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There is a really weird sensation about rolling up the start line of a race and being the only person there, I suppose this would make me the both first and last finisher in the race I was runningbut the Pike and Back (Virtual) Half Marathon had much more meaning than just a run, this was a run that filled with history, emotion and of course mud.

I left my home in Scotland at about 7am with the aim to start running around lunchtime and hopefully avoid those who might be considering running the virtual race on the course at the original designated time – it’s about a four and half hour journey and I broke this up with a swift stop at a McDonalds for a ‘nourishing’ breakfast.

I was driving the little car as it was just me travelling and as the sun beat down on the car I thought it was going to be a scorcher for the run, something I had not counted on when I had been packing my kit (I was all waterproofs and survival blankets). I arrived bang on time despite a couple of little mis-steps in my directions.

The man in the car next me glared as I pulled up next to him he tossed his cigarette out of the car and wound his window up – presumably because he believved I had arrived to lick COVID 19 all over him which couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Anyway I had a Tesco pastry and a bit of chocolate milkshake to make sure I was fully energisted and then quickly got changed into my kit. I had vague memories of Moss Bank from my childhood, although I’m not from Bolton I do know the area quite well from visits as a child and Winter Hill is a well known landmark but I couldn’t remember ever being allowd to go up it (we were not a very active family). We also used to come here when I was child to a restaurant called Smithhills – it was a dickensian themed place and for our birthdays my grandparents would take us there as a treat. This event, virtual or not was loaded with memories for me and on the day before I led the funeral to my grandmother  this was rather a poignant thing I was doing (you could read about this in a separate blog post here).

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I set up the navigation on my Suunto and started to amble around aimlessly looking for the start (this did not bode well for following the route). Eventually after a few minutes of groping around the park I came to a small opening in the bushes which looked like the kind of place that a race might begin – Suunto agreed and so, after a couple of pictures, we set off.

Now lets be fair Suunto and the breadcrumb trail is at best, ‘not bad’ so as I ambled up the hill towards what I considered to be the route I figured quickly that I had made a mistake – what gave this away was that I found myself launching my poor, knackered body off a wall and onto the street below and then around a few narrow winding streets and then some steps where I finally picked up what was probably the route. There were clues that this might be the route, the first was the winding river and the trail in the distance, the second was that my watch finally looked like it was going in the right direction and thirdly two fellow virtual half marathiners came thundering past me.

Aha I thought I have found my way.

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Now I really hadn’t done that much research about the race or route, I’d left it to the rose tinted specs to assume that this would be something I’d like to do. I’d glanced at the elevation profile which looked like there were two small hills at about the mid-point of the route and the rest of it was pretty flat. It was only as I was about 600 metres in that I realised I had rather misjudged the situation and I had rather misjudged the route. Effectively the route was made actually made up of two tough climbs on a variety of surfaces and then in reverse it was made of a couple of hanrd going downhills and one really tough as old boots uphill that really sapped every last bit of energy you had!

The first three and bit kilometres of the route were mainly tarmac, quiet roads (or they should have been given the COVID-19 trouble), the elevation felt really tough. The toughness wasn’t just the route, this was very much a combination of a long drive from Scotland and a lack of training in recent weeks, my lack of training has been in part to COVID-19 but mainly due to the stress of work and my grandmother dying and having to do all the arrangements from this and now I was feeling it.

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The road seemed never ending and I did for a moment wonder if this was a trail half marathon but then glinting in the distance I saw the outline of a gate and a route on to the rolling trails around Winter Hill and Rivington Pike. I crossed the gate and bade the cyclists a good morning as I passed by them and then continued onward and most importantly upward. At this point we had moved from the tarmac to hard packed and stoney trail. I bimbled along, stopping only to allow past me, faster moving traffic and to take pictures of the truly spectacular surroundings. In the distance I now had clear sight of the Winter Hill transmission mast and realised that I despite having been here many times before I had probably only ever seen this at a distance.

I pressed on across the rocks, the mud and the water, the route had now gone from a bit of a slog to being genuinely fun and I was finally enjoying the route – especially as the sun was shining but also lovely and cool, a perfect running day. My feet for the first time that day felt free to unleash a little bit of pace inspite of the uphill – this is why I run I thought. I found myself feeling rather jaunty depsite the situation we all find ourselves in and I could simply revel in the reason I was here – to pay a small tribute to my departed (but much unloved) granny.

