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My next few months of running already taking shape, my failure in the CCC hasn’t dampened my spirits for running and has actually only hardened my resolve to run in races I think I’m going to enjoy and to run them my way (probably talking too much and taking too many photographs – if I listen to the criticisms often levelled at me).

To help me overcome the disappointment of CCC I’m a late sign-up to Saltmarsh 75 – my first multi-day adventure – taking place in October and I’m thoroughly looking forward to taking 75 miles of mentally challenging flat running – this hopefully will put me in good stead for training for what I hope will be a successful ballot entry to GUCR (but that comes later). Post Saltmarsh I’ll be joining the ever awesome Traviss Wilcox at the Ranscombe 8hr timed challenge event. Here I’ll be hopefully be joined straight off of Kilimanjaro by @chiltondiva as she moves from mountain mastery to ultra running starlet. I’ll be hoping to wend my way round enough laps to run 40 miles or so but we will see. 

Staying with Traviss Wilcox and his oversized medals I’ll then be bumbling my way round the November Hugin Challenge looking for another 30 mile ultra distance and a 1:1 scale Viking ship sized medal – well I think that’s the scale!

Winter continues to be my favourite running season and I’ll be finishing the ultra year with the Saintelyon – my absolute ‘A’ race – this is the one I’ve been working towards and the one I’m looking forward to. I might even squeeze in a bit of pre-Christmas shopping while I’m there. I think failure here would be quite crushing but I really do have to turn up for this one as everything about it rings out ‘spectacular’ – well except the lack of medal. That should be the end of longer distance running for 2015, if it all works out that will have been 10 ultras attempted this year and 9 of them completed (fingers crossed).

However, I’m not leaving it there, January brings with it my second pop at Country to Capital (and I’ll be being joined again by the awesome @chiltondiva). I’m planning on this being an easy jaunt to get 2016 underway, perhaps run a better time and simply enjoy it a bit more. C2C is a personal favourite at a great time of year and it’ll be excellent to go back – though I’m hoping the toilet won’t be blocked this time around.

With C2C in mid-January I’m leaving February light on ultra distances as my own stupidity is likely to catch me out on the first weekend of March when I look to conquer the magnificent TransGrancanaria. I signed up to TransGC in a moment of madness the day before the start of the CCC when I saw Wendy offering a few euros off and a very blue t-shirt. Now I’m running the risk of another major ultra going a bit Pete Tong because of a lack of hot mountain experience. However, having examined the profile, done a bit of research and a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’ I should at least make a passable attempt at TransGC. 

And that’s my next six months sorted – obviously there will be an assortment of other races involved in keeping me active – I’ll probably do a Movember run, more than likely the awesome Vigo 10 miler and I’ll see if I can find a marathon to chuck in there too. But then what happens after TransGC? 

I have some ideas – the Isle of Skye Ultra looks properly amazing but is at the same time as GUCR, Devil of the Highlands also runs into conflict with other races. My favourite ultra St. Peter’s Way would be a lovely addition and if it runs the Leeds-Liverpool canal run might make an excellent replacement for GUCR which I doubt I would get a place in anyway. However, I might get a London Marathon place which would make the Hoka Highland Fling a problem but of the two I think the Fling would be more fun. There’ll be no Centurion races either in 2016 so I could try the 12 Labours of Hercules and some other 50 or 100s but the big decision would be between the 86 miles of The Ridgeway and Ring o’ Fire (both of which have been on my hit list for a while). There’s just so many and I don’t want to be trying to run them all.

So which should I run and do you have any good quality recommendations that are a bit out of the ordinary, probably not that many competitors and have awesome medals? I’m curious to see what’s out there.

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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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I realise the phrase Project: ThunderClunge might be a hint offensive to many but believe me it is very appropriate for the situation I find myself in and in fact Project: ThunderClunge will adapt its name in about 100 days to Project: ThunderPunch which in context is actually probably more offensive but hohum.

What I’m trying to say is that this thing is actually having an effect on my ultra running! Arse!

