of her first medal triumph, only this time she’s powered by her own legs.

Now I’ve been accused by many of being a pushy parent getting her to run but the truth of the matter is she asked me to find her a race because, ‘I want another medal dad’. She also asks to go training and use both the running buggy and the Unirider – I think it’s fair to say she’s the pushy toddler and I’d rather be taking her running than having her sat infront of Dora the Explorer or Paw Patrol!


Anyway we rocked up to the start line just after the 10km had started and we paid our £3 entry fee (which would be going to a local good cause) and waited for the main race runners to come in. ASK stood transfixed at the sides watching runners of all shapes and sizes crossing the finishing line and claiming their medals – desperate to know when she could get started! 

Before long it was time to line up – kids from near newborns to 13 and 14 year olds. We eyeballed a couple of our fellow toddlers that we knew we could take down and when the horn erupted we set off from our position at the back of the pack like lightning.


ASK quickly set a steady if unspectacular pace for the first 500 metres, preferring to soak up some of the undeserved adulation she was receiving! But once out of sight of the supporters we made better time taking two other runners on the first corner, followed quickly by a slightly older girl whose interest seemed to have waned a little. By the time we had reached the end of the first kilometre we had taken out another couple of runners but the field had now spread itself out but with just 8 minutes on the clock we looked to be making good time and ASK showed no sign of stopping (other than for water breaks).

In the distance – some 200metres ahead – we saw a couple of older boys, probably aged about 10 and we suggested to ASK that we could try and catch them. As they disappeared around the corner and into the final stretch she looked dejected that they had gotten away. 

‘Do you want to catch them?’ we inquired. ‘Yes’ replied ASK and so with that we hit the go faster afterburners and our little daughter responded with much enthusiasm and although we would never catch the boys we knew that the sounds and sight of the finish line would give her a huge lift to finish well. 


With just a couple of hundred metres to go ASK geared up again and started hurtling towards the finish – the remainder of the crowds cheering her every last step home.

Cruising through the barrier she stopped only briefly to grab a medal (we offered thanks in her behalf) and then some rehydration and refuelling – this had been a gruelling race.


What can I say? There are a few things to say about the race, the organisers and ASK.

Firstly let me congratulate Bridge Triathlon events who year in, year out put on lovely events for all ages and all abilities. As a regular runner I’ve taken part in a few of the events as has the GingaNinja and ASK marks her third Bridge Triathlon event here.

The Dartford Bridge 10km and the 2km fun run really help promote a healthy running lifestyle and it’s low key approach in a simple setting make this a perfect September Sunday morning event.

Secondly the event itself is magnificent, either the 10km or the 2km (the only reason I wasn’t doing the 10km was because I’d ruined my groin at the RunWimbledon marathon the day before). The route is fast and flat and if you want it to be it’s a really good event for racing FAST!

And finally, ASK (my UltraBaby) What can I say other than, well done little daughter of mine. She ran brilliantly, she ran fast and she wanted to do it and is already inquiring as to when she can get her next race medal. So if you know of an upcoming event please let me know – I’ve got a three year old ready to race and that’s an attitude I’m happy to encourage.


I haven’t run a marathon well since my first crack at the Kent Roadrunner, since then I’ve been in a spiral downwards of injury hit crisis and increasingly slower distance.

Therefore I found myself on the start line of the Darnley Challenge with nothing more than the aim of a bimble round and an opportunity to say happy birthday to one of the race directors.

The conditions, for me, we’re not ideal – it was too warm, it was too sunny and there was going to be a fair bit of Tarmac involved (never good for the knees). I’d also not been feeling amazing over the previous few days, having caught some germs from the GingaNinja and I was still getting over the previous weekends exertions at the Vanguard Way Marathon. I wasn’t in great shape but actually I felt surprisingly okay about being there.

I caught up with Gary, who I bump into from time to time at Parkrun and I met Hannah (who had the air of being suspiciously familiar – turns out we follow one another on Twitter and more recently Instagram) and before I knew it the start was sounded and we were off.

I’d very much wanted to start at the back but had inadvertently started at the front and so I decided to get the first hill out of the way at a reasonable pace before slowing down as I got inside Jeskyns Country Park.

After dropping the pace a little I proceeded to find a steady rhythm and bounded out of the park and headed towards the very delightful Cobham. It’s funny when you live so close to these little villages that you rarely get out to them – still I was here now and took the opportunity to grab some photographs and joke with the locals about the lack of water in the pump! I passed down the high street and headed towards the mausoleum. The trail here was gravel and still hard going on my legs but I ploughed on knowing that a little further on the ground would soften and I could pick up my pace.

The surroundings of Darnley Mausoleum and Ranscombe are wild and often untamed – the reason that despite living in these parts for nearly 5 years it continues to interest me as a run and race route. I dragged myself along the tree lined path until I came to the one point I could turn the wrong way.

I peered down the hill (no runners), I peered straight ahead (no runners) and then thankfully, behind me a lady shouted ‘straight on’ and so I leapt forward now knowing roughly where I was headed. The fast downhill through Ranscombe was lovely and I allowed my legs the opportunity of space to glide down towards the trudge up the field and the halfway checkpoint.

I stayed a little too long at the CP but it was busy with runners and I was thirsty plus an SVN volunteer is always good for a laugh and a joke. Once on the move again though it was business as usual, conversation, running and making the usual dick of myself. I pressed harder here for a while and even made haste into the uphill climb out of Ranscombe. I certainly gave it more welly than I would normally bother for a training marathon.

I was back at the point I had nearly gotten lost earlier and now knew were I was headed and could switch off the GPX and simply watch the time ticking away. I almost never train with a GPS these days – I don’t enjoy watching numbers and I don’t do Strava but a new Ambit means I’ll wear it for about 3 weeks before I get bored. The Darnley Challenge was test 2 and an excellent opportunity to ensure I was doing mapping correctly before I risk the Ridgeway.

I digress… as I reached the Mausoleum on the return journey I met the brilliant Costas and we chatted a while as we ambled down beyond the trail, Cobham and through Jeskyns – he was doing all four of the weekends challenge events and with his triumph of a beard and gloriously long hair I simply marvelled at his excellent tale. We chatted about love, life and Greece, all within a few short miles and encouraged each other through the latter stages of the first lap.

With Costas though now a little way behind me and preserving his energy for the next days race I was back on the Tarmac and I could feel my ITB and knees begin to grumble. However, I shook off these moanings and made good time to the base and the turnaround point.

I stopped for more water, filled bottles and headed out for a second and final lap. The second lap was overall a little slower but there were a number of reasons for this – the first was my own fault, too much messing about taking photographs but the second was brought on by my lack of pre-race visit to the loo.

Having failed to use the facilities when they were available I had little choice at about 18 miles in but to stop, dig a small hole in the ground and fill it with what on a good day could be described as a 4 pack of melted mars bars… given I’m always prepared for this kind of thing I left my offending item and the biodegradable tissue paper suitably buried deep in the route and about 4 inches underground. Thankfully I was hidden suitably off the trail as 2 runners went past me, hopefully unnoticed – but you can never be sure (so if you did see me in a compromising position I can only apologise).

The bad news was I had lost a solid 15 minutes looking for a suitable location and delivering the payload, etc. Still I could now run again as I had been a little worried about shitting myself since about mile 14. I therefore drifted into the checkpoint and out again with no great drama – even avoiding all the delicious looking cake.

With the knowledge I was into the final 10km I took my foot off the gas and told myself I was going to coast this one in. The Challenge event had felt like decent training for the Ridgeway and I saw no point in burning myself out. The hills and heat hadn’t gotten to me – I would finish this largely pain free and my kit testing for the ridgeway had proved mostly successful.

As I came into mile 20 I could see the outline of the GingaNinja and UltraBaby driving to the finish line and so for the final push I hit the afterburner and came storming up to my daughter, arms aloft and waving wildly.

UltraBaby came running toward me, this was the reward I look for these days, but still I rang the bell and concluded my race for another mighty medal.

It had been a good day.

Look at the size of this bloody medal!

Key points

  • Distance: Marathon (8hr timed event)
  • Profile: Undulating trail/road
  • Date: August 2016
  • Location: North West Kent
  • Cost: £36
  • Terrain: Hard packed trail, road
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Overall?
When Traviss and Rachel you know what you’ll get and that’s a fun route, lots of cake, a chocolate filled goody bag and a medal that’s too heavy to wear – the Darnley Challenge was no exception. Given that RD Traviss was celebrating his 50th birthday it’s no wonder such an effort was made with all four of the events medals and all runners will have gone home very pleased.

SVN events are truly all inclusive events and if you can do a few short miles then you can do one of these and claim a great medal and a giant piece of kudos (as well as cake). If you fancy joining them visit www.saxon-shore.com and get yourself running. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again SVN events are brilliant and I’ll be back (probably later in the year).

 


Ultra running at its best gives me a genuine feeling of worth and achievement. I’ve done something that takes courage, spirit and fight, it is something I can be proud of.

I’ve been very careful this year to choose races that I believed would challenge me, force me to work that bit harder and give me that sense of achievement. To this end I was brought to the Brutal Enduro, an 18hr, 10km trail loop with an undulating course, wet conditions underfoot and lots of foolhardy entrants. But was it just up my street?

I arrived at the Minley base camp, near Basingstoke, late on Saturday morning and pitched my tent in one of the heavy showers that had followed me almost all the way from Kent. Ducking inside I avoided the nastiness of a drowning before we had even started and I set about unpacking my kit. I laid out clothing changes, food, drink and in the dark kit – all easily accessible so I could pound the ground for as long as I liked.


As I started to get changed I could hear the sound of the free 1km children’s race and then a few short minutes later the first of the children screaming their way under the finish line. I was too busy rubbing my undercarriage in body glide at the time to go and watch but it helped start off the very positive family atmosphere that would be the hallmark of the event.

At 2pm we all lined up at the start and prepared for the off. There were about 50 or 60 runners on the start line, many part of teams who would be swapping over after a set number of laps to keep legs fresh but I, despite no training, would be going solo.