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I skipped down the stony path and alongside the transmittor and marvelled at the scale of the structure that had once (and may well still) send out things like the signal for Granada Television, I felt like a young boy in the back seat of grandfathers car as a ran beside the mast, the only thing missing was the twinkling red lights that adorn it as the lights go down.

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I assumed that Rivington Pike could not be that far from the mast and in the distance I could see a small structure which I asssumed was the destination and turnaround point. I therefore joined a narrow piece of tarmac and wended my way downwards and started arching away from the small structure, that was not Rivington Pike – oh dear. In the distance I could see a flurry of people around what looked like a small fortification or castle – that was Rivington Pike and I was what looked like several miles away from it. Thankfully this was now downhill but my knees don’t much like tarmac and they were feeling the stress of the pounding they were taking and although my Lone Peak 4.0 are well built they aren’t suited for sustained running on tarmac.

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I ran down and down, and down and down and then weirdly what felt like more down and down, yet, and this was the strange thing – Rivington Pike was up – totally in opposition to my descent.

However, eventually my downward spiral stopped and I returned to hard packed trails – here it felt very busy, lots of people travelling up to the Rivington Pike and dusty hard packed trails gave the illusion that everybody had a dry and dusty cough. It was rather interesting to watch as people covered up their faces as they walked past you or as I ran past them. I mean yes I was breathing more heavily than most of the people there but then I was exerting more pressure on my poor old body. I was mostly being sensible and passing people at a distance but one couple, who were wearing face masks, moved away from me at 90 degrees and zipped up their heavy duty winter jackets to fully cover their mouth – which I felt was a little excessive given that I was never closer than about 20ft away.

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Anyway I hurled myself on to the final climb of Rivington Pike and chatted (at a safe social distance) to a local cyclist, both of us wondering why the hell we were here. I waved at him as I left him behind and continued my climb to the top which was awash with people. I stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and then made a swift sprint down the front of the Pike knowing that an absolute shit of a hill was waiting for me.

I’ll be perfectly honest, not a lot of running was done back up the hill, my legs were absolutely cream crackered and all I wanted was to be back at the car and maybe stop at the ice cream van who was awaiting customers in the park. I was also very keen to relieve my bladder of its contents but given the throngs of people that were festooned around the route and the lack of any cover meant that I really had to tie a knot in it and hold on. It was here that I noted I had probably made a routing error on the way out and added several hundred metres to my journey as my beloved Suunto insisted that I head across the wet boggy trail. Of course this was music to my ears – get off the tarmac, get back in touch with nature and as cold mud sprayed up the back of me and my feet found themselves submerged I thought, ‘bliss’. I came across a father and son who were clearly not geared for this kind of trail and looking rather unhappy at the prospect of having to continue through this but they managed a cheery smile as I ran by them.

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Soon though I was back on the path and facing the Winter Hill mast, I waved goodbye to it as I turned away from it and pushed on as fast as I could knowing that it was mostly downhill all the way home. However, as I’ve indicated the route was hard going and even in a downhill situation if you’re undertrained and exhausted then it is ging to be hard. But with the wind on my back and surprising cheeriness in my heart I ran happily off the hill and back to road which seemed so long ago now.

When I arrived back to the gate it felt like I had really achieved something and I gently ran down the road, attemptin not to punish my old nears any more than I needed to. I was so close now and in the distance I could see the park where all of this had started. Down, down, down I went – bit like a first date that has gone too well – and as I arrived back to the point I met the earlier virtual runners I felt a tremendous sense of relief. Yes I’d been slow but I’d had good reason not to rush this one – I had time and I wanted time to be able to reflect on everything that is currently going on both personally and globally. I crossed the finish line to the sound of silence, or rather the sound of nature and actually rather enjoyed it.

I’d completed the Pike and Back Half Marathon and I was pleased to have done it.

Distance: Half Marathon
Type: Virtual (due to COVID-19)
Ascent: Bloody Hell
Date: March 2020
Location: Bolton
Terrain: Very mixed
Tough Rating: 3/5

Conclusions
I would traditionally write a full breakdown of the event but that is impossible given the nature of this one in its virtual format. What I will say is that full credit goes to the team of Time2Run Events for allowing runners to complete the event virtually – they could simply have said ‘cancelled’ but as many Race Directors have done they have looked for alternatives and we should be grateful for that.

The route was really tough, the elevation was challenging, the mixed terrain meant that shoe choice was a nightmare and if you really weren’t prepared for this then you were going to have your arse handed to you and mine was handed to me gift wrapped.

