Archive

Tag Archives: endurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related

My legs were burning hotter than the pits of hades and the wind was howling like my nightmares but I was undeterred as I thundered towards the finish line.

After my exertions 6 days earlier at the Ambleside Trail 60 the thought of returning to running seemed a sensible choice and I’d seen the Tufty Trail Race advertised one evening and thought, ‘oh that’ll be fun a week after an ultra’.

The race was housed in the local village hall at Strathmiglo – a picturesque village in the north of Fife and surrounded by beautiful views. The Falkland Trail Runners were incredibly well organised and number collection was lovely and simple.

I took up residence in the hall in the hour before the race and watched as the runners rolled up. There were a lot of flimsy looking running vests and short, shorts that were entering the hall and I now wished I’d looked into the race a bit more as I suspected it was a bit hilly and the collection of mountain goats in front of me was more than a bit intimidating. Thankfully as my gaze wandered I noted other, like myself, less super athlete types and the atmosphere was both friendly and casual.

At a couple of minutes to 2pm we were ushered a few hundred metres to the start line in a field just up the hill from the village hall and after the race briefing and notices we were thrust up the field.

There were about 80 runners and all were looking for a clear way through the churned up farmers field as we sped away.

I concluded that I could stay at the back and just bimble around in my own good time or I could have a go despite my exhaustion. I chose the latter and hurtled as fast as I could upwards but I could already feel my legs burning and so it was with great joy that I heard the sound of cow bell and the start of a reasonably significant downhill.

There were runners who used the descent to gain ground on the runners ahead – but this would have been folly for me and so I trundled along, maximising what little energy I had.

I could clearly see the way the race was intended to work, uphill, around the trails a bit and then blast back to start. When we hit the trails proper – about a mile in – I pushed as hard as I could, which to be honest wasn’t very pushy but you get my drift. The good news was that the trails were genuinely beautiful and another day I would very much enjoy exploring them but for now I was keen to reach the turnaround point and stop the succession of fast runners from telling me, ‘well done, keep going’. Truth to tell I was envious of the wonderful stride of these amazing runners as they galloped along the route.

I may have moved like an old asthmatic donkey but I was still moving and I found myself in the fortunate position to be able to pace myself for short periods against other runners such as the lovely lady from Grangemouth Triathlon that I chatted with and this distraction allowed me to go faster – both mentally and physically.

However, the route had a final treat and that was a gentle climb back into the farmers field – here I met John who provided a cheery outlook for the final push. He, like me, seemed to be there for the fun of it and we briefly pounded the ground together before I found the afterburner…

Upon entering the field it was all downhill – and unlike at the start, when the descent came, I showed no sign of restraint – I opened the taps and hurled myself towards the fastest finish I’ve managed in ages. Both feet found themselves at a cruising altitude as I bounded to the finish and the sound of the tannoy and the throng of runners and supporters cheering as I crossed the line!

I’ll take 40m 51secs as my time, it might not be fast but it sure was fun and I still had more than 30 wonderful athletes who finished after me – that’s what I consider a race well ran.

Check out the Falkland Trail Runners, they have some fun looking events and they were a tremendous bunch putting on an inexpensive, wonderful, late summer run. Plus the bespoke medal, post race refreshments, great facilities and car parking were all very welcome.

Can’t wait to run another Falkland Trail Runners race.

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

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

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

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

img_1765

I therefore had high expectations for the event.

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

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

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

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

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

img_1742

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

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

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

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

gptempdownload-10

gptempdownload-8

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

gptempdownload-12

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

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

gptempdownload-1

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

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

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

 

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

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

img_1834

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

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

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

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

gptempdownload-4

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

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

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

Something I was very glad of.

img_1762

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

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

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

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

img_1775

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

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

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

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

img_1778

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

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

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

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

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

We had made it, I had made it.

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

Route
What they said about the route…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_1780

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

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

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

img_1774

Conclusion
Is this a great race? Not yet.

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

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

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

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

Check out the race details here

It’s been a weird week, I’ve had so few hours sleep that I can barely see straight, I’ve been working round the clock to meet my commitments at work and to get ready for job interviews in preparation for a move Scotland. Too this add the last ten days being dedicated to the final part of my beloved Spaniels life and well let’s say it’s not been the easiest period we’ve ever had. Theres been no running since the 28th January and to be fair I just haven’t felt like putting on my shoes and getting out there.

The problem was Vigo, my favourite race, my favourite route. However, I really wasn’t prepared for it physically or mentally. With every new thing that layered itself in life outside running pushed me further from the start line. However, when ThunderPad died I knew running Vigo would be a fitting tribute both to him (he loved mud and that part of Kent) and to pay homage to a race that I might be running for the final time (Scotland is a long way to come).

Seems I’d sold it into myself – back to the Vigo Tough Love 10 mile(ish).

Let’s briefly discuss the registration process which had a few issues. It seems the database and the numbers were the wrong way round – it was an admin error and I hope that anyone who ran it could see that guys worked tirelessly to get things working. Yes we started 40 minutes late but that time allowed the organisers to get on top of everything and also for the runners to get better acquainted. Stuff happens and these guys really pulled it out of the bag to get us running. Well done chaps.

But the race…

Was it still the stuff of legend? Was it still the race that I pencil in first when I’m planning my next years running? Is it still the best value and best fun event in the calendar?

I can save you the trouble of reading further and say, oh yes! You’ll never have more fun in your life than doing this tremendous race!

Here’s the overview

  • Pre-race despite the problems with registration the whole team pulled together to get the runners ready as quickly as possible. Well done
  • Arrived and immediately ran into the salty sea dog Gary!
  • Wonderfully wet route
  • The most enthusiastic and determined marshalling team
  • The uphills and the downhills are still the best around and they really do grind you to pieces
  • Beautifully clear Kentish views
  • A fabulous course
  • Mud everywhere
  • My Topo Athletic Terraventure were truly brilliant in the mud once again
  • The 10km runners were split off from the 10 milers pretty early which helped avoid to many pacing problems
  • Cool medal and another mars bar!
  • Incredibly well organised despite the hiccup at registration and there was regular communication from the organisers – they did everything right given the challenges.
  • Very well supported
  • Really excellent value

But the devil is always in detail and this is why it’s still my favourite race.

After the organisers had managed to successfully get everyone through the registration process we were mere minutes from starting. I took up my customary position at the rear and when the sound to go went off I slid my way forward with the other foolhardy souls.

The amble around the rugby field is an opportunity for some to burst forward, usually those who have never run it before or those going for the win. I was quite happy sat in the middle of the pack enjoying watching the surroundings go by. The thing about Vigo though is that if you let it then it will bite you on the bum and as early as the first leap over a log you could tell conditions would be treacherous but runnable.

The rain earlier in the week had sat heavily on the course and made the top layers of mud pretty damn slick and as I looked to avoid the worst of the first puddles I realised this was going to be futile and so sank my foot into the thick wet, muddy water. Woohoo I thought as I felt the freezing cold water pass through my Terraventure.

Splish, splash, splish, squelch, squerch I thundered across the ground watching the runners ahead of me and seeing the sections I should avoid. The good thing about going through the water is that it is probably the most stable section of the course – yes you run the risk of losing a shoe or two but it’s quicker than trying to go round the edge. Despite a bad back, no sleep, a week to forget and the toughness of the route I was making pretty good time and I passed through the 5km mark within 30 minutes.

Parts of the route were also dry enough to run through more quickly and here I made up time for the sections were conditions had caused delay. As I passed the many wonderful marshals I offered my own assessment that they, ‘hadn’t made it any easier since last year’ but with the downhills kicking in it felt like I was making swift progress across Kent. It wasn’t much later – probably 8 or 9km in that I felt the last few weeks really catching up on me and when I hit a fast downhill I knew that I didn’t have full control of my jelly like legs – that didn’t stop me thundering down though but the big road climb in the route did bring me to a stodgy halt.

I stomped up to the top and the water point, wishing I was closer to the finish. I had fluids and a jelly baby followed by a stern talking to myself before I set off again – legs exhausted and a minor hamstring pull. As I pressed on I enjoyed the views and the slightly slower running. It was about 3km later when my Vigo running buddy caught me up and grabbed me from behind saying, ‘let’s get this done buddy’ but even as we pushed on together I knew that I didn’t have the legs – still that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to put up a fight. I flew with all the dignity I could muster through the downhill and into the next field but the sight of the final climb in the corner of my eye made me poo myself just a little bit and I said goodbye to Mick.

The final couple of miles are spent in the knowledge that you’ve got the final ball busting hill to ascend and in the distance you can see a slow and slowing procession of exhausted runners making the best of it that they can. I took my time getting there as I knew there was no way I was doing it quickly and when I arrived I had a little joke with the marshal before giving it about five seconds of thrust! I descended quickly into a slow death march to the top but strangely even though I was going relatively slowly it was pretty consistent and conditions on the hill were such that this was a reasonable ascent. Lovely. As I reached the top I muttered to both myself and volunteers, ‘four times I’ve done this! You’d think I’d learn. Never again’ – there was laughter.

Last year I reached the top and gave it some welly but this year I was in pieces – my legs stumbled to get back into position and once we were moving it was fine. I knew that I was probably less a kilometre from the finish but I wanted to finish strongly and so ambled casually into the undergrowth of the final few turns. Here I met a lovely volunteer who got behind me and gave me a push when I looked like I was about to give up and from here I hit the afterburner – leaping across the log and into the home stretch. In the distance I could hear the sound of Mick shouting out my name and there was a runner about a hundred metres ahead of me. I flew like my life depended on it to try and catch him but he crossed the line a second before me. My sprint finish wasn’t quite as brilliant as it so often is yet unable to stop I charged towards the volunteers – coming to a less than dignified stop some metres beyond the finish.

What a race!

Caked in mud I shared an embrace with my long standing running friend Mick, his brother and also met his friend who described how he kicked on to take the race win a whole half an hour earlier than either I or Mick. Lovely chap and a very deserving winner.

Key points

  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Profile: Hilly, sharp ascents and descents
  • Date: February 2018
  • Location: Vigo, Kent
  • Cost: £20 (£25 on the day)
  • Terrain: Muddy, hilly
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route: It doesn’t get any better than this, the first mile or two is absolutely amazing whatever the conditions – you’re flying or falling through the thick oodles of mud. It drains you, it feels heavy but with every fibre of your body you know that this is the kind of race you’re going to adore based on this first section. The rest is simply a succession of ball busting up and down with very little respite but what it takes out you it gives back 10 fold and more. If you love running you need to do this route, preferably in this race.

Organisation: No complaints – even with a bit of an admin error (for which they massively apologised) the team got on with the job and made it happen (and as far as I can tell the chip times look pretty good). I hope nobody thinks different as they really bust a gut to get the race underway as fast as possible. In other terms the race start, the execution of the on course support, the finish line and the pre race marketing and social media meant that actually the race seemed even better organised than ever.

A special mention goes to the wonderful marshals and volunteers at Vigo Runners and the Harvel Hash Harriers who make this happen. I know that some complained a bit about the muddy parking but let’s put a bit of a spin on it – there was free parking and there were awesome cadets and other runners who helped push out the cars when we got a bit stuck! This race had a real air of community spirit – don’t change a thing!

Awards: Pretty cool medal, Vigo also had something different, my first one was pretty generic, the others a little more themed – this latest one looks like it could be a sex toy (if you look at it in the wrong light! Ha).

Conclusion: This remains my favourite race, the SainteLyon runs it so close but this has a place in my heart that just edges it ahead. The ten mile (and new 10km) distance mean this is a very accessible race. The route is hellfire tough, brutal in places but also super fast in others. It’s a race that can be whatever you want it to be and I hope this continues long after I have slipped off this mortal shell. Sadly my move to Scotland means I doubt I’ll be down for every running of this race but I suspect I’m not done with Vigo – my heart will draw me back. If you’ve run it you’ll hopefully know what I mean and be drawn back too and if you’ve never run it then you need to.

In memory of Thai: In my final words I’ll say that I ran this partly in memory of my beloved Spaniel who we lost earlier in the week – he loved the area and no matter how hard the race was I knew that if Thai were running alongside me (during a training run – race sadly not really suitable for Cani-X) he’d have been complaining that we weren’t reaching the next muddy puddle quickly enough. Thanks for keeping me going out there ThunderPad, miss you.

‘Oi, you’re going the wrong way’ came the call, this I thought was going to be a very long day.

We’ve all signed up to races without doing our due diligence and that was very much the case with the East Hanningfield Marathon – basically it was coming to the end of 2017 I hadn’t got any races booked in and I didn’t really fancy a third round of Country to Capital – so I signed up for this. I did know that Top Day events had put on a wonderful little event last year at Hockley Woods and having thoroughly enjoyed that I assumed it would be much the same again.

