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Let me start by saying I believe, very much, in the community of runners. I believe in it enough that UltraBoy regularly contributes to online forums, he blogs, tweets, trains, races, volunteers, buys the kit and even occasionally attempts to encourage others.

The real UltraBoy: I (Paul) keep the community at arms length because I don’t really feel part of it, feel uncomfortable in it and it was when the very lovely Chelsea suggested that I refused to go running with her that I realised she was probably unknowingly correct.

CG and UBR apparently live not very far from each other and run around the same trails but have thus far never come across one another. A few weeks back she suggested I should let her know the next time I’m at one of our shared stomping grounds – I said I would – but so far haven’t. This is because I haven’t been there recently but have I been avoiding it to curtail my angst over meeting my heroes? This becomes a distinct possibility.

Never meet your heroes: As I’ve discussed at length people such as Chelsea, the Emma’s and the Dans of this world are the people I look up to – real runners.

The elite or professional athletes have never really interested me because I can’t really aspire to be them, I can’t reach out and feel the joy of their achievements, it’s what makes the experience of my peers so valuable to me.

However, it pains me to admit that I don’t join them on running adventures because I would feel a disappointment next to them (and because I’m self aware enough to know I’m a complete arsehole).

It may sound stupid for a chap who has run more than 25 ultras in the last 3 years to be worried about how he is perceived by his peers – but I do worry. It doesn’t stop me turning up to the races (except the Hangman Ultra) that the others guys run but it does stop me hanging out with them. Importantly though I don’t believe I’m a social recluse or Twittering weirdo – I have tried but it never quite feels right. I always feel I wear the face of UltraBoy rather than me and inside I find I sit quietly while the character I’ve drawn takes over.

Don’t get me wrong though I’ve loved meeting all the runners from races or social media in whatever surroundings and I’ve come away from almost everyone thinking, yep you’re pretty awesome – I’ve been very lucky but I clearly have some stupid mental blocks that stop me expanding these excellent meetings of fellow runners.

I did have an ace opportunity to run with @borleyrose a little while back but a dodgy meal the night before meant I had to miss it – perhaps if I’d run with the lovely Kate I wouldn’t angst so much over the possibility of joining in. But I did miss it and despite this blog post I don’t dwell on the past (too much).

Trying the group thing: As an effort to be more run friendly I used to be a regular member of the London Social Runners group which was a very fine idea – running and brunch – huzzah!

Sadly, as I became more prominent in the group I found myself at the back, often helping other runners reach the end of the route and so I wasn’t getting much of the running element done from the Saturday and Wednesday meetings. The group was supposed to be 100% inclusive but to me it felt that leaving behind the slowest of runners wasn’t very inclusive and so I never, disappointingly, went back.

That said I’ve come across some of the guys periodically as they’ve become marathon runners and beyond and they are a lovely bunch and I’ll always say hello but I don’t let it to go further than that.

Ultra Philosophy: I suppose I also apply my ultra philosophy to training – run your own race, not someone else’s.

I don’t want someone to have to slow down for me (or speed up for me) that doesn’t seem fair and as I’ve already indicated I hate to disappoint. I did once hear the phrase ‘I thought you’d look more like a runner’ when I was introduced to a lady at a race as UltraBoy. How cutting!

As a final note, because this could come across as being a bit too self important  I’m also aware that I’m over thinking this, I mean ‘who the fuck am I?’ I’m aware I’m a nobody with a mouthpiece to the internet and the occasional completer of ultra marathons.

I’m happy to accept my nobody status but as this came up on Twitter a day or two ago it’s been nagging at me and I felt it deserved a considered response.

So I stay in my own bubble mostly but to Chelsea or Dan or anyone else I would love to go running with you some time but I might hang on until I’m less like the fat little troll hiding under the bridge.


Mr Corbyn,

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

Is that too much to ask?

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

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

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

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

UltraBoyRuns


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph copyright: Liverpool Echo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Why should Parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance? 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy running

  
I’d like you to read the below email from Martin at Likeys, one of the best outdoor stores in the UK – if not the world. They are an independent retailer and like many others from all over the country they are being battered by the larger, more powerful companies and we as runners (both ultra and not) have an opportunity to do something about it. I’d also love you take a look at the event photograph above and see how much kit is there – tonnes of it and I’m confident lots of it was advised on by the independent retailers I’m writing about now. Read on…

This isn’t your typical email but I would like to share some thoughts with you….. and as a reward, there is a 10% discount code at the end of the email – but if time allows, please read the following first.

Likeys (like most other independent retailers) have over many years strived to provide the very best service to our customers. This service includes the following…..

* Sourcing the newest and best products, often putting our necks on the line in bringing innovative brands and products to the market – brands such as Hoka, Nuun, Raidlight, X-Bionic, Aarn, Injinji (and many more) were first seen in Likeys, long before the “Big Boys” had even heard of the brands.

* We freely give advice for all manner of running and adventures whilst always having the customers’ needs at the very forefront of our minds. We have had customers traveling from as far away as Zimbabwe specifically to pick our brains, whilst we have stayed open until 12.45 in the morning to make sure a couple of athletes got the advice and correct kit choices for an extreme ultra they were about to compete in. In a nutshell, we will always go that extra mile to look after our customers.