Had I not been attending my grannies funeral, and referencing the race in the eulogy I had written for the following day, then I probably wouldn’t have come down for the race I would have transferred my entry to next year, done the training and actually run much better but there was something special about this, about doing it alone, abour forcing myself to push on. I’m an ultra runner really and the half marathon distance is my least favourite race length so to come here and really enjoy myself is really quite wonderful.

There was also something joyous about finishing the ‘race’ first and last – that’ll make me laugh for the rest of my days and I feel like this is a medal I have really earned. I will looking forward to receiving the medal knowing that whenever I look at it with all the others at the top of my staircase that it will bring back a smorgasbord of feelings and that is the sign of a great thing.

The one thing I did notice was how friendly people were in comparison to the Scottish races I run, up here almost all the runners, hikers, walkers, etc have time to smile or have a laugh and a joke with you but despite smiling and saying hello to everyone I went past there was something of a lack of response. Now some of it I’ll put down to COVID-19 but I was rather surprised that the north of England, famed for its friendliness, was a little less than I’ve gotten used to in Scotland. That said, those people that did wave back or say hello or smile back at me were warm and wonderful, I was just surprised by how many people simply didn’t bother.

If you’ve never run this race before then can I urge you to look up Time2Run Events and sign up to this most wonderful of race – even if like me you have to travel down from Scotland to do it, I will certainly be considering entering again for next year.

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‘That’s right Kathryn … just like a bear I like taking a shit in the woods’ – these were the words I left my boss with as she went on to her annual leave. She’s American, not 100% sure about my deadpan style of humour and it amuses me to tell her I leave big pooey deposits in the woods and then simply hang up the phone. You may call this childish and in fact it is but talking about it brings me to a problem that has been causing me nonstop grief for my last few races … that’s right the pre-race poo and the effect of not having it.

Now this is the final warning you’re getting, this post may contain words like poo, dump, turd, anal sphincter, streaky, sloppy or worse, you have been warned.

So far in 2015 I’ve raced 7 times and of those 7 races I’ve had problems on 4 occasions.

Let’s start at the Vigo 10 where my lack of ability to use the facilities (in this case because of forgetfulness) caused me to squeezing my arse cheeks together from about mile 2. There is no doubt that my need to keep my peachy cheeks pursed will definitely have had an effect on my time at the race.

The Brands Hatch Half came next and this time my need to use the facilities wasn’t seemingly needed until about mile 3 of the race – thankfully I was able to pull in at one of the facilities later in the race (but I had already used the facilities fully that morning). I mean seriously body, could you not hang on?

Next up was the SDW50 – the good news is that on an ultra I’m always prepared for this eventuality (poo bags and shit roll) but I was lucky that I wasn’t caught short until well beyond mile 40 and actually it would be more problematic to stop and shit than simply keep going. The bonus here was I’d managed to visit the little boys room at the start and despite my fear that my deposit was simply an uncorking it proved just the tonic to get me most of the way around. However, I had been concerned that very much like the 2014 edition of the SDW50 I might have to find a discreet place and do like the bears do. Weirdly I had a little smile as I went past the place I had stopped last year, not so much happy memories as glad I wasn’t stopping there again.

And finally to the Darent Valley which despite only being a 10km proved that ‘poo’ can fuck you over whenever it wants. I knew it was going to be a problem because it was an 8.30am start, I needed to leave the house by 6.40am and I was cycling on rough roads and toughish hills – all these things have a habit of making me need the loo.

I was aware on arrival that my morning visit to mr armitage and mr shanks would be due shortly but the brewing of my morning offering would be incomplete before the race commenced. What to do? History has shown that running and needing to have a crap causes all sorts of physical and mental problems but trying to force Mother Nature is probably never a good idea 10 minutes before the race begins.

There was no compromise I was going to have to run with ‘the urge to go’. With a bit of luck and a fair wind (poor choice of words) I’d be back in 45 minutes or so and could then avoid the large crowds of people queueing and make my call of nature.

However, more than on any other race this year the pain was excruciating, stomach cramps, sphincter clenching and a mental fear that I was going to douse myself in filth going up or down a hill was my only thought as I hit the second kilometre marker. You will of course be pleased to hear that I made it back to the finish without leaving any UltraBoy fecal matter on the mean hills of Kent but there is no doubt that the pain I was in and the urgent need to go is having an effect on my times and at the Darent Valley it was noticeable.

