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Some days you’re really up for a marathon and other days you simply aren’t.

Thankfully I’d really been looking forward to the Suunto RunWimbledon marathon as it was a chance to properly test myself after a few months out and also test the back injury that has been plaguing me since late last year.

For the first time in ages both the GingaNinja and ASK rolled up with me to the start line near the Windmill Museum and we sat on the grass in the early autumnal sunshine having some lunch and bimbling round on our balance bike (the toddler, not me). The race village was excellent and served as the hub for runners coming in and out of the event. Suunto had a significant presence as the events main sponsor but otherwise this was as low key as you like.


Prior to race start I had the good fortune to bump into @Totkat – fresh from her self supported adventuring from Lands End to John O’Groats. It seemed we were both there for a bit of Marathon tomfoolery rather than going out hard. That said when the horn went off at 2pm I found myself pushing out on to the trail and following my tried and tested method of flooring it for the first half and then dropping off or exploding for the second half.


The route was four laps of winding in and out of the trails of Wimbledon Common and there was a combination of lovely downhills to get your feet moving, a couple of minor uphills to let you have some hurt and some duller connecting trails to keep you on track – all in all not a bad route given the size of space being worked with.

I pressed on through the field, trying not to pace myself against anyone else as I knew that many of the runners were liable to be a) relay marathoners or b) just better runners than me and every time I felt myself speed up I tried to calm myself down and slowwwwww up.

About 3 miles in it became quite clear that I hadn’t had my pre-race dump but this, for a change, didn’t concern me too greatly as I knew that at about 4 and a bit miles in there were portaloos. However, when I arrived into the race village there was a significant queue and I was running pretty well so I pressed on into the second half of the lap. I think it would be fair comment that the second half of the lap was significantly less interesting than the first half but it did give some nice long stretches of path that allowed you to open the taps a little. 15 minutes I was back in camp and looking towards the loo.

Once more though my hopes were dashed and with a quarter of the marathon run in a little over 50 minutes I was keen to get going again. I stopped for water and a bottle refill but there was no time for the loo – I’ll deal with this on lap 2! I drifted around the course attempting to maintain my pace but with my already listed toilet problem this was becoming a challenge. However, an option presented itself on the lap – the Wimbledon Common cafe had a toilet that was only a couple of hundred metres off the route and if there was still a queue when I got to the halfway point then I’d try that!

Of course there was a queue! And so with the clock ticking I pressed quickly to the spare toilet a mile or so away. Needless to say I lost some time and when I came out of the facilities some 20 minutes later I knew that a good time was looking beyond me. I ran into the race village feeling much relieved in the bowel region but had now begun to notice that my groin was groaning from a distinct lack of fitness and my back was aching from what could have been the start of my injury seeking revenge. Effectively I was slowing and not even the smiling ASK and GingaNinja could lift my spirits – I was just going to have to grind this out.

The one thing the race was missing on the support table were some sweets or slices of fruit and so I was very glad I had my own reserve and took onboard some Haribo and a children’s fruit pouch. The third lap was my worst and I just couldn’t get going and no matter what my heart was saying my head was saying the opposite but as I crossed the trails and heard the sympathetic applause of several dog walkers I determined that I must make a better effort and so I stopped – massaged my groin for several minutes and lay on the ground to stretch my back. This had enough of a desired effect that as I set off on the final lap I actually felt better. Mentally I was back in the game and while my groin was pretty knackered I was running consistently! There were now very few runners out on the course – there hadn’t been that many to begin with – but I found it in myself to overtake a couple of people and get round. Even the hill overlooking the race village was mounted with relative ease and I pressed downwards to the final couple of miles. ASK was awaiting me and I had to explain I would be back shortly but she could run the last few hundred metres with me if she wanted (in training for her race the following day). We had a little cuddle and she told me she would, ‘still be awake dad, it’s getting dark but it’s not bedtime yet’.

With those words ringing in my ears I hammered home those final couple of miles and when I came up to the 200 metre marker she was waiting for me. Given that the ground was uneven i insisted she held my hand but we thundered our way to the line. ‘Faster dad, Faster’ came the familiar line as we raced across the line to the sound of cheers from the volunteers, event staff, and the remaining runners and supporters!

I think ASK was happier than I was at the conclusion of the race as she was awarded a medal for an outstanding sprint to the finish. But ultimately despite the challenges I personally faced on the day this was a damn fine event.


Key points

  • Distance: Marathon
  • Profile: mildly undulating
  • Date: September 2017
  • Location: Wimbledon Common
  • Cost: £35
  • Terrain: Mixed, trail, muddy trail, good paths
  • Tough rating: 2/5

Route
As I’ve already indicated the route was interesting without being spectacular, ultimately you’re in a borough of London – how exciting can you make it? but it was a very well thought out use of the space available. For me the best bits were when the trail tightened up, ran through the dirtier trails and forced you to beware but for many this would have been a lovely introduction to trail marathons. Interestingly despite being a trail event this felt like a fast event with good times perfectly possible – worth noting for the trail speed demons.

Organisation
Those who put on the Suunto RunWimbledon had a good plan and stuck to it. The placement of drinks support was excellent and you passed the table twice per loop and having a race village in the loops middle actually made this a jovial affair. The volunteers were universally excellent and for the most part the organisation was perfectly invisible which allowed the runners to simply get on with the job of running.

Awards
A new Salomon neck gaiter/buff, a decent bespoke medal and drinks – you’d be hard pressed to grumble.

Value for money
£35, 4 loops of a well thought out course, excellent support and little extras like the neck gaiter – yep this one would score highly on good value.