Ever since Rachel’s Ranscombe Ramble, in early April, where I destroyed my leg I haven’t run much in training or racing – the exception being the mauling I took at the Skye Trail Ultra and the Amba City of London Mile. I’ve been claiming rest but actually I’ve just not had the motivation to run and as the pictures show I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate over the last 12 weeks.

The Brutal Enduro therefore came along at just the wrong time but as I crossed under the start I pushed on to see how interesting the course might be and just what I could manage given the circumstances.

I let most of the speedy runners and team runners bound on ahead – I wasn’t going to get caught in the trap of going too quickly round the route. The first 3km had very limited interest, gentle trail, one notable jaunt through the wicked forest and then out through another field but once you reached the 3km mark suddenly the Brutal Enduro all made sense.


Climb, roots, rocks, mud, descent, repeat, jump, lift, spin, bound, sprint – the final 7km of the course had it all in abundance. I turned into the 3km marker and remarked to myself ‘coolio’ I bounded up the hill, then through the mud and onward – the descent from 4km to 5km was deeply vicious and I saw many runners treading carefully but I prefer to a launch myself into this – it’s why I enjoy trails. I bounded down the rutted and rooted trail, bouncing across ditches and sprinting to the exit and the sight of the camp and the toilets for the 5km mark. My first half lap was worthy of mention because I also needed to stop for my pre-race bowel motion (or rather in-race bowel motion) and the positioning on the course of the loo made this very achievable – thankfully.


Anyway the 5km mark was at the edge of the camp and offered the opportunity to fill up water bottles or visit your tent but I was happy to knock out the first 10km and get some distance under my belt.
This wasn’t going to be a fast course due to the nature of the up and down as well as the overall conditions but I pushed a little harder through the next 5km which continued the trend of being quite exciting and I was very glad to be running this in the light so I would stand a chance of knowing what might get me in the dark. I started to make mental notes like ‘hmm that hole looks Altra shoe sized’ or bloody hell I’ll be wearing my arsehole as a necklace if I jump into that’.

As at 3km there was a lovely, fast and spongy uphill climb at 6km and I bounced up the hill going past a couple of my fellow runners and from here on in it was just a series of opportunities to have fun picking exciting routes through the woodland. I hadn’t had this much fun since Skye.


However, I was acutely aware that my own body was rebelling against me – mostly because I simply hadn’t done any miles to get me ready for this. I took stock of my situation over some chocolate milkshake before I headed out for lap 2 and ambled along the first 3km again before giving it a bit more welly for the last 7km.

During the run I was fortunate to meet lots of lovely runners too – as happens I suppose on a looped course, the most notable where Ellen and Kerry who I ran with a different points during the event.

Kerry who lives and works in Jordan was in the UK for a few weeks and had taken the opportunity to complete the Race to the King and the Brutal Enduro because that’s what you do on holiday! Ellen meanwhile was looking to run her first marathon distance. Both provided delightful company, excellent respite from my own thoughts and helped me complete the laps I ran with them. The better news for me was that both would achieve, with relative ease, the targets they had set themselves.


For me though I knew the only way I was going to get to or around ten laps was by taking it easy but then my regular ultra curse struck – stupidity!

It was on lap 5 with dusk approaching that I twisted my knee, something I’d done on the Thursday before the race but had ignored in favour of hoping it would be okay. In truth it had held up pretty well but as I landed awkwardly, in one of those mentally noted trail traps, I knew I’d troubled it in a way that I didn’t want to run on it.

I came into the checkpoint and wandered off to my tent – my intent had always been a kit change and hot food at this point but I used it as a longer opportunity to rest and see if I could get back out on the course.
I found my way gingerly into clean and dry kit, charged my phone and ate some dirty noodles as the burger van had closed down for the night.

I felt in better spirits post food abs clean clothes but nearly 2 hours had passed since I had last been out and it was late. However, my knee didn’t seem too bad so I left the relative comfort of my tent and went back to the route. What was immediately apparent was that I wasn’t going to be running – I could feel the knee moving uncomfortably and my self imposed tent rest had also indicated that my feet (still not recovered from Skye) had taken another nasty beating. I began running the scenarios in my head – I could do another three laps and get to 80km or try and hobble five laps and make the hundred. What I realised was that there was no point, I wasn’t going to set a new distance record for myself, I wasn’t going to set a new fastest time, I’d done the marathon distance for the purposes of the 100MC and all I was ultimately doing was making Endure 12 in ten days time that much more difficult.

And so I trundled around the course in the dark, enjoying the company of Kerry, whom I’d found on the route again and decided this would be my final lap. Kerry was again in sparkling form and we chatted once again, regaling one another with anecdote after anecdote. An hour or so passed in this delightful state and we caught sight of the final ascent. I gave a gentle sigh – resignation at my overall failure and then trundled over the finish line.


I bade goodnight to Kerry and another runner who was waiting for her partner to complete his lap and I trudged to my tent, my knee glad I had shown some common sense, my heart thinking I had enough time for the other laps. Oh well maybe next year.

Key points

  • Distance: 10km loop
  • Profile: Undulating
  • Date: July 2016
  • Location: Fleet, Hampshire
  • Cost: £50
  • Terrain: Mixed, boggy, rocky
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Route
The route was overall pretty good fun, even the slightly dull first couple of kilometres had some moments but there was a great joy in the other 7km. The mix of terrain, the bogginess and the route in the dark really gave this route a bit of an edge over similar looped trail events I’ve completed.

Organisation
The organisation was good, everyone seemed to know what they were required to do and they did it, registration was swift and the event set off on time and with the minimum of fuss. I liked the roving marshals in the night – they were a nice and useful addition to ensuring our safety and ultimately Brutal ran what appeared to be a tight and tidy ship. As is always the case with these events the volunteers were tremendous and there was always a cheery smile from someone in a neon gilet.

Checkpoints
There was really only one real checkpoint which was the main one and there was water, squash, tea, coffee bananas and oat bars – the rest was up to you. For £50 I think this was fair and I preferred catering for myself as it meant I only ate things I really wanted to.

Goodies
Good quality t-shirt and a bespoke medal – more OCR style than ultra but in keeping with their branding and it hangs proudly next to my other medals! Let’s be honest do you really need anything else?

Again
Would I do Brutal Enduro again? I probably would, but mainly because it’s a good fun course, not too many people around you, room to run and because it’s well organised (even with the tent peg mis-adventure, but that’s a story of the MoD – check the Facebook group for details). I probably wouldn’t pick this over something with big, big hills or a good quality point to point racing but even when stopping due to injury I still could see I’d had a good time and it as enough for me to consider a return in the future.

Conclusions
Cost effective, fun, friendly and in a great location with good organisation. If you’re looking for a run to complete that is challenging but achievable then this might just be for you or if you’re looking for a bit of test for slightly harder core trail races then this is an excellent warm-up (he says with one eye being cast to the Ridgeway Challenge…)

Further information
More information can be found on their various events at www.brutalrun.co.uk

  • 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

Post Saltmarsh I was a big mess and I really didn’t fancy Ranscombe but I did fancy seeing some of my favourite runners again and meeting one very awesome runner who has been something of a source of inspiration to me over the last three and a half years. It was therefore with a cheer in my heart and a limp in my step that I found my way to the farm reserve near Rochester in Kent.

Pre-race
The GingaNinja and UltraBaby were just dropping me off for once and would rejoin me on my final laps but this wasn’t unexpected and so I climbed the hill to the start line, grabbed my number from the ever excellent Rachel. On hand I noticed were my absolute favourite volunteers too, I knew today was going to be a good day. Over by the kit I could make out the runners I was looking for ‘The Kat that got the Cream’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Jools’ or Kat and Jools as I shall refer to them more accurately. I’d met them for the first time at the Twilight Ultra and not recognised them but here I drifted off for a bit of a chat. With chatting well underway I waved and greeted other runners such as Gary who I hadn’t seen since TP100 and then creeping up on me came young EmLa. I say creeping what I mean is she burst in with a brilliant nervous energy and I was enveloped by a warm hug from a lady I had just met – today was going well. I also said hello to EmLa’s friend and support crew Lucy. Lucy was clad in her best walking boots which had seen her climb Kilimanjaro recently along with EmLa – she was probably going to need them today.

Poor Lucy
While EmLa disappeared to do pre-race bits i did what I do best ‘act like a knob’ and proceeded to give Lucy the full tour of Ranscombe through the medium of dance and gesticulation.

Thankfully for her EmLa returned.

Now we run
With proceedings well underway Traviss called us all over to wish Rob well for his 100th marathon attempt (and success) and then have us his safety and race briefing. As usual it was another smooth running SVN race start and Kat, EmLa, Jools and I took our positions – at the back and then we were off. The start caught me by surprise as I hadn’t even prepared my Suunto for the race! Regardless by the time I was 50metres I was set and ready to concentrate. I was intending to stay with EmLa for the first lap and then let her get on with it (as I’m fully aware that running with me for any length of time can be quite a chore) and as Kat was running around the same pace as EmLa and myself, I was quite happy just drifting around doing my thing. At the same time though this was a delightful opportunity to chat with both of them and find out what drives and motivates them. Annoyingly what I found was I spent most of time gabbling absolute garbage but I don’t mind the sound of my own voice and during the first lap we simply jollied our way round the hills and trail until we turned back to the first piece of Tarmac for the end of lap one. I wanted to stretch my legs a bit at this point and so thrashed it back down to the start. Ahead of me was Rachel holding a purple hair band but what I wanted was a pink one and so at the last second I leapt over to the other ‘bandgiver’ and took a lovely pink one for my wrist.

I drifted over to the food station, started eating my own body weight in mars bars and cakes and awaited EmLa and Kat.

A couple of minutes passed and soon my companions joined me. ‘Okay?’ I asked. The reply was positive but EmLa hadn’t run for a several weeks and had come back recently from successfully climbing Kilimanjaro and so perhaps wasn’t as geared to this as she might otherwise have been.
I advised food and water and she at least took on board liquid but insisted she would wait until the next lap to eat.