What’s Happening? Undoubtedly I get nervous pre-race and know that a lot of runners do and the galloping trots is not unheard of. Also not unheard of is the fear of using the portaloos/toilets – myself included. I will never forget the state of one of the toilets at C2C in the pub at the start line, the poo was poking above the toilet seat line – if you saw that you’ll never forget it, nor did you want to use it (additionally though I’d like to praise the organisation of the C2C team, the toilet issue was beyond their control).

Then there’s the shaking and the jiggling of the running (and in the case of my last 10km the cycling) which just makes everything that bit more mobile in the colon! And sometimes the effect of this is that you’ve simply got to go in public. My experience at my first SDW50 was so mortifying that it brings tears to my eyes simply thinking about it, but the worst bit was it took me more than 5 miles to find a discreet spot not too far off the course that I could relieve myself with some modicum of privacy.

What do I do? Well no chilli, no curry, nothing spicy, nothing too salty or sugary in the days leading up to a race – I eat bland food, increase vegetables and avoid things I know will upset me. I try and rotate my day round a little bit so that I can hopefully visit the little boys room earlier in the day without it feeling unnatural and I try and sleep more than I do in a normal week – all of this helps but I believe that my preparation for races in 2015 has been less structured and this might be the cause of my race day toilet disasters.

Curious? I’m somewhat curious about other peoples poor pre race toilet experiences and how they have coped with them? Not out of some weird fetish but more to see if there is something else I can do to resolve getting to the start line with stomach cramps or the need to be clenching inside! I can believe this is a post that won’t be to everyones taste (poor choice of phrasing again) but it is one of those topics that we have pretty all been affected by but avoid talking about because it is pretty grim.

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‘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.

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‘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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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I’ve been really lucky to have been on the start line with some great runners in my time, I think my favourite was probably Tobias Mews who I met briefly in the bacon sandwich queue for the Snowdonia Marathon but even that pales into insignificance when I was able to train with my dad for the WNWA96. He was down in my neck of the woods to have a little check on UltraBaby and also do a bit of preparation for the walk. We had decided that we would spend the Monday looking over new shoes (many pairs tested and even more examined). Interestingly my dad said that the Hoka were possibly the most comfortable shoes he had worn in years, I only felt moderately smug as people tend to laugh at the stupid look of the Hoka.

Anyway, enough of the Hoka and retail love.

On the Tuesday morning we set ourselves up for a 21.2km walk, both of us kitted up to the hilt and using this as an opportunity to test the Black Diamond Ultra hiking poles, which I had suggested that my dad might want to use across the 96 miles. We set out from my house about 9.30am with the aim for the walk to take around 3hrs 30minutes (including photography and traffic stops) this included a halfway stop for a bacon sandwich – sounded like a genius plan and would also mimic the conditions on the walk which has been broken up into (roughly) 6 mile sections.

As we left the house a lady called over to us and said hello, my dad and I, being rather polite, said hello in return and then suddenly we found ourselves deep into conversation with ‘Pat’ a lady, originally from Burma but now… Hmmm I could go into her life story (believe me I received it all in the 45 minutes we chatted) but I feel that is for another time.

Anyway, armed with the kit, Thunderpad the Spaniel and Justice Jimmy the Westie we started out but also damp and cold from our untimely meeting with Pat… The weather was cool and mildly windy but great conditions for walking, so despite being chilled we soon warmed up.

The first mile was very much downhill and primarily on the tarmac but as we came to the first of the trail sections we could see that there might be problems as the uneven nature of the course meant a slowdown in pace. However, a return to the tarmac and better roads meant that we were able to pick up the pace and maintain somewhere in the region of 3.5miles per hour. This was excellent and even the undulating and even hilly nature of the course I had selected bothered neither of us and with the dogs now off the lead we headed at pace towards the first of the major inclines we had to attack.

My dad pushed well through the incline and as we hit 5km only 45minutes had passed and I was keen that we went as hard as we could because I feel it is important that in the sections were you have the most energy you use that enthusiasm to cover the ground, especially in the training. A brief respite in the incline brought us to kilometre 6 and with it probably the hardest section of the walk with over 400ft of positive ascent. This according to my dad would mimic some of the section of the WNWA96 between Sheffield and. Huddersfield. Despite the challenge of the incline we again exceeded expectation but the cold had started to set in and so with some common sense kicking in we both wrapped our buffs around our heads and despite looking like knobheads felt all toasty. The buffs had the added benefit of cutting out the noise of the traffic which was at points quite loud.

