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There was a huge doubt in my mind as to whether I’d turn up to the start line of the Amersham Ultra. The reason? Well on race morning, having been upended by a nervous dog a week earlier, I was still carrying the bulk of a groin strain and the arse end of a hamstring pull having refused to DNF! I really shouldn’t have rolled up to the school hall at 8.15 on Saturday 11 March but I did and I’m very pleased that I did.

Let’s do the short version for those of you desperate to know how it was… basically if you enjoy the following; oozy mud, an undulating route, a great atmosphere and beautiful countryside then the Amersham Ultra is for you. If you don’t then I wonder how you got this far 🙂

And now to the rambling version of events. The start was located inside a school hall which, as you might imagine, brought about a bevy of long repressed memories. XNRG had arranged things for a swift registration process and there was a registration desk, T-shirt collection point, a tea and cake table, Apex Sport and some information about Humanity Direct (the charity who would be benefitting from our entry fee and running).

I was joined in the hall by the usual eclectic mix of runners and of course by UltraBaby and the GingaNinja. UltraBaby sadly was a bit ill and was mildly more manic than normal, which was to the amusement of some and annoyance to others – but ho-hum! However, it’s always a delight for me to be waved off to the two ladies in my life but my beloved hound had decided to sit this one out and he remained in bed – catching up on the 5Live I suspect.

Anyway…

Clocking in at around 30 miles this is at the baby end of the ultra running world but that should not detract from it being a very worthwhile event. I know from having done the first half of Country to Capital around these parts that there can be some tricky sections and that the Amersham Ultra while advertised as ‘for everyone’ should not be underestimated.

And with that thought and a few well chosen words from the organisers ringing in my ears we set off.

The course it is fair to say is mighty, undoubtedly runnable for the most part despite the mud and varied, it’s fair to say that there is a bit of tarmac involved but actually rather than me moan about this I’ll instead say that this was the connective tissue between the trail sections – it felt like a well considered course.


Lots of the runners set out at a good pace even though we were the 9.00am (slower) group and overall there was a genuinely positive atmosphere that passed through the groups. For a change I was mostly keeping myself to myself, trying to focus on the running rather than the chit-chat and this was working wonders except for some over heating!

By about mile 3 I realised I was wearing one layer too many and by mile 5 I was over heating. I stopped, threw off my tops and discarded one to the bottom of my much loved original UD PB vest. Now in just a t-shirt I felt much livelier and set about catching the dozen or so people who had overtaken me.

Still feeling strong I did indeed catch the runners who had overtaken me a little before checkpoint 1 but I was also aware that I could feel my hamstring and if I didn’t back off I might not make it to checkpoint 2. I had decided that I would use my ’90 second checkpoint rule’ for this race and so gulped down some orange squash and buttered malt loaf before hurling myself into the void of the second section.

I’ll make a minor tangent here to mention the truly brilliant aid station and checkpoint crews. As mentioned this is a baby distance ultra but the checkpoints and the runners were treated with the utmost respect – good, well prepared food with a good range available. The crews were upbeat, focused and never missed a beat. Absolutely superb – I understand why XNRG are so highly regarded in the ultra community.

Having now slowed a little bit I could start to think about the problem that had been pestering me since near the start and that was the epic ‘gut rot’. Thankfully I was a) still capable of running and b) fully armed with poo roll and I took full advantage of a hilly wooded area to relieve some of the enormous pressure that had been building. Relieved but with more than 10 minutes lost I set off again but noting I had managed to slice open the lower part of my shins and sweat was seeping into the open wounds.

For the third time in the race I stopped, this time to clean up the slices, then off again.

With my drama quotient filled I arrived into checkpoint 2, refilled my water and ploughed on. CP2 to CP3 would be the longest of the sections but at about 14km still was reasonably short and there was more fun to be had, although I know I got lost a couple of times which didn’t help my time but it did offer me some discreet cover for a second delivery of epic ‘gut rot’. I’ll be honest I was feeling pretty ill. However, relieved, I once again pressed on despite feeling that either my guts or my hamstring injury were going to get the better of me.

Despite my troubles I couldn’t help but delight in the route – it was for the most part very special. I met several runners throughout the day indicated that this was a ‘warm-up for the SDW50’. For me, being honest and having done the SDW50 a couple of times, Amersham was more fun, more exciting and better looking.

