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There was something quite pleasant about tonight’s 12km, yes it was cool, yes it was at a reasonable pace and yes I didn’t get lost in Kensington however, the thing I enjoyed the most was that my Asics Tather, which have never really been a great running shoe for me, felt really good. I’d forgotten how light they feel compared to my Mafate 2 or Speedcross and I was able to launch myself happily at the various challenges of tonight’s distance. Funnily I enjoyed running in them so much I might give them another run out tomorrow.

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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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As anyone who knows me I buy more running and training gear than is normal, it has gotten to the point now where I no longer have any real clothes – I have only running, hiking, swimming and activity kit. The few bits of real clothing I own are locked away in a cupboard somewhere and they almost never come out, my work clothes are on a bit of a rotation and I replace them only as they wear out – however, I’m not here to discuss the details of my wardrobe – no – I’m here to discuss some of the excellent retailers I have purchased from this year and perhaps the reasons I avoid other retailers

Sportsshoe.com
I’ve bought several pairs of running shoes from these guys, including my much loved and also much maligned S-Lab Sense trail shoes. These guys offer great value for money, they offer excellent service and I’ve never had a single days problem with them. Their website is pretty simple to navigate, although the top navigation could do with a little bit of clarity, perhaps the fact there is more than running gear here is the reason it can feel a little cluttered but it has never stopped me from finding the things I want and the payment system is quick and easy. Highly Recommended.

Wiggle
I only discovered Wiggle this year and despite a stupid name it offers excellent prices and excellent products. I was able to source my Suunto Ambit 2 from these guys at less than £300 and have purchased several excellent running tops from them. Their site tends to be crammed with goodies but it can be a bit of a chore going through it all and my recent search for gaiters led me to try elsewhere. However, the service is impeccable and incredibly speedy. These are good guys to buy kit from and the regular sales they run are generally very genuine. Perhaps the best bit is the inclusion of little Haribo sweets in their deliveries.

Sports Pursuit
There is something about trawling through my hundreds of early morning emails that I don’t mind and that thing is the offers that Sports Pursuit insist on sending me. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Again this is a retailer I discovered only this year and while you are required to wait a little longer for your products they offer great value items that you can’t get elsewhere. Skora runners and Vibram Fivefingers have been my primary purchases from them during 2013 and each purchase has been excellent. It’s fair to say that sizes can difficult to come by sometimes and the returns are a little haphazard in what happens (there is no guarantee on return that they can get you a different size) but SportsPursuit are clear in their endeavour – bringing you great stuff at a decent price. Communication is excellent, packaging and delivery is excellent – what more could you ask for.

Centurion Running
What an ultra runner really wants from his shopping experience is people who know what they are on about. The Centurion store is not jammed to the rafters with kit – no. It has a couple of choices in key categories. So for example if you want a running vest/bag they have Salomon or Ultimate Directions, both of which are very high quality products and both used by in the ultra community. Additionally this was the easiest place I could find to buy Harveys Maps! It’s also nice not having to wade through oodles of crap choices and they have lovely communication, great customer service and speedy delivery. The fact that Centurion is run by runners for runners really shows and I’m very much looking forward to further purchases and events with them in 2014.

Ultra Marathon Running Store
A bit like the Centurion store really in that it covers a great selection of good quality gear but with a little more choice (and the home of Dirty Girl Gaiters in the UK). Service and delivery are top notch and you feel it’s good value for money. Again they tend not to fill their site with things that ultra runners won’t use – we get a range of products at various price points. No complaints about this store whatsoever. I shall be looking forward to further purchases in the near future.