The final 3km to the country park were relatively quiet, save for the traffic, and crossing into our ‘checkpoint’ meant that there was hot coffee and a delicious baguette. Again in line with the walk we kept the stop short(ish), 20 minutes for the food and a few minutes for a couple of photographs (enclosed). Both the hounds were excited to be hitting the road again as there had been no sign of bacon sandwich for them and I explained to my Dad that the return leg was much more of a downhill effort than an uphill slog. Our pace quickened to account for downhill and we made swift progress to the major decline, here my dad tested the hiking poles I had brought along and found that, once he had gotten the hang of them, they might be invaluable in terms of walking the actual route during the event.

We dropped on to the 5km point bang on time for a roughly 3hr 30min finish and with a bit of a flourish we could probably trundle the last leg without any problems. Annoyingly the finish has some gently inclines to account for the decent from my house onto the main track and so the last section required a bit of a push – which we both gave and then straight into the town. Thunderpad and I fancied a bit of a big finish and the a chance to get to the kettle on, so at the top of my road me and hound said goodbye to daddy and sprinted the last couple of hundred metres – lovely.

Upon arriving home, cup of tea in hand and armed with some soda bread toast we agreed that this was a good test walk, it had a bit of everything. The route was heavily undulating, challenging but manageable, multi terrain, noisy and windy. This was the kind of training walks that really help set you up for big events and in all fairness we managed it with great aplomb. The only very minor downside is that the route wasn’t 30miles but with time against us this was excellent.

I’m very proud of my dad, and of course the rest of the people who are giving this a go, they really are amazing and I’m looking forward to not only to the event but also to blogging about it as we walk as I’m confident that we will all need your support on the day.

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As I’m sure that readers of this blog will have realised in just the few postings I’ve written I do love running in so many of its guises, slow, fast, distance, endurance, fun, race, adventure, trail, road, track. I have yet to meet a race type that I came away thinking ‘nope that’s not for me’. And I do loves me a medal and therefore running does tend to cost me a small fortune in kit, time, race entry, transport, etc – I’ve spent thousands of pounds over the last three years and have mostly thought that I’ve had good value for money but in the last year or so it’s come to my attention that the costs have been rising but what you are getting in return hasn’t matched that price increase. Now this is a subject I’ve written about before on various forums on other peoples blogs but I thought I’d throw down my own thoughts in light of the cost of the recent Royal Parks Half Marathon and (for those that ran it) the Run to the Beat, two rather expensive half marathons.

One of the things that a race should offer is great value, race organisers need to recall that we can go running anytime, we choose to come to your event – which is why the rising price of races, against the lowering of the value is so galling. Take the mistake riddled Run to the Beat, 13.1 miles of tight course, not so much a race as an effort. I’ll admit I didn’t run it but I knew several of the runners on that day and they all came back with the same disappointed response – too expensive, too crowded, the organisers seemed more interested in the amount they could make than putting on a race that was good quality. To be fair the organisers did offer a level of compensation and should be commended for that but if they had priced it more sensibly there would have been less anger over the disorganisation that hindered the event.

Let’s consider the Royal Parks Half Marathon, £46 of my money. Now I’ve already said this is a lovely race to do and I’m not going to backtrack at all but it was still £46 for a half marathon, that seems a silly amount. However, at least with this it was organised, a pleasant, iconic route, with a unique medal at the end. Add to this we all did our bit to support the continuation of the Royal Parks and this is where you can start to feel the value added element. The Royal Parks Foundation went to great trouble to remind us that our fee, our fundraising was going to support this truly magnificent set of green spaces and I think we as runners can appreciate that.

Some people like the big spectacle
However, to have run both the above half marathons would have meant spending around £100 + transport (potentially hotels if you were visiting London). That £100 would get you into around 4 smaller events, perhaps even 5 if you shopped around and these would have been equally good – possibly better. But the big events that are attracting thousands upon thousands of runners have to cater a little bit to the fact that you get every type of runner turning up and certainly in the case of the Royal Parks you could say this was both a PB course and a potentially excellent beginners half marathon.

So are these bigger, more marketable events, with big names attached designed, not so much for the regular racer, but designed for those seeking a bit of a one off? In which case is making it this big pricier spectacle worth it? Well possibly as they always sell out don’t they?

