- 315km run
- 50 ‘Cultural London RunCommute’ photographs shot
- 44 sculptures/statues discovered
- 43km longest run
- 24 days of running
- 13km daily average
- 12 Classic, handwritten blogs
- 9 Blog posts
- 8 Buffs used
- 6 ThunderPad Runs
- 5 UltraBaby Runs
- 4 days of the galloping trots
- 4 rest days
- 3 running events
- 3 medals
- 2 pairs of trainers
- 2 events entered (Green Man, Skye Ultra Trail)
- 1 Beard grown
- 1 round of Tonsilitis
It’s been a great couple of years with Virtual Runner UK. I (the GingaNinja, UltraBaby, ThunderPad and even Pops accompanied by Jimmy) have done quite a few events with them with the highlight definitely being the Poppy Challenge – a little over 300km in 24 running days. It’s actually going to be a little bit sad for me not to be doing them for a while but I try not to repeat myself too much in my running and so I’m off to concentrate on the build up to my 2016 ultra events – BUT I WILL BE BACK
I’d like to say a gigantic thank you to the lovely and dedicated Susan who has provided some excellent events since she set up VRUK and I’ve been incredibly grateful that they’ve kept me going during injury rehabilitation, the GingaNinjas pregnancy, tough working situations and a whole load of other things that, had it not been VRUK, might have stopped me running. So thank you.
And now to the the Poppy Challenge which has given me the opportunity to go on a creative tour of London as I have racked up the miles. Below are a selection of the images taken during the month as I sought to find both culture and fitness in the name of rememberance.
But what of the final full week of the Poppy Challenge. I was left with just 37km to go. By Monday I had dropped this to just 25km and by the time I was drifting to sleep on Tuesday I had less than 15km to go. But what to do? I wanted to finish at exactly 300km, this meant reaching 290km by Friday and doing my Movember Greenwich 10km on Saturday and concluding the event. I decided bugger it, I’d just have to pass through the 300km mark and forget about the numbers.
The good news was that I reached and passed the 290km on Wednesday and relaxed a bit with some gentle and short jogs too and from my office. And so I strode up to the start line on Saturday – moustache and other facial hair adorning my chiseled good looks and set off around the hilly Greenwich Park pushing UltraBaby in the UltraMobile.
As I crossed the line, 55 minutes later, I was elated but not as much as my legs were ‘Time for a rest UltraBoy’ they chimed in unison. 315km done, my Poppy Challenge complete. A great event and I feel properly ready for Saintelyon and I have few days rest ahead of me before the final and main event of 2016 kicks off – so thank you Susan, it’s been a blast.
I’d like you to read the below email from Martin at Likeys, one of the best outdoor stores in the UK – if not the world. They are an independent retailer and like many others from all over the country they are being battered by the larger, more powerful companies and we as runners (both ultra and not) have an opportunity to do something about it. I’d also love you take a look at the event photograph above and see how much kit is there – tonnes of it and I’m confident lots of it was advised on by the independent retailers I’m writing about now. Read on…
This isn’t your typical email but I would like to share some thoughts with you….. and as a reward, there is a 10% discount code at the end of the email – but if time allows, please read the following first.
Likeys (like most other independent retailers) have over many years strived to provide the very best service to our customers. This service includes the following…..
* Sourcing the newest and best products, often putting our necks on the line in bringing innovative brands and products to the market – brands such as Hoka, Nuun, Raidlight, X-Bionic, Aarn, Injinji (and many more) were first seen in Likeys, long before the “Big Boys” had even heard of the brands.
* We freely give advice for all manner of running and adventures whilst always having the customers’ needs at the very forefront of our minds. We have had customers traveling from as far away as Zimbabwe specifically to pick our brains, whilst we have stayed open until 12.45 in the morning to make sure a couple of athletes got the advice and correct kit choices for an extreme ultra they were about to compete in. In a nutshell, we will always go that extra mile to look after our customers.
* We always try to be as competitive as we can be with our prices.
* We passionately support the sport we love – over the years we have sponsored the Questars Adventure Race Series (past 6 years). Have been the main sponsors of the popular 3-4-5 mile race series in Brecon (past 5 years), as well as giving away over £5,000 worth of sponsorship to ultra-runners in 2013. Plus year in year out providing numerous spot prizes for many races both locally and around the country.
* We organise both the Beacons Ultra (8th year in 2015) and the 6633 Ultra in the Canadian Arctic (7th year in 2015). Both races organised with the primary aim of providing the competitors with no frills ultra challenges at different spectrums of the range of madness…. These events are organised because we love the sport… simple!!.
Over the last 12 months there have been seismic shifts in the outdoor retail market, with a number of large corporate retailers picking up on the boom of off-road/trail/ultra running, the results of which for customers is that there have seen some wonderful online discounting, particularly on items that were once perceived as specialist.
Naturally as a business we have noticed this, and a survey that we conducted a month or so ago confirmed that discounting is a significant factor when buying. However, it was equally obvious from that survey that the knowledge of specialist retailers, the personalised customer service and enthusiasm of independents which are freely given are also very highly regarded when making a purchase.
Independent retailers don’t have the financial clout to compete with these behemoths of the industry, so whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, unless there are changes, I can foresee Likeys closing its doors to the public in about 14 months when the lease on our current premises comes up for renewal.
In the 9 years Likeys has been around, neither Sue or I have ever paid ourselves as much as the minimum wage, so please read the above knowing that we are not trying to line our pockets, we are simply trying to maintain a service that we truly think will be missed if Likeys go. Likeys (and I think this will equally apply to many other independents that are caught up in this current discounting melee) has always been a passion before any business sense could be applied to it, so making money has never been the overriding factor, but alas even we have to make enough to pay the bills and pay the wages of those that work alongside us.
Now before you go jumping to any conclusions…. This isn’t a begging letter, it is merely a statement of how I see the market panning out for specialist independents such as Likeys.
So what am I saying….
Well, quite simply I would like you to consider supporting the independent stores (including Likeys) as much as you can in order that they can continue to support you in your adventures wherever they might take you. If you see an item for a few pounds more at an independent, please don’t assume they are being greedy, they are simply trying to bring products to the market at a fair price that will allow them to stay in business. Please support us independents, as your good custom means far more than you will ever realise. In return you will continue to get the excellent customer service, the free product advice, the enthusiasm and passion that only an independent store can provide….. and it’s only the likes of a Likeys that can offer you the chance to tackle what is probably the toughest race in the World!!!
Whilst I don’t imagine the above musing will change the world, I am a born optimist, so fingers crossed I am hoping enough people will appreciate the true value for money you get from independents that will see both Likeys and many of the other brilliant independents survive for many years to come so we can share the laughs and tribulations as you go on your merry way competing in daft events in this country and further afield.
Now, I mentioned a discount code….
Bearing in mind what I have written above, we would love it if you didn’t use it (wink wink), but equally we know everyone likes a bit of a deal….So, as a “Thank You” for a few minutes of your time reading the above – for 10% off anything you buy at Likeys (www.likeys.com) from now until Friday 26th, simply type in the two words coloured green above into the promotion code (without a space between) during checkout and the wizardry of the Likeys website will do the rest for you.
Very best wishes
P.S. Please feel free to share these sentiments with others that you think might appreciate them
I’m not including the discount coded because I’d rather we paid the price on the tin. But the point is that we as runners need resources like this, I don’t mind if you want to buy your Christmas sale bargains from Wiggle or. GoOutdoors or whoever but would it really hurt to spend that small bit extra to ensure we keep these places open?
To ensure I’m not being hypocritical I can tell you that 9 out of my last 10 pairs of running shoes came from independent retailers but I admit that my Salomon race vest came from Wiggle and some of my cheaper training kit comes from places Decathlon or buying direct from the manufacturer at things like the London Marathon Expo (though I still try and support smaller companies like Runderwear at these events). I’m also due to purchase my CCC shoes this week and given that I’ll be buying Altra Lone Peak 2.0 I know that I’ll be going to an independent retailer (either Accelerate or ultra-runner.com) because I think it’s the right thing to do and because the service and advice I have received from both these companies in the past has been really top notch.
All I’m asking is that you think about these companies, look beyond the giant discounts and try and remember that the deal you are being offered by Sweatshop and SportsDirect usually isn’t as good as you think (funny how Mike Ashley’s hand is involved in those two businesses and we are talking about the death of independent retailers). Let’s not forget these guys support the races we do with prizes, sponsorship, race day stores – if we undermine them too much then will the races that we love so much start to struggle to find funding? It’s a vicious circle isn’t it?
Help me out visit an independent retailer today and maybe make a purchase – do you really have to look that hard to find Run and Become? Likeys? Ultra-Runner? UltraMarathonRunningStore? Castleberg Outdoors? George Fisher? Accelerate? Endurance Store? Jog Shop, Brighton? Give them a chance and help them out – if not for you then for me – because I shop in them and I want them to stay around.
Just a thought guys.
I’ve been through a fair few pairs of shoes and even more miles. There are probably only half a dozen pairs of running shoes that I haven’t gotten on with – most of them Salomon. On my own personal journey to foot comfort nirvana I’ve passed through Merrell, Vibram FiveFingers, Brooks, Pearl Izumi, Inov8, Adidas, Hoka, Asics and even a couple of pairs of Skora. I’ve worn them all and more in an effort to find the shoe that would serve me best.
Perhaps my search is now over as I’ve just discoverd the Altra Lone Peak 2.0
My interest in Altra has been relatively long standing, @borleyrose has been banging on about them since we first started chatting via Twitter but the combination of Hoka and Inov8 were serving me very well and I saw no reason to move away from a decent rotation of trail shoes. However, her enthusiasm for them did ensure that if I ever saw them in a shop and was in the market for new kicks then I’d try them on.
Then it happened, I was at the London Marathon Expo and I had visited the Hoka stand and they weren’t very helpful at all. When I asked if they had anything in a 9.5 that was a wider fit and suitable for the trail the man who a talking to me brought me out a pair of their new ‘Speedgoat’. Not only was he simply wanting to show off his new model but the speedboat is designed for the exceptionally narrow footed runner – he hadn’t listened and I was finally pissed off with Hoka. Luckily as I stepped away from the stand and looked left there in big bold letters were Altra.
Olympus, Lone Peak, Superior – they had them all.
‘Excuse me, do you have the Lone Peak in a 9.5’ I asked. The gentleman couldn’t have been nicer and he had me try the 9.5 but when he said I should consider the 10 I felt a little foolish.
‘Take them for a spin’ he urged – I did.
I bounded round the exhibition hall of Excel like nobody’s business with the Lone Peak feeling light and fresh on my feet. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy went my feet as they pounded and spun around the various stands. I slowed, looked down at my feet and then bounded headlong back to the Altra stand. I told the chaps running the stand that they were possibly the most comfortable show I has ever tried, and I really wasn’t lying but at £110 they’re expensive and I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of shoes I’m using at any one time.
‘I need to think about these, by the way do they come in any colors?’ I asked simply as I wasn’t keen on the rather muted black option. The reply was that ‘they come in yellow too’. But they didn’t have those in stock.
What was in my mind now was a shoe for the Thames Path 100, but that race was now only a week away from my trying the Altra on. I immediately left the exhibition centre, jumped on a train and opened up every bit of research I could find on the LP2.0 and viewed the excellent Ginger Runners glowing blog post about them – view it here. I then started looking for the yellow version of the shoe.
By the following morning I had (thanks to Twitter) sourced what I expected was the last pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.0 size 10 UK in yellow and the Ultra Runner Store (www.ultra-runner.com). They guys there were amazing and managed to get me the shoes by the Monday after the London Marathon – excellent service and I look forward to using them again.
But that’s how I came to the shoe, what about the shoe? Now for reviewing purposes I normally wear a pair for about fifteen runs and the total distance for that can be anywhere between say 100km and 200km but the Lone Peak have only done 3 runs but one of them was the awesome Thames Path 100 therefore I’ve put in around 180km on these and in the interest of avoiding bias I paid for them with my own money.
What Altra Say?
The Lone Peak 2.0™ was inspired by one of the most rocky, rugged mountains in the Wasatch Range and was designed to tackle the gnarly terrain of the Wasatch 100. The FootShape™ toe box allows your toes to relax and spread out naturally for more comfort and stability in uphill and downhill trail conditions. Sandwiched StoneGuard™ technology offers protection from rocks and other trail debris while the carbon rubber TrailClaw™ outsole combines unique uphill and downhill lug traction for every trail condition. Quick-dry, abrasion-resistant mesh on the upper allows you to plow through puddles, debris or whatever nature throws at you.
Weight: 10.9 oz.
Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Traction, Comfort, Trail Protection
Platform: Zero Drop™ Platform, FootShape™ Toe Box
Stack Height: 26 mm
Midsole: Dual Layer EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
Outsole: Sticky Rubber TrailClaw™
Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed
Upper: Quick-Dry Trail Mesh, Minimal Seams
Other Features: Sandwiched StoneGuard™ Rock Protection, Trail Rudder, GaiterTrap™ Technology
Altra are perfectly designed for that slightly wider footed runner and the design of being more foot shaped does indeed allow your foot room to breathe, room to land on impact, promote better form and give rider stability. I found that out of the box I instinctively knew that the Altra were going to be move with me and not against me.
Upper: the upper claims to be a quick drying mesh and I was lucky enough to give them a thorough testing in both long wet grass and the rain of the TP100. The first thing you notice is that the upper stays dry and when it does finally get wet then it offers up a reasonably swift drying. However, if you put your foot through a river then the Lone Peak isn’t the quickest to drain and compared to say the Race Ultra 270 or even the Challenger ATR you’ll feel like you’re carrying the river away with you – at least for a few minutes. However, that’s a very minor negative and actually the upper feels light and not once did my feet feel like they were confined in a big fabric prison.