The GingaNinja had agreed to take me and, with ASK in tow, was going to spend the day doing family things in Essex while I ran. We rolled up to the village sports hall nice and early and already a couple of dozen runners were chatting and milling around. I picked up my number, narrative instructions and pins then rejoined the family with nothing but thoughts a pre-race toilet visit to keep me on my toes. The day warmed up nicely when the lovely Rachel Smith of SVN events came over to say hello and then Rob Haldane who I hadn’t seen in an age confirmed he would be at checkpoint 2 – this was clearly going to be a friendly race.

With the various greetings done and dusted I took a look over the narrative instructions – it had been nearly 5 years since I was last reliant on instructions but I hoped that my navigation skills had improved enough that this wouldn’t be a challenge – then I read then.

SA through WG WE with FLHS to FC through double WM KG but don’t XRD have LD in middle of RD wishing you were SWE having a POO not looking for a dog poo bin in a field followed by a BB but SA… it was a lot like that… Frantically I began trying to memorise the abbreviations and then read the instructions to myself but it was becoming a mess in my head and so I decided that I would ‘learn while doing’ and try and get to grips with the narration while moving.

At 9.30 we all bimbled outside into the chilly January air and after a short racing briefing were sent off to find our way home as quickly as we could. It all started pretty well, round the field, follow the guys in front and keep up with the instructions. It had been a heavy training week as I returned from the post festive season lull so I was expecting to be running very slowly but I was merrily making my way through the runners and nearing the pacy ones at the front. This was as much to do with taking the first sections slowly to ensure they were going the right way as it was the sheer excellence of my running.

The course was incredibly damp but the heavy rains had dried up enough to make everything slick and therefore progress was slow but this did provide an excellent leveller for people like me who, though not fast, can be consistent regardless of the conditions. I had chosen my Topo Terraventure as shoes for this particular event and they proved an excellent choice as they cut through the worst of mud and by about mile 2 I was beginning to feel at home.

Of course when you feel at home is when your eye comes off the ball and then boom – wrong way. Thankfully I noticed pretty quickly but even so this was a mistake I could ill afford to make and quickly doubled back about 500metres to see runners making a sharp left turn. Others followed but perhaps the more sensible runners simply carried on and rejoined their fellow competitors a little way further up but I didn’t want to get into those kind of navigational mishaps and stick to my plan.

I used some of my reserves to push myself back into the middle of the pack and reasserted my credentials as navigator through the instructions and pressed onwards. The route passed across roads, fields and waterways and as always Essex provided visual treats whichever way you looked. There may not be mountains in Essex but it is a beautiful county and once you’re into the greenery here it’s spectacular and I remember thinking as I ran into the checkpoint that I really needed to remember to look up – take some pictures, etc.

At the first checkpoint I stuffed my face with pretty much everything I could get my hands on and there was a fine selection of sweet and savoury treats and the very professional volunteering was much appreciated. With my self imposed three minutes being up I set off at a canter but dropped back a little from the chaps I had run the last mile with – they were clearly going to be right in the mix for a top ten finish – I just wanted to finish – though there would be a bit of back and forth with them on the journey to checkpoint 2.

It was here that I met Dave again, we had met briefly in the run up to checkpoint one but this time we made conversation covering by a bit of family and the like, others runners would pass by or we would overtake and there was a nice convivial atmosphere as the sun shone down and the cold wind whipped around us. Despite my generally good mood my legs could feel the burn during the second section and a lack of fitness aha mild over training in the previous week were catching me. Thankfully I was able to hold on to the coat tails of the runners ahead of me, this was now not so much a directional aid as an inspiration aid.

Landing into the second checkpoint brought me back to Rob and after a brief hello and grabbing as much food as I could Dave and I set off again. My companion and I while not attached at the hip trundled through the mud – never too far apart (though I’m very glad I wasn’t next to him when he lost his feet and took a tumble in some deep water – I didn’t want to bathe with him!) and from here we pretty much stayed around or about one another.

The road to checkpoints 3 and 4 were hard and leggy. I know that I was struggling in the claggy ground and my much loved Topo were choosing to carry the weight of the muddy fields beneath them rather than clear quickly but thankfully the company of Dave was deflecting from the exhaustion in my undertrained legs. However, as much as I loved Dave I could have killed him when he directed us down a path at the side of a Morrisons Supermarket – the trouble was that the fence had collapsed and we were required to crawl on hands and knees through the dog turd laden path! The worst 150 metres of running in over 150 races! Still all good fun.

There were a few miles left after our ‘tunnel’ experience and we ambled purposefully towards the finish – the unrelenting nature of the route meant that even these last few miles felt tough but I believe both Dave and I (and everyone else) will have had a brilliant time. Ambling in the direction of the finish we were passed by a couple of runners once more and waved then cheerily onwards as we made our way but less than a mile later we came to a crossing of the ways, in one direction we could see the village we were aiming for, in the other the two runners who had strode last us about 10 minutes earlier. In the distance we could see them questioning them their directions and decided that this answered our own quandary and we crossed the field.

Feeling rather chipper now, although I’d pulled a groin muscle at about mile 20 which was making things a bit unpleasant, we jogged and chatted our way through the last of the mud and into the glorious sight of the parked cars that the runners had left earlier. We were nearly there, a final last shunt and a stop at the finish line to ensure we crossed the line together.

Caked in mud and filled with joy we collected our medals and removed our footwear before disappearing off. I can’t recall if I thanked Dave for all of his support but without him I wouldn’t have run this nearly as swiftly or as easily – cheers geezer.

What a day.

Key points

  • Distance: Marathon
  • Profile: Nothing too severe, couple of hundred metres of climb
  • Date: January 2018
  • Location: Essex
  • Cost: £20
  • Terrain: Trail
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route: The route was really very interesting and varied, remaining on the trail for the majority of the race. It also took in some of the St Peters Way I believe, which I think is one of the best kept secrets in England for a really tough path to run. This is a highly recommended route. The self navigation element might be a worry for some (as it was for me) and the description looked incredibly daunting but when you’re out there and you’ve memorised a few of the abbreviations the it becomes much easier. Saying that though I still added a solid mile and a half additional distance to my journey with mistakes in my navigation.

Organisation: I’d run with Top Day Events at Hockley Woods last year and the organisation was immaculate and they replicated this over the longer distance with a well drilled and incredibly supportive team for whom nothing was too much trouble and it had an informally professional feel to it which made for a great day.

Support: Aid stations about every six miles and lots of sweet and savoury snacks available – it was a really good spread and the supporters, be they the volunteers or the runners individual supporters were fantastic.

Awards: Medal and some post race food and drink. Lovely. All nice and low key but perfect reflections of a perfect race.

Value for money: I rate value against criteria like the route, the medal, the experience, the support and of course the cost. Against all the above criteria this race is a class act and deserves to sell out year in, year out. It’s a great race, it’s great fun and a good reputation for it is very much deserved.

Conclusion: Low key, well organised, intimate, full of trail marathon runners who just love being out there and in the mess and a wonderful day for it made the East Hanningfield Marathon a real classic and worthy of your attention. Top Day really are putting on great little events with lots of heart, try them out and definitely consider giving the East Hanningfield brute a little go.

Keep up the good work guys.

After the South Wales 50 I wrote about how, mostly, my first half of 2017 had been pretty good with positives driving me forward towards my endgame and even the failures provided really useful information for future planning.

Sadly the second half of 2017 was a disaster.

I suppose the year unravelled when my partners mother passed away in early August and it all went a bit downhill from there.

I just didn’t turn up to the start line of the London to Brighton because of injury and exhaustion but had recovered enough in time to make hard work of the RunWimbledon Marathon. That proved to be my only September running at all and so my preparation for the Isle of Arran Ultra was woeful.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise when the race was cancelled less than 90 minutes in? But I had been making quite good progress and felt strong even if not amazingly so, despite my lack of match fitness. I had hoped that Arran and the running and hiking in Scotland would give me the lift I needed to commit to improving the second half of the year and even with Arran’s cancellation I enjoyed my Scottish running adventures going across numerous bloody enormous hills.

However, upon our return to Kent my running was sidelined by the worst chest infection I’ve had in years and while I battled through the first week of it the rest of October was a write off and I had to defer my entry to the Rebellion Ultra Marathon – once again through a lack of readiness. However, by the middle of November I had finally cleared the chest and I could resume some training and with less than 2 weeks before the SainteLyon I started to run again.

With a couple of biggish weeks in the bag I went to France and despite some truly hideous and in places dangerous conditions I ran the SainteLyon with all the gusto I could muster. It was a great feeling to be back in Lyon but even the joy of this outstanding race couldn’t hide my disappointment of a mere 2,000 miles run and a lot less racing than normal over the year.

However, though my 2017 ultra running ended in France there was to be a final run out as a family at the Mince Pi: A run of two decimal places. The GingaNinja had asked if we could find a race to do say 5km – the trouble is that to run together requires us to run with the toddler. Thankfully in Wacky Events we found an RD willing to allow us to race with our daughter being pushed on the Unirider!

This wonderful event proved to be the right year end to running, it involved my two favourite people, it involved trail running in winter and it has provided a bit of inspiration to the GingaNinja to kick on with her own personal fitness goals.

Can’t say fairer than that can you?

Highlights

  1. Returning to the SainteLyon
  2. Returning to Scotland for both racing and training
  3. Meeting Pete and Ryan at the South Wales 50
  4. Racing alongside ASK and the GingaNinja at the Westminster Mile
  5. Attempting MIUT and not letting failure break me

Lowlights

  1. The death of my partners mother
  2. The broken Petzl headtorch debacle at UTBCN
  3. The cancellation of the Arran Ultra
  4. Missing London to Brighton and The Rebellion
  5. Being ill or injured most of September through to November

So that was 2017 but what about 2018?

2018 looks like a very complex year in that we are going to try and move to Scotland for a better work life balance, the bonus for me will be proximity to the hills and mountains I love so much. However, the downside is that I need to not be racing so much – which is a disappointment.

The year has started well enough though with a New Years Day shakedown at the Lamberhurst 5km and the first weekend will bring the East Hanningfield trail marathon and there is a January 100 mile virtual challenge which should ease me back into bigger and bigger monthly miles.

February will be a return to the Vigo 10, which with a move so far north on the cards, may be my final return to my favourite race and then we have space in the calendar.

Thankfully I’ve put my bank account to damn fine use and entered the West Highland Way Challenge Race in May and The Rebellion will follow in November (as will a second crack at the Arran Ultra subject to it running again).

There are things I won’t return to though such as my reduction in racing/running over the summer, although it aided me in avoiding the sun I used it as an excuse to stop training and that wasn’t the idea.

The first half of 2017 had been so positive and I wonder if I hadn’t halted the momentum I had gained would my second half have been better – even given family circumstances at the time?

Still new year, no point moping about what has been and it’s now the 3rd January and I’m already 18.6 miles of running into my January 100 mile Virtual Challenge, woohoo!Having been reading lots of blogs and the like recently about the variety of adventures you’re all going in it looks like there’s some good stuff about to happen. Mostly I read them because I’m always keen to hear about your own adventures so I can try them myself and I’ve found some of my best experiences because I tried something you suggested to me or suggested to me I your own writing – so keep it up please!

Anyway, enough of this jibber jabber, it’s raining outside and blowing a gale so, ‘Let’s crack on and enjoy adventuring’.

Mince Pi Photographs: Hayley Salmon


I woke up in the Caledonian Sleeper train to a hot cup of tea and the smell of the outskirts of Glasgow to warm me as I prepared to join a group of suitably idiotic ultra runners on a race across the stunning northern Arran landscape – this was a race and an event I was very much looking forward to. At around 6pm I headed over the short stretch of water from mainland to the island and arrived as both the dark and the wet had caught up with me. However, with my accommodation some miles away I needed to get registered and ready for the race start at 6am the following morning. Thankfully  rather than reach the race registration I was sent over to the delicious pasta party a few feet across the road and my plans suddenly changed for the better.


It was here that the journey really started as the organisers welcomed the final stragglers to the inaugural Ultra Trail Scotland on the Isle of Arran. I grabbed a bowl of the delicious chicken and leek soup and chatted with Ross and James, two of the runners I’d met on the way up, to our left one of the chief race architects Casey Morgan was going through the race briefing with the Spanish contingent who had travelled over, some of whom were competing in the AlpinsUltra series of races, of which Arran was the final awesome stop.


We took a detailed race briefing from Andrew, who went through things in just the right amount of detail and ensured that we got to ask all the relevant questions.

Andrew also resolved some accommodation issues for both James and I as he said we would be welcome to share the bunk house space they had secured (as they had a couple of spare bunks). This meant that James didn’t have to camp and I didn’t have to travel halfway down the island in the rain with a heavy pack. Andrew and the team really didn’t have to do this, nor provide transport to the bunk house but they did and it would be fair to say that they went over and above their duty of care to the runners at every stage.