Lap 2 was more running and now the course was known so we could take a sensible approach to the race. My problem was that on the downhills my ITB was firing burning lightning bolts up and down my legs. I tried not to mention this too much as I was determined to get to at least a marathon distance. We reached the first significant downhill of the lap and I came across a sprightly young runner who I insisted she join me in pretending to be a Spitfire as we launched ourselves down the hill (she didn’t join me much). At this point I thundered up the incline that now awaited us and bounced up the steps, EmLa never far behind as he poured tremendous effort into the hills. For the main big climb of the Ranscombe lap I advised that we save ourselves and use the run-walk strategy which meant we powered up hill 2 as quick as we could and then when the route opened up to the flat again we’d give it a bit of welly. As we came away from the field and through the gate we descended with great aplomb, faster and with assurance – EmLa seemed to getting into a solid stride and looked good as we drifted up hill climb 3 and 4. Through the trees we pushed on (were on lap one I’d almost face planted a cow pat). The trees offered both cover and a change of terrain, this is perhaps my favourite part of Ranscombe and as we came out the other end and onto the path I breathed a big breath and looked back – simply pleased to be here. Onwards we pushed and as we came into the aid station we still looked surprisingly good. Food and drink were consumed this time around and we set off again. This time we met Lucy and I stopped to chat for a bit and it was agreed that lap 4 would be a ‘marching’ lap.

For lap 4 we had the lovely Kat and the excellent Jools (who was banging out laps for fun) and while it wasn’t a fast lap it was the perfect time for us all to recuperate for the final push and to pass the halfway point of the marathon distance. Talking with all them offered fascinating insights to people I know really only through social media but perhaps it shows that those who inspire online are even more inspiring in person. Hearing about Kilimanjaro or Kat and Jools year of marathons served to remind me why I do this.

And so to lap 5 and Kat departed ahead of me and EmLa and it was here that I could the strain of a lack of extensive training was having on EmLa. I told her that she should concentrate on the race, eat more sausage rolls and shut the fuck up as I could talk for both of us. ‘Two more laps then a warm down lap for me’ she said. I agreed though harboured plans (in conjunction with Lucy) to force her out for an ultra lap.

We bounded around lap 5 nice and powerfully – EmLa showed all the strength and determination that I’ve been so inspired by and as we came in for Lap 6 she decided that this would be a powermarch lap (with Lucy – sensible given her lack of recent run training) and that lap 7, the final lap would be a run for the finish. Lap 6 went well, we thundered along and each step felt pretty damn good (though my ITB hated me when I wanted it to run again). As we headed home to the end of lap 6 I could see the GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraBaby in the distance, I ran past waving at them and UltraBaby followed me with all the speed she could muster – face planting the roadside as she did – bloody muppet.

EmLa and Lucy followed into the checkpoint and we had introductions for everyone. We loaded up on liquid and food and with the bit between our smiles we went out for one final, fast lap. We hit the first hill running, the downhill running, the next up hill (mostly running) and then onto the big bastard – striding forcefully then onwards, breathing deeply, taking on liquid and moving with the knowledge we were almost done. However, I needed to know that my partner in crime (or rather grime) would be okay if we didn’t do the ultra lap. ‘Will you be disappointed if you don’t do the ultra lap?’ I asked her. EmLa replied with what felt like a genuine reply ‘No’. Had it been a half hearted reply I would have coerced her into the final lap but it I knew stopping at marathon was the right choice.

For the final 2 miles we continued our pursuit of a fast final lap – EmLa pushing especially hard as she maintained the pace I was setting and as we came to final turn I offered a few words of advice. ‘This is the end, look amazing as you cross the line, when we hit the last hundred metres or so you just go for it, full thrust, have nothing left’. And this is what happened, I put the afterburners on first so I could get across the line before her and make sure she had finish line photographs and then EmLa pulled the magic out of the hat and rallied for a ‘both feet off the floor’ sprint finish. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Conclusions

  • Ranscombe remains a one of my favourite races
  • I will be back at Ranscombe soon 🙂
  •  I wouldn’t have gotten round without Emma who kept me going despite my injuries
  • I am incredibly proud of my race day companion for all the brilliance she showed
  • Emma will have no problems at Country to Capital
  • The medal was amazing
  • The volunteers were superb and I wanted for nothing
  • The organisation was as ever amazing
  • Rachel and Traviss never fail to surprise me with their brilliant goody bags and good humour
  • Lucy, The GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraBaby were all brilliant support crew
  • Kat and Jools (well done Jools on your first place finish for day 2) were exceptional and it was a pleasure to finally get to chat to them properly both during and after the race. I look forward to racing with them again soon
  • For the first time in ages I ran with only a race belt not a vest and it was great
  • I am amazed I got to a marathon given the state my body was in before the race, during the race and now after the race
  • I may have gotten specific details wrong here and for that I apologise
  • This is a race to enjoy and everyone should do it at least once in their lives!



  

Friday had been a hectic day for reasons that I shan’t go into on a public forum, it had been a 4.30am start and I was tired by the time I got home (around 8.45pm). The problem was I had done no preparation for the Ranscombe Challenge, no kit ready, no food ready, nothing.

I fumbled in the running wardrobe at about 10.30pm quickly grabbed an old pair of OMM 0.5 flash tights, some Salomon Exo compression tights, a favourite Eco top from the Snowdonia Marathon and a couple of other bits – I threw two fun size twix bars into my Oxsitis pack and I was done.

Sleep.

At midnight though UltraBaby had things to say that just wouldn’t wait but thankfully The GingaNinja dealt with her queries.

Anyway, race morning came and #UltraTeam took the relatively short trip to the Ranscombe Farm, a beautiful part of the Kentish countryside with great views in all directions (well except the bit next to Eurostar). I was being dropped off with the plan that my progress would be regularly checked to ensure that I wasn’t over doing it or worse ‘running injured’.

I rocked up the hill to the start point and waved a cheery good morning to the ever fantastic Rachel and Traviss – making sure I congratulated Rachel on her brilliant performance at TransGC. These two guys really never cease to amaze with how much energy, enthusiasm and personal care goes into their events and that started with their generous and warm welcome to raceday. I grabbed my number, put my   ‘Drop bag’ on the tarpaulin and then started nattering away to some of the runners, Steve, Mel, Clive and many more – some of whom I’d ‘met’ just the day before on Twitter.

With a few minutes to go Rachel called the rabble of runners to order and gave us our instructions and we all able to the line up. Perhaps that’s what I like about these – the gentle, no pressure nature – though I did disappear to the back.

As the race started I cracked open the Suunto and headed off – but the pace was a bit slower than I’d imagined at the back so I wiggled forward a bit and set myself out at a reasonable pace knowing I could slow later. The good news was that the course was dry, weather was crisp and the wind wasn’t too bad either and so I thrust myself up the first minor incline and then hurled myself into the first decline before being faced by what I knew would be the energy sapping hill.

And so it proved – my ascent up the first major hill was slow but not without merit and I managed to keep going without over-exerting. Glad to see the top though I took a few seconds to admire the view of Kent and then set back into my ultra trundle. We were crossing a field with a delightful curvature to it and again I knew this was going to be a bit of a bitch after a few laps. The fun though started here, as you dismounted the hilly camber of the field you were greeted by a heavily ploughed field and a chance to really ‘Bomb it’ and in my new Hoka Challenger ATR that’s exactly what I did.  I hurtled down the ploughed field at full pelt (and would do so many times over). It was a nice test of sure footedness and both the Hoka and I were happy about our performance but as we approached the bottom of the ploughed field it was much more a trudge to the top and for much of the next section which was moist but runnable.

Having never really run here I found each turn hugely exciting and so when I discovered that the second half of each lap was a nice fast downhill I took great pleasure in ‘going for it’.

Of course It remained undulating but here I was able to regain some traction  and push on a bit – leaping from muddy mound to muddy mound and happy in the knowledge I had the grip to do it.

I rolled into the aid station after about 35 minutes or so and stood around conversing and eating. As always at these events the aid stations are a star attraction – a lot of care and effort goes into ensuring we aren’t missing out on cake or fudge or little American chocolates (3 musketeers) and there were Emily’s delicious biscuits – which I ate a shedload of – yummy.

I shan’t go into too much more detail of my race as it was laps but there are some things and people to mention. Clive, doing his 50th marathon looked the mutts nuts as he belted out another brilliant run. Karl, who had to pull up at 5 laps because of injury – I walked back with him the last bit of lap 5 and explained that he had no reason to be dejected. He was a great runner and will be back soon – thanks also to his family who made me laugh several times as I was going round. Elaine who was speed walking the distance and always looked brilliant as we met up at various point on the course. A little mention to Amy who came along to support and ran a lap with me towards the end and hopefully got her competitive running mojo on track for SDW50.

There are a few other brilliant things though that happened here – UltraBaby joined me for my ultra distance lap and enjoyed every single second of it (those of you that follow my Instagram feed will be able to see the video footage). Interestingly despite the weight we ran most of it including the hills and got lots of ‘cutesy’ glances and comments 🙂 annoyingly though I’d had a 25 minute wait for UltraBaby to be ready for her starting role, so this did have an affect on final times. Though I confess that we did give it a bit of riz to the finish line as nothing says ‘hand me that bell’ like a sprint finish.

As for day two? That was tough and I’d decided I was only going to do one lap but I ended up doing three laps in the much muddier but probably more fun conditions 🙂 Traviss and Rachel continued with their excellent hosting and offered up the best cake in the land – I think I ate about five pieces. I did run half a lap with beloved hound (who at Fowlmead ran a half marathon distance) but this time he was restricted to just a cameo appearance for the final couple of miles and ThunderPad helped pull UltraBoy up that final hill.

So I ran about 69km this weekend, I’m not too sore and I had a lot of fun.

