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Your favourite races over time will change and a couple of years ago I looked at which events had given me the most joy but since then I’ve run another 50 races and I thought it was about time to refresh the list.

I’ve limited my list to just a single choice and the previous winner if there was one. The thing is though there are lots of great events that didn’t make the number one spot, the Green Man Ultra for example comes a very close second to the SainteLyon while MIUT, UTBCN and Haria Extreme could all easily take the top spot in their respective categories.

At the other end I hate missing out the City of London Mile and the Bewl 15 but hopefully this list provides an interesting read and a starting point for you to find your own favourite races… and you never know maybe one of these races will become your favourite sometime too.

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Category: Obstacle Course
Winner: Grim Challenge
Previous: Grim Challenge

I suppose this remains my favourite OCR run because I don’t really do OCR anymore. However, having done Survival of the Fittest, the Beast in the East, Xtreme Beach and several others (though never a tough mudder) I’d say that this ‘natural’ OCR still has great character and deserves consideration for some end of year fun. Why do this race? mud glorious winter mud.

View the gallery here

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Category: Timed
Winner: Brutal Enduro
Previous: Fowlmead Challenge

I’ve completed a number of timed challenges, many of them with SVN who provided the Fowlmead Challenge but without a shadow of a doubt my favourite timed event was the 18hrs I spent running around a truly spectacular route near Fleet to the south west of London. There was something quite magical about the tree lined, up and down, 10km lap that really tested the mettle of the runners – it helps I think that it was a relatively small field, a great atmosphere and a thoughtful organising team. I was somewhat dismayed to note that there was no 2017 edition but I live in hope that this great value event returns because I know I can do much better than I did last time. Why do this race? A truly awesome route that never gets boring no matter how many times you do it!

Read the review here
View the gallery here

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Category: Up to 5km
Winner: Chislehurst Chase Fun Run
Previous: Westminster Mile

I’d been trying to run the main Chislehurst Chase 10km for about 4 years when I finally found the time to rock up and hammer out a couple of laps of one of my favourite Kentish routes around Scadbury Park. The unexpected bonus was the children’s 2km fun run which was a nice, tight loop. UltraBaby in her first race to be powered exclusively by her own legs ran well for the first kilometre but then needed some minor cajoling to finish (in a respectable 30 minutes). The huge cheering crowd and the positive atmosphere filled me with joy but also my daughter who only the week before had turned 2. The medal that they placed around her neck remained there all day as she told passers-by of her running success and still she strokes her ‘Chase’ medal when she tells me, ‘my medals are here dad!). Great event! Why do this race? it’s fast, furious and family friendly

Read the review here

Category: 5km
Winner: Xtreme Beach
Previous: Ashton Gate Parkrun

I do love Ashton Gate Parkrun – it’s outstandingly good fun and also the starting point for one of my favourite ultra marathons, The Green Man but when I think of the 5km race that brought me most joy then it had to be Xtreme Beach. I’d been injured for quite a long time when this came up and at the last minute I decided to attend the inaugural event near the Bradwell power station in Essex. It turned out that Xtreme Beach was a looped OCR event through the most hideous smelling crap on the planet with ball busting challenges to face on each loop. I settled for a single loop as I didn’t want to disturb my hip injuries too much and by god it was fun! I came out of the filthy waters around the power station in shades of black I wasn’t aware existed and the squelch from my trainers indicated I’d not shirked my responsibility to give it some welly. Lots of fun packed in to that event – I wonder if it’s still going? Hmmm.

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Category: 10km
Winner: Chislehurst Chase
Previous: Medway 10km

The Chislehurst Chase is a double winner from me as the 10km trail race is an easy choice as one of the best 10km races around. The two lap route around Scadbury Park is windy, hilly, muddy, fast and challenging – it demands that you give every inch of yourself as you wend your way round the course and the rewards are pure exhilarating enjoyment. When I lived near Orpington I would regularly run fast laps around the main trail here and thunder up and down the hills with my spaniel but to get a medal for doing it was a lovely added bonus. Why do this race? a tight, twisty and runnable course finished off with a blistering sprint across the track. Outstanding.

Read the review here

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Category: 10 mile
Winner: Vigo Tough Love 10
Previous: Vigo Valentines Day

The only thing more fun than the Vigo Valentines Day 10 mile was when they made a few minor course changes and turned it into to the stomach churning, arse clenching Vigo Tough Love 10! This is the Kentish equivalent of a fell race and is both fast and furious while being a proper ball busting grind. The race failed to take place in 2016 but with the support of the Harvel Hash Harriers made a triumphant return in 2017 with a few minor course amendments and a superior sprint to the finish line. There is something magical about this race, in any incarnation, but the 2017 version for me is definitive and I’ll be back for a fourth crack next year! Why do this race? because it’s the best race around and at a mere 10 miles and a cut off of nearly 4 hours – anyone can do it… if they show a bit of tenacity.

Read the review here

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Category: Half Marathon
Winner: Summer Breeze
Previous: Summer Breeze

The half marathon distance is the one I run the least because it’s the one I enjoy the least. However, that being said I’ve run a dozen and I’ve never found one more exhilarating than the ‘Summer Breeze’ on Wimbledon Common. It was a hot, muddy, slow run with my former colleague HitmanHarris – I was injured and he was steady – it should have been an awful afternoon but actually it was as much fun as I’d hoped for and will make an effort to return in 2018 to this bimble with the Wombles! Why do this race? you’d do this race because it is so far from what you might expect and that’s a really good thing.

Read the review here

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Category: Marathon
Winner: Vanguard Way Marathon
Previous: Liverpool Marathon

My first marathon was in Liverpool in 2012 and while it was a fun it was a busy road marathon and pounding pavement, as I would discover, is not what I enjoy, nor does my body. Roll forward a couple years and the 2016 Vanguard Way Marathon – a race with almost universal approval, small field, beautiful trail route and a delightful medal what’s not to like? Well the VWM takes you on a tour of your own limits, you’re guaranteed to do ‘free miles’ as you get lost, the water may well run out at the checkpoints, it’s the middle of August with large swathes of the route held in a bloody sun trap and there’s a couple of arse quiveringly unpleasant hills to climb! I suppose you’re wondering why I’d say this is my favourite marathon then aren’t you? Well that’s easy, any race that tries to kill you has definitely got your respect. I suppose you can only truly appreciate being alive when you stand a chance of not being and the VWM provided that opportunity by the bucketload. Why do this race: the VWM is the UK version of Dignitas, just with a lower success rate. A tough as old boots marathon and in the August heat can be a real killer.

Read the review here
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Category: Ultra (up to 50km)
Winner: XNRG Amersham Ultra
Previous: N/A

Because I’ve expanded on the race distances I’ve done the 50km category has made itself available for a winner. Thankfully there was a very clear choice in my mind and that was the event that took in some wonderful trails around Amersham and also gave me my first experience of the wonderful XNRG. There was a certain zip and energy that accompanied this friendly, charity fund raising event and it seemed to me that everyone was up for a bit of a bimble. Now it’s true that I was feeling rough as heck for most of the race as my guts tried to force me into a DNF but I held on to record a respectable finish and have lots of lovely chats with some truly awesome. Why do this race? because it’s for charity, because it’s run by XNRG who are amongst the best in the ultra business and because it’s an amazing route.

Read the review here

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Category: Ultra (50km – 75km)
Winner: SainteLyon
Previous: St Peters Way

I loved the muddy glory of the St. Peter’s Way in Essex but for me the SainteLyon is both my favourite race in this category and also my favourite ultra. It’s the middle of winter, it’s midnight and there’s 6000 other runners all stood in Saint Etienne ready to launch themselves towards Lyon. It has twinkling headtorches as far as the eye can see, it has French locals out with cow bells cheering you on and it has a truly fast finish as you bound under the illuminated archway! It’s an amazing race and an amazing experience. And if you’re running it in 2017… we’ll I’ll see you there. Why do this race? it is simply unforgettable.

Read the review here
View the gallery here

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Category: Ultra (75km – 100km)
Winner: South Wales 50
Previous: N/A

I had no idea that the South Wales 50 would leave such a wonderful mark in my heart and there are lots of reasons for this. The route is compelling and tough, the organisation is top notch and the medal was both excellent and hard earned – however, it’s none of these that make this my favourite race in this category. The real reason is the bond of friendship that drew together the runners – I’d never seen so many quickly formed bonds made. I met Pete and Ryan who I will forever hold in high esteem and have huge respect for (good luck at TDS and RoF guys). Importantly though these type of bonds could be seen all over as people got to know one another on a way I’d never seen before. I would highly recommend the South Wales 50 – but be prepared for a toughie. Why do this race? it’s tough, it’s intimate and it’s great fun.