Durability and quality: this seems to be a bit of a bone of contention with some people suggesting that the LP2.0 start to disintegrate within 250km – well I’ll have hit 250km within half a dozen runs and to be honest they look pretty damn fine to me, the lugs look in good condition with almost no wear, the upper appears in one piece and strong and there is a whole feel to these shoes that Altra have listened to runners concerns.
Cushioning: As a lover of most of Inov8’s range of footwear I know what it’s like to have your feet feel the ground below you. The Trailroc, the Roclite, the Race Ultra 290 and the truly awesome Race Ultra 270 know it’s important to have some contact with the ground, to know that you’re doing the right thing with the terrain. The Lone Peak are different, they claim to be of moderate cushioning, zero drop but with a 26mm stack height and a rock plate + lateral stone guard. What does this mean for you? Basically it means that you can feel the ground, you can connect with terrain but not so much that you’re going to take a battering in your feet over the distance. Over the TP100 I got to more than 70 miles before problems kicked in and that was less to do with the shoe and more to do with my own stupidity.
It’s a weird sensation feeling the impact but not being affected by it, when you run in Hoka you don’t really feel the ground below you and when you run in Inov8 you feel pretty well connected to the ground – this is balance between the two. I’ve seen reviews describe the LP2.0 as a ‘limousine for your feet’ and this to me seems like a very good description.
The Lugs offer forward, back grooves intended for up and down the hills which are dense and deep enough for anything but thick claggy mud. The Lone Peak 2.0 aren’t the natural friend of mud or the UK ultra scene because we are always guaranteed mud somewhere on the route. These Altra were clearly built for dry, hard packed trail but the outsole on the LP2.0 goes some way to addressing the concerns of the European ultra marathoner that they are looking at the best ways to find a shoe to fit our conditions. Equally to note though with these are that the lugs are shallow enough to make going road to trail a possibility but deep enough that thy can force their way through the mud.
I did find that the outsole didn’t kick clear of mud very easily but this just required me to thrust my leg forward every few kilometres and flick it clean.
There’s something also about the beauty of the outsole, having already established that the outsole appears to be durable I’d like to give mention to the fact that the outsole is also tremendously beautiful, the foot shape as you lift your legs up gets shown to everyone behind you and that’s ankle talking point – you can also spot other Altra users a mile off. The big patches of yellow on my LP2.0 made for some exciting looking photographs (thanks Stuart March Photography for making them look awesome in my TP100 pictures).
When I first put them on they looked more like clown shoes than any of my Hoka, they are wide, they are long and there does appear to be a huge amount of fabric encasing your foot. In the black and red I’m a little bit ‘meh’ about them – too safe but in the yellow they just look awesome and once they are on you don’t notice the clown shoe nature of them. These are a good looking pair of shoes and infact it was partly me admiring my new Altra in shop windows as I ran through Soho recently that was the cause of my newly broken finger (long story).
The Ginger Runner and I disagree on this one, he says that the LP2.0 is too heavy, has too much fabric on the heel – could be lighter. I say that the nominal amount of additional weight gives you nothing but pleasure, my heel felt comforted over the 100 mile distance and my feet barely noticed that I had shoes on – I’ll admit they don’t feel like you’re wearing a pair of FiveFingers but then nothing does. The LP2.0 feel soft and light on your feet and I never felt fatigued in them. That said all of the latest generation of cushioned running footwear is so much lighter than it used to be and this is very much down to the manufacturers taking care with right balance of the right materials.
Half size up I’d suggest, however, I’d really suggesting going to a shop and trying them.
I paid, with postage, £103.50, which is a nominal saving on their RRP. What you can clearly say is that Altra (the whole range) is a but pricey but saying that it’s inline with its chief competitors like the Cascadia, the Mafate Speed, Challenger ATR and the various options from Inov8 and the like. I’ll be honest I don’t want to pay over £100 for every pair of running shoes I own but these were an investment in my feet and my running. I’d advise waiting until they come into a sale to buy Altra – but I fear you’d be waiting a long time.
The gaiter trap is awesome with a small piece of protected Velcro to tie in your dirty girl gaiters is very much appreciated and actually made my gaiters much more effective in keeping crap away from my foot. The tail rudder I’m not so sure about but it served no harmful purpose and perhaps I’ll find a use for it when I hit some slightly more serious hills. The lateral stone guard and the rock plate give nice solid protection and yet are thin enough to still let you feel the ground – ultimately these are a finely crafted shoe.
Value for money?
£100? Are they value for money? Yes I believe so. Altra have a product with enough differentiation to make them standalone in a very crowded marketplace. They aren’t an alternative to Hoka or Inov8, they are a uniquely crafted piece of footwear that deserve to be considered as such.
For some fitting may well be a problem as they are very wide fitting shoes but this is going to be a personal preference thing, this though leads me to the main problem with Altra and that is getting hold of them to try. It took me nearly 3 months to find a pair I could try on without visiting an online store and then it was the actual Altra representatives at the London Marathon. Come on Altra improve your supplier/retailer network.
Really good shoe with the caveat that they aren’t for everyone and if you can ‘try before you buy’. I’m an Altra convert and they have won a little place in my heart and will replace Hoka in my shoe rotation, and actually these bad boys might even make the grade for the CCC in August and replace the Inov8s I had earmarks for that race.
Good work Altra, looking forward to trying your other shoes.
I was concerned they’d stopped making shoes for wide footed hobbits like me but thankfully Hoka One One have the Challenger ATR and now I own some. I’ll hopefully be testing these big beasties and reviewing them over the next few weeks once the trails have battered them up.
The Night Before
‘Burrito please’ I said as the lady behind the counter inquired as to the nature of my order. It had been a pretty lousy week for running and exercise in general – just 13.1 cruddy miles and I was now off to Bristol which I had assumed would offer no real running fun. So, on Friday evening before I set off for Bristol I chowed down on a big fat dirty Burrito.
I arrived in Bristol to be greeted by the lovely Lynne and her partner in crime Anna – met up with my own partner The GingaNinga and of course UltraBaby. Despite the lateness of the hour I had mentioned to Lynne that there was an event called ‘ParkRun’ that she could join, with some trepidation she agreed to join me and between us we figured out which was the closest and most accessible of the runs – it turned out to be Ashton Court.
Now the name Ashton Court had me imagining some large council owned tower block out of Only Fools and Horses so when we pulled up about a kilometre from the start I was rather surprised to see that there was nothing but lush greenery and hills.
Behind us another car pulled in and out stepped what you might describe as a senior lady, ‘are you going to the ParkRun?’ she inquired.
We all headed up together and Vilma turned out to be a little treasure trove of information about this ParkRun and bit about her own story. I got the felling that Vilma was a bit of a character at this event. She described this as quite a small event, about 300 runners (small I thought???). Anyway Vilma helped us find a loo, we chatted some more and then we lost her but Lynne and I mingled and introduced ourselves to lots of runners – it was an incredibly friendly atmosphere.
We went along for the newbies chat, Lynne as a first timer and me as a tourist. Our run leader was a very pleasant gentleman and kept the party mood going with a bit of banter.
Being a nice, cool and crisp morning meant it was ideal conditions for running and I’d be listening to tales of a 2.5km hill and then a 2.5km hill down, in ideal conditions this could be fun.
‘What’s your normal 5km time?’ I asked
’34, 35 minutes… came the reply’
I said I’d pace to make sure that’s what we ran but in all honesty I knew that Lynne would benefit from a PB on a potentially tough course with a fast finish.
The crowd gathered and Lynne turned and said ‘we should have started at the back…’
‘People will go round us, concentrate on yourself,’ was my reply and one that was reinforced politely by a lady who turned and smiled at us.
I’d never seen Lynne run so she could have been really crap but actually she had great form and a steady pace. I ran a few metres ahead offering gentle words of encouragement as we pushed up the hill. Because we weren’t going near my normal 5km pace I decided I’d make a few jokes and had a few laughs with some of the runners we were passing.
Then a tight left turn and onto the final ascent, here I insisted we start targeting runners. ‘Girl, green top, blonde hair, ridiculous leggings – let’s have her’ we started passing people.
We reached the halfway point at the top of the hill and I asked how Lynne was going
And then I put my plan into action. I had 30 minutes in my head and I pressed a bit harder, targeting runners, not letting Lynne lose sight of me. We briefly saw the lovely Vilma again and (the previously unmentioned but awesome) Craig (we waved).
Then it was race time ‘Breathe deeply, stay in control, don’t let your body just flip down the hill – push’ I said, ‘see that woman she’s our next target…’
Then a young girl sprinted past me, I laughed, turned to Lynne and gave her the thumbs up – she was on fire. The young lady however, needed teaching a lesson, and I was in a giving mood!
‘You’re quick!’ I shouted as I sprinted past her
‘My second ParkRun!’ She hurled at me as she thundered past.
‘You’re doing great, but I can’t let you beat me…’ and with that I hit the afterburner ‘…c’mon Lynne – faster’
250metres to go – woman in blue, going to a sub30 finish – she had maybe 80metres to go – uphill. I apologised as I blasted past her but I was feeling fun.
I crossed the line, feeling better than I have in ages and then waited for Lynne. Each second felt a lifetime and then I saw her and she had stepped infront of the sprinting teenager. Holy shit she’s going to make it!!! Mere inches separated them but she had done it and in a very respectable time too.
Lynne collapsed to the floor, I think moaning about the level of energy she had just expended but she was ecstatic.
Cup of tea was now in order. Yum
What can I say to make you attend this run? Well…
1. What a course, amazing – one of the best 5km routes I’ve ever done
2. Super friendly
3. Great facilities
4. Great views of Bristol
5. Well attended
6. Outstanding volunteers
As a final note I’d like to say thank you to Vilma for the note she left us on the car (if you know her and see her this week please pass on my best wishes). It’s that level of friendliness that makes me want to go back to this run or perhaps more importantly – try another one 🙂
Thanks to Rich Kenington for the second of this posts photographs!
I recall pulling out of the NDW100 earlier in the year and thinking that it was the worst moment of the last 3 years of running. Rolling on 6 weeks and I’m now at the foot of the staircase to the Winter 100. My training had been going okay post injury – I’d been building myself up – 10, 12 and then 15 mile runs, couple of shorter back to backs and then BOOM – hamstring.
And that was just a few weeks back and there’s that little matter of the Winter100.
Why this ultra?
Centurion Running are considered to be one of the finest organisers of ultra distance races in the United Kingdom and I’d be foolish to argue, the Winter 100 will be my third time doing stuff with them and I’m already booked in for a further three next year. However, all the evidence leads me to believe that no matter how well organised and well supported it is, this is going to be one bitch of a race, therefore why this ultra? Well that’s easy, because I love the challenge … but I’m beginning to wonder if I’d struggle when I was 100% fit and in good form – which brings me back to the hamstring …
Rosie, my amazing, amazingly realistic and honest physiotherapist (just ask me for her details if you’re in Kent) has been working my body into the ground to get me ready to race. Her efforts have meant that I’ve managed to successfully race the last couple of weekends (10 miles and a 10km) but she tells me I need rest too – bucketloads of it. Despite her efforts though she believes – quite rightly – that the Winter 100 has come too early for me. However, the good news is that she will help me make the best of a difficult situation – the sessions with her have also helped to mentally prepare me for the possibility of a hamstring flare up and what I would need to do in that event.
Looking for positives?
But aside from a hamstring injury and very limited training I’m feeling pretty good but the Winter 100s reputation as a bit of a ball-breaker is terrifying. It’s already been moved from November to October to give people more of a chance against the weather and the course (4 out and backs in different directions) looks merciless. It is guaranteed to be a test of tenacity both physically and mentally, a examination of run strategy, pacing, fuelling and kit.
Physically I’m currently ill equipped but mentally I’m prepared for that level of not being ready! As for a run strategy? Well I’ve got one of them – slow and steady, with an aim of around 4 – 4.25 miles per hour, it’ll be tight and with no capacity to mess about but I believe this is the way my hamstring will get round. Obviously in the sections I can go a bit quicker I’m going to but not at the risk of an injury that could bring my race to a premature end.
Fuel me up buttercup!
As for fuel I’m going to go down the route of real food and isotonic drinks – gels don’t work for me but I often crave real food, particularly savoury bits, my new Oxsitis bag should offer ample room to carry anything I need. I’ll probably add Kinder chocolate too as this has become something of a favourite on the trail.
As for kit I think I’m pretty much ready. I’ve bought Pearl Izumi Trail N1 and Inov8 Race Ultra 290 for this event and they’ll be teamed with Hoka Stinson Trail and probably some Trailroc 245 and/or Vibram FiveFingers – basically one pair of shoes per section and a spare if it all goes tits up! I’ve made the transition completely to Drymax socks from Injinji and I’ve replaced my Ultimate Directions PB with the Oxsitis Hydragon. The new pack benefits from being able to handle my Z fold poles as well, which for the first time on a race will be going with me – I realise I’ll look like an UltraWanker but do I give a fuck? No.
I’m wishing I’d thought more carefully about this – I decided I wouldn’t need a pacer because if I could make it to the 50 mile point then I could death march my way to the finish and there would be no point annoying a pacer by forcing them to trudge next to me. And if I don’t make it to the 50 mile point there was no point having people on standby waiting for my arrival. However, on reflection, I wish I’d had a little more common sense about this and arranged a pacer, thinking back to the NDW100 and those who had pacers in that middle of the pack part of the race looked fresher and more likely to go on. Something to think about for future races.