Race morning started at 4.30am, James and I dressed and left the bunk house for the mile hike up to the registration hall and arrived in time to catch a nervous merriment rolling around the runners. With just a few minutes before the scheduled 6am start we headed towards the coastline and boom we were off! 

Before I’d entered I hadn’t really known what to expect, hadn’t really known what kind of pace everyone else would be going and hadn’t assumed that I would get close to the finish and when we set off I realised how tough even the easy sections were likely to be.

I was running near to the front of the pack, half a dozen runners all striding forward as quickly as they could and although I knew I couldn’t maintain this pace I figured that given my uphill speed is atrocious I should make up for it in the flats and descents. However, the first piece of ‘flat’ was on the sandy beach – something of a nemesis for me – but I ploughed through following the speedgoats ahead of me until we heard the calls of the runners behind suggesting we had gone the wrong way! 1km in and already some of us had had navigational problems. We doubled back and rejoined the throng of runners and thankfully going the wrong way woke me up a bit and I slowed my pace to something more consistent with a middle aged man trying to stay youthful! Ha! I also fixed the mapping on my Suunto (which had gone a bit bonkers) because the field was small enough that I would inevitably lose sight of my fellow competitors and would need the GPX file working.

Despite the dark I could see the first climb up to Goatfell ahead of me and in the distance I could hear the rumble of a waterfall. It was here that I met James again and for a while we shadowed each other but keeping to our respective races. I was making decent time uphill, nothing spectacular but doing basic calculations in my head I was projecting that I should finish the race even accounting for significant slowing later in the day.

The ground below was wet, rocky and undoubtedly dangerous. I’ve come a long way in the last few years where I now feel confident and competent to run on difficult and more technical trails (even without my poles) and here I felt like I was in my natural environment and happy with it. Even my fresh out of the box Altra Lone Peak 3.5 were loving these trail ascents and Altra proving once again that you can put them on for the first time in a race day and thankfully not encounter any shoe problems.

In the distance I could see head torches flickering periodically and I pushed on to try and make up ground on them but the weather was closing in around us. Despite this though I was able to switch my headtorch off and use the dim dawn light to guide me.

It was then that some of the frontrunners appeared before me – heading down. I asked what was wrong, wondering if they needed aid but they simply shouted ‘fini’. I assumed they were calling it a day and so pressed on a little further until more runners came at me, ‘race over – it’s too dangerous, they’ve made a safety call, the ridge isn’t passable, even Casey can’t find the path safely’.

I looked up for a few moments and despite only being 150metres from the first summit I knew it was dangerous as visibility had dropped to next to nothing. I was disappointed and deflated and weighed up my options a) hike back feeling sorry for myself b) continue onwards without the race support but be a clear danger to myself and the rescue teams or c) hammer the downhill home and run this like a gud’un!


Well I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself, not in these stunning surroundings and I certainly wasn’t going to endanger life and limb so it was the final choice – hammer it home and have some fun.

I turned on my heel and gave chase to a couple of the runners ahead of me and thundered as quick as my feet could carry me downhill. Leaping over rocks, slipping and sliding around but ultimately in control I was having a blast – my only complaint being that I knew it would end far too soon.

The light was now up and for the first time I could finally see Arran and the mountains behind me showed off their majesty – it would have been brutal but brutally amazing.

I arrived back to the faces of runners and organisers, all being incredibly professional, all incredibly disappointed. Tea, bacon and egg sandwiches and support flowed throughout this small, hardy community and ultimately it was the right decision to cancel the race.

I was grateful just to have gotten out there and seen even a tiny fraction of this wonderful island and I’ll be going back because this is a race to do. Thanks Ultra Trail Scotland – you guys have an amazing race on your hands and with a bit of nurture you’re going to have a great event next year – see you there.

Key points

  • Distance: 71km
  • Profile: Ballbusting ascents and descents
  • Date: October 2017
  • Location: Isle of Arran
  • Cost: £80
  • Terrain: Mixed, trail, muddy trail, off trail, boggy, technical – basically the lot
  • Tough rating: 4.5/5

Route: I didn’t get to run the whole route, in fact I barely got started before the race was cancelled amid concerns for runners safety due to the weather and visibility. However, the section I did run (and my subsequent bits of running around the island) showed Arran to be the kind of place you need to run and the route selected by the organisers promised nothing but the best that Arran and perhaps Scotland has to offer. If you’re an ultra runner this route will not disappoint and if you want a shorter Arran test there’s the vertical and the 25km.

Organisation/Marketing: The organisation was first class, Andrew, Casey, Noreen and the rest of the team really covered everything during our time on Arran and as well as supervising the races they looked after everyone too in the pre-race and in the aftermath of cancellation. You really couldn’t have asked for any more from them.

One thing though as a thought for next year is the marketing of the event – I would love to see this grow, be a success and become a regular on the ultra calendar but I only found out about this because I saw the Rat Race version but knew I wanted a more intimate event – but I had to dig to find this event. So please get the word out as far and wide as you can because if you like a bit of bog and a bit of climbing this is the run for you!

Conclusion: I might not have finished but I had an amazing time, met some amazing people and got to run part of an amazing route. Ultra Trail Scotland deserves another crack with decent weather (or just not really shitty weather – annoyingly the weather on the days either side was pretty damn good). This is going to be a top drawer event in the future and you’re all going to want to be a part of it! As a special note I’d like to thank everyone involved for making this the most awesome and weirdest 40th birthday present I could ever have gotten for myself.

You can find out more by visiting the website ultratrailscotland.com or find them on Twitter as ‪@findadrenaline ‬

gptempdownload-20
And the rock cried out no hiding place. And it was correct, in ultra marathons there is no hiding place – especially from yourself.

The question I’m asking myself is, have I stopped hiding and am I making forward progress? Well the last six months are the first real test of that question – so how did I fare?

The 2017 halfway point: I love running, I hate running – it’s a perfect balance and 2017 has, so far, given as much as it has taken at the halfway point.

I’m not going to dwell on two DNFs (I’ve done that enough) instead I’m considering the huge positives I can take from my first six months of the year and look forward with enormous pleasure to my second six months.

The good

  • Finishing my third Vigo 10
  • Running on awesome trails in Barcelona and Madeira
  • Completing the Hockley Woods Challenge, Marlborough Downs Challenge, South Wales 50, Amersham Ultra and Escape From Meriden
  • Running the Westminster Mile twice, once with the family, once solo
  • Managing to get a medical certificate signed
  • Being told my heart is in tip top condition
  • Losing 6kg in weight
  • Deciding that, as a family, we need to move to Scotland and be closer to the mountains

The Bad

  • Failed to complete a race purchase therefore missing out on Winter Tanners
  • Let down by failing Altra Lone Peak 3.0
  • DNF at Madeira
  • DNF at Barcelona
  • Petzl head torch failure at the first time of in race usage
  • Put on 3kg in weight

The good stuff has been really, really good and the bad stuff has been a bit ‘meh’ I mean it’s not like the world caved in – it’s just running.

The South Wales 50 probably serves as the ultra highlight for me because I met two wonderful runners, had an awesome time and finished in a reasonable albeit not exceptional time. But the real highlight was having UltraBaby banging out a mile in a decent time and fully understanding the concept of racing and earning her reward – I was both a proud parent and runner at that moment.

The low point was obviously going to be Barcelona and realising I was going to have to DNF on a technicality rather than for running reasons – I was pretty furious and disappointed.

However, despite my misadventures I feel like I’m making positive progress towards my endgame and I knew before I started on this segment of the journey that failures would be fairly regular.

Perhaps my regret in my racing over the last six months is that Meriden killed off any chance I had of taking part in the South Wales 100. But this did set me up for a truly outstanding experience on the 50 with Ryan and Pete. South Wales was also a really good finishing point for the end of the first half of the year as it felt like I have properly succeeded at something and it means that mentally I go into preparations for my coming races and training with a positive attitude.

Upcoming
It’s a bit weird really, much like the start of the year I’m effectively having two months off where I can focus on training and family without the interruption of racing.

Therefore July and August will have a series of long runs on the outskirts of London and across Kent to prepare me for racing again which begins in early September with the return of the London to Brighton race.

The time off from racing will I hope get me through the summer without a case of serious dehydration or further DNFs as I found last summer and the one before to be a dreadful time for racing.

Ultimately I have reduced the amount of racing I do and I am seeing some benefits but there’s still much improvement to make, the challenge now is to improve my results in the second half of the year and continue to have a bloody good time.

Testing myself 

September London to Brighton will be a test of pace. Can I knuckle down enough to complete the 100km in under 14hrs? And can I navigate the course well enough to end up where I need to be. Given that I’ve clearly lost ‘half a yard’ to use a football reference and my navigation skills, although improving, are still not amazing, I will be very pleased to get through this unscathed. 

October Ultra Trail Scotland: Arran was the final race in my 2017 calendar to be confirmed and I can’t wait. At only 75km this should be a fairly simple test but with a little over 5,000metres of positive elevation this is set to be as brutal as the section of MIUT that I ran and anything but simple – the difference is that this will be autumnal Scotland not a pleasant spring day in Madeira. 

November The Rebellion sees me head to Wales again in November for a bit of a bimble through the hills. At 135miles this will be the longest distance I’ve tackled and I’m not intending to be quick but I’m also not planning on using the full 72hr time allocation. I signed up for this after the bitter disappointment of dropping from the SW100 to the SW50. Looking forward to this one.

December SainteLyon is my favourite race and I’ll be returning for more midnight shenanigans in Lyon. I’m sure I’ll still be a giant puddle of mess after The Rebellion but this glorious race fills me with unexplainable joy. I’m hoping to improve on my time from my first attempt but I’ll simply be pleased to returning a city and an event I really did fall in love with.

So that’s my second half of the year – four races left that cover mountains, speed, distance and love – you can’t ask for much more really.

But what about you? How has your running been so far this year? All going to plan? None of it going to plan? What’s left in the race calendar? and most importantly are you having fun? 

Happy running. 


Skye Trail Ultra (The Ridge)
‘It’s this way’ I called over to Neil and pointed southwards and then I looked down, the descent was terrifying and amazing in the same instant, being awestruck though was soon replaced by the reality that I had to descend this.

SainteLyon (highest point)
From the viewing point, at 3am on a cold December morning, I stopped to turn back and watch the twinkling of thousands of head torches in the distance gently lighting up the trail. C’est magnifique!

St Peters Way (The final push)
Darkness was upon me and a gale blew me from pillar to post. The gentle final shaft of light cast a foreboding shadow of the finish line and church in the distance. It was the most beautiful finish.

Vigo ‘Tough Love’ 10 (That Hill)
‘Don’t worry, it’s not that bad’ said an older fell running type when describing the final hill of the Vigo 10. With absolute clarity I remember creaking my neck skywards to see the top of the hill, what a sight, what a hill, what a route!

What do all these things have common? Well they were my first experience of some section of a race route and always under race conditions and most importantly the first sight of some of the most spectacular views available.

I’ve often gone back to races I’ve loved – Vigo (favourite race) and the SainteLyon (favourite ultra) are prime examples but no matter how much I love these races none of them will be able to capture the awe, joy and delight I had as I saw the route for the first time. There is something special about your first time, even if it’s not your best result at that race or it doesn’t go to plan – there’s magic in a first go at any race.

Racing fresh
I would be lying if I said I had never done a recce but on the few occasions I have I’ve found that rather than enhance my experience of a race it actually takes something away from it. Perhaps it is that when you live for the unknown, the discovery and the curiosity then having those things taken away in race removes the enjoyment (for me).

The thing is I have a belief that there is nothing better than the first moment I pass across an amazing vista, run an amazing piece of trail, soak myself in a muddy puddle and lightning, in my opinion, never strikes twice.

It’s for this reason that I don’t get running a race route in preparation. I mean why would you?

Obviously…
I understand if you’re at the front of the pack chasing the prize of a win or a high placing – you want every advantage possible and knowing where you are headed and what you’ll face will certainly count as an advantage. But if you’re a bit like me, middle of the pack bimbler, then maybe like me, you’re there for the experience of being amazed and challenged. I wonder if you any of you feel that foreknowledge of a route can deflate the joy of that?

I’m also aware that some do it for the enjoyment and some do it for the feeling of security. But if I did it I would feel as though I was robbing myself of moments I’ve come to cherish.

There is a solution…
For those that want it though there is an obvious solution to save the route while at the same time condition oneself to the terrain you’re running and that’s simply to run in as close to race conditions as possible. When I rocked up to the CCC I went running in mountains that might mimic the conditions I’d face but I didn’t go anywhere near the Monte Bianco until race day.

When I ran The Wall I spent the week prior running in the rain soaked Lake District bouncing around Grizedale, Skafell Pike and others but I didn’t get near the north of the Lakes to tackle the route.