Read the review here

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© UltraBoyRuns

Category: Ultra (over 100km)
Winner: Skye Trail Ultra
Previous: Thames Path 100

I’ve said many times before that Skye tore me apart, broke me but also gave me one of the greatest race experiences I’ll ever have. Skye showed me ‘I can’ and I made sure I did. This race is as small and as intimate as you like, it’s run by ultra runners for ultra runners and it is tremendously inclusive. But don’t get caught up in admiring too many of the spectacular views because Skye is a ball buster. Enjoy Why do this race? because it’s there and everyone should run Skye.

Read the review here
View the gallery here



Life, the universe and then? 
Sometimes you can guide your life in such a way to make you believe that you have control and other times life simply asserts its dominance over you and gives you a bloody good kicking. I think I’ve had a charmed life, certainly over the past 10 years or so. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s morphed into something I consider very happy but it wasn’t always like that.

Finding happiness? One of the big pieces in the happiness puzzle was running, but unlike others who may have been Olympically or middle-age inspired, I came to running because I was going through the darkest period of my life. 

I’ve said before that I started running in late 2011 but that’s not strictly true – I’ve always run.

At school I ran the 100m, 200m and 400m, I was a decent cross-country runner and I enjoyed it much more than football, cricket or rugby. I was then an intermittent/lazy runner until around 2003 when I took a 3 month stay in sunny Scarborough because I needed to recover from what was effectively breaking down.

I suppose the truth of the matter is that I really arrived at a life filled with running because of this serious lapse in my mental health. I’d been in a relationship with a woman that had turned sour a year earlier and despite an a acrimonious break-up when she came calling, with serious issues of her own, I stupidly returned to try and help her.

This act of affection broke me into a million pieces, the problem I had was that I wasn’t qualified to help with her problems and she dragged me down beyond the point of being able to see clearly enough to prevent myself from drowning. I’m sure I’m not alone in such situations but at the time I felt at my lowest ebb and unable to see anything ahead of me – it felt a lot like I imagine the end of a wasted life would feel.

Though I don’t have a definitive recollection of everything that happened I do recall considering ending my own life, although I had framed it in thoughts such as, ‘what would happen if I wasn’t here?’ ‘Who would care?’ and ‘could a train ever not kill a human being in a direct hit situation?’

However, in reality, suicide wasn’t really on the cards as an option but it lurked as a concept. 

Thankfully I didn’t do that and I made a desperate decision that plays a huge role in influencing my life to this day…

I’d called my uncle.

He and his family lived in North Yorkshire and they kindly offered a place to stay and support. Little did I know his help would manifest itself best in reviving my love of running.

My uncle in his younger days had been a decent runner but as age, life and pies get to you then you let yourself go a bit and he had. It seemed we both benefitted from the fresh Scarborough coast line as we ran daily. The hilly roads and hillier cliff trails of North Yorkshire providing ample respite from my own stupidity. I even saw Jimmy Saville running up and down my hill a few times in the days when he was still ‘Saint Jim’.

My uncle was (and assume is) a pragmatic man and his approach of seaside air combined with exercise might seem a bit Victorian but actually I hadn’t gone so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t be reached and his solution was the right remedy for me.

We didn’t really talk in any detail about what went on, (stereotypically) men don’t, northern men don’t and we didn’t – other than a brief chat on a late night stroll up the hill to his home. I think this left us both a little uncomfortable and neither of us ever really returned to the topic other than in one heated argument (the point at which I knew I was recovering and knew it was time to leave).

But with limited exchanges over my mental wellness I felt the need to balance the support provided by my uncle and his wife by adding in talking therapy as a way of exploring what had brought me to my knees. Unfortunately I found a therapist determined to focus on my parents as the root of the issues I had rather than the slightly more obvious ex-girlfriend fucking around in my head. Thankfully I found the therapist and I got on very well and the conversations quite stimulating which in turn opened up my own ability for assessment with a renewed clarity.

In the weeks that followed I was able to reconnect with myself and through my newly acquired active lifestyle I began to feel physically and mentally stronger.

I started to set out some basic life rules* that (mostly) to this day I live by, but at the heart of that was a promise to myself that I would be active – this would form the cornerstone of ‘me’. I also came to understand that my life rules must be fluid and flexible because it was my own dogma that had made me fragile and vulnerable. However, in my dealings with the ex-girlfriend I had compromised myself and no amount of flexibility should allow that to happen again. 

And so armed with words to live by I did just that and the past 15 years have been (mostly) the best of my life. And in all that time only once have I had a scare that it might all come tumbling down and that was last year during my very public retirement from running.

The Risk of Return? With the GingaNinja disagreeing about how much running I do I found myself in something of a quandary. After many successful years of both good mental health and running I found myself in a position where I was being asked to curtail some of my active exploits.

The danger of this was an immediate downward spiral back towards being less mentally happy which would ultimately (I believe) have endangered my relationship.

I tried to explain this without the context of my experiences in the early 2000s and feel that withholding this information made the problem worse than it needed to be. Thankfully a solution was achieved where I neither compromised the security of my health or my relationship. No easy feat but it was the right outcome.

Times and people change. In the years since I first encountered a mental health problem I’ve become a very different person, so much so that my near 40 year old self would barely recognise the younger me. And even though I’m still a reasonably anxious person it now fails to overwhelm me, I’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘everything will just keep happening so I’ll just get on with my bit’ and this is just fine, but it felt like it was a very long road to get to this stage.

Concluding. I never thought I was a candidate to struggle with mental health and I never believed it would take nearly 15 years for me to talk about it in a public way but perhaps I simply no longer care what anyone else thinks. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen lots of blogs and forums on the topic and feel that my experience may be of use to someone or maybe I just like talking about myself.

However, having discussed other peoples challenges and resolutions in search of greater understanding I’ve come to realise that no two issues or answers are the same. I’m a big advocate for an adventurous, running lifestyle to give yourself breathing space and time to think but I am very aware this isn’t for everyone and need only look to my ex-girlfriend who helped bring my own problems to the fore. Running was not the solution for her but it was for me.

What I would urge anyone who finds themselves in a difficult position, anxious, depressed, sad or some other form of mental illness is to seek support (support information from Mind, click here). There are options and most of all there are ways to navigate around or away from difficultied but your journey will be as unique as you are and recovery takes effort and nothing in life is guaranteed.

But ultimately stay happy and as Bill and Ted said, ‘Be excellent to each other’.

While you’re here below are a few facts from mentalhealth.org.uk 

  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.
  • In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression – a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was higher among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%).
  • Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide
  • Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.
  • Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

And these numbers from Mind make sad reading (the full survey and information can be read here);

  • Generalised anxiety disorder 5.9 in 100 people
  • Depression 3.3 in 100 people
  • Phobias 2.4 in 100 people
  • OCD 1.3 in 100 people
  • Panic disorder 0.6 in 100 people
  • Post traumatic stress disorder 4.4 in 100 people
  • Mixed anxiety and depression 7.8 in 100 people

*For those interested and still reading I earlier mentioned the ‘Life Rules’ I established nearly 15 years ago. Having found the original list I wrote I have down exactly as was in my sketchbook. It was a good list then and it’s a good list now.

  • Be curious
  • Keep moving
  • Look up
  • Question
  • Listen
  • Fight
  • Never compromise yourself
  • Work hard, earn everything
  • Stand up for your beliefs
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Give people what they need not what they want
  • Have faith in people
  • Live the life fantastic


Stood at the back of the first family wave at the Vitality Westminster Mile reminded me of every race I’ve been in – the difference was that this time I was accompanied by both the GingaNinja and UltraBaby. For the first time UB was taking to the tarmac for a race powered solely by her own two little feet. Yes it’s true that she’d completed the Chislehurst Chase 2km last year but that was trail and I was quite excited to see what 6 months of growing, the training and some slightly more technical kit might draw out of her. 


As Lord Sebastian Coe dropped the flag at the sound of the starting horn we belted out of the ‘starting blocks’ and pushed hard. As parents we kept hold of our little athletes hand and reminded her of the medal we were aiming for.

Our training had been pushing for the mile in between 15 and 18 minutes and as we hit the first 400 metre marker at 3mins 12secs I did wonder if we might even break 15 minutes. The route had lots of awesome support to help keep us going and the Steel Drum band gave us a bit of a boogie wiggle opportunity. There was such a positive atmosphere that you couldn’t help but want to push on!


At 600metres in, the clock ever ticking, we encountered a problem though – UB wanted to run alone!

We tried a couple of parenting tactics to get her to hold onto us but to no avail…

  • She simply stopped.
  • Bottom lip drooped.
  • A little tear slid down her face.

The seconds ticked on and with a thousand metres to go I was worried we wouldn’t get started again. It was then than a little girl went past us and I used her as the reason to get going again, ‘look at that little girl…’

UB relented and pursued the young girl with all the vigour she could muster – faster than before and encircled, hands free, by her parents.


Cheers erupted from all over the course, volunteers and spectators generously giving of their applause. UltraBaby returning the response with a series of double thumbs up, culminating in lots of ‘ahhhhh’ from the crowd. But with a great swathe of focus we had pushed to the final quarter of the race, before us we could see other runners and we encouraged UB into one final effort.