There are concerns, injury is the most obvious but there are others … the arrival of UltraBaby is having something of an effect but only half as much as my new job which has a more significant element of travel (my commute can be as much as 3hrs each way) and coupled with the need to carry 2 laptops in each day means that running to work is a bit of a non-starter for me. Also unlike some of my fellow runners I’ve never been on the Ridgeway or the Thames Path (well not that end of it) so each step is going to be something new – which is both exciting and terrifying! Ultimately all I can do is my best but I’ve been looking forward to this and I would really hate to fail. I’m also going to have my daughter there on the day – I really don’t want to fail in front of her, especially after her trophy winning exploits last weekend – little monster, making me look bad!
I feel a bit like Diego Costa of Chelsea at the moment – limited training and just turn up to the game. But my final couple of weeks of preparation will be gentle runs to get me back used to running and then a looped marathon in a country park not far from the Kent coast (my aim will actually be 11 laps) and therefore an ultra distance. If I can manage that kind of distance then I’ll go into the Winter 100 feeling more confident – but ultimately it’s a case of here we go again. So good luck to all the Winter 100 runners – you’re all awesome.
Recently I reviewed the Decathlon Trail Bag and described it as some of the best kit you can buy for under £30 – this remains very, very true. What I also said was that I had bought a second hydration pack and this is the review for my very different and possibly new most favourite piece of kit in the universe ever.
The Oxsitis Hydragon 17litre
I’ve been lusting over this pack since I first saw it in a slightly different form as the Hoka Evo R. I went to the London Marathon Expo and tried one of these things on and decided it was one of the most comfortable things I’d ever worn but I didn’t buy one. Reviews for the Hoka Evo R are scarce and owners seem even more rare. However, a little searching on the interweb led me to a site for a company called Oxsitis who actually make the Evo R and this is where it really began. Finally I found some reviews for the various versions of pack that this company produce – all in French (so thank you Google translate).
The reviews on the whole were incredibly favourable and the size combined with the style of fitting seemed the right combination for someone of my frame and running style (slow and steady). The problem was that there are no UK suppliers and so I forked out the €160 to bring this awesomeness to UK shores. And this is my review having now done 8 runs in it totalling about 75 miles.
Close fitting, breathable but possible a little warm on the back in places. I’ve found while running in the pack that you can sweat a little but certainly no more than I do when I run in my Ultimate Directions PB. The shoulder straps are incredibly comfortable and the positioning of the pockets on the straps are even more accessible than on the Ultimate Directions PB. The main storage area runs pretty flat when its empty and when filled feels light on you back. Mercifully it sits as high on your back as the Salomon and Ultimate Directions of this world rather than the OMM packs. The higher back sitting point means you shouldn’t suffer from back fatigue mid race.
This is a spacious pack, all in, it’s supposed to hold 17 litres of kit, that’s bigger than most of the OMM packs you see on the ultra circuit and certainly bigger than the Ultimate Directions kit. However, it never feels like you’re carrying that much kit and it’s clever compartment design means that space not being used is stored away and runs flat next to your body. These pockets are housed infront of the main bladder compartment which comes with the pack (Oxsitis supply a Source bladder which I’ve found very nice indeed after years of successfully using Camelbaks). All in all the main compartment is incredibly well thought and deftly crafted for all your running needs
The front of the pack has three main pockets and a fourth slightly curious effort which I’ll explain later. The first pocket is an insulated section designed specifically for your smartphone, tracker or battery pack, I’m an iPhone 5S user and had no problem with the fit or access (which has been an issue on the UD PB vest). The zip feels nice and secure and this pocket will protect somewhat against external damp and body moisture therefore protecting your probably rather expensive mobile phone.
The pockets located at the base of the packs front are both spacious and could certainly handle carrying my OMM water bottle but they could also carry lots of food/gels. I had at least five snack size chocolate bars and a few other bits in there and never felt it was going to be difficult to store them or retrieve. The pocket is part mesh, part ripstop fabric and this keeps it well ventilated. These pockets will also double up as bottle holders as well and despite having a bladder with pack I’ve been very happy to have one bottle on the pack in addition to my bladder. Now to the fourth pocket which you can see pictured above. When you first put it on this is the housing unit for the sports gel mixing unit (more on that later too). The magnetic closing (a feature on many of the pockets) makes its much more secure than you’d think and its very nature means that it has a large volume but limited use. I’ve found (like other runners) that the best thing for this pocket is either the water mixing device or an item of clothing – in the photograph I’m carrying my OMM windproof in there but it would happily store a T-shirt or other smaller item of clothing such as my Montane Featherlite trousers.
All of these vests and packs contain oodles of technology that are supposed to aid the ultra runner, this is no exception – there are quick release velcro fastenings on the arms of the pack to make adjustment and removal easier than ever before. For those worried that the velcro wouldn’t be strong enough or durable I am assured it is and my own experiences with the pack suggest this is a good quality build. The magnet fastenings help keep you kit nice and secure on the pack, it makes a huge difference from the various zip fastenings and drawstrings of other manufacturers and I’ve found accessing my stores much easier.
There are quick access pole holders, for those like me, that own the Black Diamond Ultra (or similar Z fold poles) on the front of the pack and this makes poles for the first time useful to me. I’ve already mentioned the bladder mixer which can have isotonic gel drinks attached to mix with your water supply without contaminating it – if Oxsitis could get this made a little smaller it would be a great innovation and very, very useful. As it is the mixer is a little bulky and therefore a little cumbersome but if you have space to spare then why not try it out and see how you feel about it. The fabric is Ripstop and the claim is waterproof but also quick drying. In the rain I’ve simply added a very thin waterproof layer to ensure things like my medical kit don’t get damp but haven’t yet had any damp issues but then its summer and it hasn’t been that wet! Waterproofing is the thing we probably sacrifice first, my other packs be they OMM, Ultimate Direction, Camelbak or even Decathlon are not waterpoof – they aren’t intended to be a running Aquapac! The ripstop material is a nice alternative and I have yet to encounter any problems with this. Built in whistle. Weighing in at just 290g (without bladder or bottles).
It’s expensive – let’s not beat around the bush, it’s €160 worth of expense which makes it a little pricier than the UD and the Salomon and much heftier than even the most kitted out OMM bag. However, you do the get the bladder, mixer and rescue blanket included on the downside it is only available from mainland Europe so there is no trying it on.
It’s bright, it’s a little garish, it’s filled with awesome typography, it’s very patchwork in the layout but its all clearly labelled and it’s huge fun. This is the right kind of pack for your ultra running adventures – you certainly won’t be missed. Oxsitis across the range have a variety of awesome products and colour ways – there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone.
What do they say about it?
Hydragon ® Ace ™ 17L is a full hydration pack that will allow you to carry water and essential accessories for your TRAIL and hydrate effectively.
This bag has been designed to optimize hydration and comfort. Its large storage capacity, its lightness and its innovative structure will allow you to calmly deal with all your adventures. The system of lateral adjustment optimizes stability and comfort. Equipped with ventilation system AIRBACK™ Control, specially designed to maximize the maintenance of backpack with maximum breathability and best comfort.
The hydration Hydragon ® Ace ™ 17L bag comes with a water bag 2L “antimicrobial & taste free” technology with a double connector for easy filling and cleaning. Also comes with innovation in hydration: the latest generation OXSITIS mixer, allowing you to achieve hydration in all situations.
AIRBACK™ Control fast drying ventilation technology for the back
Widepac 2L water bladder with quick connect for an easy water filling and cleaning of your pocket Mixing energy drinks V3 Third generation connectivity with your ease and adaptable to concerntré standard packaging
New Vacuum Tube easy to drink.
Equipped with the mandatory safety equipment (blanket, integrated whistle).
Easy fix pole system control: patented pole holder
Smartphone pocket with waterproof headphones passage
Easily accessible food bags to put your energy bars and gels
ottle holder pockets ergonomic and stable deavnt placed on the backpack
Pockets Internal ergonomic numbers: blanket, wallet, keys, headlamp battery room area, bicycle pump, textile, windproof
Unique settings in the world
Side velcro (scratch) adjustment settings (without strap that ride)
Setting Pectoral easy to connect with integrated whistle
Trimming ventral elastic sensitive
This is my pack for the W100 where I am going to need a full set of kit, multiple changes of clothes and extreme levels of comfort. I wouldn’t use this on a 50km I think it would be a bit overkill but from 50 miles upwards this would be a killer pack that offers a high level of functionality, quality and distinctiveness. This won’t replace my Ultimate Directions pack, nor my Decathlon packs but it has very much earned a prominent place in my race day thinking. On other matters to do with purchasing from Oxsitis the delivery was amazingly quick, the processing of my order equally so and I can only thank the company for dealing with order. I’d recommend this pack over the Hoka Evo R any day of the week and moreover I’d recommend this pack. I’m now looking forward to putting it through a real challenge across the Winter 100 in search of my first 100 mile buckle.
And was it worth the money. Yes
‘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.
‘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.
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).
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.
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.
This weekend I stupidly entered the Challenge Hub 24hr.
Well this was my fourth ultra marathon in just 42 days, my sixth ultra of the year and thirteenth race of the year. I was exhausted going in and despite warnings from both my partner, running friends and my own body I had the desire to go for it because I’d heard so many positive things about the event organisers.
Now normally I would go on to talk my race through but I don’t really feel the need – we all know it probably went badly 🙂 however, I did pound out another ultra distance, claim another medal and have the honour of meeting some of the most amazing runners running today – you know who you are (Mal, Peter, Chris, Mike, etc).
What I would like to say is that Mike at Challenge Hub puts on events to rival anyone’s. You go to his event and it immediately feels like family, everyone involved in the set up (organisers, volunteers, medics) are amazing characters, and hugely friendly, as well as 100% effective. All the runners came away feeling very well looked after and having been put through a heck of an endurance event. If Challenge Hub comes back next year I will certainly be signing up to it. There was something beautiful and blissful about running around a multi terrain quarter marathon track as many times as you can with nothing but the sound of the frogs to scare you witless.
This was 100% awesome.
I learnt so much about endurance this weekend both in terms of how to treat your body but also how to keep running big distance into your 50s and beyond. This felt very much like a lesson in how to ultra. I’m so grateful to everyone. So for those that don’t get in to the North Downs Way 50 or some other equally interesting race can I recommend that you campaign vigorously (and sign up) for future Challenge Hub events and be involved in something truly special.
As regular readers will know I’m one of those runners who converted to Hoka One One maximal running shoes about a year ago and have generally been very happy with the results this change has given. I converted mainly to help reduce the damage being done to my feet over the ultra trail distances and this has worked fairly well. So when I heard that Hoka would be at the London Marathon Expo I decided I would pop along and try out some of their road running shoes.
I tried both the Stinson Tarmac and the Rapa Nui 2 both aimed at the road runner and with a great deal of satisfaction I decided I’d purchase the Rapa Nui 2. I liked the aesthetics of the shoe and I liked the stiffer feel but also the slightly lower profile than the Stinsons. I felt for road that sitting so high up I was probably asking for trouble as I bounced on and off pavements.
Therefore almost a month later I’m now committing my first running thoughts about these shoes to blog. Let’s start with the numbers, I’ve covered around 200km in the shoes taking in two ultras and a 10km race. But what details do Hoka provide?
Best use: Running
Shoe type: Cushioned
Footwear height: Ankle
Footwear closure: Lace up
Outsole: Carbon rubber
Heel-to-toe drop: 5mm
Tech: MetaRocker, 21-26mm Cushioning, Single pull lacing.
But are the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac any good? Well… my first run in them came as a fast(ish) 5km, taking in some of the speedier downhills around Kensington and Victoria, here the Hoka felt fast, light and fun and after a couple more lighter excursions including a swift 10km around Regent’s Park I decided that these would be my primary footwear for the WNWA96 – more a swift hike than a straight run.
The shoes performed admirably across the first 15 or so miles but after this there was a deep sense of fatigue in my feet. The unrelenting tarmac, which I thought the Rapa Nui 2 would eat up, was causing problems on my feet. The shoes felt like they had no give in them and despite the cushioning I could feel every bump or lump on the road. At mile 26 therefore and the first significant stop I made haste to change out of these and into my much loved Stinson Evo and the difference was enormous – despite being a trail shoe they offered a lot more protection over the next section.
I had thought this might just have been that my feet hadn’t properly broken in the shoes and so in my training after the WNWA96 I continued to wear the Rapa Nui 2 and in fairness to them they covered the 10km distances I was running with great aplomb and they felt light enough on my feet that I was confident I could run them across the National 100km distance. The trouble was that long before I rolled my ankle in the race the footwear was proving to be a bit troublesome, for my money they are just a bit too stiff and cause too much foot fatigue over distance – at least in my experiences with them.
I don’t want to be too downbeat on them because there are tonnes of positives, they are comfortable, spacious, they feel incredibly well made and they look beautiful – less moonbootish these days. They do however remain rather expensive and I’m disappointed that the purpose I bought them for (road and summer ultras) they probably can’t fulfil. Additionally they don’t feel super fast enough to be able to unleash over shorter distances – you’d still go for your racing flat over these. So a mixed bag I’m sorry to report.
So in conclusion I’m a little disappointed by the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac – these are not the all singing solution to every runners problems – but if they weren’t quite so stiff they might well be and I’ll be looking at the version 3 whenever it comes out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
‘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
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.
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.
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, 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).
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.
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.
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.
Amazingly this was ultra number 6 for me, I’ve now got more ultra marathon medals than I have marathon medals – that to me seems a little bit crazy. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the SDW50 and am looking forward to tackling it again but this was a real beast of a course over some challenging terrain but enjoyable conditions.