My thanks go to four truly brilliant people (and one hound) – obviously the GingaNjnja, ThunderPad and UltraBaby but also Traviss and Rachel who do so much for the running community in both events and inspiration. However, we shouldn’t forget the legion of supporters either – especially the lovely ‘band or bell’ ladies who made me smile at every visit to the checkpoint.

If you haven’t done Ranscombe yet then you need to, it’s hard, fun and achievable.

Organisation Some events seem to need all the organisation in the universe, partly because they are bloated and partly because they’ve gone a bit mad. The Ranscombe Challenge is an example of how to properly run an event – for runners by runners. You simply couldn’t mark this down 10/10

Course The course had hills, it had flat, it had mud, it had views, it had pretty much everything you would want from a  trail run. As we understand it The Ranscombe Challenge is ‘Rachel’s baby’ and she should be congratulated on producing a truly winning course – I loved it so much I’m thinking of the Ranscombe Summer Challenge for my last warm up race before the CCC 10/10

Goodies Don’t get me started! I have come up with a theory that Traviss makes the goody bags so good just so that he can look even better as a runner on the days when he lines up next to us. In my goody bag included beers, matchmakers chocolate, a full chocolate orange, 100 marathon club smarties, mini chocolate orange segments, a kit kat chunky and so much other stuff that I can barely remember it all. The medals are as you can see amazing and I will wear them with pride – you can really see that a Saxons, Normans and Vikings event is an event laden with treasure 10/10

Atmosphere A few weeks back I moaned about the atmosphere at Brands Hatch which had lots of people, at the Ranscombe Challenge there are a lot less people but you really feel the love of it all, the love of the runners, the organisers and the spectators out on the course. To put all of this into context, my partner, The GingaNinja, enjoys coming to these events because they have such a positive vibe to them 10/10

Marshals There aren’t really any out on the course as such but the checkpoint every 4 miles provide a timely intervention if you ever need it (along with some toilets). The cheerful, helpful and smiling marshals were brilliant and seeing Traviss coming towards you as he prowls around the course always inspires you to push on a little bit (and then walk the moment you get out of his visual range). 10/10

Overall Brilliant 10/10

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2014 has for me brought a lot of exciting challenges, lots of races where I’ve come away and thought ‘I fancy that again’ or ‘I know I can do better and next year I’ll prove it’. With a week before the Winter100 I’d opted to have a final significant run at the Fowlmead Challenge both in the hope of a new medal and more importantly an opportunity to see how far from fit my hamstring was. I’d heard a few bits about the organisers and how hugely friendly and intimate these events could be – and this was very much paramount in my thinking when I was looking for an event of this type.

Before I go into full race review you might want to check them out at saxon-shore.com – especially if you’re Kentish way, but even if you’re not these might be just what you’re looking for.

6.00am UltraBaby has slept for more than 7hrs, this is bad – we needed her up an hour ago to get her into the right zone for the day.

6.06am The GingaNinja dealt with our super powered offspring and I hastily threw on my Hoka, my new Salomon compression shorts and teamed them with my beautiful soft touch tech shirt from the Snowdonia marathon and a classic Ronhill top. I’d already applied what felt like a good slathering of Vaseline around my ‘downstairs madam’ and my nipples where feeling greasier than a Friday night kebab but this was all good.

6.24am Breakfast for three, for me it was a hearty ibuprofen, cuppa, yoghurt and a fun size twix – not the stuff of champions but it was being that type of morning.

7.30am I’m now ready… but I’m running round grabbing baby things, the GingaNinja still has her ‘on the tit’ and I’m now in that pre race nausea that I so often suffer with.

7.52am
Pre-race nerves have now evacuated the building via the toilet, thank god I didn’t have the hot burrito last night. That was perhaps the only benefit of not getting home from work until after 10pm.

8.03am
GingaNinja slides stealthily into the shower, I lock UltraBaby into the car seat, grab dogs extendable lead, grab dog, load car

8.14am Vroom, we’re off – but garmin says go the route that’s closed so we follow iPhone route instead.

9.06am The GingaNinja is getting a little tetchy because we could well be late, she doesn’t know where she’s going and she’s worried the baby is hungry – actually just 23minutes later we arrived and everything was okay. Proof positive that it is possible to run marathons even when you’ve got a five week old baby!

Anyway enough baby chat, we arrived at Fowlmead Country Park and its both excellent and ample parking, the start line and lap point were at the top of the hilly entrance overlooking the very pleasant cafe (and hose) with children’s play area, activity trails and awesome looking bike rides.

I rolled up to be greeted by the guys from the event and from the moment I gave in my name I felt like part of a family – they’d never met me before but it was just so friendly.

I grabbed my number and trundled back to car. The GingaNinja had now prepared UltraBaby for her first taste of bigger distance races, soak up some atmosphere – I did ask if the course was suitable to do a lap with the buggy but the RD suggested it wasn’t and he was very right (conditions were challenging from the off).

The race briefing started a few minutes later and was casual but surprisingly informative. Traviss, our RD was laid back and continued the friendly theme that seemed to be the hallmark of these events. Post briefing we were given a little while to steady nerves (or create them) and then, as the bell tolled, we were off!

The Loop
The course was about 2.7miles of undulating trail – this description doesn’t do it justice. The route started out on gravel track for a couple of hundred metres to be swiftly replaced by ‘proper trail’ with puddles, mud and all the filth you’d expect from a country park founded on an old coal pit. The quick wet descent was replaced by a stretch of path and then up some mildly rocky hills before back into the depths of mud fuelled fun! As the laps wore on and the ground became more cut up this section became heavy going but nothing a reasonable pair of trail shoes wouldn’t be able to handle. As you swung a hard left back onto the track the course became a bit more technical on rocky paths and the descent needed a little care before you reached the hill of despair where you climbed at pace if possible. Now, with about 1 mile of the loop left to go the course went back to a fine gravel track but this was beset by oodles of deep, dark and awesome puddles – I went through every single one (testing the new drymax socks!), this was probably the mentally toughest bit of the course, especially as the laps wore on as it didn’t have the visual interest of the rest of the route but it’s never ending corner worked well to build mental strength. With the final 400 metres upon us there was a fast uphill and you’d completed a lap.

UltraBoy Ran…
I sadly ended up completing only 10 laps, not the 11 I had been aiming for… this is what happened. I went out too quick – my aim had been 4.75mph, nothing too silly but I started with closer to 8mph for the first hour and that with my hamstring effectively killed the run as a race but what it did do was allow me to have a sense of how I’ll feel later this week as I push on during the Winter100. By lap 4 I could really feel my body warning me against pushing any further and I did contemplate giving up at half marathon distance but then I fell upon a plan – I’ll take the dog to distract me because I wanted that next marathon distance for my assault on the 100 marathon club. So after completing lap 5 I grabbed my beloved Spaniel and we headed out – only one of us was allowed jelly babies and it wasn’t him. The fifth through eighth lap felt incredibly hard and my hamstring pulled with every move, the hound was also feeling it and again I felt like stopping but as I charged up for lap 9 there was a bit of a second wind and I improved my lap time a little. Each of the hills, each rock, every puddle felt that bit lighter knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again soon and so we pressed on until I could see the finish line and my final lap. With 400metres to go the hound and I decided that our running pride was on the line and so we belted out our longest stride and flew towards our medal! I was spluttering over the many delicious treats available but as I reached for the bell and I was simply grateful I’d done it.

Traviss passed out my medal and placed it gently around my neck – which was handy as it weighs about 10kg!

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But what you wang to know is would I recommend this to you? The answer is simply ‘cor blimey yes’, this is my favourite marathon I’ve run and as a laps challenge it is such a hugely entertaining event.

The things to look for as ever (for me) are the following;

Organisation and information
First rate, regular communications via email and Facebook and a very good website. On the day the event was handled with a deft touch, the RD and his team look like people who a) love running b) care about runners and c) care about their event. This section scores 10/10 and its richly deserved, when the race result and thank you email came in about 4hrs after the event you know this is a great race team!

Aid Station
Quality Street, homemade cakes, snickers, squash, water and lots of other stuff – this was an aid station to die for and it was stocked to bursting point. 9.5/10 (could’ve killed for a sausage roll by lap 8)

The Route
I enjoyed the route and if you’re a trail runner you’d have a great time bombing round the course (and in fairness the park). Despite being a nature reserve and extensively used as an extreme mountain bike venue, we were never bothered by other park users. The guys marked out a challenging but manageable course that tested our mettle. 10/10

Small and Beautiful
You can go and run London if you like but this challenge had about 50, maybe 60 runners, there was no ego, it was a really good feeling and we all supported each other – this kind of experience is becoming harder to find in the sponsored, corporate world of ‘Big Racing’. Traviss has crafted an event (a series of events) that you’d go back to time and again. 10/10 for a great time and atmosphere

The Bling?
Sometimes in life you get a bit of a shock – when I saw the medal hanging off the neck of one of my fellow runners I knew this was special. It harks back to the heritage of the run location and it feels like a medal should – other race directors take note please. 10/10

Value for money?
As regular readers know ‘value for money’ is something I’m always on the lookout for – especially in races. So how much was this? £35. That’s right, cheaper than most half marathons with half the bling, it’s cheaper than almost any OCR race and you could see that the cost was invested in the race and the runners. The aid station, the food, the medal, the communication, the donation to the country park, the organisation – this was a bargain. 10/10.

Conclusion
A great race, run by great people – please visit http://www.saxon-shore.com or find them on Facebook. I’ll be going back to Fowlmead and I’ll be joining them for their Tolkien Run next year as well as several others, sadly my physiotherapist has barred me from the Saxon Shore marathon saying that the W100 has to be my last until new year, but otherwise I’d already be entered. And if you’re looking for another reason to sign up to one of these extraordinary events then check out that awesome goody bag below. Sign up, you really can’t go wrong and you certainly will never forget it!