Over the line my little monster raised her arms in the air and cried ‘ice-cream’ (a promise I had made her during her mini meltdown). We had done it!


With meltdown we finished in 16mins 04secs. I was incredibly proud and watched with a little lump in my throat as she strode around displaying her medal to all that would look, telling them that she ‘won’ her race. I shan’t be dropping the crushing reality on her just yet that she wasn’t quite the overall winner.


Post race we ambled around the race village (while UB slept) – listened to Seb Coe talking and generally soaked up the amazing race day atmosphere. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning!


Toddler Kit: For those of us looking for reasonably priced running t-shirts and shorts for our toddlers can I recommend Uniqlo, who have a reasonable range of smaller non cotton kit ideal for the active toddler. UltraBaby was wearing the 3 year old sized short sleeved ‘boys’ top and the peach shorts and UB is a small(ish) 2 and a half year old.


Conclusion: What I can say is that the Westminster Mile is a mass participation event that feels small scale, low key and uber friendly. It never feels pressured and has a smoothness that keeps it feeling that way.

The family friendly nature of the event means you aren’t worried about bringing gran or grandad along (as we did the first time we did it) nor do you have any concern about having your toddler or younger with you. I ran this our first year with UB strapped to my front and loved it – this time she’s old enough to do it herself and run in a great time. More events could learn to be this family supportive.

The only thing I would love to see is this event replicated across the UK – to help build sporting achievement in the UK and as Seb Coe said at the event ‘everyone can run’ and mostly he’s right. So let’s spread events like this to every corner of the UK.

On two final notes, the first is a huge thank you to the army of volunteers and supporters who make this event feel special (especially for the younger runners who are hugely encouraged by the positive, inclusive atmosphere). 

And the second thing, get involved, you won’t regret it.

‘Can I help you?’ said the surly train guard. I responded with a polite ‘thank you, no, I’m waiting for the train and to use the toilet’. ‘Keep away from the yellow line’ she replied, spun on her heel and stormed off. She clearly believed me to be suicidal and ready to hurl myself under a South Eastern Railway train. Perhaps she knew how badly my race had gone or how little I liked South Eastern Railway.

I was tempted to nip indoors and assure her that despite a bad run I wasn’t ready to kill myself but my urgent need to unburden my bowels of their content won out and I stood quietly in the queue.

Anyway let me roll back a few hours – I had travelled to Greenwich Park to participate in the RunThrough 10km. I arrived nice and early, had a flat white in Blackheath, did some warming up and collected my number when registration opened.

All very easy.

As I’m sure many of you will know Greenwich Park is not a 10km park, using the twists and turns you can get a decent 5km out of it and then do that twice – the bad news was that the good people of RunThrough decided instead on three shorter loops which were okay but a lot less interesting than say the Movember or the Tough runs that also take part in Greenwich.

I did a slow loop of the course as part of my warm up and felt reasonable despite another poor nights sleep and a back that was in agony from a poor sleeping position. Post loop I drifted as I always do to the back of the start line and awaited the starting gun.

Boom.

With the Ridgeway Challenge less than a week away this was only ever intended to be a leg stretcher but I was enjoying the knowledge that this would be amongst the shorter races I would complete this year. At 3km I was feeling pretty good, I admired the giant ship in a bottle and prepared for the ascent into lap 2 and then cramping happened.

Bloody hell my left calf muscle had simply stopped being muscle and become like depleted uranium – very fecking dense. I kept the pace going as I was set for about a 42 minute 10km at this point but within a few hundred metres I had ground to a halt.

In my head I could hear the two arguments

  1. The first was provided to me in the voice of @ultrarunnerdan ‘so stop, don’t risk the ridgeway, show some common sense!’
  2. The second was in the voice of UltraBaby ‘go dad run, no chop choo’

Well as much as I think Dan is awesome he’s always going to play second fiddle to my daughter and so I pressed on, mercifully I was still able to run through the pain but it felt like much harder work than it should have.

Now while I should probably have stopped at the shorter 5km distance given that I was now crawling to a reasonably pathetic pace I instead continued to amble round and up and down Greenwich Park until I reached the final sprint. It was with all the effort I could muster I pressed home to catch the 10 or 12 runners ahead of me and ensure this didn’t feel like a complete waste of time.

At this point I’d normally hang around to cheer runners in but with medal around my neck I stomped off, I was in bad mood and just wanted to catch a train and make my appointment with the rail guard and commit to a giant dump in her station toilet – that’ll teach her for being a bellend.

It sounds like UltraBoyRuns didn’t enjoy himself, that can’t be right – can it?

I had been considering the Run Through events for a little while and although I’m glad I did it I don’t think I’ll be going back – well not unless they start allowing buggy runners.
There were a lots of positives though – it was very well organised, well attended, included in the price race photography, they paid to have the toilets in Greenwich Park opened up for runners use (free of charge instead of rummaging round for a 20 pence ), flapjacks and bananas by the bucketload, good social media and communications, relatively inexpensive with a small but bespoke medal as a memento – sounds pretty good so why would I hesitate to go back?

The thing was I felt out of place, there was a lot of posturing from individuals about how fast they were or how hungover they were. People seemed to stick to their little groupings and perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the ultra community but this had a very different feel, not bad – just different. It may also be the fact I don’t enjoy tarmac anymore or maybe it’s because it wasn’t a longer distance – I’m not sure but ultimately it wasn’t for me.

The most disappointing thing though was the route and I believe if this took in more of the park then the race itself would really benefit – 2 laps, more in and out, up and down. Other race organisers have used a wider spread of the park which I feel gives the runners a a better event as well as a grander atmosphere.

That said the volunteers/staff were all incredibly enthusiastic and committed to getting you round in the most positive fashion and they were a real credit to the organisers. I’d like to finish on a positive for RunThrough events by saying if you’re looking for a no fuss 10km in London then these are worth checking out at www.runthrough.co.uk

‘Bye bye’ UltraBaby said as I wandered down to the back of St Pauls Cathedral and the start line of the City of London mile. I’d accidentally put myself forward for the 5mins 30secs club but post Skye my feet have been playing up with bruising, bleeding and generally not being very useful. So when I ran into Ben (the beardy one offa Twitter) who was starting a wave behind me I was a little bit worried. The truth was I’d only run about 3 times since Skye and none of that had gone very well.

Still I was at the very least well rested.

I stood nervously at the back of the pack and when the start came I pushed as hard as my little feet would carry me. I’d chosen for the race my Altra Instinct which in all honesty are not noted for their speed – I had wanted to use my On running shoes but my feet were a bloody, nasty mess and I required the soft, extra wide, cushioned feel of the Altra to even get going.

I realised about halfway I was losing ground on the front of the pack but I also wasn’t at the back – clearly others had also over-egged their ability but at the turn I still felt okay and as I came up to the 400 metres to go sign I hit the afterburner and put my mid-race slump behind me.

At 200 metres to go I could feel the power of the crowd behind me and my arms pumped hard to cross the line in a little over 6 minutes – not my best time at the distance, not even close but I’d enjoyed it.

The route took in the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral so it was familiar territory and I knew this would be harder than the Westminster Mile but in the end I’d just had a nice time and an opportunity to run without a race vest or hydration. There were other benefits – I did get to say hello and see running Gemma Hockett who is as exceptional a runner as her social media suggests and I picked up a very nice medal for my efforts but there was something else – the GingaNinja was back for a raceday.

The GN had signed up for one of the last waves, clearly I had bullied her into taking part but it was a nice day and I felt she’d appreciate taking part in something with such a tremendous atmosphere.

The problem was that UltraBaby was feeling a little clingy. We hatched a plan, a simple plan, move the GN to the ‘family wave’ and she could then run with UB who would walk/run as much of the distance as possible and then I’d take her off the course to follow in the buggy along the route shouting support.

With approval of the plan from the organisers we got UB warmed as she ran up and down the street, carb loaded and did a bit of stretching (of her very loud lungs). Then problem two kicked in – UB fell asleep.

Some quick thinking saw me remove the timing chip from my race number and join in the family wave with the GN and the buggy containing the baby. For a second time I prepared for the off and this time I enjoyed the ambience of the event, sedately running through the City of London, waving at children, taking in the Steel Drum Band and generally having a lovely time.

The GN in her first run in ages and her first race in even longer powered home the last few hundred metres and was greeted warmly by the excellent volunteers who handed her and UB medals. Great work, especially just a day after completing the Great East Swim.

The Amba City of London Mile (and the Westminster Mile) is a truly great event run in the spring and having done it, I can recommend it (and its Westminster sibling). It’s a ball breaking distance, the mile and one you can really put your foot to the floor with but the sense of achievement is huge regardless of your actual running ability. I love the mile, its my favourite race distance after the 10 mile.

The City Mile is incredibly well organised coupled with a great route and a stunning atmosphere, its unbeatable. if you’re looking for a community event next year that can draw people together then this would be my recommendation (along with the Westminster Mile).  As a final note I think a great deal of goodwill should be shown to Amba Hotels who sponsor the event and help to make it a free to enter race. Without organisations like them events like this simply wouldn’t be possible.