Anyway, as is often my way, let’s roll back a few days to incidents that I have no control over and that most certainly had a detrimental effect on my race day face! On Monday of race week it turns out that my grandmother (whom I’ve written about before) took a reasonably serious tumble in her home, breaking her ankle and injuring other bits of herself as she went down. It was a hospital trip and then a hospital stay, even as I write this she’s there – and miserable about it.
What this meant was a lot of preparation. I squeezed all the work in the universe into a couple of days, managed to get a work laptop for designing on the go, advised my pregnant partner that I’d be away but be back in time for her hospital appointment on the Friday afternoon, slipped in a desperate appointment with the physiotherapist to try and fix my knackered hips, kit check with Mick (more about that running legend later) and even fit in a last minute race to Waterstones to pick up a couple of maps that were needed just in case kit checks were very thorough. This was then all topped off by my partner being on call until 1am in the morning on race day and me not finishing my kit packing until well beyond this time with a 5am start – let’s be honest this wouldn’t qualify as the best of race day preparation. This all meant that by 5am on Saturday April 5th I was pretty much over the race and fancied DNSing for the first time.
At about 5.03am I stepped into the shower and allowed the hot pillows of water splash over my exhausted body and for the first time in days I looked over towards the mirror and I stared ahead and said to myself ‘you are an ultra runner’. I dried quickly but thoroughly, added in a copious (but as I would discover later, still insufficient) amount of Vaseline to those areas most affected by chaffing and then grabbed my kit from the top of the stairs, stroking my previous race medals as I went past for good luck.
My race preparation usually means that I get dressed in the dining room – this is where the remainder of my kit is usually laid out and also it stops me disturbing the rest of the house. Kit is now pretty settled thankfully, Ronhill VIzion LS top, my much loved tech shirt from the Snowdonia Marathon, 0.5 OMM flash tights, CompressSport Calfguards, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Drymax socks and my still beautiful Hoka Stinson Evo all topped off with my Buff and sunglasses (just incase) – I’ve still never quite managed to fix the underwear problem but I live in hope that I come up with a solution soon.
With this done I scoffed a bit of Soreen, had a big cup of tea and even a couple of those kids yogurts, a breakfast of champions I hear you cry. Not really but I’m not sure I’ve prepared well for an ultra marathon ever – though I am trying to amend some of my poorer habits.
With all of this done I said goodbye to the GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraHound who were staying in bed to recover from a challenging week and then I headed off to see Mick who would also be running the race as well as supplying the transport to the start line. I arrived at his house, feeling surprisingly perky, said hello to Nicola his wife and met his in-laws who were joining us for the journey to the start line.
It was a thankfully uneventful journey to the start line and as we approached the parking area I could see @abradypus in the distance – sadly she failed to notice me, but it was nice to see a smiling face so early in the morning and as we arrived at the main registration area with just an hour to go to the start everything had a wonderful air of calm about it. I suppose that is the benefit of going to an event that has such a distinguished, even if short history – you got the feeling that they really knew what they were doing.
So a quick kit check, followed by the collection of my ‘chip’ to get my number and within a couple of minutes I was done and ready to go. Mick wasn’t far behind and we drifted over to the excellent changing facilities, what was a college or school on the field changing room with little benches that reminded you of being 14 again.
I was already changed so I used this an opportunity to tidy up my bag after the kit check, have some Lucozade sport, clip on my number and chat to a couple of the other runners. Strangely nerves had pretty much deserted me, which given my level of preparation and on reflection was a bit of mistake.
We were thankfully early enough to have nice and easy access to the toilets and after a few minutes we were simply stood around basking in the ultra indulgent atmosphere of the beautiful Worthing morning. We were soon joined by running and Twitter royalty @abradypus and @cat_simpson_ and also @annemarieruns who I had originally met at the White Cliffs 50 just over a year ago – again more running royalty. I introduced Mick who was at SDW50 losing his ultra cherry and suddenly it went from pleasant to having that carnival feel. The whole Centurion atmosphere that everyone raves about kicked in and you really were being pulled along by it.
With mere minutes to go we hurled our bags into the van for delivery to the finish line and then strolled over to the start. I’ll be honest I didn’t take a lot of notice of the safety briefing as I was too busy chatting to Mick and Anne-Marie but it all seemed pretty straight forward and then it all happened in slow motion – the start.
I started moving forward rather gently and within a few seconds I found myself setting off in the traditionally too fast manner that has been the cornerstone of almost every race I have ever done but regardless at the first corner I saw @cat_simpson_ thundering past me and what a sight she is to behold in full flight! However, ultras are very much about your individual challenge and I had originally said that if I could come in with a finish that started 10hrs … something then I would be pretty happy.
The first few miles I was finding reasonably difficult and as I stormed up the first hill I could already feel my hips, additionally the uneven ground was a challenge even in my Hoka. The good news was that it was pretty dry and actually within a couple of miles the sun had really come out and I was forced into my first of many changes which was the removal of my under shirt.
I slipped my shirt off, attached it to the back of my Ultimate Directions and then quickly set of again, this time with Mick who had caught me up. Suddenly from behind came a runner – at sprint pace – to hand me back my sunglasses that I had thrown away rather recklessly on the course. Grateful, I thanked him for his sprint and carried on – Mick and I joking that the chaps sprint might well cost him dearly later!
The next few miles passed by pleasantly and with a nice troupe of runners both in front and behind I progressed at a steady but reasonably sedate pace. I had eased myself into the race, become familiar with the terrain and was feeling pretty good as we dipped down a rutted path about 6 miles in, my legs were feeling fresh at this point and as we headed across the first of many rolling hills I finally started to understand the enormity of the task ahead – because in the distance lay hill, after hill, after monstrous hill.
Mick and I caught up with one another again and at this point I had to confess that there was going to be need of a Paula Radcliffe moment and I was forced to abandon my comrade and seek shelter in the bushes just before checkpoint 1. However, there was a hiking group just across from me and I felt rather ashamed to ‘Paula’ all over their hiking destination and therefore I made haste for the checkpoint and filled up on the goodies that the amazing Centurion volunteers offered. It is quite possible that I guzzled down about a litre of Coca Cola on my own but feeling refreshed I set off again at a bit of canter.
From here we were marshalled across a busy road and onto the next of our many climbs, we came to the top and once we had headed out alone the road I decided I would once again try and stop and deliver ‘paula’ which was becoming an increasing burden and I was confident that my ‘paula’ need was affecting the way I was running and therefore no good for my hips. However, once again I was thwarted by a lack of sufficient cover and therefore I rolled back up my 0.5 OMM Flash tights and continued onwards where much to my surprise the lovely @abradypus caught me up.
I ran with her for a few minutes but the problems I was facing and her overall pace meant that there was no way I could manage to keep up at that time – if I was lucky I might catch her later but there was the ‘paula’ issue to deal with. The last time I saw @abradypus she was thundering past her pinked topped nemesis and she looked like she had a lot of energy in the tank, so much so that not only did she dip in below 10hrs at the finish but she overtook both Mick and Anne-Marie on her way to South Downs Way success! Huge congratulations to her!
Anyway, after the next major hill climb I finally found some respite in the form of some thorny bushes that straddled a road and here I hid for a few moments checking that runners were not going to be alarmed by the sight of a 36 year old man trying to recreate a moment that simply shouldn’t be recreated. Anyway having achieved a measure of success I hit the trail again and this was were I would meet Sue.
Sue, I am sure wouldn’t mind me sharing that she was a 61 year old ultra runner and an amazing lady with lots of energy and a nice zippy style that put my old hips to shame. We chatted for a few minutes and realised that we were gong at roughly the same pace and ended up progressing through the miles together. We chatted about lots of things including Springer Spaniels, Greyhounds, our respective partners, races, etc. And actually this partnership proved crucial I think for both of us for quite a long time. When I was struggling up a hill, she would put out a cheery little something and vice versa, it became like a mutual appreciation club but I was fully aware that with the way that my hips were feeling I would need the company for as long as possible.
Sue and I continued climbing the hills and making progress through the field, so much so that we actually passed people we thought would have had a much better chance, of a much better time than we were aiming for. Still we had a plan and the plan was a good one – sub 11 hours. We picked up a couple of other runners on the route and as we passed into third checkpoint we were in remarkably good cheer and my thoughts of handing in my number had disappeared. And so we ambled onwards and the next few miles meandered past us like an old friend – or perhaps more akin to the miles already achieved!
The volunteers at the fourth checkpoint and just beyond the 33 mile point were wearing sombreros and handing out both excellent advice and delicious snacks. The route from here looked a little ominous though but it was met with a happy heart and the little team we had amassed spread themselves out a little bit and trudged up the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse either of the summit or of the crew at the bottom of the hill. After ten minutes of straight climbing we could see neither the top nor could we see the volunteers and crew at the bottom and so, still laughing and joking at our good fortune to be out on these wonderful hills we pressed on.
At this point @ultrarunnerdan who had been stalking us for some time finally joined the group and being a veteran of the SDW100 gave us some excellent advice about what was upcoming (even though he lied about the severity of what was to come) and together we ambled in and out of each other’s company. It was here as the group had spread itself out that tragedy on the course almost caught me out.
I had been bumbling along at my own little pace, Sue had decided to push forward a little bit without me and @ultrarunnerdan was a few hundred metres behind me and I decided then to give a little sprint to allow my legs a slightly different movement. I was going pretty well for a guy with no hips left and I was keen to give the good looking girl, holding the gate open a show to remember …and then I did.
As I passed the gate, flashing my winning smile I caught my Hoka on a rock and tripped and was sent sprawling. I managed to stay upright long enough to get my hands in front of me – but it was too late, the damage was done. I had twisted one ankle, bloodied the other – though I wouldn’t know about the blood until nearly midnight. I picked myself up and in the haze of pain and shock I simply started running, telling Sue that we’d never make the 11hr finish time if we stopped now. Progress was steady but I was in pain and again the thoughts of DNF came to the forefront of my mind! I urged Sue to push on with Annalise (spelling?) a very nice Swiss lady who we had met earlier in the race and adopted into our little posse, but we all remained together for the most part. What could have proved to be the end of the race for me proved to be the point I managed to pull myself together and head into the next checkpoint taking over Annalise, Sue and even @ultrarunnerdan who exclaimed ‘here he comes’ as I thundered past him and into the hall, almost blasting straight past it.
‘Milky coffee,’ I called, ‘you lot are my favourite checkpoint since the last one’
I slurped down my coffee and in marched Sue … ‘4 minutes 37 seconds’ I exclaimed. We knew if we left this checkpoint with 2hrs remaining we would probably make the 11hrs. Sue drank her coffee quickly and we stepped outside – there we the noted the patter of the rain on our skin and decided this was the point to whip out our waterproofs. Now fully waterproofed the three of us set out in search of @ultrarunnerdan, we once again hit the ground running and finally the urgency of the run became apparent, we could finish this in time, we could finish this in the light, we could finish this.
The three of us headed up another killer hill and the grounds remained this rather difficult stony affair that offer respite to our feet and here on the difficult terrain the combination of my hips and my ankles meant that Sue and Annalise were finally pulling away from me and I urged them forward, knowing that my sub11 was now quickly fading away. I took a cursory glance down to my Suunto and saw that I was still 10km from the finish and had less than an hour to go. Yes I was going to get a medal but it wasn’t a medal I would ever look at with pride.
However, with a thrust of guts and determination on the downhill into the churchyard I was cheered in by a combination of locals and volunteers and there were Sue and Annalise – I had caught them.
I had a sip of coffee and no food
‘Are you okay?’ Sue inquired rather urgently
‘Yes, now move, let’s go’ came my rather gruff and dogged response.
I bounced down the stairs out of the aid station and never looked back, my ultra running colleagues were now behind me and I pushed quickly up the final ascent, infact it was some of the quickest movement I had managed for several hours. Yes my ankles were on fire and my hips resided at checkpoint 3 but I really didn’t give a flying fuck about any of that. I could smell the finish line. Annalise briefly powered past me but in the descent I knew that I would be more surefooted and I thundered down the hill in a positive and yet controlled manner – a fall here would bring the race to its conclusion a mile or so too early and so I made sure that every step was the right step.
The runner I was then shadowing soon hit the tarmac and we were finally in Eastbourne, ‘goodbye runner, I’m having you’ were my thoughts as I pushed through the roads of Eastbourne. Now following my Suunto very closely for signs that the course as coming to end I kept seeing floodlights and feeling that we must finally be there, but the end never seemed to appear.
10.49.59 was the time on my watch and I passed the final corner – another runner in my sights, boom, caught, onwards. Words of encouragement wee raging around my head and I threw out equally encouraging words with gay abandon. There was the sports centre, there was the track, there were the floodlights – follow the lights.
I could hear the cheer of the assembled group. @abradypus claimed that she thought it must be someone else by virtue of the fact that I was still running at all, but the watch said 10.56.33 and I wanted a 10.57.something time (watch not gun time). And on the final bend I gave it everything, every last ounce of strength that remained to me was thrown into the last 75metres and I crossed the line – more joyous than you can probably imagine.
At the finish line there was @abradypus whom I must sincerely apologise to for probably being incredibly rude. It was that moment when you finish a race and you just can’t see straight anymore and there was all the pain I was in and I just didn’t give the right response. I did of course go for sweaty man hugs later but still it never hurts to say you’re sorry.