The flip side
Speaking to a race director recently he confirmed he was struggling to break even at the races he was putting on, partly because he couldn’t compete with the lure of the bigger races or match their marketing – this was a huge shame as the race he did put on was magnificent and I shall be continuing to support races of this type because without them those of us that love racing dozens of times a year would really be missing out. This is were social media has been very influential, we ask questions about events now, we seek out previous runners for reviews and word of mouth is helping to swell the smaller events to bigger numbers – it’s a start I suppose but we should be encouraging people to support smaller events. One way might be to make it compulsory to have completed a 10km/half marathon race before you can enter one of the big much lauded events like the London Marathon.

Beyond the half
I’ve perhaps focused a little too much on the rising price of the half marathon but it isn’t just them that have seen a hike in the cost, consider events such as The Survival of the Fittest which even at its earlybird price is rather expensive and again despite the iconic location, decent goodies and a real crowd pleaser you have to ask is it worth it? As a former competitor in the Survival of the Fittest I can honestly say it is a truly outstanding event and a great time was had by every single person there but was it worth the money? Probably not and I’m a big advocate for Rat Race events having run both the Trailblazer and The Wall with them (both actually pretty good value).

Something to remember Mr Race Director
Runners bring with them not only supporters but also a need for merchandise, food, drink, we are a valuable source of income for races, sponsors, sports kit manufacturers, stockists and general local economies. We don’t mind paying for events, we don’t even mind paying for extras – what we mind is not getting value for money. It’s not even that we think closing roads, hiring people, buying the banners and the chip timing comes free – we don’t, runners know these things cost money – heck we even hope the organisers make some money so that the following year they come back out and provide an even better event.

£50 v £10
If I’ve paid £50 for any race I’d probably be expecting a technical shirt of some description, a nice bespoke medal, a few goodies that I don’t have to wait an age for and a great route with friendly marshalling, it doesn’t seem much to ask. If I’ve paid £10 for a race I’d hope for a good race, some marshalling and hopefully a medal. All we ask is that we are remembered as a vital part of the process and treated like the customer we are and if you are going to charge extra you should be delivering more.

An example of good value
I would draw your attention to a recent race I ran, the inaugural Oliver Fisher 10km – £15 and for this I received a bloody fantastic race with amazing marshalling, free parking, a decent medal, a technical T-shirt and some Jaffa cakes (and had I wanted them a collection of other sweet things). That was a race that not only can I recommend for the course but also for the organisation and the effort put in by everyone involved.

Ultra value
Now let me draw mention a section of the running world that still seems to understand we are coming along for the event and that is ultra marathons. Ultra Marathons are any distance over 26.2miles – big distances designed for long distance and endurance athletes. These events cover large swathes of land, going through difficult terrain and require huge amounts of preparation in terms of routes, planning and organisation (not that I’m taking away from how difficult shorter races are to organise but still …). An ultra marathon is a logistic nightmare and yet the prices seem to be sensible. Centurion Running who I am going to race the South Downs Way 50 and North Downs 100 with are charging just £65 and £125 respectively and for that amount there will be food, marshals and pre-race information prepared for me and the other runners. There will be excellent medals, T-shirts and other delightful items.

I come back to Rat Race and ‘The Wall’ and while I may have questioned the cost of ‘The Survival of the Fittest’ I have no such complaint about ‘The Wall’ a 69mile race from Carlisle to Gateshead, a race with great food, great support and excellent marshalling as well as perfectly timed signage to direct you to the finish and with a medal that has pride of place on my mountain of bling. These big event races could learn a thing or two from the ultra world, they could even learn a thing or two from events such as the London Marathon which despite being one of the biggest events in the world manages to maintain a sensible price.

So for those of you not bored by my withering and ranting I have a very simple message, enjoy your running but support the little races, as well as the biggest and the best. And to the big race organisers my message is don’t price us out of coming to your events because we love doing them and you need us as much as we need you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, I love the new medal too 🙂

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Two of my favourite Tweeters answered the questions below, as I understand it Mary ( @ahealthiermoo ) published them plus answered them and Sarah gave a set of stunning answers too ( @mia79gbr ). Sarah and her Creme Egg answers have inspired me to provide my own set of musings.