Anyway, don’t delay get training – you’ve got a whole year before the next running! and most importantly get involved!

  
As regular readers will know I have a long standing love hate relationship with the London Marathon as I’ve been turned down for a ballot place more than five times and I’ve been critical of it for becoming more of a charitable fun run than a race. 

That said I’d still like the opportunity to race my adopted home city marathon just the once and after a conversation with a fellow runner yesterday I wondered ‘what happens to all the places from those that defer and those that don’t collect their numbers?’

Below is an interesting, though I suspect not completely accurate, piece from the fast4ward blog – the full piece is here. I’ve pulled out some of the relevant (to this post) information here;

Each year thousands of applicants apply for a place in the London Marathon, with the ballot often shutting just days after it opens. But what are the chances of getting a place in the marathon? In 2009 around 1 in 3 people who applied got a place on the starting line (this is, though, a slightly iffy figure – although 155,000 people applied and 49,995 people were accepted, a significant proportion of those applications were for ballot places, which make up around 12,000 entries). And what are the chances of actually making it to the starting line? Um… Not as good as you would hope, it transpires…

A graph mapping the percentage of applicants accepted for the London Marathon and the percentage of those who made it to the start line.

 

Once you’re through the hurdle of getting a place around 28 percent of runners will drop out before they make it to the start line.
 

Further information is a little hard to come by (and this information as it says is iffy at best) and that’s unsurprising given the demand for places – I can’t imagine that VMLM want it known that actually there might be a few slots for hardy runners available, albeit at very short notice. Even if the blog post quoted is woefully inaccurate we know anecdotally that people do drop out and people do decide not to start the race or collect their number. 

So here’s the thing and a thought for VMLM – when you’ve got race numbers left over at the expo, people just haven’t turned up, haven’t made it, have died since entering, can’t be bothered to run it – many of us, who are in constant marathon training would gladly fill those spaces. I’d happily roll up the evening before or early doors on race morning – pay you the entry fee and run in place of someone who didn’t want to.

To me it sounds like a win-win, to you it probably sounds like admin. However, if you’re looking to be an inclusive event maybe these pre-race dropouts could be used to make a London marathon real for someone else. I mean of course there would be disappointment – you’d probably get more people waiting for one of these places than you had actual places but we’d be the types who year in year out attend the race as spectators so it would be a ‘nothing ventured nothing gained‘ queue up.

Maybe something to think about VMLM?

  • 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.


The Poppy Challenge started at the emergency doctors for the GingaNinja who was rather ill with Tonsilitis – a rather infectious illness. As we sat with all the sick people I started to think that on November 1st at 9am I was supposed to be well into my first Poppy Challenge run.

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Anyway the Tonsilitis was confirmed by the doctor and the GingaNinja duly took note and went off to her sick bed to try and get a little rest and recuperation. I took this as the sign I needed to get the UltraMobile out and take baby running. There were a number of problems with this though, the first was that the fog had left the air feeling incredibly moist and therefore dressing UltraBaby appropriately would be difficult, the second thing was that I was planning a nice hilly run and the combined weight of baby, buggy and extras was nearly 30kg. About 90 minutes after we had departed UltraBaby and I returned with 17km completed and had managed not to get completely soaked.

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By Monday morning though both the GingaNinja and I were feeling even worse and I could have used this as an excuse to cry off the challenge but fearing I’d end up on November 30th having only done the 17km I dressed for work in appropriately neon clothing and set out.

My RunCommuting is split into four or five zones – the race to the station – 1km, the run to the office – (between) 3 & 5km – the run from the office (between 3 & 8km – the race from the station (between 1 – 9km) – a late night jaunt (between) 5 & 10km. This is roughly what can be squeezed in between parenting, working and general life stuff during the week. But I’m also planning on running everyday so I’m looking at running the lower end of the numbers so as not to grind to a halt as I have been known to.

So as I left the house on Monday, my legs felt like lead and my head felt too cloudy but I pushed on to complete nearly 10km and on the Tuesday I followed this up with 9km. However, the grip of illness grows ever tighter and no amount of paracetamol is making it better.

However, I did realise I on uploading my data to Movescount that I had passed the minimum distance required for this event and that was heartening. So now it’s just to the next challenge and ensure I make it to over 100 training kilometres this week.

By Wednesday morning I could now barely move – you know that feeling when every muscle aches and you just hurt to even swallow air. I let ThunderPad out for his morning dump and rather unnervingly he bolted straight back in. I stuck my head out the door and it was bucketing down. Ace. I dug out my WAA showerproof gilet, loaded up the OMM , waved goodbye to UltraBaby and the GingaNinja and started the process all over again. London was no more forgiving with its weather and my effort to get to work in a timely fashion was hampered by busy streets and giant umbrellas but as I pushed and harried my way through commuters I realised that I was enjoying the challenge and the opportunity to run. The evening was slightly less pleasant as although the rain had eased the morning session had left my clothes with that unpleasant dampness and worse, that wet dog smell. Still I remain on target for my first 100km week in quite a while and despite illness I’m feeling okay.

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On the agenda for Thursday is 13km of running, enough to get me within spitting distance of 58km completed – a strange target? Well it means I only need to do 3km on the Friday and then I’m into the marathon for Saturday and hey presto – 100km achieved. It all sounds pretty simple when you type it but it’s rather different doing it when swallowing is a challenge and your breathing is fucked.

Thankfully work over ran in the evening and I did think about cancelling my run in favour of going home and getting some sleep but instead I’d decided to go and find some ‘Sculptural London’ and so with a banging headache and busy streets I set off northwards towards Regent’s Park. Some 9km later, having taken in one of the JFK memorials, Queen Square and the window displays at the Wellcome Collection I made it home to find UltraBaby asleep and a Yorkie waiting to be demolished. The extra mileage had also meant I had surpassed my target and reached the 58km I needed to ensure that (subject to completing Saturdays race) I will reach 100km.

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So as Friday arrived I decided I was going to take it easy. The illness that has been knocking me for six all week has slowly gotten worse and I just felt unpleasant. But I reckon I had 4km in me but for some bizarre reason – partly involving the nigh on useless South Eastern trains I ended up running closer to 10km and finishing the first 6 days with a decent total of 67.1km.

How the wheels came off: my advice to all runners out there is if you’ve got a marathon on a Saturday morning when you’ve been ill all week, overtrained that very same week but had hardly done anything in the few weeks prior then just stay in bed. The marathon was a glorious disaster but I made it thanks to the power of friends – old and new and I finished my first week with a decent 110.1km total.

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Lessons learned? Take it a bit easier this week, I’ve still got 23 days (at time writing 22 days) left to reach the magic number of 300km and I’m over a third of the way there already.

As a final point or three, first up I’d like to say a warm thank you for all the positive messages that have been sent during the first week of the challenge – more needed please. More importantly though is a huge congratulations to those who are participating and grinding out mile after mile – you’re all brilliant and I’m enjoying reading out your epic successes and occasional (GPS) fail. Keep running.

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Dear VMLM2016,

As you know each year I send you a bit of a love letter to thank you for considering me for inclusion in your fun run. This year is no different but I’m going to add my usual slice of opinion and annoyance because I’ve applied 6 times now and had the same amount of rejections.

I know you’re a big marathon with lots of people wanting space, I also understand you’ve got thousands of charitable places raising money for good causes, I also understand you’ve got a reputation to protect. 

However…

…there’s some problems, the London Marathon is becoming less about racing and more about raising money.

I often attend the race as a spectator and watch the spectacle of people darting between each other when actually they should be into a rhythm, a good well paced stride and what they are darting around often are the undertrained or the fun runners and even the walkers. Now I wouldn’t want to deter these people from competing in a marathon like this – it is after all ‘THE MARATHON’ but perhaps this race now needs to be run on two separate days, same day big gap between or twice a year – one for the ones who want to race the London Marathon and a second for those that want to raise money. Or perhaps it simply needs qualifying criteria to weed out those who don’t do the training – run a local UK (or your country of residence) marathon in the year before your VMLM attempt. This has the dual benefits of getting people ready for their special day but also supports the hundreds of other marathons that are put on around the country.

Ultimately I’m just jealous that I’ve applied so many times and never gotten in through a ballot place and that this year first time applicant accepted rates where at an all time high. Rather galling. 

I also really don’t want to have to raise money (in the thousands of pounds) to run 26.2miles for one of the charities – to me that doesn’t seem fair, perhaps if it was 262 miles or 10 marathons in 10 days then I’d look to raise money but why should I harass people because I want to do the London Marathon. I run marathon distances regularly, I do it for fun, I do it for me, it’s me time and the London Marathon would be awesome to do but not under the conditions it currently offers.

On a final note VMLM I’ll say this, last week I entered the Isle of Skye Ultra Marathon – 74miles, £80, maximum 75 competitors, no fundraising involved, hassle free and an experience I’m hoping I’ll never forget. I’d like to one day say the same about your race so I’ll keep applying but unlike with Skye or any of the other races I do I won’t hold out any hope.