The Project has managed to knock a bloody big three month window in my schedule without even hinting at injuring me further than I already am and this has meant some rejigging of my running schedule for 2014 and I’m now hoping that my entry into the CCC doesn’t come off because that’s at the eye of the storm. With all this in mind I’ve therefore been looking to cram more running into the first half of the year and towards the back end of the year. Thankfully I’m lucky enough that things like Country to Capital, St Peters Way and SDW50 will remain unaffected and touch wood NDW100 won’t take a hit either. I should then just be coming out of the other end of Project ThunderClunge to be able to compete in the Winter 100 if Centurion ever make any more announcements .. I’m on edge about getting a place for that one .. anyway I was looking round for another 2 UTMB point run and had seen the Pilgrims Way and thought that would be ace but just my luck – it had sold out. I started the search again and not fancying travelling up to the Lakes or Wales because of the distance and difficulty in reaching the start lines I looked a little closer to home. Annoyingly the company Ultra Trails has now folded and so I couldn’t run with them again but there was the Race to the Stones which takes place not a million miles from my OHs parents home. I quickly checked with Twitter who described it almost universally as overpriced and a perhaps not the greatest race to run (especially of the ultra options in the area) and while I agree it is overpriced for the distance it fits in quite nicely with where I need to be and also my qualification aims for the 2015 UTMB. I’ve also managed to chat to a couple of chaps who had competed in it and their opinion that while it wasn’t the best route you’ll ever run it certainly wasn’t the worst and is a well organised and good event to do. Therefore I’m headed to the Race to the Stones in pretty good cheer, although £120 poorer, I’ll let you know in six months if I thought it was good value.

I’m now contemplating a few other bits to supplement my ultra running this year, probably highest priority is a triathlon and there are currently two that catch my eye, the first is the Bewl triathlon where I would hope to banish the much hated ‘Curse of Bewl Water’ and there is the Red Venom event in Southport, near Liverpool – this has the benefit of being near to my dad and I’d have a place to stay, transport, etc. Both have a lovely sprint distance available and there is the standard as well. The only other triathlon that I might consider would be the Midnight Man which is organised by the amazing people who brought us the Dartford Bridge 10km and they too have multiple distances available and I’m pretty sure I could be competitive at one of these.

In addition to this I’ve been invited down to the New Forest to run a 20 miler which could be good fun but the dates I think clash with other races in the season and so that one might be missed but I’m likely to sign up to both the British 100 and the Kent Roadrunner marathon because although I ran it last year I did rather enjoy it and both the National 100 and the Kent Roadrunner are at the Gravesend Cyclopark and I think a track base ultra marathon would be a uniquely excellent opportunity (or perhaps a very dull experience … we shall see). However, I’m normally the one hands out ideas for races but this year I’m a bit stumped, I’d like to a run more new races, so maybe the Ashford Half Marathon, but I fancy a few 10km, maybe a few adventure races like the Major Series or Wolf Run or even the Nuts Challenge but as with all of these there are only so many race days available and I have to be mindful of both my body and Project ThunderClunge.

So runners, what would you recommend for a race day this year? What are you running? And just how far will you push yourself?

I seem to have developed this habit of ruining myself before a race. My Achilles went a week before the Snowdonia Marathon, my back went just before the Thames Gateway 100 and I broke my foot on the White Cliffs 50 plus I’ve had puking fits at the Bewl Marathon and also the Windsor Trail Half Marathon. I thought it was just going to be 2013 but then on the 2nd day of 2014 I actually cut open my leg – one week before the Country to Capital ultra. I wonder if there is something inside me that says ‘UltraBoy you don’t want to race, here let me fix that for you by knackering part of your body’ but then the few days before my heart speaks to me and says ‘don’t worry UltraBoy you’ll make it, it doesn’t matter if you are in pain, if your hips and back are knackered and your knee bleeding, you’ll make it because you’ve got heart’. This time next week I’ll be on my way at the C2C, I’ll be going slowly because the knee wound needs not to open up on the route and because my back and hips are about as buggered as buggered can be.

It looks like 2014 is going to pick up right were 2013 left off, still I’m pretty fired up and focused and looking for more ultras to run and maybe even a few marathons as I look to hit my 20th marathon+ race this year.

Funnily I haven’t raced for over 2 months and I’ve really missed it and don’t feel that the time off has done me much good, hence why I can’t avoid the start line for C2C, some people are destined to greatness in this race but I know I’m destined to mediocrity at C2C but I’ll be the best I can be in my own mediocrity.

Wish me luck runners and enjoy another weekend of racing yourself. Ciao.

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