* We always try to be as competitive as we can be with our prices.

* We passionately support the sport we love – over the years we have sponsored the Questars Adventure Race Series (past 6 years). Have been the main sponsors of the popular 3-4-5 mile race series in Brecon (past 5 years), as well as giving away over £5,000 worth of sponsorship to ultra-runners in 2013. Plus year in year out providing numerous spot prizes for many races both locally and around the country.

* We organise both the Beacons Ultra (8th year in 2015) and the 6633 Ultra in the Canadian Arctic (7th year in 2015). Both races organised with the primary aim of providing the competitors with no frills ultra challenges at different spectrums of the range of madness…. These events are organised because we love the sport… simple!!.

Over the last 12 months there have been seismic shifts in the outdoor retail market, with a number of large corporate retailers picking up on the boom of off-road/trail/ultra running, the results of which for customers is that there have seen some wonderful online discounting, particularly on items that were once perceived as specialist. 

Naturally as a business we have noticed this, and a survey that we conducted a month or so ago confirmed that discounting is a significant factor when buying. However, it was equally obvious from that survey that the knowledge of specialist retailers, the personalised customer service and enthusiasm of independents which are freely given are also very highly regarded when making a purchase.

Independent retailers don’t have the financial clout to compete with these behemoths of the industry, so whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, unless there are changes, I can foresee Likeys closing its doors to the public in about 14 months when the lease on our current premises comes up for renewal. 

In the 9 years Likeys has been around, neither Sue or I have ever paid ourselves as much as the minimum wage, so please read the above knowing that we are not trying to line our pockets, we are simply trying to maintain a service that we truly think will be missed if Likeys go. Likeys (and I think this will equally apply to many other independents that are caught up in this current discounting melee) has always been a passion before any business sense could be applied to it, so making money has never been the overriding factor, but alas even we have to make enough to pay the bills and pay the wages of those that work alongside us.

Now before you go jumping to any conclusions…. This isn’t a begging letter, it is merely a statement of how I see the market panning out for specialist independents such as Likeys. 

So what am I saying….

Well, quite simply I would like you to consider supporting the independent stores (including Likeys) as much as you can in order that they can continue to support you in your adventures wherever they might take you. If you see an item for a few pounds more at an independent, please don’t assume they are being greedy, they are simply trying to bring products to the market at a fair price that will allow them to stay in business. Please support us independents, as your good custom means far more than you will ever realise. In return you will continue to get the excellent customer service, the free product advice, the enthusiasm and passion that only an independent store can provide….. and it’s only the likes of a Likeys that can offer you the chance to tackle what is probably the toughest race in the World!!!

Whilst I don’t imagine the above musing will change the world, I am a born optimist, so fingers crossed I am hoping enough people will appreciate the true value for money you get from independents that will see both Likeys and many of the other brilliant independents survive for many years to come so we can share the laughs and tribulations as you go on your merry way competing in daft events in this country and further afield.

Now, I mentioned a discount code….

Bearing in mind what I have written above, we would love it if you didn’t use it (wink wink), but equally we know everyone likes a bit of a deal….So, as a “Thank You” for a few minutes of your time reading the above – for 10% off anything you buy at Likeys (www.likeys.com) from now until Friday 26th, simply type in the two words coloured green above into the promotion code (without a space between) during checkout and the wizardry of the Likeys website will do the rest for you.

Very best wishes

Martin

P.S. Please feel free to share these sentiments with others that you think might appreciate them

I’m not including the discount coded because I’d rather we paid the price on the tin. But the point is that we as runners need resources like this, I don’t mind if you want to buy your Christmas sale bargains from Wiggle or. GoOutdoors or whoever but would it really hurt to spend that small bit extra to ensure we keep these places open?

To ensure I’m not being hypocritical I can tell you that 9 out of my last 10 pairs of running shoes came from independent retailers but I admit that my Salomon race vest came from Wiggle and some of my cheaper training kit comes from places Decathlon or buying direct from the manufacturer at things like the London Marathon Expo (though I still try and support smaller companies like Runderwear at these events). I’m also due to purchase my CCC shoes this week and given that I’ll be buying Altra Lone Peak 2.0 I know that I’ll be going to an independent retailer (either Accelerate or ultra-runner.com) because I think it’s the right thing to do and because the service and advice I have received from both these companies in the past has been really top notch.

All I’m asking is that you think about these companies, look beyond the giant discounts and try and remember that the deal you are being offered by Sweatshop and SportsDirect usually isn’t as good as you think (funny how Mike Ashley’s hand is involved in those two businesses and we are talking about the death of independent retailers). Let’s not forget these guys support the races we do with prizes, sponsorship, race day stores – if we undermine them too much then will the races that we love so much start to struggle to find funding? It’s a vicious circle isn’t it?

Help me out visit an independent retailer today and maybe make a purchase – do you really have to look that hard to find Run and Become? Likeys? Ultra-Runner? UltraMarathonRunningStore? Castleberg Outdoors? George Fisher? Accelerate? Endurance Store? Jog Shop, Brighton? Give them a chance and help them out – if not for you then for me – because I shop in them and I want them to stay around.

Just a thought guys.

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