Yours disappointed 

UltraBoy

PS. Why do you wait until October to let us know if we’ve got a place? That’s really fucking annoying as it makes early planning much more difficult.

PPS. As I stated I’m just jealous and congratulations to everyone who has ever run it, attempted it, will attempt it – you’re all awesome but the organisers perhaps need a bit of a rethink now running is at an all time high of popularity 

  
The first thing I wanted was for UltraBaby to be born healthy and the second thing was that she was curious, the third was that she wants to be active.

It was a glorious day in Central London (if you like sun), UltraBoy, the GingaNinja, UltraBaby and SuperGran all turned up to St. James Park armed with our numbers and racing outfits for the Bupa Westminster Mile – today we were going to be joining the legends of running.

  

We joined our pen on The Mall, listened to the likes of Tess Daly, Richard Whitehead and the legend that is Steve Cram all provide inspirational words of wisdom as we slowly baked in the ever increasing sun. This was the mood setting, getting us ready to compete, finding our ‘zone’. UltraTeam say already there and we were filled with purpose.

UltraBaby was not the only child in the family run, far from it, there were thousands but it did seem she was the only competitor who was front mounted to one of her parents in a Baby Bjorn… We drew lots of attention and ended up being captured on lots of people’s mobile phone cameras. UltraBaby smiled for them all.

As we approached the starting line I pulled down from her head the buff that had been protecting her from the sun – and removed my own – we then had a bit of a warm up, stretched our waiting legs and listened for the sound of the start.

We waved over at mummy and gran before the off (they were going to go at a more sedate pace) and then when the crowds moved forwards we leapt into action. I pressed the Suunto on as we crossed the start line and then began lengthening my stride in the crowd. Normally I would have opened the taps a little but UltraBaby is now reasonably heavy and even my overfilled Salomon race vest wasn’t balancing us out very well. I darted in and out of runners, making for the inside of the first corner and dipping in front of families who had started significantly in front of us.

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. 

I felt compelled to offer some support to the ever bouncing UltraBaby but she simply played her part of waving and smiling at the infinite amount of goodwill that was waiting for her around St. James Park. 800metres in and I could feel the pressure of the run on my back but in the distance I could see the 400metre to go sign and there was no way I was letting these people over take me – so we entered a sprint to the next marker – a costly mistake I hear you cry? Not really as it afforded us the opportunity to have a little dance to the steel drum band playing on the route and it wasn’t long before we were back in the groove.

Another runner and his son overtook us as we hit the 200metre to go marker. Hmmm, I could see him drifting away from me in the distance and that wasn’t allowed to happen. In nearly 100 races I have only not managed to sprint finish on one occasion and that was the TP100 – UltraBaby crawled over the line with me there – today we were going to finish like legends.

  
Knees up, lean forward, forefoot strike and BANG. With 100metres to go we started to gain ground on the chap ahead of us – I could see his very step, we could hear the roar of the crowd, UltraBaby raised her arms in anticipation of a crowd pleasing finish.

And BOOM … We crossed the line hundredths of a second before our rival.

I apologised to him as we finished as I had shoulder charged him out of the way (lost control of my body a bit) but he just laughed and strode off to grab his medal. We accepted the finish line plaudits and then quietly waited at the finish line for The GingaNinja ands SuperGran to cross the line about 10 minutes after we had finished.

At the finish line we had lots of photographs and accepted our position as youngest entrant at just 264 days old, we had done it and in just over 8 and a half minutes – we were very, very pleased with ourselves. Both UltraBaby and I finished well within the top 500 of the Family Run groups which to me marks something of an achievement given there were around 2,500 starters.

  
A little note on the organisation and the event itself – it was pretty damn awesome, lovely medal, great goody bag and a brilliant day out. Yes £8 might seem a lot for a single mile but then getting the opportunity to run along the The Mall doesn’t happen every day and you don’t often get to race with your baby. The organisation as excellent, the. Olympic legacy and elite field racing was excellent and the takeover of Green Park with its family friendly zones was wonderful to see. We need many more things like this where parents and children are actively encouraged to take part in something together. Obviously I’m looking at this from the parent and child angle but as a running event it was also excellent and the single mile challenge should be given the respect it deserves.

I’ll be going again next year and so will UltraBaby (but I might double enter so I can see just how fast I can really go). Also many thanks to the Bupa Westminster Mile photographers from whom two of these pictures are taken.

      



@borleyrose, @conwild and @joeruns had arranged a pizza ‘tweetup’ sadly despite a very generous invite it looked like I wouldn’t be able to attend because my superhero sidekick ‘UltraBaby’ was doing her best impersonation of sick. However, I’d been very keen to meet them as my enjoyment of our stupid Twitter conversations is extreme. Therefore I took the pressure off myself to turn up, made me excuses and then when Tuesday rolled around I was able to put in a bit of a cameo pre-pizza.

I’d met Joe before (C2C – little legend runner) and kinda knew what Kate looked like but when I arrived I couldn’t see them. It turned out Joe had his back to me, Kate was in the loo (big poo I hear) and I wouldn’t have been able to spy Conrad as he’s almost as twitter anonymous as I am. So I wandered around until I noted the ‘Joe’ beard.

I digress, I sat down, Diet Coke in hand and it felt like being around great people – it was rapid fire – much like tweeting – only more fun as I wasn’t sat on a commuter train chortling to myself about the latest insanity.

Mostly though I’m writing this because the guys gave me good advice, listened, talked and reminded me why ultra running is valuable – you’ve pulled me out of a bit of lethargy – just in time for my assault on the Thames Path 100. So thank you.

What I’d say is if you get an opportunity to meet up with people from your online community – do it (obviously taking sensible precautions). Kate, Joe and Conrad in tweetup where super positive, brilliant and inspiring people, much like they are in virtuality.

Oh and if anyone ever hears tales of butt plugs, Whitby Goth Festival, spunk filled stalking or Preaching to the Perverted – it wasn’t me …

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‘Morning your madge…’ I thought as I cycled gently past Buckingham Palace.
‘Morning armed police officers, pigeons and fellow traffic users…’ It’d just a series of simple thoughts I use to keep me tranquil as I cycle. Occasionally I’ll notice the lycra clad arse of an attractive lady and might put a bit of effort into keeping up with her but generally I’m just bimbling along.

Having gone through my usual ritual I dropped down through the gears as I approached the Hyde Park Corner roundabout and particularly the crossing from Green Park towards the war memorials. This is one of those places that even if the road is clear you don’t risk trying to get across – it’s dangerous and full of unknowns.

It was about 7.43am and the lights had turned red for the traffic and the green man was blazing at the cyclists and pedestrians – beckoning us across the road. It was a surprisingly thin smattering of traffic and the 10 or so cyclists and the 5 runners headed over the road – as we were about halfway a courier van came thundering towards us, in particular 3 runners were in his line of sight. Each of them stepped back despite being more than halfway across the road and rather than hit his breaks the van driver sped up, missing commuters of all shapes and sizes by inches.

Several of the only just missed cyclists and runners looked shocked by the drivers actions – it wasn’t just that the van raced through the red light, it wasn’t just that the van raced between people and cyclists it was the fact that he sped up that shocked most people who witnessed it.

In true British form we all did the sensible thing and simply carried on with our journey but several of us spoke as we prepared to cross the second set of lights and we were all a little shaken.

‘Inches.. that’s all it was’ said one
‘He ACTUALLY sped up’ said another
‘Cunt’ was the response of the third

I asked if they were okay and then went about my business but I was nervous that day and since it happened about a fortnight ago I’ve been much more conscious of the traffic lights, the flow of traffic and annoyingly I’ve even been cycling more slowly.

I suppose the lesson is that commuting in London is a dangerous game whatever your mode of transport and that you must be constantly vigilant as not everyone follows the laws of the land.

Safe commuting everyone.

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When I was looking for reviews of the B.Fold 7 it was incredibly difficult and so I find myself writing the review I was looking for. Thankfully I’m reasonably close to a couple of Decathlon stores and so have looked at these things admiringly for a few months now which has helped significantly in my research.

But to start off there are a few things I wanted from my folding bike

– Reliability
– Gears
– Reasonable price
– Easy folding mechanism

I looked extensively at the Brompton bikes but not only am I a bit of a scrooge when it comes to biking but the three gears and the desirability for theft made these an immediate no go. I also quite liked the Tern and Dahon bikes but they were so similar to the B Fold that it made no sense to pay the extra for the name. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have had good experiences with both my Rockrider and Triban – both from Decathlon.

So the crux of the matter is that I bought a B Fold 7. Let’s see what Decathlon have to say about it:

Technical Description

Specifications:
Colour: Metallic grey
Weight: 13.65 KG
Suitable Size: 1.50 m – 1.85 m

Frame:
Aluminium 6061 provides low weight, responsiveness and sturdiness. The easy side-fold system means the bike takes up little amount of space: at home, at the office, in the boot of a car or in a camper.Once folded, the bike’s volume is divided by 3.