Anyway, with checkpoint 3 reached I had about 10 miles to go. I gulped down some lovely cola and hit the afterburner hoping to get round in as respectable a time as possible. Sadly this section brought my final trip to natures toilet (and the use of my last tissue) but I was ‘cleaned out’ to use an appropriate gambling term.

Feeling better than I had for much of the race but increasing pain through my hamstring I knew I should stop at the final checkpoint but I’d loved this route so much that I was determined to see it through.

More lovely trails greeted me as I wound my way to the finish and a glorious climb into Amersham was just reward for my efforts. Here I was joined by the delightful Sharon and I delighted in her company as we inspired each other to the finish line. As we turned into the final field and back into the school we looked around a little lost and some kindly supporters waved us towards them, we were going to make it! I could now see the finish a few hundred metres away and I turned to Sharon and said ‘end of the cones we give it a bit of welly’ and we did – crossing the line to the same beautiful support we had received all the way round.

What a bloody brilliant event! and I’ll be joining XNRG again for many more of their events I reckon – check them out here.

Key points

  • Distance: 31 miles (ish)
  • Profile: Mildly undulating
  • Date: March 2017
  • Location: Amersham
  • Cost: £48
  • Terrain: Muddy trail
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
I feel as though I’ve already discussed my love for this route, it was a wonderfully eclectic mix of challenges that with effort could be achieved by anyone. For those that might question the value of shorter distance routes I’d say that what it lacked in big distance it provided in character and challenge – one not to be underestimated but one you’ll fall in love with. Recommended, especially in the earlier part of the year when conditions underfoot make it ‘real’ trail!

Awards
There was a truly delightful medal and an awesome t-shirt that perfectly matches my new down jacket. In addition there was tea, coffee and cakes at the beginning with free photographs thrown in just for good measure (I’m told there were prizes too but I’m too old and slow to win one of those!). You really would struggle to criticise the goodies that were heaped on this race. Excellent.


Horses
So having discussed my mid race gut rot I’ll briefly mention the horses on the course. Somewhere between the start and checkpoint one a huge herd of horses ambled politely around either side of the track, others had run through and the track itself was clear. I slowed as I approached and when they got too close let them wander past me, then it happened, like clouds on a mountain – they surrounded me.

I nearly ‘shat’ myself. Inching forward more horses came to face me down, several surly looking beasts snorting as they strode past me and then I saw my escape, a decent sized gap and I walked sensibly to the edge of the horses.

Clear(ish). I turned as I exited their thrall and what I saw next was terrifying – scores and scores of horses in a stampede across where I had been standing seconds earlier.

Had I been in there I’d have been dead but thankfully (for me at least) I wasn’t. Note to self, two races, two weeks, two incidents involving horses – a pattern?

Charity
Perhaps the nicest thing about the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra was the charitable element. Your £48 bought you much more than a race as XNRG were donating all of the entry fee to Humanity Direct who do amazing work with those that need it most in Africa.
The race organisers, I can only assume, absorb the costs of putting on this event (medals, t-shirts, food, logistics, etc) in order that this worthwhile charity benefits from such a spectacular event. It’s fitting to say that I’m in genuine awe of the guys at XNRG and can understand were the excellent reputation they have comes from.

If you want more information about Humanity Direct click here to check out their website

Organisation
Perfect, if anything went wrong then you didn’t see it – this was a very knowledgeable team delivering a great event.

Volunteers
Having volunteered a few times at different races I know a little of what it takes to support runners and it’s fair to say that the XNRG volunteers and teams know a lot more than I do. Everyone seemed so well catered for at the start, at the checkpoints and at the finish. Every single person I met under the XNRG banner was really outstanding. Top notch.

Value for money
£48? Smallish field but never lonely, beautiful and challenging route, great medal and perhaps the best organisation I’ve seen at an ultra marathon with the added bonus of the money going to Humanity Direct. This to me is a real bargain and one of the best value for money ultras around – no it’s not £1 a mile or less but there are some very significant mitigating reasons. Everyone should be adding this to their list!

Conclusion
As you’ve read I can’t praise this race enough. For myself I ran better than expected but not as well as I would have liked given my hamstring and ‘crotchal’ region proving that this was perhaps a bit too far after the previous weeks exploits (read about last weeks race here). What I liked was that at no point did I become bored by the surroundings, at no point did I really want the race to end and thankfully it wasn’t a brutaliser. Instead of brutalising it was an excellent test of your marathon pace over tough conditions and a few spare miles to give you a fright. What the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra gave me though was a big dollop of confidence to face down the UTBCN in two weeks time (subject to injury clearing – wish me luck!)