A minute or so ahead of me @annemarieruns completed the race and I caught up with her as she prepared to eat some of the most delicious chilli available, she was all set to be running the Brighton Marathon about 12hrs later! Legend! Sue, Annalise and @ultrarunnerdan came in shortly after me and completed the final stage in stunning times. I know for certain that I finished under 11hours and I’m confident most of them did too for which I’m really happy.
So that was the experience but what about my opinions?
Race and Course
I don’t think that anybody could fault the race or the course, it was tough, it was challenging and it was ultra. The South Downs Way is a hard packed course and offers little respite on the feet. The runners I met who were wearing Hoka One One tended to be grateful and those in more minimal shoes such as the Salomon Sense Ultra said they were feeling the fatigue being caused on their feet by the course. I would highly recommend running the South Downs Way at any time of year but it is very exposed to the elements – so do be careful. The route also benefit from not being closed and therefore we, as a running group, were able to converse and be supported by the cyclist, horse riders and hikers who were out and about. 10/10
The support was pretty minimal in terms of on the course support and often inaccessible to friends and family who might want to follow you around, with the exception obviously of those people braving the elements of the South Downs Way. The many smiles and cheers we received were much appreciated. The support at the aid stations though was simply fantastically 100% and it was my pleasure to offer at the bare minimum a smile as we passed through and the odd bit of flirting if I had the energy. 9/10
The aid stations were all well stocked and well manned, the volunteers and Centurions themselves provided excellent checkpoint help. The food was generally of a very high quality although there was a lack of diversity in the savoury options and I struggled to find things I liked (perhaps I missed the chicken nuggets found on the St. Peter’s Way). However, that said I didn’t struggle to fill up and the biscuits and cake at Checkpoints 1 and 3 were particular highlights with the addition of coffee at the last couple of checkpoints a real lifesaver – the Centurions really know how to put a spread together. A word should go to the volunteers and crews also, they were 100% amazing and without them things like this would be impossible and we were all so grateful. 9/10 (10/10 for the crews)
Value for Money
As with the course and so many of the elements of the SDW50 you really can’t fault the guys, not one iota. And in the value for money department this is a race that delivers in spades. At £65 you are almost the same price as the Run to the Beat half marathon or the Royal Parks Half and what do you get for your money? Signage, support, an excellent well labelled supporting website, goodies and best of all an experience you will never ever forget. I even think there might have been showers at the end, but I was too busy trying to find trains to care about being clean. 10/10
Medal and Goodies
The medal is brilliant – not as blingtastic as say The Wall or as rich in heritage as perhaps The St Peter’s Way but it has a beautiful charm of its own and more importantly, as a young boy pointed out, it has a sword on it. The medal and the T-shirt were both very understated and I really liked that and will be wearing both to my next fancy dress party, where with mock indifference I shall wear both and tell people I’m a Centurion. 9/10
The conditions on the course were excellent and the guys had clearly worked their magic to neither bring too much sun or leave it at home. I can’t score this, they don’t control the weather
The live tracking was a bit of a bag of uselessness, it didn’t kick in until beyond the halfway point and then only once before the finish – but on the plus side they did attempt live tracking and I am sure this was simply a minor technical hitch. 4/10
The navigation was faultless, I really didn’t need a map, compass or infact the GPS file on my Ambit 2 – brilliant marking 10/10
This is a bit of a strange one, despite everything, despite it being absolutely brilliant, it still wasn’t my very favourite ultra – that honour still rests with the St. Peter’s Way but the SDW50 is an outstanding course with outstanding levels of organisation and if you are an ultra runner I would urge you to try it. This felt like a labour of love for the guys who organised it and if they can retain that feeling going forward then they will have one of the best events in the ultra calendar. I’m very much looking forward to both the NDW100 and the Winter100 with these guys because I have the confidence in the team that they won’t let me down and all I need to do is not let myself down.
I learnt a lot of lessons as well on the course – the first was more hill work, more sprint work and more everything. The next thing was that I should try and prepare better for big races because when you have a crappy week in the run up then it shows on race day. But the most important thing I learnt is that you should never, ever forget to put a shedload of vaseline on your nether regions unless you want your balls to looks like a pepperoni pizza. 9/10
And on that note, happy running guys and thank you Centurions
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.
As regular readers will know I’m something of a Hoka One One convert, I started wearing them last year when I was looking to replace a couple of pairs of shoes and reduce the blistering problem I suffer with during ultra marathons. I love them but I can’t live in them, they aren’t the kind of runners you throw on when you need to put the bins out or when you need to run to the shop to get a pint of milk. If ever a shoe was designed for ‘proper’ running it is the Hoka.
So with that in mind I’d been considering Inov8 for some time. I’d already tried on a pair a few months back but hadn’t fallen in love with them and so had decided against it but when Snow and Rock had a bit of sale on Invo8 shoes and in particular the ones I was considering I was more inclined to take a punt.
What they say
Let’s talk about the shoe itself or rather what the manufacturer has to say
The Inov8 Men’s Trailroc 245 is great for everything from training to racing, packing the perfect combination of performance, cushioning and underfoot protection. The Meta-Shank™ midsole provides targeted metatarsal impact protection whilst the anatomic fit allows you toes to spread for a more natural feel. Reinforced in all the right places for extra support, the Trailroc™ has an innovative outsole that utilises three, sticky rubber compounds for the ideal combination of hardness, durability and grip, so that you can easily adapt; however the ground beneath you changes.
Synthetic, TPU upper
EVA injected midsole
It’s fair to say I’m often dubious about shoes when they sound too technical and the Trailroc with their anatomical fit, meta-shank midsole and TRI-C compound make my ears prick with caution but there is something to be said for a lot of this. The 6mm footbed is a blessing on trails as it really offers just that hint of support you want as you are running and yet manages to give enough connection with the surface you are running on for it to feel very real.
The TRI-C compound is also quite a nice little touch in that they’ve broken down the sole into three distinctive areas with differing degrees of flexibility and strength in the rubber so that your foot gets the best protection and movement for the ground it’s covering. This is where they really come into their own and actually running through wet or sticky trail simply ‘feels’. You know where you are because the rubber is working with you rather than simply absorbing the impact as with say the Hoka One One.
The mesh on the upper is lightweight and very breathable and even in wet conditions will bounce back pretty readily. Obviously they are in no way waterproof but they drain well and with the right socks, offer lasting protection against the elements. The concern with the upper is that it won’t last a million years but then if you will insist on running in a pair of slippers you’ve got to expect that they’ll wear a little easier than some of their hardcore cousins.
I found the Trailroc came up a little small in the fitting and so rather than use my usual size 9 I went with the 9.5 – I did this for several reasons, the first is that I wanted to wear thicker socks with them (Drymax) and I wanted to give my feet a little more room than usual. The nice wide toe box of the Trailroc 245 is a very good fit for a runner with wider feet like myself. My toes never feel too locked in to the shoe but they always feel secure thanks to an excellent lacing system and loopholes in exactly the places that you want them.
Aesthetically the shoe is very nice, it’s not quite Salomon Lab Ultra nice but they aren’t far off and I always feel like a fashion icon of running when I find myself choosing my Trailroc to hit the ground in. The thing they have over the SLab Ultra are that in my case they fit properly.
Once of the nice things about the Trailroc 245 though is that I find them very comfortable on the tarmac as well – I mean I’m not going to run a marathon in them but when I’m crossing London in an evening or hitting the road for my Virtual 10km races then these are ideal. They don’t suffer with some of the dull ache you get with other trail shoes that you might accidentally wear on tarmac – bonus.
So technically they appear a great shoe, you really can’t fault them but is my experience of them equally as good. I’ve now run about 80 miles in the shoes and feel that is enough to get a fair understanding of how I feel about them
As most people who read my blog will be aware I enjoy racing and I feel that every shoe I own should run at least one race. This happens to be quite difficult when you own dozens of pairs of running shoes but with the Inov8 I was keen to get them into a race as soon as possible and my wish was granted with the Valentines Challenge in Vigo.
The conditions were incredibly heavy going (as you can read in my earlier blog posting here) because of all the rain and storms that the UK had suffered from over the months of December and January. I was wearing the Trailroc for only the second time and the first on trail and so I was filled with slight nerves about their performance. However, I need not have worried – the shoes chomped through most of the mud, skipped through puddles and waded happily through flooding. Yes, they were a bit lethargic through the top layer wet mud but then I think almost any shoe would have been – perhaps a super aggressive grip shoe would have fared better but then in the drier rockier sections the three rubber outsole worked its magic as I skipped over the difficult terrain with both enough protection and lubrication on my feet. Each soaking my feet took eventually dried out and the combination of shoe and sock was a magical one. Even as I was finishing the race covered in every kind of mud imaginable the shoes never let me down and even trudged to a reasonably fast finish.
Subsequent runs have been equally impressive but as with all barefoot or minimal shoes I find that when I run tired that my form slips and this then makes them less comfortable – but that is a problem with the runner and not so much with the shoe. Would I think of these for an ultra marathon such as SDW50 in a few weeks time? I suppose the honest is ‘possibly’. They will certainly be my back up shoe but they won’t yet make it to being my first port of call – the Hoka are simply too good for that. However, when I’m looking at kit for the Race to the Stones these will definitely be being considered because of the lower profile, lighter weight, ventilation and all round comfort.
Great shoe 9/10 – dropping a point only because they couldn’t cure me of my Hoka addiction.
‘Anymore than about £70 and you’re paying for the label and the current seasons colour’ I was told this by a trusted running friend and this got me thinking. I’ll add the caveat that this was said in 2010 and therefore adjusted for inflation and other factors lets say £75 in 2014 money. Now to prove his point the first edition of the Adidas Adios Boost which was in Sweatshop for about £110 dropped to £75 in the winter sale…
Hmmm. Are we being duped into buying over priced running shoes? Unusually for this blog I’ve been doing some research – I’ll admit I’ve not gone very far with said research but its a start, but this posting is mainly about my own experiences in attempting to find the best pair of running shoes for my feet and just how much am I willing to overpay.
Let’s start with (some of) my current crop of running shoes, how much I paid for them and more importantly did I consider that good value for money.
Paid: £99.00 (per pair)
This was my first foray into the world of lugs and Newtons and I remember the first time I put them in the shop and thinking, that my feet had found a new home that they would never want to leave. Newton Running are a pretty specialist maker of shoes with a core band of supporters but have been growing in popularity, the problem with niche shoe makers is that their product tends to be expensive and these were no exception, even at the £99.00 I paid (per pair, I ended up buying several pairs) they were pricey. I found them excellent on dry roads but on wet surfaces they can be hard going and trail should be a no go for these road shoes, so they had a limited use, however, the first pair managed more than 700 kilometres, performed reasonably at the Bewl Water Marathon and the Snowdonia Marathon, neither of which would have trails suited to these shoes, but the wide toe box meant that (due to injury) I had to wear them. So in that sense they were excellent value and even now after 700 kilometres I still sometimes do a few commuting kilometres in them. All Newtons are built to a very high standard and clearly made with excellent materials and more than enough consideration is given to the design – they are shoes designed to stand out in every single way. They are also my shoe to lounge around the house in, I simply find them comfy and therefore they are worth the money I paid out, but could I recommend them at the full price? In this instance I could, the Newton Distance is a well put together shoe from a specialist maker, they won’t turn you into Steve Cram or Scott Jurek but they will provide excellence over the lifetime of the shoe. I’ll be buying more of these soon.
Retailer: Newton Running
I went back to Newton when I was looking for a replacement for my Adidas Adios 2 and I hadn’t wanted to upgrade to the Boost edition as they it was still such new technology that I wanted to give it a season before I tried them (plus at £109 I thought they were too expensive). Newton did a deal for their sprint edition model, the MV2, low profile, same quality materials as other Newtons and a decent set of reviews. When they arrived they were lightweight, compact, filled with lightweight producing technology and they felt as fast as lightning. But they came with a caveat and that was that they would not endure – some of the reviews suggested that the MV2 had a lifespan of about 200km and upon receiving them I could see why – the upper feels flimsy and after my happiness with the distance these were quite a disappointment. Now what I will say is they are fast shoes, they feel amazing but are they are £100.00 worth of running shoe? No not even close, my original Adidas Adios cost £75.00 and I ran over 700 kilometres in them, raced nearly a dozen times in them and they never once failed me – these feel like they are a 5km shoe but that couldn’t do that too many times in a week, just incase you were asking too much of them, I’ll be honest even at £50.00 these feel a little bit expensive but I still love them and we do to running together. Interestingly my experience with the MV2 will not dissuade me from trying other Newtons, but perhaps I’m best sticking with the Distance (a pretty fast shoe in itself).
Hoka One One Mafate 2
Retailer: Snow & Rock
Pro: Quality build, good ride, good endurance
Con: Blistered on 100mile ultra at five miles in after getting soaked but user error, been excellent since
Distance: 300km (so far)
Hoka Stinson Evo
Retailer: Pete Bland Sports
Pro: Build quality, ride quality, endurance, excellent road to trail ability, offer less fatigue on your knees.
Con: Expensive but worth it, my feet came away from last ultra in pretty good condition thanks to these.
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 9/10, for me a near perfect shoe.
Salomon Sense Ultra
Pro: Build and ride quality, decent transition from road to trail but definitely a trail shoe
Con: Slightly too exposed to the elements, not a great fit only feet but that’s only my feet 🙂
Distance: 35km (so far)
Value: 6/10, at £75 these feel well priced but much more than this and they feel expensive
Retailer: Blacks Outdoor
Pro: Lightweight, well made, Vibram sole, multi-purpose footwear, well designed alternative to VFFs
Con: Not suited to heavy trail but handy for road to light trail
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 7/10, reliable and fun shoes that can have any number of applications but as a specific first choice running shoe they aren’t quite there. Having said that I always take a pair with me as a backup during ultra marathons
Adidas Adios 2
Pro: Lightweight, fast, well designed, reliable, have endured well
Con: Not as good as the original Adios
Distance: 1250km (over three pairs)
Value: 9/10, even though I’m not as keen on v2 these are an unbelievably good shoe that I use in training as well as racing.