Decathlon
This is a bit of strange one, I’ve got some running Tshirts that are nearly a decade old from Decathlon that cost about £2.50 each and they rock but these days I find their running kit no longer fits me very well, but they do a great range of bikes and this year alone I have bought a rockrider, a triban and a hybrid (for my OH). I’m also a fan of their general equipment, things like lights, bandages, tapes, locks, etc and they do a decent range of swim kit – though I prefer mainly their speedo stuff. The great thing is that Decathlon staff are generally pretty well trained and not only know their own sporting area but also a bit about other departments. Add in regular vouchers and competitions through their loyalty card and actually you have a company that seems on the face of it to care. The letdown is their website which seems to have been built by a six year old or had a management hand in the navigation. Once you drill down to product pages it’s all pretty good but finding stuff is a nightmare. With. Decathlon I’d always say try and visit a store as the experience is so much better.

Sweatshop
These guys have been a bit a bit of a class act for several years and although I’m not as regular a shopper there as I used to be I still find them pretty darn good and with a good selection of items. I suppose though that Sweatshop has been a victim of its own success via both growth and attempting to be all things to all runners. This means that there is a decent range from beginner to very experienced runner but not as much depth as you might like, it feels quite mainstream – although saying this I have seen more obscure products like On Cloudrunners, Nathan running vests and Salomon S Lab clothing in store over recent months and this was also the store I got all my OMM packs from. Sweatshop remains the best of the major high street running stores. However, on a couple of occasions (and a less positive note) I have noticed in store there has been a lack of running knowledge, especially in younger members of staff, however, I am still a reasonably regular visitor to Bluewater, Dartford, Rathbone Place and Trump Street and these guys have always been on top of things, so when considering a store to purchase from where you can try things on, these guys remain good.

Run and Become
I’m a bit of sucker for a good shoe collection and great service and this is something that you always get from Run and Become. The staff are all runners, all very knowledgable (at least in the London store I go to), they have a great range of products in store and there is a feeling that they wouldn’t sell you a shoe that wasn’t fit for purpose. These guys are so popular that there is often a reasonable wait to be seen by the staff but it is worth it. My last purchase was some Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji socks and what I received was not only the basic back story to the shoes but also a bit of knowledge about the lady serving me, who was also a VFF user. If you happen to be near St. James Park and are in need of some kit or just to view some running porn – this is the place 🙂

Pete Bland Sports
Pete Bland will be getting more of my business in 2014, great service and quick delivery and a website that despite a rather strange navigation it just works. I bought my first pair of Hoka from Pete Bland Sports and they generally have a great range of running gear but being based in the Lake District is the thing that makes me love them as the Lakes are just about my favourite place in the entire universe. The little thing I loved the most was the later Twitter interaction about my experiences with the running shoes I had purchased. Classy

Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow & Rock
No good if what you are looking for is road running materials but if you are looking for trail running kit then Cotswold Outdoor, Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock are pretty fine. All have a good range of footwear, clothing and accessories covering brands like OMM, Rab, Salomon, Hoka and Inov8. If you are in London then all three can be found with big stores in the heart of Covent Garden and all have highly trained staff who generally know what they are talking about and if they don’t they’ll get someone that does. Each of these stores has provided me with key pieces of kit over the last year or so and will continue to do so. In terms of online then I find Cotswold to be the easiest to navigate and find what I’m looking for but both Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock offer excellent online services.

Sports Direct
I do have one bugbear though and that is Sports Direct. I find myself disheartened every time I walk past one of their stores and if I ever find myself in need of going in to one I generally find myself leaving quickly without purchase. I know some will argue that they offer competitively priced equipment but I find what little Karrimor equipment I do own never gets worn because it just isn’t as well made as some of the similarly priced clothing from Sweatshop or Decathlon – this of course is just an opinion but it is based on the experience and longevity and general feeling of the kit. The worst part of the experience is the staff don’t appear interested in whether you are being sold suitable footwear, suitable equipment or your general well being as a customer. I haven’t bought much here for quite some time and I don’t see myself heading back there anytime soon. Overall a disappointing retail experience.

Favourites?
Anyway, there are lots of very good retailers out there, these are just some of my personal favourites and ones that I have gone back to time and again. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites and I’m always keen to learn about new places offering useful kit, great advice and most importantly brilliant customer service.