I’d therefore picked up a bit of relevant local information without compromising my enjoyment of the event – but this isn’t always practical when you race a lot or the location is a bazillion miles away. I just don’t worry about it (that said my arse is a bit quivery about having never run on the Brecon Beacons next weekend!)

Why I’ve never run the North Downs Way… I’ve been asked why, despite living so close to it that I don’t train (often) on the North Downs Way and I’ve never really had an answer but as I was reflecting on the writing for this post I realised why – I’m waiting for a single day race to take place there that I really want to do.

Surprise yourself… I guess I’m not suggesting that you give up the preparation for races – that would be silly and counter productive for many but I’ve met lots of runners who get so caught up in the detail of a race that they forget to look up and admire their surrounds and the last time I checked running was supposed to be fun. During Escape From Meriden I met a young gentleman who when I asked why this race, he responded, ‘well you get to see new things don’t you?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

So with the weekend upon us, whether you are racing or not maybe go left instead of right, look upwards instead of down and make sure you ‘see new things, lots of them!’


I was going to review the Lone Peak 3.0 but then realised that actually the more useful thing to do might be to look at my experience of running across the Altra trail range. This review and comparison will look at the Altra Superior 2.0, Olympus 2.0 and Lone Peak 3.0 in which I’ve run at least 200 miles in each across a wide variety of terrain and conditions.

My introduction to the Altra trail experience 

Superior 2.0 It was a warm day in June when I first put my Superior 2.0 on, I’d bought them as a speedier alternative to the Lone Peak 2.0 – where the LP felt plush these felt more like moccasins, something you might find Native Americans wearing in the Old Wild West! As is often the case with Altra they sent the UK the boring colour way – grey with a hint of green and there was an air of wearing old ladies Hotter shoes rather than the latest innovative low profile trail running shoes.

Anyway I was at one of my usual haunts and set off on a short 10km trail run (a trail run that I put all new shoes through) and we danced across the logs, bounded across the dry, hurtled through the damp and came unstuck in the wet mud! Uphill they were kind to my toes and grippy and downhill they felt stable enough but with a backend that needed a bit of control.

The Superior feel like fast footwear, you don’t forget you’re wearing them despite having the same upper comfort levels of other Altra shoes – perhaps it’s the more tigerish feel of putting on a pair of runners that you know are built to go a bit quicker.

Lone Peak 3.0 I opened the box and looked down and went ‘wow’. Altra has finally delivered a shoe I could simply look at and think ‘OMG’. The LP3.0 was a big departure from the second series. Yes, I’m not made keen on the blue or the black colour ways (the only ones available in the UK) but I wanted to ensure they were bought from an independent UK retailer.

I knew I’d be delighted to take them out for a spin but it turned out that the first chance I’d get to use them would be on race day at the Chislehurst Chase. Now we all know the thing about not wearing them straight out of the box for something like a race but I felt confident in them and I knew the route as it used to be an old stomping ground of mine.

Within seconds of bounding our of the starting line I realised that the Lone Peak was an improvement and a half on the previous editions but it would it replace the LP2.0 as my Altra of choice?

img_2494

Olympus 2.0 Riding high like Zeus above the mere mortal men on the trail here I came in my mighty Olympus 2.0 (or so I thought). I had bought these with the Skye Trail Ultra specifically in mind. The Olympus it turned out were not the best choice for this race but they have proved to be a prudent choice for less gnarly routes.

The Olympus were as difficult to find in the UK as the Lone Peak 3.0 and in this instance I really did want an exciting colour and so bought them from France as they had the blue and neon yellow version. The most interesting advance in the Olympus over previous versions (and the reason I was willing to give them a go) was the Vibram outsole and more aggressive approach to the lugs.

Hitting the trails you could instantly see that the new, more cultured outsole was going to be of benefit and the level of comfort from all the A-bound technology sitting between you and the trail was ridiculously sumptuous.

img_4928

So what do Altra say about each of their footwear?

Superior 2.0
Why mess with perfection? Last year’s award-winning favorite is back with the same look and feel as its predecessor, but with new color options and sidewall reinforcement. The FootShape™ toe box lets your toes relax and spread out in uphill and downhill trail conditions while the fully cushioned Zero Drop™ platform helps you maintain proper form across long distances. TrailClaw™ outsole technology features canted lugs beneath your metatarsals for ultimate gripping in gnarly terrain. A removable StoneGuard™ rock protection plate protects your feet from sharp rocks and is removable for use on less demanding terrain.

  • Sizing: Slightly Short
  • Weight: 8.7 oz./247 g.
  • Stack Height: Height: 21mm
  • Sizes 7, 8–13, 14, 15
  • Cushioning: Light
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Backpacking, Off Road Racing
  • Designed to Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Platform: Natural Foot Positioning: FootShape™ Toe Box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop™ Platform
  • Midsole: EVA/A-Bound™ Blend with InnerFlex™
  • Outsole: TrailClaw™ Sticky Rubber Outsole
  • Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed with Removable StoneGuard™ Rock Protection
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Air Mesh
  • Other Features: GaiterTrap™ Technology

Lone Peak 3.0
Named after eleven thousand feet of pure Utah peak ruggedness, the Lone Peak 3.0 is the latest version of the trail shoe that started it all for Altra. We added additional protection to the upper for increased durability and protection when the trail starts to bite back. The outsole has been re-designed and spec’d up with the all new MaxTrac™ outsole, offering more grip in all conditions. The StoneGuard™ has been sandwiched between the midsole and outsole to offer extra protection from those rocks trying hard to go after your feet. And your toes will be loving life in the luscious FootShape™ toe box up front. The legend continues with the Lone Peak 3.0.

  • Weight: 9.7 oz. /275 g
  • Cushioning: Moderate
  • Stack Height: 25mm
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
  • Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Platform: Foot Positioning: FootShape™ Toe Box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop™ Platform
  • Last: SD6
  • Midsole: EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
  • Outsole: Altra MaxTrac Sticky Rubber with TrailClaw™
  • Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Air Mesh
  • Other Features: Sandwiched StoneGuard™ Rock Protection, Natural Ride System, GaiterTrap™ Technology, No-slip Sock Liner Design

Olympus 2.0
You asked, and we delivered. Our popular, max-cushioned trail shoe returns with a completely revamped Vibram® Megagrip outsole and a softer, more flexible upper. The new outsole dramatically enhances traction in uphill and downhill terrain while maintaining the max-cushioned feel you love. Traction and durability improvements have also led to a reduction in weight over its predecessor for a faster ride. An impressive 36mm stack height runs evenly from front to back and features an A-Bound bottom layer to add a spring to each step and EVA™ top layer to take the bite out of the rugged terrain. And like every Altra shoe, the FootShape™ toe box keeps your feet happy, relaxed, and stable through uphill climbs and downhill descents.

  • Improved Traction
  • Less Weight
  • Sizing: True to Size
  • Weight: 11.0 oz./ 312 g.
  • Cushioning: Max
  • Stack Height: 36mm
  • Sizes: 7, 8–13, 14, 15
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
  • Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Last: SD6-M
  • Midsole: Dual Layer EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
  • Outsole: Vibram® Megagrip
  • Insole: 5mm Contour Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Trail Mesh
  • Other Features: Natural Ride System, GaiterTrap™ Technology

 Much has been made of the foot shaped toe box and the zero drop, both intended to enable a more natural running form and having been a runner who has run extensively in zero drop shoes and Vibram Fivefingers I can tell you that the Altra way has helped me achieve a better style of running form, especially when I’m tired – I don’t breakdown nearly as quickly.

img_4935

Superior Opinion?
The Superior are a great shoe, I use them for XC and shorter distance races (10, 12 miles) I don’t run ultra marathons in them even though I probably could. The lower profile offers the greatest connection to the trail but it also offers the least protection and you can feel this. Everything has been stripped down from the tongue right through to the upper – this is not a criticism but an observation. In my opinion the Superior benefit greatly from this more stripped down approach as they really do feel quicker than their trail siblings and have a lot in common with the Inov8 Trailroc.

The fit is generous around the toes  – as you might expect – this being the Altra USP, the heel cup is a little loose (a problem some find with Altra), the trail gaiter remains a great asset and the grip is reasonable.

The upper is an improvement on previous versions of the Superior but is still not amazing, the overlays in the latest version of 2.0 seem to have addressed this a little but I expect that Altra will need to consider a bit of an overhaul once again. The upper is remarkably comfortable though (again much like the Inov8 Trailroc 235) and it does feel like a lovely pair of slippers as you run round the trails. The upper drains and gets nice and dry quickly too which for someone like me is a real bonus.

The issue I think most will have will the Superior 2.0 is the grip – in the UK were things like rain and mud exist the Superior struggle to get traction and can become a little bogged down. However, in the dry or through the moist trail they’ll confidently take on everything that you thrown at them and you’re feet will feel like they’ve enjoyed the experience.

In terms of longevity and durability you might find that these aren’t going to last like an old pair of Walsh – they are far from bombproof. This could be said of both the upper and the tread as both will ear down pretty quickly. My boss who owns a pair of Superior says that the tread has already started to peel away after only 100 miles and my pair once they reached 200 miles looked a little abused. There was also soome gentle fraying on the upper by 200 miles and given the mileage I will put in this makes the Superior seem like an expensive shoe.

However, they remain fun and lots of it.

Best for: Cross Country, shorter trail running, dry trail, faster trail running

IMG_4003.PNG

Peak Opinion?
The Lone Peak are the trail shoe that have saved my feet, I realise this is a big statement but its true. I started with the Lone Peak 2.0 (several pairs) and loved them to bits.I ran the Thames Path 100 in them straight out of the box, having never tried Altra before and never looked back. Lots of runners, including the excellent review ‘Ginger Runner’ suggested that the Lone Peak 2.0 felt more like a skater shoe than a pair of running shoes – he had a point. However, the upper, support and overall feel as well as the visuals of the LP2.0 were stunning. My first pair ran well in excess of 1,000 miles before they even began to consider retirement (they still run today but only on training runs).

img_2334

With the 3.0 though the Lone Peaks have undergone something of a transformation. More overlays, less heel cup (so less skater shoe feel), revised grip, Abound material for support but with all the things you previously loved. The visuals have also gone for a more Americanised look, throwing out some of the more understated ‘European’ feel of the 2.0 and 2.5.

The rewards for this effort can be felt almost immediately on the trail. The LP3.0 is lighter, faster, better fitting and better at dealing with muddy terrain than ever before. It’s the shoe you always wanted from Altra and so far none of the problems (other than its a bloody expensive shoe).

I’ve committed to several hundred miles in this shoe since I bought them (the moment they arrived in the UK) and each run has given me comfort and pleasure in a way that not even my much loved yellow LP2.0 could. It’s things like the attention to detail I love, the little clip for the gaiters on the front of the shoe and obviously the trail gaiter trap on the reverse, the removal of the ridiculous rudder continues and the graphics lifted partly from the 1.5. What’s not to like?

The shoe also now comes in a pertex and a booted version. The boot version looks like it’s going to try and take on the Hoka Tor series and the Pertex version of for those of you that are insane enough to wear them – seriously who wears waterproof shoes, once it’s gone over the top its like your feet have gone for a swim and aren’t getting out the pool!

With the right marketing and supply chain these shoes should be taking over the trail running world but Altra seem to have an issue, especially in the UK with both its communication and its stock levels (this needs to be cleared up because growth through word of mouth alone will not overhaul Hoka, Inov8 and Salomon).

Great shoe, more of the same please.

Best for: Ultra distance, long slow trail runs, hiking, mud and mayhem!

DSC_6015

© Gareth Jones

13346346_10209527604136711_8461717772103275833_o

© Fiona Rennie

MIghty Olympus?
The Olympus are pictured above taking on the demands of the first 30 miles of the Skye Trail Ultra and what a great pair of shoes they are. Not perhaps the best choice for the first 30 miles of Skye but my word they’ve covered themselves in glory ever since – especially during the Brutal Enduro and several very long training runs on and around the North Downs Way. Having not tested the earlier versions I had no comparison for the Olympus but the main issue seemed to have been with the 1.0 and the 1.5 was that the grip was shockingly rubbish.

So Altra gave us a Vibram outsole! In the picture below you can see the toe bumper and the depth of the lugs on the Olympus 2.0 – you’ll also see the new leg pattern from the LP3.0 (wouldn’t mind seeing a vibram version of this!) There’s a couple of different compounds too which do much the same job as say Inov8’s Tri-C but basically its got hard and soft sections to deal with the different types of terrain you’ll be facing.

img_4939

The Olympus has a big stack height (36mm) so its clearly built for the long slow journeying rather than the faster more trail intimate experience of the Superior but that’s not to say that you don’t get feedback from the route because you do – just not quite so telling on the feet as with a less supportive shoe.