All in all, top marks for a top event, check it out!

 

  
As part of my Juneathon experience I’ve also completed the running in the Soldier On Challenge with Virtual Runner UK. All the people entered are helping to raise funds for charity simply by signing up and by going as far as they can with an assault on the distance round the UK. The aim is that we all run, walk or cycle 26km (or as far as we can mange).

For me I would only be including my running efforts because this is the thing I do as my exercise and it can often be a challenge to find the time to run. The great thing is that I found ways of adding in extra kilometres all over the place – my journey to and from the train station became 1km sprint tests, I took the slightly crocked super spaniel on hill runs, UltraBaby and I not only buggy PB’d at Parkrun but also did only 20 odd kilometres together, I adored finding nooks and crannies to fill with running. There were lots of highs and very few lows during a fun week of running which has kept me well on target for a decent #Juneathon total and a reasonable return on mileage investment for Virtual Runner UKs Soldier on Challenge.

As I final point I’d like to thank Susan who organises such great virtual events and I would always urge you to look her events up and maybe even take part www.virtualrunneruk.com or find her on Facebook.

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I don’t raise money for charity because I’m a miserable, unpopular, uncharitable and friendless git. However, I know a brilliant little runner who is raising money for Macmillan (learn about their work here).

I’ll give you a brief overview so you know who you’re supporting: Tea drinking, designing, Wotsit eating, mad for it Manc and most importantly cancer surviving marathon runner. Please look up @marathonwoman52 on Twitter and if you can help her – just a single pound would be brilliant and you guilt her into beating her personal best and inspire her to even more wonderful sporting achievements.

You can donate by clicking here

If you can’t donate cash that’s groovy – perhaps you’ve got a spare few seconds just to tell her – via Twitter – that she’s doing brilliantly in her training because I know, like you, the value of some positive feedback via social media or even a passer-by in the street.

Thanks for your time (and your hard earned pennies).

I think we’ve almost all run for charity at some point, we’ve all asked for sponsorship and we’ve all pulled our hair out trying not to have to stump up our own cash to reach donation levels or to get people to donate.

We’ve also probably all sponsored runners too because we like to support our loved ones or friends but I’m a little concerned about the way that running and charity seem too often to be linked.

Don’t get me wrong I think that running for a charity is a lovely idea and that raising money for worthy causes is increasingly necessary in these times of austerity.

However, more and more the races I’d really enjoy doing are placing demands on us to drum up cash. The classic example of course is the London Marathon. I’ve now attended the London Marathon (as a spectator) about 10 times and always enjoyed it, the elite racers, the club runners, the fun runners and the comedy runners but each year the presence of charity has gotten larger and the presence of running has gotten smaller. How often do we hear about how hard it is to get into London? Or on race day to get a rhythm going as you try and avoid the plethora of giant chickens or whatever mascot is being highlighted. I realise that the charity aspect of London is vital and perhaps it’s the VLM USP but it could be that the balance between running and charity isn’t quite right.

If we consider the amount each individual is required to raise this is some commitment – in quite a short space of time. As I understand it each charity is charged several hundred pounds per place they are allocated and they do need to ensure they get a decent return on investment – but imagine if you told somebody they could have a place at the London Marathon for just £2000 in the ballot – they’d think you were mad. However, tell someone they can have a guaranteed place but need to raise £2000 and suddenly that’s okay. I’m not so sure.

It’s not the only one though – lots of races from the Age UK 10km series through the Race for Life to the British Heart Foundation runs all have fundraising at their core and not running. I would love to have run the Tower of London recently but was put off by the requirement to fundraise. Even ultras are starting the process of becoming more charity friendly – the London to Brighton Challenge and its sister races all have ‘fundraising packages’ – again this leaves me a little cold, a race I really want to do but the fundraising element is a bit of an issue.

Plus just how often can we keep going back to the same people asking for cash? And I realise we have bake sales, charity BBQs, just giving pages and events which help but for people who live already hectic lives it’s just not always viable that we can spend the rest of our time baking, tweeting our charity pages to strangers or whatever to raise charitable funds. And yes I’m fully aware that the charities themselves help you out in information and support about how to raise cash but you’ve still got to find the time, you’ve still got to have the capacity.