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What better way to mark the arrival of being 37 with a couple of little races, I’d just take it pretty easy but try out my hamstring in preparation for the W100 but then several things happened including a very weird dream and reacquainting myself with my running arch nemesis.

Weird
On Friday night before I’d intended to set out for my VirtualRunnerUK 10km I had a dream which was basically a conversation with my vibrating hamstring but in my dream the hamstring had taken the form of Carole Plowmans (my ex partners, sadly, now deceased mother) banana yellow vibrator which once assaulted me while leaping out of a bathroom cupboard and hitting me on the forehead. Further it kept calling me ‘Dave, you’re my bitch now’ in the style of Papa Lazarou from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ – I think my hamstring was sending a message from beyond the ether.

VirtualRun 10km
However, after waking up from the craziness of my own dreaming and opening some excellent birthday presents – including my awesome new Buff – I set off. With having a ten mile race the day after I decided I’d take it nice and slow around the Kentish hills and trail and this is exactly what I did, nothing too speedy either and the hamstring that has given me so many problems stayed quiet and only my groin and pelvis had a minor flare up. This was a result, even if my time was a stodgy 56 minutes. It was also the first time out for the Pearl Izumi Trail N1 and they were pretty damn fine (a full review will take place once I’ve put some bigger mileage on them).

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Les Witton 10
The Les Witton 10 is supposed to be one of the year openers – normally taking place early January but the last couple have seen it cancelled due to extremely poor weather conditions. These cancellations seem to have forced the hand of the organisers and they’ve called time on the event but there was still time for one last hurrah and at the fourth time of asking I was going to be running it.

With an 8.30 start I needed to be up nice and early so that UltraBaby could have some food and get suited up to watch UltraBoy do his thing.

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We arrived at the sports ground in Dartford at around 7.30 as instructed and headed into a rather plush sports/changing facility, I ran upstairs to grab my number and quickly headed back down to the GingaNinja and UltraBaby. Despite there being hundreds of runners milling around I had everything sorted incredibly quickly and even my pre race toiletry movement was a rather pleasant affair because there wasn’t a queue, there was shit roll and the toilet didn’t look or smell like a cesspit.

The start line was set up just outside the swanky facility and in front of me were several hundred runners and supporters, I turned my back on them and headed to the astro turf playing field and did a few warm up laps followed by a lot of stretching. The warm up proved to me that my injuries were still very much there but in truth is known this all along and so I prepared as best I could, took some paracetamol and ibuprofen and marched purposefully to the start line or rather the back of the crowd at the start line.

It was a wonderfully bright and autumnal morning punctuated by hints of late summer warmth and you really couldn’t have asked for a better day and with the notices given out the race began with the runners gently moved forward.

My aim was anything under 2hrs with 1hr 45mins being considered a good finish (to put it into context a hilly trail ten miles will normally take about 70mins). I’d run much of the route before as part of my training for the White Cliffs 50 but I’d never run this exact route and from the off it proved to be nothing but hills – both up and down.

I was going nice and slowly and pacing myself pretty well, even on the downhills and then it all went wrong – I saw my running nemesis in the distance. He’d started a little bit ahead of me and for a while I sat back wondering if I should just drift behind him but then the old body reminded me that going too slowly was bad for me and not running the pace I felt comfortable with was going to be a bad idea.

Go on feet!
I passed the old nemesis and chugged on through the crowd – gently passing runners as I bounded down one of the few flat sections on the course. As I came up to the hills I decided that it would be best to attack them with all the speed I could muster and so with each incline I found an extra gear and stretched out my legs (only nominally paying the price when I hit the top of a section).

The great thing about the back of Dartford is that it’s actually rather pretty and so the views went from the town through to something more akin to the popular view of rural Kent. In the glorious morning this made my running all the more fun.

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It was now an hour in and I’d made it beyond the 10km point, which I thought was something of a miracle given that my hamstring, groin and hips had all at various points been on fire. My genius plan of wearing Skins compression leggings had helped I believe but not really enough to stop the injuries bring a constant reminder that running wasn’t a good idea! However, I was well within sight of my goal and that 1hr 45 seemed a little generous and so I recalculated and aimed for 1hr 30 – I had however forgotten the final brutal hill back to the finish.

I pressed down on all my courage and threw myself up the hill, not only did I now have a target for time but I was sure my nemesis and his acolytes weren’t far behind. I reached the top of the hill and have renewed vigour to my efforts but for all my efforts there was no sprint finish in me (which would have given me my 1hr 30 – instead I ended up at 1hr 31 and I can live with that.

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I crossed the line several minutes ahead of the chap I was looking to beat but that was bettered by the delightful medal I received, which was bettered only by the sight of the GingaNinja and UltraBaby at the finish cheering towards me (although I think one of them was asleep).

The Les Witton 10 miles is a great race and I really enjoyed it and hope that it returns in some form or other. As for me I’m back running but it’s hard going and I’m struggling with the hamstring particularly but with the Winter100 just around the corner I need to keep on moving.

Have fun runners!

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‘It’s like two old men trying to recapture their youth’ I may have said this to @hitmanharris as we both hobbled round the Summer Breeze Half Marathon in agony.

I’ve lived very close to Wimbledon Common several times but never really took advantage of the fun it offered and so when it was suggested we should run a half marathon the Summer Breeze looked like good old fashioned fun.

We lined up with the other runners with just a couple of minutes to go – rather meekly making our way to the back of the group. I don’t think either of us where under any illusion that this was going to a fast race. We had made the mistake of picking a wet, hilly, tough trail half marathon and I was still recovering from the beating that my physiotherapist had given me and my companion has a, to quote him, ‘fat arse’.

We had a loop or two of the field we began in at the off which was both a bit dull and worse congested. I tried to make headway through the crowds to keep us at pace but I could see HH getting caught up in traffic and so eased back to rejoin him. I put a bit of a spurt on though as we hit the trail and dropped our average time to just over 5 minutes per kilometre but we soon pulled this back a little to account for the heavy going.

Once through the initial loops of a field the trail really opened up to us and we were able to find a pleasant rhythm. Hills greeted us at regular intervals and there were thick pools of fantastic mud that most runners tried to sidestep – much like HH, I however, gave it full welly through the mud and both myself and my Hoka enjoyed it just fine.

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‘I’ll see you at the top of the hill’ I called back to HH and thundered away up the hill having seen an excellent photo opportunity. I grabbed my phone and waited for my running companion to make his finest strides across a giant log and ‘snap, snap, snap’.

Phone away, off we go.

It was just after here that my dicking about proved my undoing. I saw HH clambering up a series of short steep hills and so to prove my worth I strode manfully beyond him and exploded my groin in the most painful of fashions. Hmmmm was my immediate thought – 4km in, 17km to go, this doesn’t look good.

The ground was making for slower than I’d have liked progress and we were behind time. The heat and minor injuries were playing their part in HHs slower progress and my groin was sending shooting pains both up and down my body.

Regardless I didn’t want to let this be the end and so pushed HH as hard as possible and we completed the first 10.5km in a semi respectable 1hr 2 minutes. I could continue to feel the stinging and burning in my groin and knee that tomorrow my physiotherapist was going to have a field day with me but there and then I remained focused. We pounded past the field for lap 2 and back into the mud.

By now I have vocalised the problems I was suffering with but still managing mainly running and we only stopped at the bigger inclines or to negotiate the heavily cut up course. Being at the back of the course meant that we could just amble along and not be too distressed by our placing but at 17km I thought I might have to DNF – the pain was searing and only having a companion with me stopped me from weeping but otherwise I’d have curled up in a corner and stayed there.

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Credit where it’s due, UltraBoy and Hitman pushed each other through the final few kilometres, up and down hills that in truth neither of our old broken bodies enjoyed and even as we came back into the field there was no sense of elation it was more a case of needing to finish.

In the distance I could see HHs family and so to ensure that we finished well, despite our beleaguered performance, I pulled out a fast finish and called out that HH should follow – he sort of did. We both crossed the finish line (I with my camera out to capture the end of this epic race).

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We both slumped to the ground upon crossing the finish and despite a dreadful time it was a job well done. We collected our medals, T-Shirt and banana and headed gingerly towards the exit to watch the final few stragglers come home.

So despite my own performance what a bloody fun run it was. I loved the hills, I loved the oodles of mud and I really loved the course. There was a certain amount of excitement throughout the day and it was all extremely well organised with just enough facilities around to make it pleasant for both runners and spectators. The day was helped by the fact there were three races taking place over the course but it was all nicely spread out and nobody felt crowded or pressured, even my minor gripe about a slightly stop start beginning shouldn’t detract from the fun that this was.

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The medal and the TShirt were especially brilliant and for the money I think this was an excellent value race and will be looking forward to it again next year.

Well done chaps and well done @hitmanharris for persevering.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You’re out of time’

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

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

‘The others?’

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

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

‘down there’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well I say final…

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

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

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

Sue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a sip of coffee and no food

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

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

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

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

Boom

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

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

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

So that was the experience but what about my opinions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MarchVirtual10kmI’m not allowed to run the Nuclear Blackout on Saturday as my OH refuses to take me to the start line so it seems that my next race will be the excellent March Virtual 10km (the OH is doing the virtual 5km). Having completed the UKRunChat Virtual 10km last month this seemed like a great opportunity to grab another medal. If there is still space I would highly recommend going over to www.virtualrunneruk.com and signing up – you won’t regret getting out there and earning another medal for your collection and you’ll be donating to charity too.

Have fun running

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After running the St. Peter’s Way I had decided that I wasn’t going to run for a week or so at all and I wasn’t going to race again until I was ready to tackle the March Virtual Run, this all changed the moment that my OH mentioned that I could join the Sidcup 10 mile race this morning.

I was still pretty bunged up when I rolled up this morning I was continuing to bring up phlegm off my chest I was cautious about whether I could do the race and more importantly I was concerned about the heat – yes readers, the heat! Regardless, I joined the main group at the starting line and moved swiftly to the back – this was not going to be a fast one.