10 questions for 10 bloggers:

1. What is your absolute favourite meal?
This is very difficult to answer because its so wide and varied. As an ultra runner I really should be eating clean and not consuming crap al the time but the truth is that I do enjoy crap like Dominoes Pizza and Mars Bars. I also have a huge amount of love for Houmous, Burritos – well all things Mexican if truth be told. I suppose though it does come back to the Burrito followed by a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter with chocolate cups ice cream and washed down with a giant thick chocolate milkshake. Back to the burrito though it has to be filthy, probably filled with sloppy beef, black beans, hot salsa, guacamole, sour cream and coriander rice, extra coriander, its got to make my nose run and my my bum burn – if it doesn’t do that then it’s not my favourite meal.

The best bit is that after eating all of this means I really do have to go out running or it will just sit around my middle and make me a fatty.

2. Where is your favourite place to run/work out?
I run a lot around London and Kent because that’s where I work and live but there are bits of the world I enjoy more. I love the Welsh coast and I love running around the Great Orme, I also love running in Great Windsor park during the winter when the ground is wet and horrible and you feel the slop of the mud cutting up around your feet. I also enjoyed running in New York as it’s a very linear place to run. My favourite most recent place to run though would be Capstone Country Park where I did the Oliver Fisher 10km, it was a very up and down place and was just glorious to run round.

3. If you could work in any job, what would it be?
Professional ultra runner? But probably I’d be a superhero of some description, the kind with laser eyes, maybe I could be Burrito Boy and have the constant whiff of chilli about me – that would be pretty yummy and pretty cool.

4. What’s been the most satisfying moment in your life so far?
There are lots of great moments, lots of things that gave me huge satisfaction – so many infact I’m not sure I could pick one. In running terms it would completing my first ultra with just 6 minutes to cross the line

5. What is your ultimate fitness goal?
MDS, UTMB, keeping middle age and the burritos from turning me into a old fat fart … which is a possibility if I’m not careful

6. If you had an extra two hours a day, every day, what would you fill that time with?
I’d fill it with more running and sports and maybe try and convince my dog that he wants to do Cani-X, there are just never enough hours in the day. I suppose if nobody was watching me I’d fill it with dirty burritos though.

7. What is the nicest thing you have ever done for anybody?
I sold up my entire life and moved to Asia to support my partner. In the last week though I took various relatives to hospital for their respective appointments and managed not to get too annoyed at them.

8. Everybody has a little OCD about something (I always cross my fingers when I walk under a street sign!) – What’s your ‘thing’?
I sniff as I leave the house to make sure I haven’t left the gas fire on (we don’t have a gas fire … ). I like my books in height order, I need to listen to at least one ABBA track on a race morning, preferably one of the upbeat ones (Waterloo, Does Your Momma Know).

9. If you could repeat any part of your life again, which part would you choose?
All of it and perhaps not burn as many bridges as I did as a younger man.

10. What do you wish you could go back and tell your 15 year old self?
Don’t burn bridges, don’t worry about things, don’t get angry and keep running through your 20s.

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So many races have taken place in the last two years and I’ve been a part of about 40 of them, collecting medals, T-shirts, certificates and usually biscuits but there was a defining moment when I realised I loved running and that was on 09.10.11, the date of my first ever half marathon, aged 34. Now a couple of years later, and although the T-shirt is a different colour, I’m back at the Royal Parks Half Marathon. I’ve been injured the last few months and I’m just going to roll up and have a few laughs tomorrow, no pressure, no time to get, this is about the day, the atmosphere and my love of running. I know lots of my fellow Tweeters are going to be there picking up PBs, doing their first half marathons but ultimately having a stunning time, I’m very proud to be one of you.

Good luck chaps and I’ll see you on the start line.

There’s nothing like the wind in your hair, the sweat dripping down your face, the dipping in front of a Japanese tourist who unforgivably got in your way or racing the traffic lights hoping like hell that you aren’t going to get flattened by the number 73 bus winding its way up to Ilford. There’s nothing like it at all and more importantly there’s nothing like hitting 4km in under 16 minutes, I’ll admit not far under 16 minutes but it was under. After months of injury it just felt good to be back and making headway and I weaves in and out of London’s notoriously busy Zone 1. Tonight me and my MV2 were on fire, we finally produced the goods and we are adding distance too, 7 miles were done last weekend and I’ve done a couple of 5 milers – my first half marathon of the autumn season is still 16 days away … I can do this, I’m mad enough to think I can get ready in this time and tomorrow I’m going to prove it by kicking all sorts of arse in the hills around my home.

Look at you Royal Parks Half Marathon, Ultraboy Runs and he’s running at you.

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