The good news is that after several hundred miles both the upper and the outsole are wearing well. I have yet to find any significant durability issues and believe me I enjoy taking my running shoes through the nasty kinds of trails and I’m always on the lookout for wet mud and hills (preferably both) to give them a good test. The grip is impressive mostly (other than in the thickest mud, but very shoes deal with this well) and overall the Olympus are a kick arse pair of shoes.

As a previous wearer of Hoka I can tell you that Altra (rather than Hoka) have got the maximal shoe right (for me at least). Stable, fun, faster than you expect and they look the business rather than like clown shoes!

img_2421

Best for: Ultra distance, long slow trail runs

So which would you go for?
For me that’s really easy – I’d have all three but if I was only going to have one then I’d go for the classic Lone Peak 3.0, a tremendous shoe.

However, each of the Altra trail shoes does something quite unique and I like having them all for both training and racing.  I still believe that Altra is a niche product and not suited to everyone so I’d always advocate a try-before-you-buy if at all possible but if you are looking to dump the Hoka because they don’t feel stable enough, your feet have been bruised to buggery by the lack of cushioning on your Inov8 or you simply want a change from the black and red of Salomon then these might be the choice of shoe for you.

Remember too that while I’ve been looking at these very much from the ultra running perspective they are equally at home on the shorter trails

Where can I try Altra?
There are a number of stockists including (other stockists are probably available);

Do Altra (or their stockists or anyone) pay you or give you kit to write this?
Thankfully no.


Well Tweeters, Facebookers or bloggers Mary (ahealthiermoo) suggested I answer a few questions about myself so I’ve done so. I’m not sure if you’re going to learning anything about me but what the hell here goes. If I had to suggest anyone I’d like to answer similar questions it would be @SarahCRunning, @ultrarunnerdan, @chelseagreg73 and @ChiltonDiva

1. What made you decide to start blogging?
I had been blogging under a different pseudonym for about 18 months but that had become confused with my life as a graphic designer and so I quit blogging, plus I’d also started to receive enough unkind comments that having my head above the parapet seemed unwise. It was at the suggestion of a friend that I consider returning under a different more anonymous guise and so UltraBoy (and subsequently UltraBaby, The GingaNinja and ThunderPad) was born. I started blogging because I wanted to write about my experiences of running – the good, the bad and the indifferent. It didn’t and doesn’t matter if it gets read as it serves very much as a record book of my time in running. I’m lucky that I have an audience for the things I write but if nobody but me read it I’d still do it. Wouldn’t you?

2. Have you ever met any other bloggers in real life before?
Strangely I’ve met lots of the bloggers, tweeters, Instagrammers and Facebookers that I follow – most by chance. For example, Mary, who nominated me to write this post, I met when I looked up to the number collection table at Country to Capital and there she was.
I’ve been very lucky in meeting my fellow bloggers (and usually runners) most have been kind, warm and with time to give and I hope that’s what I’ve been able to return (oh and some poo stories). I’d draw particular attention to the likes of UltraRunnerDan, Abradypus, Susie__Chan, Borleyrose, Conwild, RunnARGHHH, ChiltonDiva and Em1506 as examples of runners it had been my pleasure to spend time with and there are some I’m very much looking forward to meeting (when I feel less fat) such as ChelseaGreg and DT_76

3. How many blogs do you follow?
Too many, I link to most of them on my own blog but the ones I read on a semi regular basis I keep open as windows on my phones browser and I can then just dip in when it’s been a while. I’ve got favourites abradypus, ahealthiermoo, dreaming of footpaths and fat-to-fit have been consistently my favourites since I started blogging and I keep hoping that one day the Wonky Wanderer would get hers up to date or that @sarahcrunning would start writing a running blog as I’d find that fascinating I think.

I tend not to follow blogs that are all about numbers or detailing the excruciating minutiae of a race – I like to read about experience and life and so the blogs I follow are the ones that do that best.

4. As today is A level results day, what did you take for your A-levels? (Or GCSEs if you didn’t take A-levels)
Now that’s long and complicated – I studied all sorts of stuff at GCSE, 11 different subjects that I barely remember what they were and then started A levels in Art &Design, information technology, History and maybe Maths (I don’t really recall). However, a very public argument with the headteacher one afternoon about the treatment of one of his own staff set me on a different path and I went and studied Art & Design elsewhere, eventually becoming the designer I’d always wanted to be.

5. Describe your perfect ‘day off’.
I don’t have a perfect day off – I just have things I’d like to be doing so it could be buggy running, ultra running, training runs… running might feature heavily in this answer. There are other things though too, I paint, illustrate, photograph – craft basically. In my younger days I cut quite a swathe across a dance floor both at nightclubs and in a slutty tango but I don’t feel the need to do this so much anymore.

If there’s one thing though that will make a perfect day it is ‘being curious’

6. What has been your favourite running experience?
There are a few, in race terms I think the SainteLyon just pips the Skye Trail Ultra to the award simply because it didn’t hurt as much and it felt like a great big middle finger to extremism – coming as it did just three weeks after terrorist atrocities in France. The fact that it was a truly brilliant race obviously makes it pretty special and it helped to erase the terrible memories of the CCC. There are other things though, racing my Spaniel because he’s awesome and the first time I took UltraBaby running (aged 3 days old).

There’s almost too many to go into really but basically I’ve had a great time running.

7. At what point did you realise that you were no longer a non-runner?
I’ve always considered myself a runner, but still to this day I’m very much a fun runner – I remember school sports days and being quick, the 100metre sprint at secondary school and running significantly under 12 seconds, the first time I ran 10km was in Preston in 2004 and all of these memories made me feel increasingly like a runner.

8. Are you a fan of obstacle races?
Who doesn’t? My first race since I returned to running in 2011 was the Grim Challenge and I’ve loved a good OCR ever since. Interestingly I prefer an OCR with natural objects rather than man-made challenges therefore the Grim will always win out over something like Survival of the Fittest.

9. What has been your largest fitness expense?
There’s been a few wastes of money which would certainly fulfil the requirement of ‘largest fitness expense’. There was a gym membership which I had for a year and never used or there is my excessive collection of shoes – currently I have 35 pairs of shoes on the go, there was also the entry to TransGranCanaria which I decided was a race I couldn’t compete in this year.

Therefore, foreign ultras will always qualify as my largest fitness expense but my favourite big fitness expense will be the £700 I spent on the Mountain Buggy Terrain (and accessories). However, the running buggy has proved a great investment as UltraBaby and I do enjoy hitting the trails together and those are memories I hope we will both cherish for the duration of our lives.

10. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?
I haven’t spoken to my mother in 20 years – I should thank her.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had been a good day.

Look at the size of this bloody medal!

Key points

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

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

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

 

You’ve got to test yourself and even I’ll concede that, occasionally, you have to do some training. This weekend was all about preparation for the Ridgeway Challenge and so in good spirits, early on Sunday morning, I headed out to the Vanguard Way Marathon.


I was joined on my quest for my next marathon medal by the GingaNinja and UltraBaby who had come along as my support team. Although for the purpose of this story UltraBaby will be retitled as ‘Klingon Rudolph’ due to her big red nose and bashed forehead caused a day earlier by a trip in the garden.


We arrived at Lloyd Park just after 8.30am to a few runners and the start line – I collected my number and was offered the option of some jelly babies or, in a slightly unusual turn, a dip into the shared pot of Vaseline. They had clearly read about my exertions at Endure 1250.

With number in hand I dipped into the excellent change and toilet facility and lubricated heavily to avoid a repeat of recent problems. My kit choice this time out was a test of a new sock combination, new bottom team up and a new single layer top. For socks I’d matched Injinji toe liners (which I’ve used to great effect on several ultras) with Ashmei low cut merino wool socks. For bottoms I was in Runderwear with my preferred short tights the Ronhill Trail Contour tights. This would be much lighter than teaming them with S-Lab Exo shorts. For top I was using a simple round neck Ronhill running shirt – short sleeved too, to make for an exciting change.

With kit sorted I ambled around the main group of congregated runners, said hello to some of the runners I knew and then bimbled up to the playground to play with ‘Rudolph’ on the swings. With playtime achieved we headed to the start line and listened to the race briefing and prepared for the off.

I looked out to the assembled crowd and realised there were probably less than 100 runners in the group but it had an air of a classic about it – well save for the lack of five inch shorts and the amount of expensive Salomon packs and GPS watches.

With limited fanfare we all threw ourselves on to the course and we set off at a nice pace. I chatted with Greg who I know a little bit through my attendance at SVN events and it was nice to catch up as I hadn’t seen him since the Ranscombe Ramble. I soon wished him good luck though and pushed on a little bit as although I wanted time on my feet we had a BBQ to attend.

Croydon is not noted for being an attractive place but it would be very fair to say that the Vanguard Way was very pleasant and wound itself around the outskirts of one of Surreys less well regarded towns before it hit woodland, forests and trail. I bounded across the route with an abandon not seen in quite some time and I was having a genuinely fun time.

The enclosed pictures better illustrate how much I was having


And then it began, I’d been following the people ahead of me rather than following my GPS and this proved a mistake as when I looked down to my shiny new Ambit 3 I realised I was significantly off route and so where many others. There was a suggestion that route signage had been the victim of tampering fingers but ultimately it didn’t matter we were lost.

I rocked up to a small group heading back towards me and a couple of others and we all stopped. I’d pretty much run 10km already and there was no sign of the first water station. Bugger. Between us we compared GPS devices, the route description and previous entrants knowledge to come up with a plan.

Huzzah! I cried as I bounced quickly downhill, taking decisions based solely on instinct (and a hint of a GPS map in the corner of my watch). Eventually with 13 kilometres on the clock I found the water station and it felt like a hard 13 kilometres, I hoped that on the return I would not get nearly so lost as who needs to add a further 3km to the route? I grabbed a cup of water, noted that my own store was still about half full (1.5 litre Salomon bladder) and so set off feeling upbeat.

It was around here that I finally checked my feet. I’d been incredibly uncomfortable around the balls of my feet and so when I peered inside my Olympus I could no longer see my outer sock layer – they had gone all Paul Daniels on me. I stripped my shoes off and found the Ashmei socks wrapped around my toes – I removed them and consigned them to the side pocket of my run vest. Well kit test one was a failure – we won’t be replicating that at the Ridgeway.

But I digress and so back to the race.

The second section was through some beautiful countryside and had the two most serious descents with lovely wild flora and fauna abound. I took the descents with all the speed and control I could muster, dipping over the gates and using the superb grip of the Altra Olympus to ensure I didn’t end up on my arse. The thought that had occurred though was that I was going to have to come back up this later in the day.


At mile 11 I was rewarded for my efforts with a meeting of ‘Mumwhoruns’ from Twitter and Instagram. We had missed each other at the Amba City of London Mile but with a message sent via Instagram I knew were she and her family were located and it was delightful to finally say hello in person. We of course grabbed a photograph because that’s what you do in this social media age – sod Justin Bieber – I want photographs with my social media followers!

I ploughed on though and the route settled down a little before a final climb up to the halfway point. the marshals sent us to the end of the road and urged us back with the offer of sweeties – but no water…

I looked on in horror as the young lady before me said ‘we’ve run out of water but Gareth is going to try and get some to us’.

Holy fuck, it was about 27 degrees and I had now almost exhausted my water supply. One of the marshals was able to spare, from her own personal supply, about 75ml of water but that wasn’t going to get me far. She decided that she would try one of the local homes but there was no telling how long this would take and I knew that the longer I stayed the more chance there was that I would not make the cut-off time. I had to take a decision and I decided that I would risk the hills and the heat with the miniscule amount of water I had and hope that the next checkpoint would have water.


The wheels started to come off immediately but I focused my head as there was little I could do about the predicament my body found itself in. I ran for a while with hundred marathon club member Maria who I hadn’t seen since the 2013 edition of the Kent Roadrunner marathon, but this liaison was short lived as I needed to peg back my exertions. 

The heat of the day was at full beam and I knew the climbs would soon be on me and I was feeling light headed. I sat down on a bench at the bottom of the first of the two ascents – letting runners pass me by. I sat here for about 15 minutes trying to regain my composure and with a weary head I pounded up the first hill, stopping periodically and exhausting the last of my water. At the top I called the GingaNinja and advised her of my problem and she told me to ‘hang on in there, keep to the shade and get back as quickly as possible’. What she didn’t mention was that I was barely making any sense and I was slurring my words – the heat had clearly now gotten a solid grip. 

I continued forward, making slower and slower progress – more runners passing me but I had climbed the second hill and I ambled down towards the water station, fingers crossed they had supplies. 

I gulped water – probably too much but I needed to freshen up, hydrate and then be on my way. What had looked like a DNF a few minutes earlier started to look like a possible finish again. I filled my bladder up, ensuring I had enough for the last few miles and then headed out. It took a little while for the water to kick in and I added in some apple and raspberry fruit pouches (baby food) but once it did kick in I could see I was struggling for time. 