Fork:
Hi-Ten steel fork for greater durability.

Drive Train:
The B’Fold 7 is equipped with a Shimano push/pull SIS indexed 7-speed derailleur to handle most gradients. The gear shifter is easy to use with its “Push-Pull” system. Shifting gears is quick and precise. Derailleur guard protects the most fragile parts from impacts especially when transporting in folded mode.Distance travelled per turn of the crank: 288 cm – 576 cm.

Brakes:
V-brake, aluminium callipers and levers guarantee effective and progressive braking.

Handlebar, stem, steering:
Semi-raised handlebar provides good steering position and improves bike handling. Fixed aluminium stem provides greater rigidity compared to a height-adjustable stem.Ergonomic Lock on grips.

Distance from saddle to handlebar: 600 mm

Distance from saddle to pedals: 700 mm – 960 mm

Saddle, Seat Post:
Comfortable foam saddle and aluminium seat post with laser markings to make adjustment easier.

Wheels:
20″ single walled anodised black rims have been machined for effective braking.

Tyres:
20 x 1.75 city tyres for good performance and traction.

Chainset:
Suntour folding pedals: Fold up easily by applying pressure, so that the bike takes up less space. Once pedals are folded up and stem folded down, the bike can be compactly stored against a wall (28 cm width).170 mm aluminium cranks.

Equipment:
Chainwheel guard, mudguard with stays, pannier rack, derailleur guard, battery lighting. Compatible with the Btwin Tilt transport cover.

Dimensions:
Unfolded: length: 150 cm, width: 40 cm, height: 103 cm. Folded: length: 82 cm, height: 64 cm, width: 34 cm.

I bought the bike mainly for my new work commute as I’m keen to avoid getting back on the overcrowded London Underground and so I’ve been testing out my commute to my current job which uses some of London’s busiest roads and us also gently uphill. My current commute is a little less than 5km each way between Charing Cross and North West London.

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Before I did any commuting I gave it a quick whizz around my local area, disappointingly the seat slipped down (thankfully reasonably slowly) and so I went home and adjusted the seat a hint and then I was off. I spent about 40 minutes dipping in and around the town – shifting gears swiftly and confidently using the push-pull system. The 20 inch BMX wheels felt nice and secure on the road and the bike didn’t struggle to pull away from the traffic it encountered.

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The steering was light and the brakes sharp, gear changes as well as being fluid were quick and also felt like they would stay in place (unlike the shocking Boris bikes). Jumping on and off is also incredibly easy, I’m, as stated, a pretty crap rider but I find it simple enough to jump on and off. Commuting has been equally pleasurable and the bike fares very well across it’s town scenario but that’s what it’s good for – you wouldn’t take this across muddy fields. Equally it’ll handle a bit of a hill, actually a reasonable hill – but don’t ask it to do Mont Blanc, that isn’t what it was designed for. I have two killer hills just outside me house and it struggles up both of them towards the top – although this might have something to do with your rider and reviewer being a bit on the podgy side and wholly unfit 🙂

The folding mechanism is also fairly simple and I can get the B Fold 7 up in less than 30 seconds and down in about the same, there’s nothing very fiddly but if you are intent on carrying the bike anywhere then be aware that you might want a elasticated cable to keep the wheels together. Do consider the folded size too, that may impact your decision on purchasing – the Brompton does fold smaller and would be easier in the boot of a small car – but I don’t drive so this isn’t likely to be a problem for me, but worth checking if you’re doing a half and half commute.

And so to my only real negative, which isn’t a real negative and more of a reality check – it’s heavy. With the pannier rack and a lock on it this weighs in at a little over 13kg which makes it a double hander for lifting purposes really. That said you could push or you could use the handle on the underside which does make it a bit easier.

The truth of the matter though is that none of these things are very lightweight and carrying them is just part and parcel of ownership. I can only truly recommend the B Fold 7 for it’s excellent looks, it’s excellent performance, it’s perfectly suitable functionality for my particular lifestyle and it’s price point. Well done decathlon, go and test this for yourself in store you won’t be disappointed.

I wrote the following post almost a year ago and with Boston approaching I’m revisiting the sentiments I put down as when I wrote this it was still so very fresh in my mind. Below is the posting

It’s been a few hours since the Boston Bombings, I suppose you’d say the Boston Marathon Bombings and maybe to me that’s the difference, you weren’t attacking a political ideology here, you weren’t looking to exact revenge on anybody you were simply causing mayhem at a high profile event.

Runners are a rare breed, they go out daily no matter the weather, often without thought to other commitments and they are truly special breed-made of the sternest stuff. They can be liberal, conservative, fascist, communist or donotgiveafuckist, they can be male, female, black, white, yellow or even grey. Sexual orientation and even musical taste cannot separate these people. These people just go out and share running. I’ve never met a runner who couldn’t leave their allegiances behind in favour of an hour of pounding the ground. So why attack them, or those that support them? To a point you can see why a terrorist organisation would attack a building like the twin towers. They were a powerful symbol of Western life and capitalism and while the loss of life was horrendous you can see the logical lunacy of fanatics the world over who would want to destroy something like this in the name of whoever. But this attack, like the car bombings and such that we see in Iraq or Afghanistan are not against symbols they are against individuals. These are acts intended to inflict not just death but affect our spirit.

The running community seems united in its condemnation of this and so we should be for those who we know not, yet share a bond with have been attacked for doing something they love, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That seems so wrong to me, perhaps because this attack feels very personal – I wasn’t there thankfully but I aspire to run Boston. I know that should I ever qualify my partner would be near that finish line camera in hand. Had I run it this year she might have been in the firing line, that thought turns my stomach.

When I go running tonight I will be offering my thanks for the life I have and each step I take will remind me and others that being attacked like this won’t stop runners, we will line up again, especially at Boston and they will not win.

It’s the London Marathon this weekend, one of the showpiece European events – a possible target? Who knows, I hope not. I was thinking of going to watch but other things had overtaken me and was unsure if I would make it but now I am determined to be there, showing my support for the runners who put body and soul on display.

Our thoughts are with you today Boston. Take care.

As I reread the above posting all the feelings that I felt as I wrote it came flooding back – the revulsion and the stupidity of the attack, the horrendous maiming of innocents and the deaths caused – this was a dreadful day.

However, a year on and there have been enormous reminders of the power of the human spirit in the face of this horrific human tragedy, think about all the runners who showed their support as they crossed the line at the London marathon or the huge, near universal condemnation of the attackers and the ferocity with which they were hunted down. The memorial at Copley Square, which saw thousands leave mementos and tokens in honour of those affected and plans are set for these items to be displayed at the Boston Public Library in April as part of the #BostonBetter events that will mark the anniversary of the tragedy. Think about all those who are thinking about Boston, writing about it and talking about it. What happened almost a year ago will live long in the memory.

So this year as the Marathon runs and remembers and I am completing the WNWA96, in honour of the families, victims and supporters of the Hillsborough Justice Campaigns my thoughts will be with those who have lost their lives or been affected at sporting tragedies. Boston, I really felt, both as a runner and as a human being and I hope that you’ll give a few moments of reflection too over the next few weeks because as I’m writing this I feel like a very lucky person.

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I love you,
I mean, I really love you,
I love all of you.

Big bums,
Little bums,
Hairy legs,
Smooth legs,
Gurning faces,
Angry faces,
Tired faces,
You’ve pulled them all – me too.

In your Nike Frees,
Or tearing away in your recently purchased and ill advised Vibram FiveFingers, I love you too.

Scratched,
Bruised,
Sick,
Cold,
Hot, I adore your enthusiasm.

Old,
Young,
Boys,
Girls,
Even the odd puppy, you all look great to me.

You’ve been accompanied by Bon Jovi,
Abba and even
The Chemical Brothers,
You’ve listened to podcasts,
Read training plans,
Bought RunnersWorld
Wandered aimlessly around Sports Direct,
Finally found Sweatshop,
Bought lots of stuff
Even gotten up early on a Sunday just to go and do some distance, I salute you.

I remember your sweat,
Some days I can smell it we’re so close
I look at your courage,
And I see myself training for my first marathon 3 years ago.

I love you.
And you’re going to make it.

But I can’t wait until the London Marathon is over and you all decide to get the hell off my streets because I’m running and you’re in my way.

I’m only kidding runners, the London Marathon is upcoming and I’m jealous you’re all running it and I’m not (didn’t get in again) but you’ll have a great time and as your training is coming to its conclusion you’re doing brilliantly and it’s inspiring seeing you all out there. Good luck in the last few weeks and remember it’s only a race.