Adidas Ace 3
Retailer: Runners Need
Pro: Lightweight, bright, reliable, comfortable ride
Con: Not as good as the Boston or the Adios
Distance: 100km (so far)
Value: 6/10 at £35.00 you can’t argue that these make a nice change from the Adios or my other lightweight running shoes but at £75.00 they don’t feel as though they have enough under the hood and I’m not sure I would trust them over a marathon distance.
Vibram Fivefingers Komodo
Paid: £135.00 Normally: £135.00 Retailer: Vibram
Pro: Unique, challenges your own perceptions, build quality, good for endurance, showstopper
Con: Get twigs trapped between your toes, getting your feet caught on the visually impaired aids on the road, they hurt like hell if you accidentally heel strike
Distance: 900km (original pair)
Value: 9/10 near faultless until they finally gave in, second pair just as good – very expensive but worth every single penny as I saw my times tumbling in Vibrams and my distances increase.
Vibram Fivefingers Speed LS
Retailer: Field and Trek
Pro: Unique, build quality, showstopper
Value: 3/10 I can’t wear these for running, so I wear them as a work shoe – never understood how my Komodo were so perfect and these so nightmarish. Blisters, discomfort – the lot came with these. Sad as they are beautifully understated shoes.
Retailer: Sports Pursuit
Pro: Nice lacing system, beautiful to look at, nice comfortable ride, suitably barefoot, niche running shoes, well built
Con: Not so great as a big distance shoe – lovely sprint shoe though
Distance: 150km (so far)
Value: 8/10 I wear these both as running shoes and day to day shoes as I bought the black ones. Comfortable, inexpensive and nice to sprint in. Well worth £42.00, probably not worth £75.00
The reality is that I remain unconvinced that paying big money for big shoes means you’ll get any better results on the road, the track or the trail. What it does mean is that you’ve spent a lot of money on a pair of shoes. I tend to buy expensive shoes not because they are expensive but because they have a specific fit for me. The Hoka One One for example I own because they have a wide toe box and have helped to reduce the impact of blisters on my feet during ultras. But I’ve made mistakes – I was lured into the Salomon S-Lab Ultra shoes because of the name and now I own a pair of shoes that might occasionally get a 10km trail run rather than the ultras they were supposed to race in. Shoes like the Skora Phase were inexpensive enough and with good enough reviews to warrant taking a punt on something new and actually I really like them and when they pop up in sales I will certainly buy some more. I recall @Cat_Simpson_ saying that she never bought the current seasons shoes as she wanted to let the reviews come out (and presumably see the flaws) before buying. This is very much approach I’ve always adopted also and hence why I rarely pay full price for any shoe and if I do it really has got something special in its box of magic tricks.
But there does appear to be a trend to convincing us, through expensive marketing, about new technology in shoes and how much it will improve our running. Do you remember Nike Shox for example – lauded as the next big thing in training shoes or the the recent bandwagon for barefoot running or technology that springs us forward and returns energy to our bodies? And what do the manufacturers want? They want us to buy them, more often, in more colours – get rid of those old favourites that have been hiding in your cupboard for years because they believe, that you will believe that there is a Usain Bolt inside of you – and that can be brought out with your new runners. Hmph!
As runners we all know that finding a shoe that fits and works is invaluable regardless of the cost, brand, shape or size but there is an ever creeping group of marketeers who are convinced we will pay over £100 for knitted footwear or shoes with springs. Hmmmm, the only shoe I’d pay stupid money for are ones with jet rockets concealed in the soles.
The following articles offer some interesting insights – though of course it isn’t all to be agreed with and neither offer conclusive evidence as to whether we are being over charged by sports companies keen to take advantage of runners as the sport becomes ever more fashionable, but they do offer food for thought.
Mike O’Neill, podiatric surgeon and spokesman for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists said “it is not the cost of the trainers that is important but the suitability of the trainers.
How very true!
But we all go into a shop with a closed mind, I know for example that I won’t event try Asics on because my experience of trying them on is that they don’t feel comfortable and I don’t really like New Balance as a brand for the shoes – and I really haven’t tried even a small portion of the options they have available. Plus I know that if my shoes don’t come in some ludicrous colour then I’m not spending my money on them – I will not wear white trainers!!! Therefore, no matter the research or what we are told is probably best for us we all have a pre-determined picture of the shoes we are going to buy (hence why I ended up with a pair of Salomon I’m not that keen on – but love looking at).
The article from The Telegraph goes further and asks about the value of having shoes at all! Well for me I need some running shoes, mainly to stop myself form getting dog poo between my toes – yuck but you catch my meaning. So are we overpaying for shoes? Yes, marketing machines have seen a niche and are exploiting runners, but at the same time we are keen to be exploited with the aim to establish that new PB. How many of us could really go barefoot or buy that pair of Crane or Hi-Tec running shoes that according to Mike O’Neill are no worse than their expensive cousins. The cycle continues and until we are ready to admit we enjoy being conned and having the major manufacturers tell us what is good for us then we can never start down the real road to running glory.
Happy Sunday running guys
I’m lying in the cold and the wet, I can feel blood on my leg, my beloved Asics running tights are ruined and all I can think about is not, have I broken my leg but, shit have I just pulled out of the C2C. 8 days before the race and I’m lying motionless wondering if I have just ruined my chances of grabbing my first UTMB point of the season. Roll on 8 days and 43miles later and the answer is that, no I didn’t.
I rolled out of bed at about 4.30am partly because Project ThunderClunge needed some preparation before it could make its move this early in the day. I showered and put the final bits of kit together in my bag and we headed from the Garden of England up to Buckinghamshire where we met up with the other runners at the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Wendover. It was a bit like organised chaos but it kinda worked, one queue, lots of levels and a shedload of bacon baps. The worst part about the start was the man at Wendover train station – I asked for a car parking ticket and he issued me with a stern gaze and told me that the station was intended for rail passengers only. My view was that he was getting a full days parking ticket for not much more than an hours usage, this meant I had to go scrabbling round for change which I managed to get through the purchase or coffee and bacon for the OH. Parking sorted I lined up for my number, changed my emergency telephone and promptly left my coffee somewhere I couldn’t remember putting it. At this point I spotted the running top of @totkat and briefly said hello, neither of us knowing each other’s names she greeted me with the ‘hello Ultraboy’. I had stuff to do though and promised to catch up later which is what we did but prior to that I had a toilet visit. Two toilets exist in the pub and in the first of these options we were warned that it was a bit like the bog of eternal stench and this was correct – despite my need I couldn’t use it and waited for the other still functional and not full to the brim loo. Racing out of the loo I picked up @totkat again and had a brief chat about things, shoes and the like and then headed out to find the OH who had just left the front of the pub with my two hounds. Strangely though she had been stood within spitting distance of @cat_simpson_ who it was finally a delight to meet. Again a bit of a chat and then away – we both had stuff to do. But my tweet ups weren’t quite over and I was recognised for the stupidity of my Dirty Girl gaiters by the lovely @J0ERUNS – what a great runner, the man is a legend and I was grateful of the opportunity to meet him.
The start was pushed back to about 8.40 and I found myself at the front which was not where I wanted to be and so I pushed my way back and took up my customary position at the slow end of the race.
My aim was to complete between 8hrs 30 and 9hrs 15 but in my head I was hoping for 8hrs 30 and this was my final thought before the race started, I clicked the go button on my Suunto Ambit 2 and kicked off in my Hoka Stinson Evo. Now I’ll mention briefly my Suunto, I had loaded full mapping of the race on board and I intended to follow the little arrow the whole way – full review will follow shortly – but the huge crowd of runners all huddled together and we made me pleasant, accurate progress through some stunning countryside. Wendover soon disappeared behind us and we made our way through the first of the muddy fields. The weather was fine, beautiful January day and as we came across the first of the hills you felt as though was going to be both a very friendly and pleasant affair.
I was trundling along to CP1, at this point still over taking people, going too quickly, dancing through the mud when I met a lovely runner, I’m going to call her Sophie as I think that was her name, but you meet a lot of people running ultras and names get lost in their stories. She was a genuinely fascinating runner who had completed the MdS, had been evacuated from Cambodia to Thailand when she fell into a coma! she made my life look dull and I’ve had a reasonably interesting life! Anyway with her at my side I was able to push on and floated into CP1 in 1hr 20minutes – 90 second stop and then off. Sophie was getting into her stride and I wished her well as I needed to bring my pacing down a little bit (she was going to be a fast finisher). Checkpoint 2 would also be the last point at which I would see my OH and my two hounds but that didn’t really matter, she needed to focus on Project ThunderClunge and actually that made me address some issues, the primary was, ‘what do I really need for the rest of the race’. What I didn’t address was what do I not need for the rest of the race, therefore after enjoying the best of the views in Buckinghamshire I thundered along the final road and up into CP2. Despite being a trail run there is a lot of running on pathways with C2C and this was generally fine but it meant that your footwear choice was very important and the route between CP1 and CP2 and equally CP2 and CP3 was varied and changeable – I was glad of my Hoka.
What CP2 brought with it was also the realisation that my knee had not healed properly at all, the fluid that I had recognised a few days earlier had not gotten any better and combined with the calf compression I was in a lot of knee pain which was translating to my time. I hit CP2 just after 3hrs but at nearly 18 miles in I was still confident I’d come in on time. My OH though was concerned about the knee and wondered if it wasn’t more sensible to stop – as a medical person she was worried and as my OH she was worried as she was about to head back to Kent.
I kissed her goodbye, drank Lucozade and headed off into the wilds. The next few miles were good fun and the Lucozade had given me a lift that I really needed as a lack of breakfast was really showing. I added to this a number of delicious Sainsbury’s sugar strings which helped me spike my sugar levels.
CP2 to CP3 also gave me access to a couple of lovely American guys ( Michael and Richard @broferd ). Michael was in his first ultra and his first run over 16 miles but in his corner he had a family history of Ultra Marathons as his dad had finished the Western States no less than three times and he was wearing one of his dads 1980s running tops, he was a great guy. Richard too was a great runner, inspiring, fun and provided excellent motivation to keep me going through some of the stretches along the canal and we spent much of the next 10 miles or so jockeying for position. Also between CP2 and CP3 I met Martin. He was running with two other guys and was in his third ultra but had DNFed in his first two, I found him an interesting and engaging runner who clearly had the motivation and was keen to run to the finish but the two people he was running with seemed more to be bringing him down and hearing their ‘motivational’ style was both depressing me and angering me. I really wanted to tell them to ‘fuck off’ but that wasn’t in the spirit of ultra running. Thankfully having looked at the results there is no Martin in the DNF list and there is a Martin who within 9hrs 30 which was his aim the last time I spoke to him and so I hope he is very proud of the achievement.
I digress, CP2 to CP3 also brought my favourite race surprise because at mile 24 was @abradypus who is a bit of a running legend in her own right. Demanding sweaty manhugs and photographs was the least I could offer her for simply being there to cheer us along, I should point out that she wasn’t there just for me, she was there for the plethora of other Twitter runners that were running C2C.
The canal brought with it something I hadn’t expected which was a hint of boredom, the problem was that a) it was flat and b) there was no real scenery. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it occurred at the beginning with the bigger, slippery and dirty trails in the second half but that would have been something to get excited about, to look forward too. The canal felt like a truly metal challenge – the distance wasn’t the issue but seeing a never ending, ceaseless path of water in front of you meant you felt every single step. So although the path was simple to navigate it was not easy to negotiate.
Passing through the final checkpoints there is little to report really besides a worsening situation with my knee, jovial crew and a pleasant evening in terms of temperature and rain. As I approached Little Venice realising I had missed out on the 9hour mark by about 6 minutes was soul destroying but I managed to limp across the finish line and waiting for me was the ever wonderful @abradypus and because she had not long finished herself @totkat – thank you to both for providing support, both at the finish line and at the pub after.
I’m glad I did this one, it was good fun and gave me an early start to the season – something I really missed out on last year when I didn’t run my first race until March. I’ve found there has to be a reason to run a race and the one here is that I enjoyed it (for the most part). You can forgive the running along the towpath because the first 27 miles are really good fun. You will enjoy the party atmosphere that was everywhere you looked, it wasn’t a nervous race – first timers through to highly experienced ultra runners were on show and all felt welcome. The pub at the beginning was a great start line and I’m advised the bacon sandwich was delicious. The map book was pretty decent, which surprised me as I had heard criticism of earlier years versions but compared to some of the directions I’ve had this was amazing. There were enough hills to make you think that this was a challenge but not enough for you to think you’ve just run up a mountain and despite the weather the land was torn up enough for the energy to be thoroughly drained from your legs by the time you got to the towpath. I would highly recommend this race whatever your ultra experience. All of these good things are supplemented by a nice T-shirt and a wonderfully thick but not too big medal. Sign up now (well when it opens for 2015!)
I’d like to finish though with a thank you to all the support crew, all the people on Twitter and on Facebook who provided me with encouragement throughout the day and especially my OH and the hounds, this medal and this race are very much dedicated to you.