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I saw a post recently on Urban Running from Running Mum and thought it was a truly excellent piece and caused me to consider my own urban running. Why? Well, I began to think that I was one of those shits who simply expects people to get out of my way and expects the roads to open up in front of me but then I was discussing this very topic this morning and discovered that actually I’m pretty courteous.

However, the following is true;

I run straight towards people
When I do run straight towards people I always move out of their way, I’m the one going quickly, I’m going to take the appropriate action and I try to indicate to people which way I’m going so as not to cause distress.

I jump out into the road
When I jump out into the road I always look before I leap and look before I leap back too.

I run in front of the traffic be it ahead or behind me
I only take windows of opportunity that are available and usually none life threatening but I will travel on the road until it is no longer safe to do so and I’m a very good judge of traffic. I am very aware of the traffic after four young gentlemen while I was running along the back of Oxford Street pushed me into the oncoming traffic, this had the effect of me hitting the side of a taxi and rolling along it and off the back into the road – thankfully there was nothing behind as had there been I would have been killed. The guys just laughed and continuing wandering down the road. I got up and dusted myself off and despite being shaken continued running.

I have shouted ‘meemeep’ to get my fellow pavement users out of the way
I would never shout offensive things to the fellow pavement or road users (including cyclists) but when I run through Covent Garden at rush hour I do like to pretend I’m the roadrunner and call out meemeep as my warning sound. This is especially effective with Americans and children.

I have tutted when groups of tourists have gotten in my way
I try to be considerate but when you are narrow streets and are a large group it would do you no harm to be considerate too and so yes I will grumble to them as I go past and think this is perfectly acceptable

I have shoulder barged tourists on the embankment and not apologised
On occasion when I’ve been going flat out I have misjudged the odd space and smacked straight into someones shoulder usually and I haven’t stopped. I probably should and I’d like to apologies here and now for anyone I might have accidentally bruised during my running escapades. I have also been known to slap into someone who is hogging a pavement to make a bit of a point – pavements are designed to go in multiple directions and when those who can clearly see you coming make no effort to let you pass then why should I be the bigger person and step into the road? I mean I usually do but when they look you in the eye and challenge you that pisses me off – shoulder slap!

I have been called a ‘cunt’ by people on Westminster Bridge as I run past them
Funnily it’s the language of the cyclists that gets me the most. I was once deliberately pushed into the cycle lane by a pedestrian, the cyclist who was going beyond me called me ‘you giant fucking cunt’ – rather an over reaction as I barely slipped into the road and managed to get back on the pavement pretty quickly. As I passed him at the traffic lights a few hundred metres later at the traffic lights near Waterloo I did give a rather long two fingered salute – childish I know but he deserved it.

I do weave through people traffic and take no prisoners
I make no bones about it, if I’m running at 3.30per km I’m going to need to weave between people and not lose my groovy pacing. Straight lines simply aren’t available in London during rush hour and therefore I dodge between people but I do it in as polite a way as possible.

I do run through the ticket section of Blackfriars station
I love running through the ticket sections of train stations, Blackfriars, Charing Cross, London Bridge – to name but a few. Hearing the sound of the TfL guys telling me to slow down is a sound I never tire of. Breaking rules, I’m such a bad man! Ha.

I will leap between people when there is a slightly too small gap
I’m a designer, I work with space, I see space, I understand how it all comes together and I know where I can fit. In the distance I’m judging the spaces in front of me. I see people and watch how they are walking, when and where they will connect and can I dive between them. I pull my shoulders tight, push my arms forward and follow through with a ‘meemeep’ and an occasionally ‘woohoo’ if it was very tight. Its childish but by crikey its fun.

So, yes, I probably am an inconsiderate urban runner but not the most inconsiderate and I do try to think of other road and pavement users and while I may fail sometimes because I am occasionally a bit of what the cyclist described me as I will continue to try. I like to think that it isn’t just the urban runner who can be inconsiderate but intact all road and pavement users and if we all thought a little more about the things we do the world would be a much better and generally safer place – but then maybe some of the thrill is in the barbed exchanges and danger.