I started to run again, something I had not thought possible and soon I was thundering through the trees, making up some of the massive amount of lost time I’d had in the middle. I walked quickly the uphills and I leathered the downhills – I was not going to miss the cut off.

Boom, I hit another hill, passed a couple of runners and then up and round but even following my GPS there was a degree of inaccuracy and I found myself lost again. I’d run about a kilometre in the wrong direction and with no other runners around I had little choice but to turn back.

I arrived back at the red and white tape and attempted to piece together my location – I could see two path options, neither looked familiar. Of course, you’ve probably already guessed, I took the wrong one (I was on the GPS route) but in the distance and in the more defined path, I could see taped markings and so I assaulted the undergrowth and made my way properly cross-country style. I landed on the path as I leapt free of the undergrowth – legs cut to ribbons and looked up and down the trail. In my head I heard those magic words – relentless movement forward and so I hurtled downhill with time ebbing away. 

I was back – I could see things I recognised. The GingaNinja called checking on my progress and I said I was nearly there but with only 20 minutes to cut off and having already completed just under 46kilometres I wasn’t sure how far I had left. I could see runners coming in from all directions but I didn’t care I was pretty sure I was on the right route, I dipped through the park and beyond the children’s play area, families and children everywhere required avoiding and I could finally see the finish. 

With all the energy I could muster I gave it everything I had left for a finish – Gareth the RD calling out words of encouragement as I crossed the line and almost sank to my knees. 

I looked terrible, the GingaNinja thought I needed hospital rather than a shower and I was pretty incoherent. I had managed it but it should have gone so much better.

I’ll wear this finishers T-shirt with pride.

Key points

  • Distance: Marathon(ish)
  • Profile: Hilly Trail
  • Date: August 2016
  • Location: Croydon
  • Cost: £36
  • Terrain: Hard packed trail, road
  • Tough Rating: 3.5/5

Route: Tremendous route and allowed to see some of the trails I never normally get to go on. The Vanguard Way is a route that will challenge and should be respected. The out and back nature should have made navigation easier but believe me it would be a mistake to think that. I would recommend getting to know the course if you can – it will really help in this instance.

Organisation: I’d love to say it can’t be faulted but the lack of water at the halfway point was a big failing – however, as I understand it they did resolve this eventually and the marshals did everything they could for us and it didn’t effect everyone.

The good news was that the start, finish line and other aid stations were excellent and well stocked. The course markings were interesting and if speculation is correct that they had been tampered with then there’s not a lot you can do about that and so it’s difficult to offer assessment on this. 

However, one change I’d like too is perhaps one colour arrows for ‘out’ and one colour for ‘back’. I did at one point near the finish start on my way back to the halfway point – which would have been, mentally, a killer mistake.

Ultimately though the organisation was excellent – the change and toilet facilities were brilliant and the organisers contributed to a great summer marathon vibe.


Goodies: Neck gaiter (from Richmond Marathon), bespoke medal, t-shirt, granola and a mars bar – yep it’s one of the better goody bags for under £40! These in addition to a great route make this a bargain race. 

Again: More than likely, it’s a tough marathon but there are too many positives not to give this another go. I’d prefer to know the route better and not end up running an extra 5km and I’d want to ensure I was carrying enough water with me but yes I’d sign up to this again. 

Conclusion: if you’re looking for a tough, challenging and demanding summer marathon then this had your name all over it. It’s not really for the ‘one and done’ marathoners – it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles – it had just what you need and a great atmosphere. In my search for low key, high quality events this scores very highly and while the water issue might have ruined my time that is something the organisers (and I) will learn from and ensure doesn’t happen again. You really can’t go wrong if you decide to go bounding about the Vanguard Way and if they ever open up the 107km of ultra trail I’ll be keen on that too. 


I’m not a great fan of negative reviews, either reading or writing them because it tends to be about personal experience and that’s so personal it detracts from the specifics of a thing therefore once you’ve read about my experience at Endure1250 you’ll probably think it’s the worst race in the universe and that’s not true. So if you want to read a quick guide to Endure 1250 then try the statement below

Basically Endure1250 is a decent, well organised, good value, low key timed (or distance) trail run. That statement is true but if  you want to know what happened to UltraBoy at Endure 1250 then read on but be warned – my testicles get a lot of ‘airtime’.

As I’m sure you all know summer has magically arrived in the UK which basically means it’s stupidly hot therefore I was glad that Endure1250 wasn’t kicking off until 7pm, it meant that the heat of the day could be avoided and give me a decent chance of putting some quality miles in.

Saturday though started with a trip to the Great London swim and also a browse of all the CosPlayers from the Star Wars Celebration at the Excel Centre in London and by the time I left I was running late making it only as far as Paddington by well gone 2pm. I then added to my woe by jumping on the wrong train and I found myself increasingly uncomfortably hot and sweaty.

Thankfully, despite my detour, I hit Reading a little after 3pm and then Pangbourne (the nearest town to the event) about 4pm. Even with all my camping and run gear on my back I still hiked the couple of miles to the start line in less than 20 minutes and after a swift registration threw up the tent and began unpacking my stuff.

The race village was small but perfectly formed with pretty much everything you would need for a cheery event. I drifted around, grabbed a reasonably priced and very tasty hot dog and browsed the couple of running kit stands. Bales of hay were provided as cheap seating and were located around what would become a campfire later in the day and this was a good opportunity to meet other runners. Therefore with my kit laid out in the tent and a bit of time to kill I decided to get social with a couple of the runners. Sadly there was a general desire, at least at this early stage, to stay within your grouping or with your friends – which was understandable, this wasn’t the socialising hour – I’d clearly missed that!

Post relax I headed back to the tent, armed with a bottle of water and assorted toiletries, in an attempt to resolve a bit of a problem – sweat rash and chaffing.

The heat of the day, lots of running about and lugging my camping gear round had meant I’d picked up this racers worst nightmare – rubby balls! Yes it looked like someone had dropped a tin of red paint down the inside of my shorts and swirled it about.

I carefully, as one can in a small, hot tent, cleaned up the offending area, drying it thoroughly and waiting patiently before applying liberal lashings of bodyglide. It was tender – of that there was no doubt but I hoped that my patch up job would hold for long enough into the race that it wouldn’t be an issue. I believed if I could hit say 35 of the 50 miles of promised myself before it reared its ugly head again I’d be alright.

Kitted up I proceeded to the start line to grab some photographs for this blog post and to revel in the pre-race atmosphere which was now more traditionally ultra – nervous excitement. I listened to the announcer, over the tannoy, inform us that the start would be delayed by a few minutes for safety checks. However, at 7.14pm the horn sounded and several hundred runners set off along the grass path and alongside the camping area passing the many supporters and awaiting relay runners to a multitude of cheers and whoops!

I remembered to tell myself the key thing was to keep it steady and don’t get drawn in to racing the relay runners, the 50 km runners or even the 50 milers – I was due to be here for the next 12 hours.

I pushed through the first kilometre marker in decent time as the loop moved in and around the outside of the camp and the second kilometre was met after some largely uninspiring Tarmac and I hoped the route would improve but the next couple of kilometre were alongside the river with only a few narrow boats to offer support or interest.

However, at 5 km things improved when we re-entered Beale Park and despite being on the road again we could admire the large animal sculptures and pleasant gardens and there was a general upward trend in the run route for kilometres 6-8 as we passed through tree lined areas, a couple of hills and a faster section or two.

I pulled in briefly at the base camp after the first five miles to grab some chocolate milkshake and also to visit the little boys room and there I discovered that the problem I had patched up was going to return more quickly than anticipated.

Even in the dim lighting of portaloo I could see the glowing chaffing hiding in my shorts. How quickly his face had turned to anger, all twisted and contorted with rage. The bodyglide as good as it was could do nothing for this, clearly I applied it too late in the day and should have used it before I even set out for event some 12hrs earlier.

With time ticking away I rejoined the race and cantered around the first few kilometres again trying to get comfortable enough to run sensibly but it wasn’t to be and I completed my second lap in agony and looking like I had some sort of genital itch as I constantly readjusted my shorts.

I came in to the camp at the end of lap 2 and opened up my tent – closing the fly shield just enough to give me cover while open enough to let a breeze in. I kicked off my shorts to inspect the damage – it was pretty severe. I lay back legs open wide and feet pointing skyward letting a cool wind blow over the affected area. I lay motionless like this for some 20 minutes before a plan came to mind.

The return of the buff!
It was generally too warm to be wearing a buff but not around my nether regions! I took the UTMB buff I purchased last year (the one I’m embarrassed to wear given my DNF at the CCC) and I wrapped my nuts in it, carefully placing the excess fabric either side of the inner shorts of my Salomon compression leggings. I’d kept the compression leggings on in an effort to keep things from moving round. Now we would see how a third lap might go.

For me the race had turned to farce but I had travelled a long way and wasted enough money that I didn’t want to leave without achieving the minimum of a marathon distance to at least tick another one off for a step closer to the hundred marathon club vest.
I ran what I could, walked what I had to. I came in at each lap to cool off my buff, change my shorts and generally let things catch the benefit of a breeze.

I was in agony.

At 7.30hrs in, and with the stops to let the chaffing cool getting longer, I forced myself out one final time to get to the 30 miles that would confirm the marathon distance.
I crossed the line about an hour later, my run/walking never really that slow (the stops making my lap times look particularly terrible) and I went and gingerly sat down on the bales of hay. I purchased a cup of tea, watched runners going round and round in circles and then took myself off to bed. Bollocks to this I thought – literally bollocks.

Key points

  • Distance: 8km loop
  • Profile: Flat
  • Date: July 2016
  • Location: Pangbourne
  • Cost: £35
  • Terrain: Very light trail, road
  • Tough Rating: 1/5

Route
The route was probably designed to take advantage of open spaces and Beale Park to provide a fast, very runnable route. However, for me, I found it dull and uninspiring. I know loops are going to get repetitive but races such as Ranscombe Challenge, the Challenge Hub events and the Brutal Enduro all manage to keep the routes varied and exciting – this didn’t have that. However, lots of people enjoyed the route so maybe it was just me.

What I will say on a positive note is that the little lighting effects they dotted around the darker parts of the route were delightful and I enjoyed seeing these very much
Organisation: the organisation was excellent with lots of volunteers on the course and it was well marked. The check-in was quick and equally well organised with very little left to chance. The slightly late start that the race suffered from was due to ensuring the route was genuinely ready – they really wanted runners to have a safe environment.

Checkpoints
The base camp was well positioned on the route and volunteers lined the course about every 1.5km, all cheery and at the 5km mark a water stop. It left had you chosen to you probably could have run this carrying nothing (as many did – despite the heat). The volunteers were also really awesome and not a single one complained about me sharing my terrible chaffing tale!

Goodies
Good quality t-shirt was a purchase rather than included (£7.50) but the bespoke medal was nice even if it doesn’t make clear which race you ran.

Again
Would I do Endure1250 again? No. Unlike Ranscombe and the Enduro I just didn’t enjoy the route. I’m told Endure24 has a much more exciting route with hills and challenges but this wasn’t for me. Perhaps it’s that I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be and I felt this course was built for those looking to collect a fast time over a chosen distance or to claim a big distance over a specific time. I’m not saying don’t do it, not at all – it’s got a decent atmosphere and great organisation but if you’re after something with varied terrain and stunning scenery then this might leave you wanting more.

Conclusions
Cost effective it certainly is at just £35 whatever your distance and it’s a genuinely friendly event. Importantly for decision making – if you’re looking for a fast run at an ultra distance then this could be for you. I suspect the team running is much more fun here and actually watching people still banging out 40 minute laps at the end of the event was exciting to watch. So while Endure 1250 won’t be to everyones tastes this is a decent event and worth testing if you fancy some of the above.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Key points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m signed up to the Leeds – Liverpool Canal 130 but several problems have arisen and I’m facing a choice about whether to run or not.

Ready? Training hasn’t been going as well as I would have liked and despite some excellent sections of training this year there hasn’t been enough of it.

I can blag 50 miles, I can even blag 100 miles – I’ve done it before – but I’m not sure I can blag 130 miles and I’m not sure I should. The LLCR130 was my opportunity to prove I can respect the distance and run well but life has simply gotten in the way. 

Life: It’s been a busy year and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster if truth be told with one thing and another and this has had an tremendous impact on the overall amount of quality of running I’ve been able to commit to. Now while my body is in a constant state of reasonable shape I’m simply not fit enough for the 130 currently.

Could I get fit enough in the couple of months remaining? Probably.

Skye: However, the Isle of Skye gave my feet a real battering and unusually they aren’t healing very quickly. Running is currently painful and anything over about 7km brings memories of stones cutting into my feet. I’m not able to return to more sensible training yet despite it being 2 weeks after the event.