As anyone who knows me I buy more running and training gear than is normal, it has gotten to the point now where I no longer have any real clothes – I have only running, hiking, swimming and activity kit. The few bits of real clothing I own are locked away in a cupboard somewhere and they almost never come out, my work clothes are on a bit of a rotation and I replace them only as they wear out – however, I’m not here to discuss the details of my wardrobe – no – I’m here to discuss some of the excellent retailers I have purchased from this year and perhaps the reasons I avoid other retailers
I’ve bought several pairs of running shoes from these guys, including my much loved and also much maligned S-Lab Sense trail shoes. These guys offer great value for money, they offer excellent service and I’ve never had a single days problem with them. Their website is pretty simple to navigate, although the top navigation could do with a little bit of clarity, perhaps the fact there is more than running gear here is the reason it can feel a little cluttered but it has never stopped me from finding the things I want and the payment system is quick and easy. Highly Recommended.
I only discovered Wiggle this year and despite a stupid name it offers excellent prices and excellent products. I was able to source my Suunto Ambit 2 from these guys at less than £300 and have purchased several excellent running tops from them. Their site tends to be crammed with goodies but it can be a bit of a chore going through it all and my recent search for gaiters led me to try elsewhere. However, the service is impeccable and incredibly speedy. These are good guys to buy kit from and the regular sales they run are generally very genuine. Perhaps the best bit is the inclusion of little Haribo sweets in their deliveries.
There is something about trawling through my hundreds of early morning emails that I don’t mind and that thing is the offers that Sports Pursuit insist on sending me. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Again this is a retailer I discovered only this year and while you are required to wait a little longer for your products they offer great value items that you can’t get elsewhere. Skora runners and Vibram Fivefingers have been my primary purchases from them during 2013 and each purchase has been excellent. It’s fair to say that sizes can difficult to come by sometimes and the returns are a little haphazard in what happens (there is no guarantee on return that they can get you a different size) but SportsPursuit are clear in their endeavour – bringing you great stuff at a decent price. Communication is excellent, packaging and delivery is excellent – what more could you ask for.
What an ultra runner really wants from his shopping experience is people who know what they are on about. The Centurion store is not jammed to the rafters with kit – no. It has a couple of choices in key categories. So for example if you want a running vest/bag they have Salomon or Ultimate Directions, both of which are very high quality products and both used by in the ultra community. Additionally this was the easiest place I could find to buy Harveys Maps! It’s also nice not having to wade through oodles of crap choices and they have lovely communication, great customer service and speedy delivery. The fact that Centurion is run by runners for runners really shows and I’m very much looking forward to further purchases and events with them in 2014.
Ultra Marathon Running Store
A bit like the Centurion store really in that it covers a great selection of good quality gear but with a little more choice (and the home of Dirty Girl Gaiters in the UK). Service and delivery are top notch and you feel it’s good value for money. Again they tend not to fill their site with things that ultra runners won’t use – we get a range of products at various price points. No complaints about this store whatsoever. I shall be looking forward to further purchases in the near future.
This is a bit of strange one, I’ve got some running Tshirts that are nearly a decade old from Decathlon that cost about £2.50 each and they rock but these days I find their running kit no longer fits me very well, but they do a great range of bikes and this year alone I have bought a rockrider, a triban and a hybrid (for my OH). I’m also a fan of their general equipment, things like lights, bandages, tapes, locks, etc and they do a decent range of swim kit – though I prefer mainly their speedo stuff. The great thing is that Decathlon staff are generally pretty well trained and not only know their own sporting area but also a bit about other departments. Add in regular vouchers and competitions through their loyalty card and actually you have a company that seems on the face of it to care. The letdown is their website which seems to have been built by a six year old or had a management hand in the navigation. Once you drill down to product pages it’s all pretty good but finding stuff is a nightmare. With. Decathlon I’d always say try and visit a store as the experience is so much better.
These guys have been a bit a bit of a class act for several years and although I’m not as regular a shopper there as I used to be I still find them pretty darn good and with a good selection of items. I suppose though that Sweatshop has been a victim of its own success via both growth and attempting to be all things to all runners. This means that there is a decent range from beginner to very experienced runner but not as much depth as you might like, it feels quite mainstream – although saying this I have seen more obscure products like On Cloudrunners, Nathan running vests and Salomon S Lab clothing in store over recent months and this was also the store I got all my OMM packs from. Sweatshop remains the best of the major high street running stores. However, on a couple of occasions (and a less positive note) I have noticed in store there has been a lack of running knowledge, especially in younger members of staff, however, I am still a reasonably regular visitor to Bluewater, Dartford, Rathbone Place and Trump Street and these guys have always been on top of things, so when considering a store to purchase from where you can try things on, these guys remain good.
Run and Become
I’m a bit of sucker for a good shoe collection and great service and this is something that you always get from Run and Become. The staff are all runners, all very knowledgable (at least in the London store I go to), they have a great range of products in store and there is a feeling that they wouldn’t sell you a shoe that wasn’t fit for purpose. These guys are so popular that there is often a reasonable wait to be seen by the staff but it is worth it. My last purchase was some Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji socks and what I received was not only the basic back story to the shoes but also a bit of knowledge about the lady serving me, who was also a VFF user. If you happen to be near St. James Park and are in need of some kit or just to view some running porn – this is the place 🙂
Pete Bland Sports
Pete Bland will be getting more of my business in 2014, great service and quick delivery and a website that despite a rather strange navigation it just works. I bought my first pair of Hoka from Pete Bland Sports and they generally have a great range of running gear but being based in the Lake District is the thing that makes me love them as the Lakes are just about my favourite place in the entire universe. The little thing I loved the most was the later Twitter interaction about my experiences with the running shoes I had purchased. Classy
Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow & Rock
No good if what you are looking for is road running materials but if you are looking for trail running kit then Cotswold Outdoor, Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock are pretty fine. All have a good range of footwear, clothing and accessories covering brands like OMM, Rab, Salomon, Hoka and Inov8. If you are in London then all three can be found with big stores in the heart of Covent Garden and all have highly trained staff who generally know what they are talking about and if they don’t they’ll get someone that does. Each of these stores has provided me with key pieces of kit over the last year or so and will continue to do so. In terms of online then I find Cotswold to be the easiest to navigate and find what I’m looking for but both Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock offer excellent online services.
I do have one bugbear though and that is Sports Direct. I find myself disheartened every time I walk past one of their stores and if I ever find myself in need of going in to one I generally find myself leaving quickly without purchase. I know some will argue that they offer competitively priced equipment but I find what little Karrimor equipment I do own never gets worn because it just isn’t as well made as some of the similarly priced clothing from Sweatshop or Decathlon – this of course is just an opinion but it is based on the experience and longevity and general feeling of the kit. The worst part of the experience is the staff don’t appear interested in whether you are being sold suitable footwear, suitable equipment or your general well being as a customer. I haven’t bought much here for quite some time and I don’t see myself heading back there anytime soon. Overall a disappointing retail experience.
Anyway, there are lots of very good retailers out there, these are just some of my personal favourites and ones that I have gone back to time and again. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites and I’m always keen to learn about new places offering useful kit, great advice and most importantly brilliant customer service.
I felt as though I couldn’t accurately write about my experience with Hoka Stinson Evo until I had some experience and with my spate of injuries running across the spine of 2013 I felt I might never get the opportunity to properly test them. However, Govember has been a moderate success for me and this has in part been down to the Hoka. The first thing to note is that I’ve been running in my Stinson Evo on road and trail despite them being described as a trail shoe I have found them surprisingly engaging on the tarmac and very giving and while they aren’t perhaps the fastest shoe on the road they have provided me with the necessary support to avoid further damage to my Achilles while continuing to run.
Questions about the Hoka are many and varied, but the key information is that they aren’t heavy, especially given the size, they are well cushioned but you still get enough feeling from your terrain to get a rounded sense of where you are running and they love going down a hill. What I will concede is that they are less enjoyable going up a hill and compared to say my Vibram FiveFingers, Saucony Peregrine or even Adidas XT4 they aren’t as much fun but only in the uphill sections, however, this was as much down to my technique as the shoe and once I had gotten into the rhythm a little more I found the Hoka handled most hills (on Tarmac) with great aplomb. On trails, it’s slightly different, they will just eat up the hills – taking my Mafate 2 onto the Oliver Fisher 10km race a couple of months back I was able to witness firsthand how they scythed through the wet conditions and mud. Perhaps most interestingly from that race I noticed that as I came to the top of inclines they offered a very smooth and gentle transition that has improved my pace coming off an incline.
The ride is incredibly comfortable, to the point you do sometimes have to remind yourself that you are wearing them. I’d gone out on a 20miler to treat the feet, so to speak and noticed that my toes suffered none of the fatigue that I often came to associate with barefoot running, there was no dull ache from where I had accidentally heelstruck a branch, no mud or twigs got lodged between my toes and my legs felt free to stretch. I benefited, especially in the Stinson Evo from a wider toe box and having stuck with the fast lacing system have come to appreciate it despite not thinking that I ever would. Initially I was convinced that the Mafate where the more comfortable of the two Hoka I bought (yep that’s right I don’t bother with freebies from the manufacturers :)) but after going 250miles in the Stinson Evo and nearly 100miles in the Mafate I think I prefer the former rather than the latter. It’s possible that Hoka being such a young company are still learning the best forms for their shoes and they are obviously making regular improvements as even the Mafate 3 compared to the 2 are an improvement in the fit (well for me at least).
Are there any problems? Well just one that I found and that was there ability in very wet conditions. My Mafate came with me for the TG100 but the day, the race and course was more like a 100 mile swim than an ultra run and after they took a soaking my feet became pretty vulnerable to blistering and actually within five miles I had developed quite nasty blisters. Now in defence of the Hoka I was wearing some very old and worn out Injiji socks that day, it was about the wettest day of the year and I wasn’t in good form anyway. This hasn’t happened since but I’ve yet to have another significantly wet run to determine whether it was the shoes, my socks, my form or the conditions that played the part in destroying my feet.
Now as for some technical specifications, as I’m sure some of you would enjoy poring over details, these are the specs for the Stinson Evo, lifted directly from the Hoka One One site (thanks chaps)
Debris-proof, closed mesh
Extending lacing for adaptable fit
2 elastic lace holders for customized lacing
Light weight tongue: foot conforming, slim, microfiber
Reinforced toe cap
Flexible molded T.P.U. support strapping/thermo-polyurethane reinforcements
Traditional and Quick Lace System
2.2X Midsole EVA Volume
30% softer EVA
Profile: Late Meta-Rocker
Varying lugs (large and small)
High version, sticky rubber compound
Interior small lugs
Outside larger lugs
I’m not really a specifications runner, I tend to go on my gut feeling and prefer experience to technical specifications. But this information highlights the difference between these shoes and the ever increasingly popularity of minimal running.
In conclusion I can say the following – Hoka offer a range of great running shoes, but they aren’t suited to everyone, you’ll need to test them, you’ll need to get out on the trails and see if they are for you. Some styles will suit you better than others and you will be laughed at, stared at and generally mocked from those who’ve never seen them. They are visually appealing though regardless of their slightly moonboot likeness and they are like nothing else on the market. They are great across bigger distances and therefore are ideal for marathons and ultras but I find them rather pleasant over the shorter distance too – though they aren’t as swift as my MV2 or VFFs. They are pricey but you are getting a lot for your money in terms of technology, comfort and quality (and hopefully longevity), so buying these perhaps make sense if they suit you. But for my money they are at the very least worth a bit of a look if nothing else.
It was a busy morning at the base of Snowdonia, there were people all around, stretching and pulling and aimlessly muttering to each other. The sky was decidedly grey and the breeze was knocking gently against the rocks of the mountain around us. I couldn’t really think very clearly at all, my head was pounding from the headache that had been torturing me that morning and a tidal wave of sickness was consuming my belly but this was a start line and on a start line I do one thing and one thing only – focus.
To roll back a little we have to go back about two months and my epic failing at the TG100, here you may recall I managed not to complete the race – my first and only DNF. It was a combination of work being very busy, injury taking it’s toll, a hideously unlucky race day with the weather and a lack of training – it seemed that as I roll forward to the Snowdonia Marathon that I would be plagued by a similar set of circumstances. Just ten days before I was due to line up in the Welsh mountains I damaged my Achilles and with a long standing hip injury things didn’t look to cheery. However, if there’s one thing I’m full of it’s tenacity and I was going to run. My already limited training was cancelled completely, I stopped cycling and swimming and moved into a routine of icing and stretching at every opportunity – this had the benefit of soothing my aching Achilles and hips but wasn’t helping my preparation for distance. In a desperate bid for a pre-marathon event I signed up to Xtreme Beach and ran just one lap of the course (6km) before I felt the burn of my injuries and lack of fitness. There’s trouble at mill, I thought.
It was all made even worse by the fact the only pair of shoes that didn’t pull or run on my Achilles was my much loved but over used Newton Distance. Now I love my Newton Distance but these bad boys had done more than 600 miles – the mesh fabric has started to tear and worse the sole has pretty much collapsed – these shouldn’t be run in. However, when I was packing my kit to head off to windy Wales I knew that they would be coming with me.
Anyway an 8hr car journey to Harlech in Wales later and I was cosying myself in a little cottage – only mildly concerned that the gale force winds would tear the roof off – still an early night, a decent dinner and I was ready for the race!
I had decided that I was going to take the ultra dress route for this one, wearing my short OMM 0.5 Flash tights and Ronhill Vizion long sleeve top, both have always performed extremely well and I had no concerns that they would do anything other than perform well again. I added my Ultimate Directions PB vest and two full water bottles as I wanted to manage my own supply (and as you’ll see I’m glad I did), this also gave me the best location for my Montane Minimus waterproof and some delicious Kinder Chocolate. My only concern was footwear and I tried my Hoka Mafate, Merrell Barefoot, Salomon Speedcross 3, Adidas XT3, Vibram Komodo and several others before it became clear that my only choice was going to be the knackered Newton Distance. I looked at them and they stared at me and we spoke
ND: I can do this
UB: you can’t
ND: we won’t let you down, when have we ever let you down?