3hrs sleep
Carried weighty 12kg OMM 25litre running bag
Wearing my Inov8 Trailroc 245
Strode purposefully out of my workplace
Kicked open power of Suunto Ambit 2 GPS
Started running
Hit full stride by the time left Regent’s Park
Jumped across traffic lights into Marylebone
Burnt down towards Edgware Road
Turn of pace to avoid old people
Sprinted out toward Lancaster Gate
Waved in an annoyed fashion at tourists in Kensington
Troubled a hill as darted towards Kensington High Street
Doffed Snowdonia Buff towards the Albert Hall
Pressed afterburner as crossed Hyde Park Corner
Lurched heavily towards Victoria
Stopped for traffic
Thundered along Victoria Street
Thanked commuter for getting the fuck out the way
Saw traffic gap, took it
Ran past Run and Become, scanned shoes in window
Looked to Suunto, 9.91km
Continued looking to Suunto, pace rising
Nearly hit man as stopping
Finished outside Scotland Yard
Virtual 10km complete in 51minutes
Hips sore
Back sore
Ordered Trailroc 235s
Acedemundo (see Fonzie / Happy Days)

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There was something quite pleasant about tonight’s 12km, yes it was cool, yes it was at a reasonable pace and yes I didn’t get lost in Kensington however, the thing I enjoyed the most was that my Asics Tather, which have never really been a great running shoe for me, felt really good. I’d forgotten how light they feel compared to my Mafate 2 or Speedcross and I was able to launch myself happily at the various challenges of tonight’s distance. Funnily I enjoyed running in them so much I might give them another run out tomorrow.

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I’ve banged on extensively about the need (for me) to try different types of racing, so as regular readers will know I’ve done things like the Sweatshop 5km, been a member of the London Social Runners (and was a founding member of its Wednesday nights), adventure racing, track racing, road racing, every type of distance, I’ve even raced on the water and taken up cycling to further my adventures. But yesterday I saw a tweet from @VirtualRunnerUK inviting runners to engage in a virtual race with the benefit of a medal.

The idea is brilliantly simple, you run a specified distance during a specified period of time (seems like a couple of weeks) and then you bang out the mileage you’ve signed up, send in your proof that you’ve done it and a medal is despatched to you. The fact that the organiser is making money only for Charity makes this even more appealing and at £5 you’ll never find a better value race or better organised (because you’re organising the running bit yourself!). This, to me, all sounds like heaven and I’m thinking, well presumably 12 virtual races would give me 12 medals in a year?

Let’s hope that’s right because I’ve got an idea… while bumming around on Twitter I agreed to engage in a Twitter challenge with @michloise, the challenge was that she will break Sub50 10km and I’ll get back down to the sub42 (possibly a sub40) 10km. The problem for me is all the ultra running takes away from racing 10km races but if I had a method of earning medals and at the same time engaging in the racing without impacting my ultra running that would be perfect and here it is. So I’m now waiting for the date to arrive so that I can do my 10km and then kick back waiting for my medal.

Good luck to all the virtual runners taking part and more importantly to those runners that aren’t – why not get involved yourslf at http://www.virtualrunneruk.com

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I know I shouldn’t run in you but you’re still good for a few kilometres now and again and tonight in my efforts to run 400km in 30days I just hammered out a couple of miles through the centre of London – so thank you, my soon to be retiring, Newton Distance. Tonight was a short and swift affair simply because tomorrow the intention is for it to be a long slow affair. Nice to mix it up though even if I am now freezing my gonads off at Charing Cross station hoping for a train to turn up. Enjoy your running chaps.

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I set out yesterday with only one thing in mind – 15km. By the end of my evening run I had three things on my mind 1) I really needed a toilet 2) I must have taken a wrong turn 3) when the bugger did I press pause on my Suunto? The toilet was pressing, my navigation skills were disappointing and the pressing of the pause button instead of the light button was annoying but 10.82km down only 389.18km in 29 days to go.

Four ultra marathons, four marathons, about a dozen half marathons, loads of 10km, a few random distances and a couple of outdoor swims – that in a nutshell is the last few years of my life. I’ve pound the ground at every opportunity, I’ve run up hills, down hills, across fields and forded streams, there has been no race too long, tall or difficult. I’ve tried them all, but even I recognise I’ve hit a bit of a wall.

What type of training do you do?
Well @hitmanharris describes my training as ‘running’. He went on further to say that if I wrote down my training plan on an A3 bit of paper I’d basically just write ‘RUN’ in big letters. I’ve never really thought about disciplined training and plans but actually that all sounds a bit too much like running by numbers – no matter how tailored to you it is. I tend to get up in the morning and decide I fancy 15miles or decide I fancy a fast 5km. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason, I try and mix my running up by doing some fast, some slow, some bigger distances, trail, road, hills and flats. I’ve added in Pilates and swimming over the last year or so but the truth is that I’ve seen myself plateau since I started ultra running and trouble is I’m finding giving up the smaller distances really hard to do – already in the first eight weeks of 2014 I will hopefully complete 2 ultra marathons, 2 ten mile races and possible even a duathlon, that’s a lot and hard to train for because your preparation needs to be for the ultra but then I turn up to the shorter races and want to give it my all but I’m then not performing well enough to race decent times.

At this point last year I was still running a reasonably good 3.30 – 3.45hr marathon distance but a broken foot and a shedload of ultra training and this time has being slowly eroded to the point where I think I’m more like a 4.00hr marathoner. And the trouble extends further to the point that when I go back and do speedier running all I find is disappointment as I can’t quite get in under 20 minutes over 5km ( I don’t think ParkRuns count as I’ve usually just ridden 15km to get there – uphill). I’ve also got my desire to do my first triathlon this year and I still can’t do more than about 50metres freestyle before I need to revert to breaststroke. I see trouble ahead.

Twitter
I’ve been extensively watching the timelines of all the runners I follow on Twitter and have noticed there are a lot of runners who use coaching or have joined a club and the conversation is almost universally that this has helped them overcome issues of levelling out, overcome the mental block of not being able to focus on a couple of specific goals, not being able to give up all the bad food that gets consumed and adopting a healthier lifestyle in eating as well as exercise.

Joining In
I know I would benefit from the social and training support offered by a club or by the knowledge of runners who have been there and done that. I used to run with the London Social Runners for about 6 months until I found that each week I got caught up nursing home one of the really slow runners and becoming resentful of that, so I stopped going and convinced myself that group running simply wasn’t for me. However, because I can’t find a way out of my spate of injuries, my lack of direction and a bit of a lack of enthusiasm I think I need to do something. But what? I’m also confident that actually I could offer something to less experienced runners – for good or ill I’ve got a lot of experience now and I’ve adopted some good practices as well as some bad ones, I should be sharing this experience more.

Problems
I have two problems, the first is that I don’t think I would be committed enough with one to one coaching, I’d lie and cheat, I’d run when I was supposed to rest, I’d race short when I was supposed to run long, etc. And effectively I’d just be cheating myself, wasting their time and mine – I need someone who I have to look in the eye very week and say ‘yep I did as I was told’. Suffering from guilt so easily makes it better for me to have to face someone and the public humiliation of being in a group and not being competitive because you’ve not done your training horrifies me.

However, there is the second problem which is that I travel on average four hours a day, usually a bit more and getting to a club is almost impossible. If I join a Central London one I’d be regularly left waiting around because of my works finishing time, plus not getting home until really quite late and then I’d need to travel into the city at the weekend, which is very rarely practical. If I join a club nearer to home (and there are a lot of them) I’d never get there in the evenings and my racing habit generally means I’m not available most weekends.

A change of job and location would enable me to join a club closer to home and reducing my commute time is one of my aims for 2014 but until then I can’t see a solution to help me break through the glass ceiling I seem to have reached. I’d be very interested in hearing about the coaching and club experiences of other runners and the benefits they felt and also how runners feel about one to one coaching over club running.

Happy running

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My train journey in a morning is usually split between sleeping, playing on Twitter, replying to emails, working and even occasionally blogging or playing Words with Friends ( usually being beaten by @follystone ). However, this morning I happened to be tweeting the usual rubbish when I got caught up in a storm of my making. I mistakenly suggested that the way to be positive was to do something silly and my silliness was that we should walk 600metres into a public place and pretend to be a Gorilla/Ape/Monkey. Sara @4pairsofwellies seemed to agree that this was a good idea and that I should do it, so arriving at Charing Cross I switched on the Suunto, headed and out and 600metres later found myself at Trafalgar Square, under Nelson’s Column making ape like noises and wandering around going ‘oOO, oOO’.

Sometimes Twitter can you please advise me against my own stupidity or my efforts to make other people feel #Positive

I’ll point out that photographic evidence was submitted to Sara, but as I have a secret identity to protect (being a superhero an’ all) all you get is the second of the photographs which was taken next to the Big Blue Cock – rather apt I thought.

A big blue cock, next to a man pretending to be an ape, dressed in a big blue hoody – whatever next

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I’m lying in the cold and the wet, I can feel blood on my leg, my beloved Asics running tights are ruined and all I can think about is not, have I broken my leg but, shit have I just pulled out of the C2C. 8 days before the race and I’m lying motionless wondering if I have just ruined my chances of grabbing my first UTMB point of the season. Roll on 8 days and 43miles later and the answer is that, no I didn’t.