Blues: This is all compounded by the fact I’ve got a serious dose of the post race blues, I can’t seem to quite get my mind back in shape – preferring instead to focus on the Tesco offer of 4 Topics or Snickers for just a single pound coin! I can hear my inner runner completely fucked off at me but he’s being kept at bay in favour of chocolatey goodness. 

Disagreement: Perhaps the killer things though are to do with the LLCR130 itself, after a serious disagreement with someone who would have probably provided aid and/or race support/places to stay/transport/etc the LLCR130 has become a logistical nightmare. Originally it was going to be quite a simple affair but now just a few weeks away it really feels like the challenges of the pre race and post race arrangements would be more testing than the run itself. I suppose I’m unconvinced that this is the best preparation for a race of this magnitude. Would I be better leaving this until 2017 when I can arrange the logistics to suit my needs rather than being reliant on other people? In an incredible gesture of support the always awesome Joe offered pacing and I’m incredibly grateful for that but think it might not be quite enough with all the other issues that have built up around this.

Priorities: Some of the running I’ve done this year has involved hills, climbing, mud, adventure. The LLCR feels like it would be a test of my capacity to endure but would miss out on all the things I love about running like scrambling up and down hills and getting filthy from knave to chops! With Haria Extreme as my year end ultra I feel like I should be competing in races that at the very least offer me the opportunity to prepare for this and also excite me. LLCR130 is a race I really want to do but I’m heavily conflicted because it simply doesn’t sit well inside the rest of the choices for this year.

So what do I do? If I go I’d give it my all and if I don’t I have a replacement race that I think would be more supportive of my year aims and less likely to DNF. The LLCR130 isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon and I wonder if I’d be better tailoring my running to focus on this race rather than as I have done this year which was focus on the Skye Trail Ultra and Haria Extreme. However, if I fail to race this then I won’t have run a hundred mile race this year and my thoughts of the 200 mile ultra across the Pennines would then surely be put back by another year. It’s a complex decision…

… so I’d appreciate your thoughts but as you can probably tell I feel like pulling out of the LLCR might be the right course of action.


Love is an overused word in today’s society but when you talk about a SVN event ‘Love’ is the only word that even comes close to describing it and Ranscombe brings with it a special kind of love.

In the shadow of the SDW50 this lovely pair of events take place on the Ranscombe Farm Reserve in the sometimes sunny, often rainy Kent countryside. I’ve reviewed this challenge event before – which you can read about here – so I shan’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the route but I will add a few new bits below;

My opinions have hardly changed on this glorious event except to say that it has gotten even better with the addition of fruit and savoury snacks at the very generous aid station.

With regard to the two (one mildly and one very) different routes Ranscombe should be an event that we all put on our trail running calendars as the trail was challenging, beautiful and a pleasure. Rachel, Traviss and the support crew should be warmly applauded for the care and effort that go into making the Ranscombe experience so wonderful.


The only thing left to mention is my own running! So how did that go? On the Saturday I attacked the course for much of the first 15 miles, running (slowly) most of the hills and banging out the downhills. Even as the ground became increasingly cut up I managed to hold my nerve as I’d picked the excellent Hoka Tor Speed for the job and they responded well to all but the sloppiest of the mud. The addition of a trip to the Darnley Mausoleum was a delight and the final field had been replaced with a run through the Bluebell Woods. I was having a delightful time.

For the second 15 miles I clung on a bit, chatting to Claire, Claire, Lorraine, Elaine, Nick and I think Adam (though I missed his partner Claire, who i’d spoken to via this blog earlier in the week). Apologies to any of the Claire’s who are a Clare or other variation 😀. I even managed a dirty sprint finish which always makes me feel better. Saturday was a good day and I’d really enjoyed myself and felt genuinely energised.

 I went shopping post race and later home in a surprisingly good mood – my legs had held up well, I hadn’t over eaten and I was well hydrated. I knew I’d need to stretch and foam roller but that’s par for the course when you’ve run 31 miles one day and aim to do the same the next.


I therefore rolled up to Rachel’s Ranscombe Challenge on Sunday morning feeling very chipper and said hello to the ever awesome Gary and Karen, who I’d previously met on a couple of Centurion jaunts. The smile was moderately wiped from my face though when I saw a sweating and tired looking Traviss roll up after course marking duty.

Bugger.

It seemed that the brand spanking new 5.25 mile lap was going to be a killer. It seemed that SVN wanted to make sure we all got value for money on the course we ran! Guys you need not have bothered I’d have been happy with something flat 🙂


I’d decided to wear calf compression for the Sunday in the belief that they’d hold me together but as we set off I could feel pain in my left leg which I considered a poor sign. Regardless I ambled along at a reasonable pace, taking it easy through the rolling woodland and even more rolling hills. The route was a brilliant mixture of hills, mud and honest trail, the problem was that I was hobbling at less than 2 miles in. In my head I told myself to keep going and as I meandered up the hills towards the end of lap one I was conscious of every step I was taking.

However, at the aid station I ran into mister awesome himself – Greg. A hundred marathon club member and all round good egg and I motored through the first couple of miles of the course with him and chatted delightfully for a while. However nothing could mask the pain I was in and as we drew up to the flat I bade him farewell.

I made my way gingerly down the hills and slowly uphill – pain shooting up and down my leg. I was never going to make it another 15 miles and I knew it – all I’d be doing would be running races further into the year and that seemed counter productive. Therefore, I made the decision to call it quits. I phoned the GingaNinja and asked her to evacuate me and crawled back to the checkpoint.

I couldn’t have been any more deflated in finishing lap 2, this was worse than my failure at the Winter100 or the CCC and I was grateful for the kind words of Rachel, Dee and Jan who are always awesome. I’m still pretty deflated now as I write this on my way to work.

Of course I received my medal for a paltry 11 miles and I should have been overjoyed as the medal is a thing of beauty but I feel a little bit hollow about how badly I did.

The consolations are that I suspect it was the calf compression guards causing the issue on my ITB – so although it helped on my destroyed right leg it ruined my left leg – something to experiment with.

The course was amazing and I hope this becomes a permanent Ranscombe route as I’d like to get out there and run it again. The medals, especially for the Sunday were spectacular and as I’ve mentioned earlier the improvements of the aid station snacks to include savoury have elevated these events to heights I didn’t think possible!

My thanks to everyone involved and well done to all the participants – you all did exceptionally well. And I promise I’ll be back later in the year to take on Ranscombe again.

 

  
Sounds like an advert I’d put in a lonely hearts column – looking for a racy lady named April, big ‘hills’ and personality to match? I think I’d probably get some exciting responses. Thankfully it’s not a dating advert but something I was looking for in April and that was a challenging race to help condition me for a manic May. 

What did I find? Well I’ll be doing the Ranscombe Double. The ‘Challenge’ event on the Saturday is a 4.4 mile undulating 8hr timed run while Sunday brings the ‘Ramble’ another 8hr event but a hillier 5.25 mile route. Both will be trail, both will be muddy and by the looks of things both will be like I’m hoping ‘Racy April’ is, moist. 

I’ve run Ranscombe three times with SVN events and it never fails to impress and I’ll be chowing down on as much deliciousness as I can stuff into my cake hole.

The aim is a minimum of a marathon on each day but ideally 30 miles per day would set me up nicely for the Hillsborough to Anfield Run and Skye Ultra Trail in May (both over 70 miles). But after feeling pain in my right leg post last weekends hilly 14 mile buggy run I’ll take whatever distance I can manage and not push too hard for fear of further damage. 

So good luck chaps for anyone else running this weekend and have fun.

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

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

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

Thankfully for her EmLa returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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



  

IMG_4912-0
I was looking down at my bruised and battered OMM 25litre commuting bag recently thinking ‘it might be time to retire you my faithful old companion’. The elasticated cord on one side is gone, the other worn, one of the belt pockets has a hole in it and the webbing on one of the side stuff pockets is definitely the worse for wear. On the inside it looks tired – fabric that has been pulled and stretched in all directions and generally covered in sweat, blood and tears from dozens of races and thousands of miles. Strangely though it never gives up and my OMM bag reminds me a bit of my running journey.

1. We both started shiny and new in late 2011
2. We both started running just 3.24km per day until we worked our way up the White Cliffs 50 Ultra.
3. We both carry far too much stuff everywhere we go
4. We both look a bit the worse for wear

Late in 2014 I seriously considered retiring from running completely because of injury and my own stupid behaviour but much like with my much loved OMM running bag it just wasn’t time to enter the great running club house in the sky. I had the thought that it could be one last ‘hurrah’ a final year of running the ultra distance but as The GingaNinja reminds me ‘you become unbearable when you’re not running’. And I am unbearable at the best of times. So there can be no ‘last hurrah’ if running is what helps make me bearable!!

In hindsight I’ve come a long way in a little under four years I’ve gone from geeky designer and all round uncool dude to unbearable and geeky uncoolio ultra running designer. From not being able to run 5km without wanting to puke to going 104miles in a single hit and then back again.

It’s true that running has been my most frustrating time but it’s also been my best time and my strongest ally. I’ve improved my fitness, my interactions, my willpower, my energy and everything else – maybe that’s why my life is infinitely more settled today than when I wasn’t running. Running for fun rather than running from life?

So when I look at my OMM running pack and I see a piece of kit that’s had the shit kicked out of it I actually think, ‘what a ride’ not ‘poor bag’.

Injury, apathy and lethargy will pass but running (or whatever you love) can stay with you and help provide direction. I think my message would be ‘don’t give up’

So how far have I come?
A very long way in the time since I started running.

How far have I fallen?
Just the odd stumble really.

Why do I persevere?
Because the person I’ve become in the period I’ve been running is better than the one I left behind and I’m not 100% sure it was all the running but i’m sure it played its part.

IMG_2330.JPG

It’s Monday morning and I’m still a little bit tired, yesterday I spent my day painting an awesome new dinosaur mural for UltraBaby in the UltraCave or as my partner likes to describe it – the baby room. I woke up around 8.45 and threw myself almost straight into the haze of paint fumes and the cleaning of paint rollers, but that isn’t what I’m here to talk about – because a mere 18hrs earlier I was at one of the most wonderfully epic events I’ve ever done – the North Downs Way 100.

Most people who will read this are now probably imagining a tale of woe filled with grim images of my feet, complaints about the weather, underfoot conditions and all manner of technical hiccups I encountered but fear not, it’s not about that at all. Infact this is a tale about a guy who wanted to give something back to those who had supported him over the last 18 months of ultra running, this is a story about volunteering.

Now let me roll back about 8 weeks to my anguish at pulling out of the NDW100, that was one of the best and also most horrible decisions I’ve had to make as a runner – this hundred was my ticket into the UTMB, it was also the biggest test of both my physical and mental prowess but injury and having run too much on that injury have proved my undoing and I simply wasn’t going to be ready.

So when Nici at Centurion put out a call for people to help volunteer at CP10 Bluebell Hill I knew that this was the thing for me. I arrived therefore on the Saturday about 3.30pm and awaited the arrival of the chaps from Centurion so that we could unload the wagon and begin the process of setting up. gazebo, tables, hundreds of litres of water, tonnes of food and a team of excited and experienced runners all wanting to help provide support, solace or a kick up the arse to these hundred mile legends.

IMG_2308.JPG

Set up was reasonably quick and within an hour we were well on our way to being ready but Bluebell Hill is a notoriously windy spot and the gazebo didn’t look like it would take any kind of battering, this combined with the addition of walls to the gazebo meant that it simply wouldn’t stay down. But these are ultra runners and this is a highly regarded Centurion event. With the wave of a magic wand a new tent arrived with James Elson – lower to the ground, sturdier and bigger, this would be ideal and even with the attached walls this felt more secure and so in the wind we did the switch over – secured her down and knew we were ready ahead of time.

IMG_2305.JPG

Then came two lovely surprises, the first was some of the most amazing ‘Chocolate Crack’ from the equally amazing @abradypus and the second was a visit from the lady herself. My most kind thanks to you as ever my sweet! Your confectionary delights kept the crew going through the night!

We had heard rumours that some of the checkpoints had themed themselves as pirates and Christmas and while this wasn’t the case for us we were no less enthusiastic about the task at hand. We had a wonderfully energetic team of six – Sharon, Ellyn, Ronnie, Paul, Chris and myself. Ronnie as station manager was the one we looked to, but his calm was perhaps his best quality, which meant that we could simply set about making the food, getting up the seating and awaiting the first runners while also offering our conversational services to the crews and supporters of the runners.

Sharon took up her allocated position as time keeper atop the mound just outside the checkpoint, while the rest just waited for that very first runner. I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous – I’d never really met the super fast ultra runners and had no idea how quick they’d want water replenishing or service etc. but as Duncan strode in to CP10 to a very warm and rousing round of applause life became much simpler – he like every other ultra runner stopped, had a chat, ate some food – filled their water supplies. The thing I learnt very quickly was that the super fast ultra runners want the same thing I do (generally) help, support and a bit of respite.