UB: well you were pretty shitty at the Bewl Marathon
ND: yes but even you agreed that was your fault and it was your dodgy toe that forced you into wearing us that day, we got you round!
UB: what about all those times you slip on the concourse at Charing Cross station because you’ve got no grip…
ND: look numpty boy, if you wanna race you’re going to have to wear me so stop this ridiculous conversation and slap me on UltraBitch!
UB: yes Newton Distance, sorry Newton Distance
That’s perhaps not quite how it went but you get the idea. Anyway fellow bloggers and runners I arrived to the race village and drifted into the main hall, grabbed my number, avoided the cameras and went back outside to the car to get my bearings, take in some of the very vibrant atmosphere and chat with some of the runners. Most notably I met Gavin and his lovely family, he was a bit of veteran and aiming for about 4.15/4.30 as a finishing time and his view was that you take your normal marathon time and add about 30 minutes. In my head this meant that even with the injuries I could probably still run 4.45/5.00 as my average flat marathon time is about 3.30 and trail about 3.45 with a hilly marathon just over 4.10. Gavin and family provided a nice distraction and as we left each other I felt rather better than I had done all morning. With a need for some food I headed on into the Race HQ and picked up a delicious bacon and sausage bap – something to ease the queasiness and put a solid lining on my stomach for what is billed as the toughest marathon in the UK. As I sat down to eat over in the corner of my eye I saw the face of a man I recognised – someone I had never met but the reason that I run Ultra Marathons and the bigger distances, this was the man my other half really wanted to murder and not me.
I strolled over to Tobias Mews, both a running legend and also a rather good writer – it has been my honour to occasionally design layouts for his writing and it was because I was reading his articles that I decided to become an ultra marathoner. I introduced myself and simply thanked him for introducing me to the stupid world of ultras and returned to my quickly cooling bacon and sausage bap. What a day it was turning out to be – filled with all sorts of good and bad things but meeting Tobias filled with further confidence that today was going to be a good day.
The start was only about half an hour away and it was time for a few pre-race photographs (sadly not to be shared as UltraBoy likes his secret identity) and then off to the start. I hooked up again briefly with Gavin and his family and chatted about the upcoming challenge and also about football which distracted me from the slight rainfall that had started to come down but in my bones I could now feel the race energy swelling and all the injuries and excuses that had been shackling me where drifting away.
The pre-race briefing bypassed me other than to not that we should smile for the cameras and I heard the sound of us leaving, my feet started off and the fury of pounding feet reverberated in my ears and surprisingly it was my own feet I could hear. It was a cramped start and actually it was a little difficult to get going but with the fire in my belly and knowledge that Kinder chocolate was in my pocket I proceeded to push my way through the groups of runners. The Snowdonia Marathon has three big hills in it and the first comes very early on and I assume is designed to destroy your spirit but I was feeling surprisingly spritely as I forced one foot after the other. I even managed a few laughs and jokes with Batman and a couple of there other competitors, it was quite a jolly field. The first hill for me was probably the most amazing in terms of the view – it had all the drama and mystery I associate with the Wales of my childhood. Having pored over the course profile I was expecting this to be challenging but what I hadn’t expected was for it to feel unrelenting, what kept my, and I suspect everyones, spirits positive was the knowledge that there was a significant downhill to come. As I reached the top of the first challenge I could see the runners in front of me dipping below my vision, clearly pelting away and I did much the same. For the first time in the race I stretched the muscles in my arms and legs, pumping away, looking down into the vastness below – wonderful and I was 10km in and only 55 minutes had elapsed – I was in good form. I passed by the turning at the bottom of the hill and there I was greeted by the very cheery face of Richard, the manager from the Dartford Sweatshop who I hadn’t seen since we ran a bit of the WC50 together – we chatted briefly as he ran alongside me and he wished me well and I left him behind awaiting the arrival of his other half! Onwards I hit the trail and left behind the steady path and used this as an opportunity to bounce around a bit, have some fun, race a bit and continue my usual chitty chattiness that I enjoy on a raceday.
My only problem was one of a Paula Radcliffe/Call of Nature… I was hoping for a portaloo on the route but it never came and for a while it was all I could think about but clearly it must have focused the mind because when I saw the lovely toilets I was at mile 12 and even with an eight minute stop I still managed the first half in just under two hours. As the course continued it was a very light incline we were treated to and this posed few problems but the second of the big hills was a huge challenge, probably only as steep as the first but with people walking it felt like a much bigger task and do I slowed to a speed walk and used my ultra training method of dealing with the hill – walk it quickly. This got me to the top of the hill and I was away again, a little Kinder chocolate and some fruit strings and I felt pretty fresh.
It was about mile 14 where things changed for me, I was meandering round the course, trying primarily to ignore the pain on my hip, keeping hydrated and chatting to fellow runners and here I met Grant. Let me start by saying Grant is either a hero or madman, probably both because he entered the race with only three months training behind him and had this as his first marathon.
Surprisingly he wasn’t carrying any hydration and had unfortunately at the halfway point started to feel the burn of his knees – we’ve all been there, we know what it’s like but this seemed a new experience to him and given that his longest distance had been 16 miles (I’m sure you can confirm this fella!) I wasn’t sure he would make it without some support. Being rather jovial company we decided to run together for a bit but after a while it occurred to me that he’d come out of the blocks too quick and I suggested we stayed together to ensure we both finished a very tough course.
As we came to mile 18 Grant was feeling his knees increasingly but he continued to make steady progress through the course and only once did I see his head drop and so hopefully my few words of encouragement got him through the moments of anguish and together we strode up the final hill, working together to make sure we didn’t lose sight of the prize. The final hill was an amazing experience and had circumstances been different it would have been fun to have run but our steady progress meant we reached the summit and were able to run the next couple of miles and along to the final water stop. With time ticking away though and daylight disappearing the weather also took a turn for the worse and rain began pelting down and with a whipping wind it became a harsh course.
Grant had, it seemed, won the mental battle to get to the finish – he wasn’t going to stop now and he looked visibly more positive, even if his knees hurt like hell. For my part I felt fresh and light on my feet and as we pulled in to the final water point something else happened – Grant was having a water stop and a young lady – Julia rocked up looking frozen and in dismay. She spoke to the marshall but she was barely audible on the hilltop and the marshall asked if I could talk to her. It turned out she was so cold and weak that she felt she couldn’t go on – mile 23 and a bit! I asked her what was wrong and she explained she was feeling light headed and cold, with a bit of effort I undid her jacket from her waist and got her covered up, gave her Kinder chocolate and some water and both Grant and I offered to stay with her to make sure she got to the finish.
We made our way slowly down the final hill, we could see the finish in the distance. Grant was slowing further but I knew that it was our new running buddy that needed the support and with just a mile to go I turned to see Grant and make sure he wasn’t going to stop and asked Julia if she was capable of running. Now warmed, watered and chocolated we set off at a fearsome pace and as we approached 800metres to go I waved goodbye to Julia aswell, safe in the knowledge she wasn’t going to stop.
Both feet now lurched forward, cries of ‘great finish!’ welcomed me and I thrust my chest forward and pumped my arms to my traditional sprint finish, the line was in the distance and with every ounce of my strength I flew under the giant red inflatable. I had done it.
Grasping my new slate memento I thrust it aloft and growled, despite a reasonably poor time I was happy I had finished the Snowdonia Marathon.
The race was actually tough but far from impossible and infact I found this a rather endearing course and will in the future be back to complete it in a faster time when less injured and more prepared. The course was in places in beautiful but as with all 26.2milers there were sections that were a little bit dull but overall you wouldn’t complain about the quality of the vistas. The atmosphere was electric at times, the support was fantastic almost all the way round and you could feel the quality of the field you were amongst – almost every person had trained properly and everyone was ready for a marathon.
There was generally ample water on the course and more than enough gels (though I’m not a gel fan), only one of the water stops was bereft of water, but this was a fairly vital stop, at the top of a hill and a number of the runners really felt the lack of water here – I was grateful I was carrying my own supply (and yes I did offer to share it where needed :)).
The goodies were surprising, the first was the excellent T-shirt which has been worn several times and although no medal there was a branded slate coaster, which while not amazing will provide an excellent momento of a great race. At the race finish though I was disappointed to note that there was no fruit, cake or sweeties – just a bottle of water and that was not what I wanted – I wanted chocolate.
Do this race, you won’t regret it but it wasn’t what I was expecting – perhaps that is half the fun of it.
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 🙂
And I quote … ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it’. W. C. Fields
I gave up the Thames Gateway 100 because I tried and I tried and I tried but to carry on would have been foolish. Let me roll the clock back several weeks and try and give a bit of a background to this sorry story which starts at about 1am in the morning, late in June stood on the edge of the River Tyne crossing into Gateshead having completed Rat Races The Wall. I was elated but with destroyed feet and I knew that my recovery was going to be significant but with that I felt I could more than happily sign up for my first 100 mile race – this I did just a few days after finishing The Wall. Then the problems began, one week passed with no training, two week, three weeks and then a month and still no training – I was now in late July. I kept telling myself that my body would carry me through but how wrong can you be?
Anyway, August arrived and I finally started running again but no more than about 6km per day and not at any great pace. Mentally I wasn’t in the right space for racing and certainly not for ultra running but I did a bit of RRT (running retail therapy) and felt much better about things and having tested out my lovely new Hoka I thought I’d give it a go and see what happened.
Race day arrived at the end of what can only be described as a very hot August and I had hoped for a little bit of rain or I might struggle (as I don’t really enjoy hot weather). But on the day of the ultra the rain settled in on us and stayed that way for the whole of the race that I ran. The first thing to note was that people I was running with were top notch and I can’t praise Mike and the team at Ultra Trails (Saxon Shore) highly enough. The second thing of note is that the village hall that they were set up in was brilliant – warm, dry and well segmented so that those who needed sleeping and/or changing facilities could do what they needed.
I signed in to the race and discovered that there was no race number for me, though this wasn’t such a problem as they simply prepared a new one for me but it turns out they then gave me a number that someone else had. But these things happen and in the grand scheme it was relatively minor that I had to explain at each checkpoint that I was the duplicate 113. Anyway with a small field of only about 15 runners we set out in the damp morning air armed with nothing more than our wits, the race directions and enough jelly babies to sink a battleship.
I felt surprisingly good as I raced along the North Downs Ways, the lack of training and succession of injuries seemed not to be getting to me. The first five miles were filled with delightful chat and even a bit of laughter as we kicked forward. I stopped briefly to add compeed to my feet as I could feel that they were already succumbing to the rigours of there damp conditions and the fact I was wearing my oldest pair of Injinji socks (the fact I’d only done 3 miles in my Hoka probably didn’t help either). Anyway with my feet patched up I set off again and actually for much of the second checkpoint held a leading position but by about 15 miles in my thoughts were already heavy.
The rain had joined us and it was torrential, the ground was then heavy going and worse, the north downs way was incredibly over grown and very step was either biting into your skin, making your blisters sting or filling your already soaking shorts with even more water. Despite this I ran into checkpoint 2 feeling pretty joyous, changed my socks, ate some food, had a bit of a cup of tea and thanked the lovely chaps at the checkpoint, I even met Ian Braizer ( @bibo_boy ) which was absolutely lovely, a great guy from Essex who just had that capacity to keep you going when things felt a bit grim.
But from about mile 33 I was on my own and it was pretty lonely, especially given that my navigational skill isn’t amazing and the directions, while not as bad as the White Cliffs 50 weren’t much better. The one thing about the course was that it was very scenic and I was able to enjoy parts of Kent I had never seen before and this lightened my mood. But as I approached Gravesend I knew that the blisters, lack of training and the weather had drawn my race to a close. Possibly the actual killer was the problem before I came into the Gravesend checkpoint, I had gotten quite seriously lost on the checkpoint prior to my withdrawal and ended up running (according to the GPS) at least another 7 miles. In terms of the ultra this meant I was going to be behind time and also done an extra portion of distance I didn’t need to.
Arriving into, what for me would be, the final checkpoint with only half an hour to spare before the cut off meant that I wasn’t going to be ready for the next challenge. I needed a full set of clothing change, to dry off, new footwear, medical treatment to my feet and food and drink – I just couldn’t face it. I called Mike, the race director and informed him of my decision and headed home. Mike was full of sympathy and I’m grateful I was able to be picked up by my partner and simply sulk all the way home, as Mike sounded like he was having a busy day.
The killer to this event, where just three people finished, was twofold 1. the lack of directions on the course and 2. the weather. Ultra trails have a really good series of events not their hands and deserve to be praised and better attended than they are. But the course description this time, while an improvement, was still not much use, although the GPS files were appreciated and pretty accurate.
The lack of an easily release for the course description was also a bit of a letdown. But let’s not get caught up on negatives – this was a great event in a beautiful place with good support. Each of the checkpoints was well stocked, the people who were manning the checkpoints were pleasant and as helpful as could be. Even when disaster struck and the checkpoint blew away at Gravesend the chaps manning the post stood firm (well under a bus shelter) and saw us in.
I think we just got a bit unlucky with this one and I’m hopeful that the event comes back next year because it is amazingly good fun, great value and with a little tinkering it could be an event people think about as a first choice ultra. I failed this ultra and it hurts that I failed but I’m not done with the TG100 and I’ll attempt it again in the future.