Happy running.

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Let me tell you a story about a guy who woke up at 5.30am this morning after a poor nights sleep and quickly showered, threw on his Nike Tailwind vest and hurtled to the train station for only his second half marathon of the year – The Royal Parks Half – and yes the bloke in question was UltraBoy.

Let me add a bit of background, the RPH was my first ever half marathon distance race back in 2011 and it was in that first year of running an event I looked back in with great pride and even today I look at that medal and think ‘yep that was special’. So going back had a lot to live up to and I’m also a very different runner to the fearless youngster who arrived at the start line 2 years ago full of confidence. This year I headed to the event centre in Hyde park and had a windfall wander around with the 16,000 other runners, got changed, had a few laughs with other runners, deposited a bag and absorbed as much of the positive atmosphere as was humanly possible. I joined the line up rather later than is my norm with less than five or six minutes until the horn would sound but this was more than adequate to make a few new acquaintances on the start line. There is something that draws out comradeship when you are about to do something ridiculous.

Anyway! The horn went and with a slow shuffle to the start it all began, now while the start was very well organised it did take nearly 7 minutes for me to get to the start line which seemed a little too health and safety conscious for my liking, however, once we were underway I set about making sure I had left the 1.50 pacer as far behind as possible and make my moved up the field and as I came into mile 1 I was running solidly and without any issues other than a mild concern about the rising temperature. By mile 4 things were actually looking pretty good, I’d refuelled on Lucozade and water and turned onto the Mall with a fair old turn of pace. The passion of the crowds was also pretty infectious and you felt the need to puff out your chest and give it your all for the people who were lining the streets of London just to cheer you on.

Miles 6 through 8 continued to feel strong and only a mild discomfort in my underarms was causing me any trouble. The thousands of runners and spectators were offering lovely views of what is a wonderfully busy event and I was delighted by my progress but just as I hit mile 9 I could feel the pain of my hip coming back and I could feel shooting pains throughout my back. I changed my style of running to make it a little easier and was able to come through mile 10 but the cost was high and I simply had to slow down, the problem with this though was that the 1.50 pacer caught up to me and I felt a great sense of deflation. My aim for this had always been under 2hrs but my progress over the first 9 miles had been such that I had delusions of a 1.45. By the time I reached mile 11 I knew I was going to make it but the thought of finishing was tinged with the significant sadness that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near the last time I put in for this race.

The finale through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are well known to me as they are part of the London Social Runners Saturday route and part of my training runs through the city and so I was able to gauge the slit incline up to Hyde park and give it the requisite amount of fizz needed for a solid and fast finish. I crossed the line in 1.53 but it wasn’t a happy time and I was sore in the hip and underarms. There is the part of me that should remember that this is the second longest distance that I’ve run since June and my training hasn’t exactly been tip top but the excuses aside I should have done better.

I made my way through the scores of runners and spectators to collect my medal and headed off to collect my back before a short wander around the festival site and here is whee is got weird. What I hadn’t realised was that my poor nipples had been bleeding for much of the race- the pain in my underarms had clearly been the bleeding out from the raw exposed flesh! I looked a little bit like a transvestite a I crossed the line, a sweaty dirty one (take a look at the picture below).

Anyway what can I say that hasn’t been said about this event, probably very little, it’s a wonderfully well organised and a wonderfully supported event on the race calendar and it’s a nice PB route through some of the best bits of Central London. However, things to be mindful of a) it’s busy and some slightly inconsiderate runners were happy to push past b) it’s too expensive, at £46 this is one of the pricier races around of this distance and for the same money you could enter 2/3 other smaller races and support them and c) it does lack some of the excitement you get with a more undulating and dynamic course. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, if you were only ever going to do one half marathon then you would seriously consider this but the caveats remain in place.

For me this will be the last time (at least for a few years) that I enter the Royal Parks half but I will be back and I will get that PB on this course.

And finally, I love the new medal too 🙂

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