IMG_2312.JPG

It was a bit of a battle of the titans at the front and we saw the first three runners in reasonably quick succession but then there were the inevitable lulls – but this allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the crews and supporters and even the marshals I was sharing the evening with. This was one of the things I was very happy to do because I know from my own crews experience that a friendly face and a friendly conversation can make all the difference to those waiting for loved ones.

IMG_2310.JPG

As more runners rolled in it became a busier job but actually it was never so hectic that we struggled. We welcomed each runner with a big smile and as best we could a humour filled heart. We knew that the more traumatic tales would start rolling in just in after midnight and this was very much the case – runners tired, sitting down, desperate for respite. It was now our job (as Ronnie reminded us regularly) to get the runners up and out. It was a combination of ‘you’re alright, keep going’ and ‘get off your arse and move’. It also started to become vital that we reminded runners to eat and drink, something I’m guilty of avoiding at the latter stages of an ultra. The saddest part though was the DNFs – boys and girls who had no choice but to retire and for them I felt every sympathy. But for every shattered dream there were a dozen other runners smiling and bouncing onwards – it was a glorious sight to behold.

It was about 1am (ish) when the heavy rain came down and therefore got even worse for the runners – lots were soaked to the skin but equally many remained jolly and the spirit of the ultra runner was in evidence the whole way round.

 

IMG_2319.JPGIMG_2326.JPGInside and outside the tent we continued to give the best support we could – I dried and compeeded several runners feet but I thankfully managed avoiding having to lance any blisters. There was one lovely French chap I helped dress in bin bags for the next leg, when I asked him if he wanted food he told me he was quite picky – ‘being French’ he said. However, I think hunger may have gotten to him and the wonderful array of fruit convinced him to eat.

CP10 started to wind down it’s operation at about 4.00am for a 4.45 cutoff – we had about 10 runners left to welcome, some very tired support crews and lots of fingers crossed they would make it. Volunteering had felt like the hardest type of fun you could have and I think (well from my perspective) that we had a well bonded unit that worked really well together and I hope all the runners felt that they received the support they needed. It was an amazing experience, a great honour and a challenge but most of all it was something I will most certainly go back to given the opportunity.

Next year I intend to run the NDW100 not because of volunteering and not because of having to pull out this year – I’m going to run it because it’s awesome.

20140617-125057-pm-46257699.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

20140617-125059-pm-46259588.jpg

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

Phone away, off we go.

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

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

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

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

20140617-125059-pm-46259105.jpg

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

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

20140617-125058-pm-46258718.jpg

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

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

20140617-125059-pm-46259989.jpg

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

Well done chaps and well done @hitmanharris for persevering.

 

20140508-073511 am.jpg

Despite feeling a bit better on the Sunday (after my piss poor performance at the National 100km) I decided that I needed to get straight back on the horse.

My original 2014 plan had been to run ultras in order of distance, rising gently throughout the year C2C and SPW both 45miles, SDW was 50miles and then the National should have been the first of two 100km runs before I returned to the 100 mile distance. Things obviously became a little skewed by the WNWA96 because this sat right in the middle of two of the other races and basically left me without sufficient recovery time. But what I did learn was that I probably need to commit to trying to run 100 miles in 24hrs because mentally I felt bereft after the National and confidence was shot to pieces.

With all this in mind and my usual bullish charm I signed up for the Challenge Hub 24hr Challenge in a just 10 days time. The great thing about these North East Kent events is that they aren’t races, they are events designed to test the human capacity to endure. I am aiming to endure about 100 miles, I need to prove to myself, that pretty much unsupported, I can make the 100 mile (and more) distance inside the one day because I want that Centurion one day finisher buckle – actually this year I want two of them. So Challenge Hub here I come, to test myself and my ability on your loop. Feedback from @abradypus about their Moonlight Challenge was so good that I’m really looking forward to this.

Deflated after the National? Not me … now where’s my saddle?

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

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

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

20140423-090537 am.jpg

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

20140423-104354-am.jpg

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

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

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

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

20140423-104339-am.jpg 20140423-104417-am.jpg 20140423-104434-am.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

20140423-104534-am.jpg

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

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

20140423-104941-am.jpg

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

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

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

20140423-104545-am.jpg 20140423-104454-am.jpg 20140423-104443-am.jpg

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

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

Bang.

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

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

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

20140423-104751-am.jpg

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

20140423-104911-am.jpg 20140423-104833-am.jpg

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

20140423-104513-am.jpg

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

20140423-104817-am.jpg

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

20140423-104632-am.jpg

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

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

20140423-104801-am.jpg

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

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

‘You’re out of time’

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

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

‘The others?’

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

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

‘down there’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20140423-104328-am.jpg

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

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

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

20140423-104613-am.jpg

Well I say final…

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

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

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

Sue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20140423-104556-am.jpg

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

20140423-104259-am.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20140423-105137-am.jpg

20140423-105122-am.jpg

 

 

 

 

20140415-072423-am.jpg

I’m writing this on a train, as I often do with my postings, but also just having read Bruce Grobbelaar’s account of visiting one of the Hillsborough families after the disaster – it wasn’t particularly light reading before commencing my final post about the WNWA96 Read the article here. I’m writing this 25 years to the day that many Liverpool football club fans lost their lives tragically and there seems so much to say but I’ll try and keep it brief. In recent days I read Alan Hansen’s account of the effect the tragedy had on him and I was fortunate enough to be at the start line for the Anfield to Hillsborough run (for more information click here) where survivors and supporters gathered to pay tribute to those lost but also to raise awareness and money for children’s hospitals in both Liverpool and Sheffield. I’ve also seen the amazing footage of the Irish ’96minute walk’ as a companion piece to my dads WNWA96 – the hike from Hillsborough to Anfield.

There has been so much going on.

20140415-072453-am.jpg

At the start of the charity run on Sunday morning in the cool crisp air of Stanley Park you could feel the swell of good feeling pass through all the people there. You tend to forget that the people involved are real, everyday people, who wake up each day and live their normal lives but then occasionally do something spectacular like run 96 miles and they do it not for the kudos and the well wishing they do it because they want to do something amazing and give something back. The guys who do this have raised thousands upon thousands of pounds and not for Hillsborough but for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and The Children’s Hospital, Sheffield – more positivity coming out of tragedy.

There was also the launch of a new 5km race announced that will take place in Stanley Park next year. I know that I will be signing up for it and be joined by ‘UltraBaby’ (who I reckon could probably run it in harness with me – let’s see what the rules say).

And so despite Hillsborough being one of the darkest tragedies in living memory there is much new light being cast from its shadow – for me personally the greatest light being cast is that in the remembering of those who died and in simply living each day I am helping to bring new life, new stories (most notably in the form of UltraBaby). This means a lot to me for the obvious reasons of fatherhood but it reminds me that my family will continue into another generation and therefore the memory of my relatives and the things they have done will continue.

20140415-072352-am.jpg

So I hope you will all join me at midnight on Friday night (mainly virtually) to ensure that the walkers are given a great send off – thanks guys! and now to my final preparations ….

The walk and final preparations 

And so to the walk and my preparations for the very small part I shall play in remembering the 96. It’s been a challenging few weeks with the GingaNinja being pregnant and ill as well as my emergency trips to Liverpool to keep an eye on my grandmother and her broken bones. The truth is that I’ve barely had time to start recovering from the SDW50 – but despite this and the fact I’m yawning at 7.35am on a Tuesday morning I am more confident than ever that I can complete the 96miles.

Last night I started to prepare my kit for the event and realised that I don’t need to be as frugal and tight as I am when running an ultra marathon – the support crews mean I can have a spare kit and even spare trainers should the need arise. This got me thinking as to what advice I would give to my fellow walkers about the things they need and why I’ll be taking it.

Comfortable and tested kit
The first thing is the clothes that you will wear. Make sure they are comfortable, make sure they fit and make sure they are tested. It’s now only a few days before we set off and you shouldn’t be buying new shoes, socks or anything. My experience is that untested kit usually comes with a price.

Combinations that work for you
Things such as a decent lightweight waterproof and a good, thin but warm base layer will mean you can sweat without getting cold and the kit will also be light enough that you retain your mobility and capacity to walk. I’m also the kind of walker/runner who will compartmentalise what he wears, so arm warmers with a short sleeved T-shirt works better for me than a long sleeved shirt and calf compression combined with shorts are better for me than trousers. But it is very much about the individual but I find that lightweight layering is a good start to finding the right combinations in kit.

Headtorch and spare headtorch or as I like to think of it – light
Most walkers will have trained during the day and even those who have been walking during the darker hours will probably not have experienced the very darkest night at 3am when you are exhausted – this sensation can be terrifying. Achluophobia is one of the worst issues we face as endurance walkers and the fear of the dark can creep up on us. The solution is a small personal light source that you control – you know it will be there for you, you won’t be reliant on another light source and it will mean you can decided to look forward to find someone and combat that sensation of loneliness and fear. I’ll be taking a low-ish powdered Petzel Tikka 2 and also my Petzel eLight emergency light source. Nothing fancy but hugely reliable.

Gaiters
As an ultra runner I wear Dirty Girl Gaiters because they are light, bright and brilliant. Gaiters will help to keep your shoes gravel and dirt free as well as potentially some minimal protection from the rain. Some of the best advice I ever received was to ensure that my feet stayed dry for as long as a humanly possible.

Hiking Poles
If you have used these before and are good with them then they might be the difference between thundering up a hill and crawling up it. Poles might be known in the ultra world as cheat sticks but here they simply offer a great way of preserving energy and pushing on across some of the more challenging uphills.

Small Bag
After a waterproof and some comfortable clothing I think a small pack or bag is the best piece of kit you can carry. You’ll want somewhere to stow your hat, buff, scarf or even waterproof so that they are instantly accessible as you’ll go from hot to cold in seconds if a wind whips up in an exposed section. The small bag will also allow you to carry small amounts of liquid just sufficient for the distance between the checkpoints.

Food and Drink
This may seem superfluous given that we know the event has excellent levels of food and catering throughout – however, you want to make sure that you have small bites that you can pull out quickly and keep your energy levels suitably high. It’s important that you eat before you are hungry and especially important to drink before you are thirsty – getting thirsty means you are risking dehydration – so stay hydrated. I’ll be taking Soreen with salted butter, chickpea falafel and things like Kinder chocolate, Naked bars, nuts and dried fruit.

Vaseline or equivalent
Seriously – boy or girl, man or woman and even Jimmy – the events West Highland White Terrier mascot should all be wearing about a small truckload of Vaseline in those hard to reach places because you are going to sweat and if you get a rash or rubbing it’s going to hurt in ways you can’t possibly imagine – believe me.

20140415-073303-am.jpg

These pieces of equipment will be the first on my packing list – but they might not be on yours. What I’ve learnt over the course of my first six ultra marathons and dozens of other races the importance of choosing the right kit and being prepared for the event that you are doing. So hopefully this might be of some use to my fellow walkers or in fact anybody that is entering an endurance event.

So on Friday night I will be putting the kit to good use as we depart from Hillsborough and begin the trek over to Merseyside and I’ll be both blogging and micro-blogging on the go – so do look out for that. Finally, in light of the wonderful tributes that today has brought I’m looking forward to leaving my mark to honour all those that have stood up for truth and justice – lets hope my old hips and knees hold out – wish me luck 🙂

Pyllon - ultra runner

Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

aaparker1984

The building of my very own freelance graphic design business.

The Runtron Diaries

Running. Cake. Random.

Gabrielle Outdoors

Journeys of a varying kind

highlandrunnerblog.wordpress.com/

An introduction to ultra running

Running on Full

Random thoughts, used to be about running

Re-Activate

Rule 11: When the job's done, walk away

Bearded bimbler

A runner, a hiker and a bearded man

Inadvertent Mooning

Observations from the Grumpy side of UltraRunning

The Unprofessional Ultra Runner

My attempt to crack some serious challenges in an unserious manner

LifeAthlon

“Life Is An Endurance Event”

rara's rules for living

Swim, bike, run, fun!

An academic in (running) tights

Blogs on education and running: My two passions

"Keep Running Mummy!"

Motherhood, marathons and more

Franky tells it like it is

(Though sometimes it might be wiser to keep my mouth shut- not)

Val's running blog

The trials and tribulations of a Jolly Jogger

be back in a bit, have biscuits ready

I like running, and feel the need to write about it

marathoncomeback

After a short break of 23 years I have registered to run the Melbourne Marathon.

knittysewandsew

Amateur wrangling with sewing machines, wool, fabric and thread. Some baking too!

Medal Magpie

A blog about running and middle distance wind chimes