We headed out at 10am and spun down the main road and I quickly realised that this probably wasn’t going to be the most exciting course as we passed through the local housing. There was a promise that the course was pretty flat but having been running around Sidcup for a number of years I was aware that actually there were a few tasty hills. The first section of the run out was flat and followed by a solid downhill but with a nice incline to the second main turning and then heading back along towards the start along another straight and a nice final bit back on a downhill and straight. Easy

I was hitting about 24.5 minutes per 5km which was in line with expectation and the first lap passed without incident. On the second lap I saw a young lady from the Orpington Roadrunners take a nasty fall that resulted in a ambulance being called, I saw her writhing about in agony (thankfully a couple of runners had already stopped to help her and so I continued onward). The second lap was equally uneventful (for me at least) and I moved up and down the mildly hilly course into the final lap, doing my usual laughing and joking with the volunteers (of which there were many).

As the final lap kicked in I could feel the heat catching up with me and I knew that I was due a bout of heatstroke but there was only 3 miles to go and so with a bit of a push I started to speed up. The idea was that I would come in at 1.15 but as I drifted along to the section where the Orpington Roadrunner had been taken out I also caught my foot and fell forward, pulling myself to safety but cutting my hand open and clearly pulling something in my groin. The runners around me asked if I was okay and I simply laughed it off but I started to slow down through the pain in my groin. A few minutes later I was caught by a chap called Richard who was running the Sidcup 10 as a warm up to the Brighton Marathon and he was pushing himself (not something I could admit to). What Richard provided was 3 miles of incentive, he needed a target and I needed a chaser – together we pushed on, I was shouting encouragement (or abuse depending on your perspective) and he was calling out that he was on my tail.

With less than 500 metres to go I put the afterburners on and sped home, overtaking the two or three runners infront of me to cross the line sometimes around 83minutes, nothing spectacular but it would do for today. I collected my medal and headed for the water station after having delightful man hugs with the lovely Richard.

I did make a few mistakes today, the first was that my normal double T-shirt technique was a problem – I was too hot from about half a mile in. I wore my Newton MV2 which are not suited to the 10 mile distance – 10km at best – I should have gone with the Adios! Worse though I seem to have given myself a mild case of plantar fasciitis for wearing the wrong shoes. I also failed to wear sunglasses or adequate sun protection for my neck and head – but it is early March and I really wasn’t expecting such immaculate running conditions. But regardless I did complete it and for that I’m very happy.

Conclusion
This was a curious race, the reviews said the course was a bit dull and they were right but the reviews also said that the organisation and marshals were excellent and that too was right, it is a fast course and if you are looking for something speedy this wouldn’t disappoint. The medal was okay considering that it only cost £10 to run but it wasn’t a classic (see photograph), the changing facilities and toilets were excellent as it was all held on a school and truth to tell I really can’t say anything bad about the race but nor can I say anything exceptional. Would I run it again? Maybe, but not for a few years I feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Between March 3rd and October 26th 2013 I earned 15 medals, 21 Tshirts and 22 race times. Not quite the 25 I was aiming for in 2013 but it was an injury riddled year. Proud of these races and medals though I am, 2014 is set to be bigger, more challenging and all together nastier. I hope each of my fellow runners takes a little look at their own medal haul tonight and thinks, ‘yep, I’m pretty amazing’. Well done guys

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It was a busy morning at the base of Snowdonia, there were people all around, stretching and pulling and aimlessly muttering to each other. The sky was decidedly grey and the breeze was knocking gently against the rocks of the mountain around us. I couldn’t really think very clearly at all, my head was pounding from the headache that had been torturing me that morning and a tidal wave of sickness was consuming my belly but this was a start line and on a start line I do one thing and one thing only – focus.

To roll back a little we have to go back about two months and my epic failing at the TG100, here you may recall I managed not to complete the race – my first and only DNF. It was a combination of work being very busy, injury taking it’s toll, a hideously unlucky race day with the weather and a lack of training – it seemed that as I roll forward to the Snowdonia Marathon that I would be plagued by a similar set of circumstances. Just ten days before I was due to line up in the Welsh mountains I damaged my Achilles and with a long standing hip injury things didn’t look to cheery. However, if there’s one thing I’m full of it’s tenacity and I was going to run. My already limited training was cancelled completely, I stopped cycling and swimming and moved into a routine of icing and stretching at every opportunity – this had the benefit of soothing my aching Achilles and hips but wasn’t helping my preparation for distance. In a desperate bid for a pre-marathon event I signed up to Xtreme Beach and ran just one lap of the course (6km) before I felt the burn of my injuries and lack of fitness. There’s trouble at mill, I thought.

It was all made even worse by the fact the only pair of shoes that didn’t pull or run on my Achilles was my much loved but over used Newton Distance. Now I love my Newton Distance but these bad boys had done more than 600 miles – the mesh fabric has started to tear and worse the sole has pretty much collapsed – these shouldn’t be run in. However, when I was packing my kit to head off to windy Wales I knew that they would be coming with me.
Anyway an 8hr car journey to Harlech in Wales later and I was cosying myself in a little cottage – only mildly concerned that the gale force winds would tear the roof off – still an early night, a decent dinner and I was ready for the race!

I had decided that I was going to take the ultra dress route for this one, wearing my short OMM 0.5 Flash tights and Ronhill Vizion long sleeve top, both have always performed extremely well and I had no concerns that they would do anything other than perform well again. I added my Ultimate Directions PB vest and two full water bottles as I wanted to manage my own supply (and as you’ll see I’m glad I did), this also gave me the best location for my Montane Minimus waterproof and some delicious Kinder Chocolate. My only concern was footwear and I tried my Hoka Mafate, Merrell Barefoot, Salomon Speedcross 3, Adidas XT3, Vibram Komodo and several others before it became clear that my only choice was going to be the knackered Newton Distance. I looked at them and they stared at me and we spoke

ND: I can do this
UB: you can’t
ND: we won’t let you down, when have we ever let you down?
UB: well you were pretty shitty at the Bewl Marathon
ND: yes but even you agreed that was your fault and it was your dodgy toe that forced you into wearing us that day, we got you round!
UB: what about all those times you slip on the concourse at Charing Cross station because you’ve got no grip…
ND: look numpty boy, if you wanna race you’re going to have to wear me so stop this ridiculous conversation and slap me on UltraBitch!
UB: yes Newton Distance, sorry Newton Distance

That’s perhaps not quite how it went but you get the idea. Anyway fellow bloggers and runners I arrived to the race village and drifted into the main hall, grabbed my number, avoided the cameras and went back outside to the car to get my bearings, take in some of the very vibrant atmosphere and chat with some of the runners. Most notably I met Gavin and his lovely family, he was a bit of veteran and aiming for about 4.15/4.30 as a finishing time and his view was that you take your normal marathon time and add about 30 minutes. In my head this meant that even with the injuries I could probably still run 4.45/5.00 as my average flat marathon time is about 3.30 and trail about 3.45 with a hilly marathon just over 4.10. Gavin and family provided a nice distraction and as we left each other I felt rather better than I had done all morning. With a need for some food I headed on into the Race HQ and picked up a delicious bacon and sausage bap – something to ease the queasiness and put a solid lining on my stomach for what is billed as the toughest marathon in the UK. As I sat down to eat over in the corner of my eye I saw the face of a man I recognised – someone I had never met but the reason that I run Ultra Marathons and the bigger distances, this was the man my other half really wanted to murder and not me.

I strolled over to Tobias Mews, both a running legend and also a rather good writer – it has been my honour to occasionally design layouts for his writing and it was because I was reading his articles that I decided to become an ultra marathoner. I introduced myself and simply thanked him for introducing me to the stupid world of ultras and returned to my quickly cooling bacon and sausage bap. What a day it was turning out to be – filled with all sorts of good and bad things but meeting Tobias filled with further confidence that today was going to be a good day.

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The start was only about half an hour away and it was time for a few pre-race photographs (sadly not to be shared as UltraBoy likes his secret identity) and then off to the start. I hooked up again briefly with Gavin and his family and chatted about the upcoming challenge and also about football which distracted me from the slight rainfall that had started to come down but in my bones I could now feel the race energy swelling and all the injuries and excuses that had been shackling me where drifting away.

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The pre-race briefing bypassed me other than to not that we should smile for the cameras and I heard the sound of us leaving, my feet started off and the fury of pounding feet reverberated in my ears and surprisingly it was my own feet I could hear. It was a cramped start and actually it was a little difficult to get going but with the fire in my belly and knowledge that Kinder chocolate was in my pocket I proceeded to push my way through the groups of runners. The Snowdonia Marathon has three big hills in it and the first comes very early on and I assume is designed to destroy your spirit but I was feeling surprisingly spritely as I forced one foot after the other. I even managed a few laughs and jokes with Batman and a couple of there other competitors, it was quite a jolly field. The first hill for me was probably the most amazing in terms of the view – it had all the drama and mystery I associate with the Wales of my childhood. Having pored over the course profile I was expecting this to be challenging but what I hadn’t expected was for it to feel unrelenting, what kept my, and I suspect everyones, spirits positive was the knowledge that there was a significant downhill to come. As I reached the top of the first challenge I could see the runners in front of me dipping below my vision, clearly pelting away and I did much the same. For the first time in the race I stretched the muscles in my arms and legs, pumping away, looking down into the vastness below – wonderful and I was 10km in and only 55 minutes had elapsed – I was in good form. I passed by the turning at the bottom of the hill and there I was greeted by the very cheery face of Richard, the manager from the Dartford Sweatshop who I hadn’t seen since we ran a bit of the WC50 together – we chatted briefly as he ran alongside me and he wished me well and I left him behind awaiting the arrival of his other half! Onwards I hit the trail and left behind the steady path and used this as an opportunity to bounce around a bit, have some fun, race a bit and continue my usual chitty chattiness that I enjoy on a raceday.