What about the human endurance element and shouldn’t we celebrate this by supporting a persons preferred charity? You’re pushing your body and people respect that and want to support you (in amongst other ways through charitable donations). But I’ve seen a number of requests for people doing 5km races and still asking for donations – I’m not opposed to this but I feel if running is going to be used as a tool of charity then it should be for the spectacular stuff. And I’m fully aware that for some people 5km might be spectacular but I think it perhaps needs a little perspective. Most of us have a finite pot to draw from, so where do we draw the line? For me that line lies in the spectacular.

Spectacular Running?
@peteralton88 ran dozens and dozens of marathons last year dressed in his vibrant pink get up for Breakthrough Breast Cancer! I ran past him at the 2013 Kent Roadrunner, what a guy. He did something truly extraordinary and deserves sponsorship.

@ChiltonDiva who has run a series of endurance and road races in support of Ovacome – each time pushing her boundaries that bit further – is an inspirational runner. The fact she’s supporting a great charity and racing lots of times give you a sense that she is really working for the funds she’s raising. Awesome and well worth supporting.

The dozens of runners who do things like Brathay 10in10 – 10 marathons in 10 days, that’s awesome! The skill and tenacity needed to do something like this is bordering on unimaginable.

I can understand and really get behind truly inspirational endurance – this is deserving and needing our support.

Bigger Picture
Perhaps it comes to the bigger picture. Charities clearly need runners, especially the smaller charities. Successive governments have failed to financially aid our need for research, care or support to the level that we as a society demand and the shortfall is picked up by charities. So far this year I’ve donated to fifteen different runners and (because of the Virtual Running) more than 20 different charities and I’ve been very happy to do this because the runners I’ve supported are running for charities I believe in and/or are exceptional human beings doing something awesome.

But let’s also not forget that as a country we are incredibly generous – Sport Relief, Children in Need, Comic Relief, the National Lottery, endless charity shops. Given the amazing amount of charity we engage in I’m disappointed that some races and runners are looked at as fundraisers rather than sports people.

So what do I do for me?

Possible solutions include:

Avoid the races where I feel guilty for not being the type of person who can raise money with any great capacity? However, should I be punished because I don’t want to hammer my friends bank balances because of my running obsession?

Should I just donate the required amounts to reduce my feelings of guilt?

Should I stop donating to lots of runners so that I can focus on one – me?

Should I spend all my time making new friends who I can then press for donations?

What’s the answer?

I’m not so much of an arsehole to ever suggest we shouldn’t run for charity, not at all, I’m just suggesting that running is running and fundraising is fundraising and while the two can work beautifully hand in hand please don’t penalise us if it’s not our thing.

I realise this post is unlikely to make me the friends I need to turn to for donations but as a final point I’d like to extend my huge respect to those that do run and fundraise regularly – you guys deserve all the plaudits and I am sure it’s not just myself who is in awe of you.

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Sometimes you are lucky enough to meet inspirational runners, the kind of runners that make you wish you could be them. I met Mike last Sunday at about mile 3 of the St. Peter’s Way Ultra and ran with him for many miles before he powered on to a great finish and I wished then I could have been him.

Now what does this have to do with anything?

Well, as I’ve said before I don’t run for charity – it’s not my thing, I don’t have the tenacity to go chasing people for cash, I’d rather donate to others and when I met Mike I met a runner that I wanted to donate to. He’s not running a single specific race to raise money, he’s challenged himself to a 1,00mile minimum over the course of 2014. I think that’s impressive – especially when it contains ultra marathons!

Importantly he didn’t ask me to donate money, I asked him if I could. The charity he is running for is a small one, it’s not an Oxfam, Plan or Macmillan, etc (all of whom do amazing work but who are all quite large charities). Momentum are small, local to South West London and Surrey and do really great work – you can see for yourself here http://www.moment-um.org and if anyone would like to help Mike reach the biggest total he can then I know he would be hugely grateful. As an added bonus you will see on his virginmoneygivingpage that every pound donated to him will be matched by Bloomberg.

So I know this is a busy time of year for runners coming round hitting your pockets but I believe this one is worth it. I’m sure you are aware I wouldn’t support anything or more importantly anyone I didn’t believe in, so, if you have anything to give then I know how much it would mean to Mike.

As a useful and potentially donation clinching fact is that Mike runs in Hoka, therefore clearly he has good taste-the photo above is Mike in action at about mile 10 of St. Peter’s Way rocking his beloved Mafate 3.

Anyway thanks for listening chaps and good running this weekend wherever you are.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RunningSox

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