I rolled out of bed at about 4.30am partly because Project ThunderClunge needed some preparation before it could make its move this early in the day. I showered and put the final bits of kit together in my bag and we headed from the Garden of England up to Buckinghamshire where we met up with the other runners at the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Wendover. It was a bit like organised chaos but it kinda worked, one queue, lots of levels and a shedload of bacon baps. The worst part about the start was the man at Wendover train station – I asked for a car parking ticket and he issued me with a stern gaze and told me that the station was intended for rail passengers only. My view was that he was getting a full days parking ticket for not much more than an hours usage, this meant I had to go scrabbling round for change which I managed to get through the purchase or coffee and bacon for the OH. Parking sorted I lined up for my number, changed my emergency telephone and promptly left my coffee somewhere I couldn’t remember putting it. At this point I spotted the running top of @totkat and briefly said hello, neither of us knowing each other’s names she greeted me with the ‘hello Ultraboy’. I had stuff to do though and promised to catch up later which is what we did but prior to that I had a toilet visit. Two toilets exist in the pub and in the first of these options we were warned that it was a bit like the bog of eternal stench and this was correct – despite my need I couldn’t use it and waited for the other still functional and not full to the brim loo. Racing out of the loo I picked up @totkat again and had a brief chat about things, shoes and the like and then headed out to find the OH who had just left the front of the pub with my two hounds. Strangely though she had been stood within spitting distance of @cat_simpson_ who it was finally a delight to meet. Again a bit of a chat and then away – we both had stuff to do. But my tweet ups weren’t quite over and I was recognised for the stupidity of my Dirty Girl gaiters by the lovely @J0ERUNS – what a great runner, the man is a legend and I was grateful of the opportunity to meet him.

The start was pushed back to about 8.40 and I found myself at the front which was not where I wanted to be and so I pushed my way back and took up my customary position at the slow end of the race.

My aim was to complete between 8hrs 30 and 9hrs 15 but in my head I was hoping for 8hrs 30 and this was my final thought before the race started, I clicked the go button on my Suunto Ambit 2 and kicked off in my Hoka Stinson Evo. Now I’ll mention briefly my Suunto, I had loaded full mapping of the race on board and I intended to follow the little arrow the whole way – full review will follow shortly – but the huge crowd of runners all huddled together and we made me pleasant, accurate progress through some stunning countryside. Wendover soon disappeared behind us and we made our way through the first of the muddy fields. The weather was fine, beautiful January day and as we came across the first of the hills you felt as though was going to be both a very friendly and pleasant affair.

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I was trundling along to CP1, at this point still over taking people, going too quickly, dancing through the mud when I met a lovely runner, I’m going to call her Sophie as I think that was her name, but you meet a lot of people running ultras and names get lost in their stories. She was a genuinely fascinating runner who had completed the MdS, had been evacuated from Cambodia to Thailand when she fell into a coma! she made my life look dull and I’ve had a reasonably interesting life! Anyway with her at my side I was able to push on and floated into CP1 in 1hr 20minutes – 90 second stop and then off. Sophie was getting into her stride and I wished her well as I needed to bring my pacing down a little bit (she was going to be a fast finisher). Checkpoint 2 would also be the last point at which I would see my OH and my two hounds but that didn’t really matter, she needed to focus on Project ThunderClunge and actually that made me address some issues, the primary was, ‘what do I really need for the rest of the race’. What I didn’t address was what do I not need for the rest of the race, therefore after enjoying the best of the views in Buckinghamshire I thundered along the final road and up into CP2. Despite being a trail run there is a lot of running on pathways with C2C and this was generally fine but it meant that your footwear choice was very important and the route between CP1 and CP2 and equally CP2 and CP3 was varied and changeable – I was glad of my Hoka.

What CP2 brought with it was also the realisation that my knee had not healed properly at all, the fluid that I had recognised a few days earlier had not gotten any better and combined with the calf compression I was in a lot of knee pain which was translating to my time. I hit CP2 just after 3hrs but at nearly 18 miles in I was still confident I’d come in on time. My OH though was concerned about the knee and wondered if it wasn’t more sensible to stop – as a medical person she was worried and as my OH she was worried as she was about to head back to Kent.

I kissed her goodbye, drank Lucozade and headed off into the wilds. The next few miles were good fun and the Lucozade had given me a lift that I really needed as a lack of breakfast was really showing. I added to this a number of delicious Sainsbury’s sugar strings which helped me spike my sugar levels.

CP2 to CP3 also gave me access to a couple of lovely American guys ( Michael and Richard @broferd ). Michael was in his first ultra and his first run over 16 miles but in his corner he had a family history of Ultra Marathons as his dad had finished the Western States no less than three times and he was wearing one of his dads 1980s running tops, he was a great guy. Richard too was a great runner, inspiring, fun and provided excellent motivation to keep me going through some of the stretches along the canal and we spent much of the next 10 miles or so jockeying for position. Also between CP2 and CP3 I met Martin. He was running with two other guys and was in his third ultra but had DNFed in his first two, I found him an interesting and engaging runner who clearly had the motivation and was keen to run to the finish but the two people he was running with seemed more to be bringing him down and hearing their ‘motivational’ style was both depressing me and angering me. I really wanted to tell them to ‘fuck off’ but that wasn’t in the spirit of ultra running. Thankfully having looked at the results there is no Martin in the DNF list and there is a Martin who within 9hrs 30 which was his aim the last time I spoke to him and so I hope he is very proud of the achievement.

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I digress, CP2 to CP3 also brought my favourite race surprise because at mile 24 was @abradypus who is a bit of a running legend in her own right. Demanding sweaty manhugs and photographs was the least I could offer her for simply being there to cheer us along, I should point out that she wasn’t there just for me, she was there for the plethora of other Twitter runners that were running C2C.

The canal brought with it something I hadn’t expected which was a hint of boredom, the problem was that a) it was flat and b) there was no real scenery. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it occurred at the beginning with the bigger, slippery and dirty trails in the second half but that would have been something to get excited about, to look forward too. The canal felt like a truly metal challenge – the distance wasn’t the issue but seeing a never ending, ceaseless path of water in front of you meant you felt every single step. So although the path was simple to navigate it was not easy to negotiate.

Passing through the final checkpoints there is little to report really besides a worsening situation with my knee, jovial crew and a pleasant evening in terms of temperature and rain. As I approached Little Venice realising I had missed out on the 9hour mark by about 6 minutes was soul destroying but I managed to limp across the finish line and waiting for me was the ever wonderful @abradypus and because she had not long finished herself @totkat – thank you to both for providing support, both at the finish line and at the pub after.

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I’m glad I did this one, it was good fun and gave me an early start to the season – something I really missed out on last year when I didn’t run my first race until March. I’ve found there has to be a reason to run a race and the one here is that I enjoyed it (for the most part). You can forgive the running along the towpath because the first 27 miles are really good fun. You will enjoy the party atmosphere that was everywhere you looked, it wasn’t a nervous race – first timers through to highly experienced ultra runners were on show and all felt welcome. The pub at the beginning was a great start line and I’m advised the bacon sandwich was delicious. The map book was pretty decent, which surprised me as I had heard criticism of earlier years versions but compared to some of the directions I’ve had this was amazing. There were enough hills to make you think that this was a challenge but not enough for you to think you’ve just run up a mountain and despite the weather the land was torn up enough for the energy to be thoroughly drained from your legs by the time you got to the towpath. I would highly recommend this race whatever your ultra experience. All of these good things are supplemented by a nice T-shirt and a wonderfully thick but not too big medal. Sign up now (well when it opens for 2015!)

I’d like to finish though with a thank you to all the support crew, all the people on Twitter and on Facebook who provided me with encouragement throughout the day and especially my OH and the hounds, this medal and this race are very much dedicated to you.

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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

Sportsshoe.com
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.

Wiggle
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.

Sports Pursuit
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.

Centurion Running
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.

Decathlon
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.

Sweatshop
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.

Sports Direct
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.

Favourites?
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.

Pyllon - ultra runner

Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

aaparker1984

The building of my very own freelance graphic design business.

The Runtron Diaries

Running. Cake. Random.

Gabrielle Outdoors

Journeys of a varying kind

highlandrunnerblog.wordpress.com/

An introduction to ultra running

Running on Full

Random thoughts, used to be about running

Re-Activate

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

Bearded bimbler

A runner, a hiker and a bearded man

Inadvertent Mooning

Observations from the Grumpy side of UltraRunning

The Unprofessional Ultra Runner

My attempt to crack some serious challenges in an unserious manner

LifeAthlon

“Life Is An Endurance Event”

rara's rules for living

Swim, bike, run, fun!

An academic in (running) tights

Blogs on education and running: My two passions

"Keep Running Mummy!"

Motherhood, marathons and more

Franky tells it like it is

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

Val's running blog

The trials and tribulations of a Jolly Jogger

be back in a bit, have biscuits ready

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

marathoncomeback

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

knittysewandsew

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

Medal Magpie

A blog about running and middle distance wind chimes