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My only problem was one of a Paula Radcliffe/Call of Nature… I was hoping for a portaloo on the route but it never came and for a while it was all I could think about but clearly it must have focused the mind because when I saw the lovely toilets I was at mile 12 and even with an eight minute stop I still managed the first half in just under two hours. As the course continued it was a very light incline we were treated to and this posed few problems but the second of the big hills was a huge challenge, probably only as steep as the first but with people walking it felt like a much bigger task and do I slowed to a speed walk and used my ultra training method of dealing with the hill – walk it quickly. This got me to the top of the hill and I was away again, a little Kinder chocolate and some fruit strings and I felt pretty fresh.

It was about mile 14 where things changed for me, I was meandering round the course, trying primarily to ignore the pain on my hip, keeping hydrated and chatting to fellow runners and here I met Grant. Let me start by saying Grant is either a hero or madman, probably both because he entered the race with only three months training behind him and had this as his first marathon.

Surprisingly he wasn’t carrying any hydration and had unfortunately at the halfway point started to feel the burn of his knees – we’ve all been there, we know what it’s like but this seemed a new experience to him and given that his longest distance had been 16 miles (I’m sure you can confirm this fella!) I wasn’t sure he would make it without some support. Being rather jovial company we decided to run together for a bit but after a while it occurred to me that he’d come out of the blocks too quick and I suggested we stayed together to ensure we both finished a very tough course.

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As we came to mile 18 Grant was feeling his knees increasingly but he continued to make steady progress through the course and only once did I see his head drop and so hopefully my few words of encouragement got him through the moments of anguish and together we strode up the final hill, working together to make sure we didn’t lose sight of the prize. The final hill was an amazing experience and had circumstances been different it would have been fun to have run but our steady progress meant we reached the summit and were able to run the next couple of miles and along to the final water stop. With time ticking away though and daylight disappearing the weather also took a turn for the worse and rain began pelting down and with a whipping wind it became a harsh course.

Grant had, it seemed, won the mental battle to get to the finish – he wasn’t going to stop now and he looked visibly more positive, even if his knees hurt like hell. For my part I felt fresh and light on my feet and as we pulled in to the final water point something else happened – Grant was having a water stop and a young lady – Julia rocked up looking frozen and in dismay. She spoke to the marshall but she was barely audible on the hilltop and the marshall asked if I could talk to her. It turned out she was so cold and weak that she felt she couldn’t go on – mile 23 and a bit! I asked her what was wrong and she explained she was feeling light headed and cold, with a bit of effort I undid her jacket from her waist and got her covered up, gave her Kinder chocolate and some water and both Grant and I offered to stay with her to make sure she got to the finish.

We made our way slowly down the final hill, we could see the finish in the distance. Grant was slowing further but I knew that it was our new running buddy that needed the support and with just a mile to go I turned to see Grant and make sure he wasn’t going to stop and asked Julia if she was capable of running. Now warmed, watered and chocolated we set off at a fearsome pace and as we approached 800metres to go I waved goodbye to Julia aswell, safe in the knowledge she wasn’t going to stop.

Both feet now lurched forward, cries of ‘great finish!’ welcomed me and I thrust my chest forward and pumped my arms to my traditional sprint finish, the line was in the distance and with every ounce of my strength I flew under the giant red inflatable. I had done it.

Grasping my new slate memento I thrust it aloft and growled, despite a reasonably poor time I was happy I had finished the Snowdonia Marathon.

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The Race?
The race was actually tough but far from impossible and infact I found this a rather endearing course and will in the future be back to complete it in a faster time when less injured and more prepared. The course was in places in beautiful but as with all 26.2milers there were sections that were a little bit dull but overall you wouldn’t complain about the quality of the vistas. The atmosphere was electric at times, the support was fantastic almost all the way round and you could feel the quality of the field you were amongst – almost every person had trained properly and everyone was ready for a marathon.

There was generally ample water on the course and more than enough gels (though I’m not a gel fan), only one of the water stops was bereft of water, but this was a fairly vital stop, at the top of a hill and a number of the runners really felt the lack of water here – I was grateful I was carrying my own supply (and yes I did offer to share it where needed :)).

Goodies?
The goodies were surprising, the first was the excellent T-shirt which has been worn several times and although no medal there was a branded slate coaster, which while not amazing will provide an excellent momento of a great race. At the race finish though I was disappointed to note that there was no fruit, cake or sweeties – just a bottle of water and that was not what I wanted – I wanted chocolate.

Conclusion
Do this race, you won’t regret it but it wasn’t what I was expecting – perhaps that is half the fun of it.

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A few days ago I saw a blog posting about ‘favourite medals’ from Neon Anonymous and was inspired to follow this up with my own posting (or rip-off) based on that post – please read the original at http://neonanonymous.com/2013/10/12/our-top-5-medals/. Although in addition to my top 5 favourite medals I was going to add my top 5 favourite race Tshirts too. I’ve now been racing for just over about 2.5 years (I’m not sure my single Preston 10km in 2004 counts as part of my regular racing) and in that time I’ve gathered around 40 medals and 25 Tshirts so picking my top 5 could prove a little bit difficult. But here goes…

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Now as many of you eagle eyed types will have noticed this is in fact not a running T-shirt but actually a swimming T-shirt that I earned for swimming my first sub-hour mile. Now a sub-hour mile may not seem like much to you but when you realise I did it all breast stroke then you can see why it took me so long and therefore I wear this cotton T-shirt with a great deal of pride.

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My second choice, and these are in no particular order is my Saxon Shore Ultra Trails White Cliffs 50 T-shirt, this was my first ultra T-shirt and brings back the memories of what I thought would be the hardest 14hrs and 54minutes of my life. Running on damaged feet, wet, cold and in the middle of a very frosty March I managed to wend my way to the finish and this lovely item, to be fair it’s not great to run in but it’s great for a cooler day when I’m hiking or walking the dog – and I do occasionally run it to remind people that I am an ultra runner and I wear this proudly.

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This bad boy takes me back to racing against Mr. Ladds and the Bladonmore crew at the 2011 Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest and on that day I felt very, very fit and this t-shirt is also often worn with a great deal of pride, ideal for a run on a cooler day and decent wicking as you would expect from a Rat Race organised event – they do give away pretty cool stuff. I only ran the London but the shirt is also a reminder to me that there are a few others I should probably make the effort to get my arse too.

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This one is a strange one, it’s not my favourite race, not even close as it’s a two lap course with a bitch of hill in the middle combined with the fact I vomited twice the time I did it, but the medal and the T-shirt are a delight. It’s funny with this because the colour and design aren’t my thing at all, it’s all a bit garish and the Hermes character on the front and reverse combined with a weird typeface should make this a design disaster but not so. Being of a creative leaning I can say hand on heart that this simply works, all the elements come together and give a T-shirt you actually want to wear again. Infact this shirt is one that I’ve seen being used at other races and given the start line only had about 250 people that’s pretty impressive.

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‘Grim’ll Fix it’ almost seems inappropriate given what’s happened with Jimmy Saville but this T-shirt reminds me of being covered in dollops of mud, twigs, shit and blood – clay dripping out of every pore and water being expunged from every orifice. This T-shirt was the thing that started me running again, this was what I earned for being stupid enough to brave the icy waters of The grim Challenge.

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As with the shirts the medals come in no particular order but I start in what was a very happy place – The Royal Parks Half marathon! not my fastest, not the best race in the world but not a bad one either. But this has a uniquely delightful medal, I believe made from the park itself and this was the first of my two medals and for my money the better of the two, slightly bigger and less well defined but informing the key characteristics of the future models. This medal has hung proudly at the front of my collection since October 2011 and it still makes me smile.

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I didn’t take this one off for a week! I hurt a lot after my first ultra, it had been a crucifying experience but when I crossed the line I got a medal that exuded blingtasticness. This was a medal to wear with pride and while not the biggest (that’s later) it just felt so brilliant in my hands and the contrast between the medal and the black lanyard gave it a really classy finish.

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This event and it’s matching medal for The Great North Swim remind me about the value of doing things other than running. With the Great London Swim also being my home medal race I could resist including this on the list of faves. The best bit of this medal is that it feels nice, looks antique and has lots of raised elements that just make you to oooooo. As I travelled home with my fellow swimmers we all clutched at this one and also wandered around Sainsburys with our medals proudly adorning our chests.

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The biggest and heaviest medal in the UK, I think that says it all really. Great race too.

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This one was special, special because it says ‘expert finisher’. Special because it was 111km in about 18 and a half hours. Special because I had earned it. Special because I had worked my way up to this, trained long and hard, been hugely injured in the effort to get there and this beauty is a special reminder to me of how much I love running.

So there we go, obviously I have lots of favourites and memories attached but these are from some of my favourite races, covering different distances and race types – but what’s your favourite medal?

‘My legs still ache’
‘From?’
‘Bournemouth Marathon, not sure why I does these races…’

And that got me thinking, ‘why do I race?’ Which then brought me back to the cost of racing, the value of racing, the merits of racing versus running and mainly my own personal ambitions in running terms. It was pretty clear to me from a young age that I was never going to emulate my original running hero Steve Cram. Nor will I ever run a sub 10 second 100 metres – my 11.47 is the fastest I will ever get. So I’m clearly not running because I think I’m a potential champion, perhaps I’m running simply for something to do, let’s not forget that running is my primary hobby and quick fix when things go wrong. After my epic failure at the TG100 I came home and actually was really rather upset, more upset than I had to be over a race perhaps but this is hindsight showcases to me just how valuable racing has become to my personal wellbeing. The day after the race my running mojo had left me and showed no signs of returning, I removed my plethora of medals from their normal home and hid them away in a drawer, I stopped looking at races to sign up for and I didn’t even think about visiting a running shop just incase I was recognised as a fraudulent ultra runner or just fraudulent runner. The TG100 broke my runners heart.

But a stern talking to by a friend who is not a runner reminded me that the reason I run and the reason I race isn’t for the bling, it isn’t to be a champion, it’s to stave off the inevitable heart attack or piling the weight on after binging on all the chocolate in the world and I was told to ‘shut the fuck up and just get out there’. With the help of my lovely physio, Joe Rodgers I get back out on the trail and started running again! only shortish distances but then races started coming and my desire has been working its way back into my life and perhaps just in time.

When I ran the Royal Parks Half just over a week ago I still wasn’t buzzing with enthusiasm, infact I was a little bit too emotionless about it on reflection. But in the last week I’ve been hitting good times across 5km and noticing a general increase in pace – although there have been bad days too. Therefore I come into my next event Xtreme Beach, not filled with confidence, but filled at least with the desire to perform and that I hope will set me up for a better performance at the Snowdonia Marathon.

So what’s your reason to race?

As I’m sure that readers of this blog will have realised in just the few postings I’ve written I do love running in so many of its guises, slow, fast, distance, endurance, fun, race, adventure, trail, road, track. I have yet to meet a race type that I came away thinking ‘nope that’s not for me’. And I do loves me a medal and therefore running does tend to cost me a small fortune in kit, time, race entry, transport, etc – I’ve spent thousands of pounds over the last three years and have mostly thought that I’ve had good value for money but in the last year or so it’s come to my attention that the costs have been rising but what you are getting in return hasn’t matched that price increase. Now this is a subject I’ve written about before on various forums on other peoples blogs but I thought I’d throw down my own thoughts in light of the cost of the recent Royal Parks Half Marathon and (for those that ran it) the Run to the Beat, two rather expensive half marathons.

One of the things that a race should offer is great value, race organisers need to recall that we can go running anytime, we choose to come to your event – which is why the rising price of races, against the lowering of the value is so galling. Take the mistake riddled Run to the Beat, 13.1 miles of tight course, not so much a race as an effort. I’ll admit I didn’t run it but I knew several of the runners on that day and they all came back with the same disappointed response – too expensive, too crowded, the organisers seemed more interested in the amount they could make than putting on a race that was good quality. To be fair the organisers did offer a level of compensation and should be commended for that but if they had priced it more sensibly there would have been less anger over the disorganisation that hindered the event.

Let’s consider the Royal Parks Half Marathon, £46 of my money. Now I’ve already said this is a lovely race to do and I’m not going to backtrack at all but it was still £46 for a half marathon, that seems a silly amount. However, at least with this it was organised, a pleasant, iconic route, with a unique medal at the end. Add to this we all did our bit to support the continuation of the Royal Parks and this is where you can start to feel the value added element. The Royal Parks Foundation went to great trouble to remind us that our fee, our fundraising was going to support this truly magnificent set of green spaces and I think we as runners can appreciate that.

Some people like the big spectacle
However, to have run both the above half marathons would have meant spending around £100 + transport (potentially hotels if you were visiting London). That £100 would get you into around 4 smaller events, perhaps even 5 if you shopped around and these would have been equally good – possibly better. But the big events that are attracting thousands upon thousands of runners have to cater a little bit to the fact that you get every type of runner turning up and certainly in the case of the Royal Parks you could say this was both a PB course and a potentially excellent beginners half marathon.

So are these bigger, more marketable events, with big names attached designed, not so much for the regular racer, but designed for those seeking a bit of a one off? In which case is making it this big pricier spectacle worth it? Well possibly as they always sell out don’t they?

The flip side
Speaking to a race director recently he confirmed he was struggling to break even at the races he was putting on, partly because he couldn’t compete with the lure of the bigger races or match their marketing – this was a huge shame as the race he did put on was magnificent and I shall be continuing to support races of this type because without them those of us that love racing dozens of times a year would really be missing out. This is were social media has been very influential, we ask questions about events now, we seek out previous runners for reviews and word of mouth is helping to swell the smaller events to bigger numbers – it’s a start I suppose but we should be encouraging people to support smaller events. One way might be to make it compulsory to have completed a 10km/half marathon race before you can enter one of the big much lauded events like the London Marathon.

Beyond the half
I’ve perhaps focused a little too much on the rising price of the half marathon but it isn’t just them that have seen a hike in the cost, consider events such as The Survival of the Fittest which even at its earlybird price is rather expensive and again despite the iconic location, decent goodies and a real crowd pleaser you have to ask is it worth it? As a former competitor in the Survival of the Fittest I can honestly say it is a truly outstanding event and a great time was had by every single person there but was it worth the money? Probably not and I’m a big advocate for Rat Race events having run both the Trailblazer and The Wall with them (both actually pretty good value).

Something to remember Mr Race Director
Runners bring with them not only supporters but also a need for merchandise, food, drink, we are a valuable source of income for races, sponsors, sports kit manufacturers, stockists and general local economies. We don’t mind paying for events, we don’t even mind paying for extras – what we mind is not getting value for money. It’s not even that we think closing roads, hiring people, buying the banners and the chip timing comes free – we don’t, runners know these things cost money – heck we even hope the organisers make some money so that the following year they come back out and provide an even better event.

£50 v £10
If I’ve paid £50 for any race I’d probably be expecting a technical shirt of some description, a nice bespoke medal, a few goodies that I don’t have to wait an age for and a great route with friendly marshalling, it doesn’t seem much to ask. If I’ve paid £10 for a race I’d hope for a good race, some marshalling and hopefully a medal. All we ask is that we are remembered as a vital part of the process and treated like the customer we are and if you are going to charge extra you should be delivering more.

An example of good value
I would draw your attention to a recent race I ran, the inaugural Oliver Fisher 10km – £15 and for this I received a bloody fantastic race with amazing marshalling, free parking, a decent medal, a technical T-shirt and some Jaffa cakes (and had I wanted them a collection of other sweet things). That was a race that not only can I recommend for the course but also for the organisation and the effort put in by everyone involved.

Ultra value
Now let me draw mention a section of the running world that still seems to understand we are coming along for the event and that is ultra marathons. Ultra Marathons are any distance over 26.2miles – big distances designed for long distance and endurance athletes. These events cover large swathes of land, going through difficult terrain and require huge amounts of preparation in terms of routes, planning and organisation (not that I’m taking away from how difficult shorter races are to organise but still …). An ultra marathon is a logistic nightmare and yet the prices seem to be sensible. Centurion Running who I am going to race the South Downs Way 50 and North Downs 100 with are charging just £65 and £125 respectively and for that amount there will be food, marshals and pre-race information prepared for me and the other runners. There will be excellent medals, T-shirts and other delightful items.

I come back to Rat Race and ‘The Wall’ and while I may have questioned the cost of ‘The Survival of the Fittest’ I have no such complaint about ‘The Wall’ a 69mile race from Carlisle to Gateshead, a race with great food, great support and excellent marshalling as well as perfectly timed signage to direct you to the finish and with a medal that has pride of place on my mountain of bling. These big event races could learn a thing or two from the ultra world, they could even learn a thing or two from events such as the London Marathon which despite being one of the biggest events in the world manages to maintain a sensible price.

So for those of you not bored by my withering and ranting I have a very simple message, enjoy your running but support the little races, as well as the biggest and the best. And to the big race organisers my message is don’t price us out of coming to your events because we love doing them and you need us as much as we need you.

You’re watching the road
You’re watching the sky
You’re watching the arse of the pretty runner in front of you
You’re waiting for the horn to go off
You’re anticipating the moment you cross the line
You’re thinking of your sprint finish

And you’re thinking that you really want to beat the guy stood next to you because he’s a bit of a dick.

Let me start properly by saying that I loved running the Dartford Bridge 10km race. Yes it had much to shout about as an event, it was flat, fast, easy to get to, good range of post race snacking, an excellent and reasonably price tea wagon, it had an announcer who was an absolute legend bringing us home along the final stretch and it had a race organiser who I found it an absolute privilege to chat with.

Anyway as I am sure you are aware I’ve been on the comeback from injury recently, after a year of niggling and not quite so niggling injuries I’m still not better but continue to race but the injuries are slowly easing and therefore I decided that this was to be an on the day entry. I rolled up at 8am, nice and early – handed over my £16 and got hold of a precious race number. The people organising the event were an absolute delight and I enjoyed their company for a bit before strolling off for a steamy cup of delicious tea and a wander around the course.

Being early let me watch the build up play out quite nicely and although the field could hold about 400 runners there was about 250 there which gave it a nice enough race atmosphere when combined with the supporters. The race was set to kick off about 10am and so after a quick change of clothes, a deposit in both the bag store and the loo and I was ready. My aim was under hour but in my head I had about 52 minutes.

I set out from the back of the course with my fellow tweeter @RichKisbee who I’d met just moments before the start of the race and after a minute or so I threw the gauntlet down to myself and kicked on passing a couple of other runners who I either knew or knew by sight. The reality is that the course wasn’t the most picturesque but it wasn’t without its charms and with both Essex and the Dartford Bridge in the background actually I quite enjoyed it. As the first lap came to a conclusion I grabbed some water, had a laugh with the crowds and some of the marshals and picked up my pace. I’d had a slightly slack moment between 3 and 5km which was going to affect to my finish but this was due mainly to the fact the injuries I had been suffering with were back and kicking at me. Anyway the second lap had a slightly faster pace, I’d picked myself a runner up who was using me as a pacer (Kimberley, I found out her name near the final corner so I could shout her in!) and I felt I could manage a sub50.

With a faster push towards the final kilometre I knew I could start to pull away from Kimberley and continue overtaking people. In the distance I could see the clock counting towards 50 minutes, never have my little feet and Hoka pushed so hard to cross a line and failed to deliver – I really didn’t have much of a sprint finish left in me. However, I crossed the line with the clock at about 50:14 which gave me a 49:30something finishing time and I’d take that at the moment. I collected a decent medal and some lovely biscuits and swiftly turned around to congratulate Kimberley who had been my shadow until the final few hundred metres.

Anyway, after standing on the sidelines to clap in some of the later finishers I can quite happily say this was a great little race and I will certainly be turning up to this again next year. The people at the Dartford Bridge Triathlon are a great group of people with a great series of events. This was a race with something for everyone and I look forward to seeing you all there next year.

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