Conclusion
The Suunto RunWimbledon Marathon is an excellent trail running marathon that is well organised and well supported – with the addition of the half marathoners and 10km runners the field felt quite nicely full but never so much as to feel crowded. I’d say that if you were looking for an early autumn marathon near London then this one would have to rate highly in your choices. The question I often ask myself when I review races is ‘would I do this again?’ and in this case the answer is yes.

Attending an inaugural running event can be a dangerous thing, the route may not be fully tested, the organisation might not be quite as slick as when the event has been running a while and the atmosphere may be dampened by the attracting of fewer runners than a more established event…

Thankfully we then have the Hockley Trail Challenge which was blighted by none of the above, in fact I think it’s fair to say that this looped course deserves nothing but high praise and return visits! But let me rewind to 10 days before the race and recount another sorry tale from my personal pantheon of running tales.

I was recounting the story of the week before the Green Man Ultra in 2016 and how I’d been pushed into the road on New Bond Street and been hit by a car mere days before the Bristolian 45 miles. I joked that I hoped that didn’t happen again, it seemed however, that fate is a cruel mistress and as I was bounding along New Bond Street a plethora of tourists refused to get out of my way and I was forced into the road, pulling a muscle in my calf as I landed awkwardly.

Boom! Lightning can strike twice.

I hobbled home and almost immediately cancelled my 49 mile Milton Keynes to London run and sat for hours with the TENS machine and the bastard rumble roller I own – there was Hockley Woods to get ready for! I decided rest was the order of the week and reduced my running to the bare minimum did nothing over the weekend and managed to see my physiotherapist the day before the event (never ideal). Anyway patched up and rested I rolled up to Hockley Woods in good spirits and a desire to have an amble round a new location.

By the time I arrived at 8.30 a few runners had congregated round the registration but many were hiding in their cars avoiding a pre-race soaking. Number collection was swift and smooth and I ran into Cherie and her husband who I met at the Ridgeway last year and we exchanged banter about our various abilities to do directions!

I soon returned to the family who had decided to join me so that the hound and the GingaNinja could get a few miles round the woods in before departing for a morning of trampolining pre-race UltraBaby and I bounded round on the Unirider chasing ThunderPad and the GingaNinja. However runners were soon called over for a short but useful race briefing and we all lined up for six hours of trail shenanigans!

I took up my customary position at the back of the course but as the start was called I quickly made my way forward through the other eventers, quickly catching the front four or five runners and settling into a very pleasant stride.

As I often do on looped events I look for markers and note conditions underfoot so as to try and see where problems, challenges or faster sections will occur later in the race and this one the course was replete with challenging conditions, grinding up hills, gnarly trail and the odd speedy downhill.

I quickly realised that the use of the word challenge in the title was very appropriate.
Regardless I pressed onwards, enjoying the spray of mud that had erupted all over my legs and I thundered through the first lap in under 30 minutes despite the reasonably heavy rain. The second lap went in an even faster time despite a stop to speak to UltraBaby who had been chasing round the woods after runners and our Spaniel, when lap three dropped at a similar pace my thoughts turned to a sub 4 hour marathon time for the first time in ages and a little over 4 hours for the eight laps I had targeted.

I took a few minutes at the checkpoint to gather myself for another lap and then set out again, still making good time and looking at a little over 2hrs for the first four laps.

I was about halfway round lap 4 when I came across a horse riding teen, I’ll assume parent and dogs. Having been kicked by a horse in the past I know instinctively to give them a wide berth and I’d noted that the Collie looked nervous and I felt best I give it some space too. Sadly the dog decided to run between my legs and, in my efforts to avoid giving it a thoroughly good kicking, upended me – forcing me down badly and heavily on my groin.
I managed to hobble away, there was no word from the owner, an acknowledgement or even apology might have been nice but still. I knew I’d pulled something quite painfully and so felt around to see what was tense but it was just sore. I pressed in some thumbs and then moved on gingerly.

At this point I hoped I could run it off but all running was doing was aggravating it. I stopped periodically to stretch my leg out which would give a minute or two of relief but the Hockley Trail Challenge as a race, for me, was over.

I moved into the fifth lap looking grim faced and eventually telephoned the GingaNinja asking for advice, however, having already decided that I wasn’t going to give up I pushed on despite her wise words. I found myself now being overtaken and in some cases lapped which simply irritated me but there was nothing for it I had made my decision and you don’t DNF the marathon distance when you’re so close to home.

Thankfully I was still managing to run some sections of each loop which kept both my sanity intact and my timings reasonable given the pain I was in and I was fortunate to meet some lovely people as I ambled along (most notably Joe, a lovely, hardcore ultra running chap from Tipperary!) who provided excellent distractions.

Reaching the eighth lap I stopped at the checkpoint for a few minutes and ate some chocolate raisins, looking longingly at the medals, thinking ‘I should have had one of those hours ago’. But with these thoughts put out of mind I pushed on for one last go round Hockley Woods. With the rain long behind us, the sun out and the knowledge that I was less than 6km from finishing I continued to run/walk these last few steps.

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As a very pleasant surprise though my little daughter UltraBaby was waiting for me a couple of hundred feet from the finish line (thanks to the lovely volunteers for the picture). She jumped out to ‘scare’ me as she is prone to do and then joined me for those final metres. We bimbled towards the finish as UltraBaby told me we were racing and we crossed the line to much applause from the amazing volunteers. Sadly for me UltraBaby stole the medal, little sodding monster – thankfully only one of us ended up coated in mud and it wasn’t her!

Key points

  • Distance: 5.5(ish)km loops
  • Profile: Undulating
  • Date: March 2017
  • Location: Hockley Woods, Essex
  • Cost: £30
  • Terrain: Muddy trail
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route
The route was much harder than I had imagined, hillier than I was expecting and conditions on the ground and the lapped nature of the course meant it got cut up pretty quickly. That being said once the rain stopped and the runners thinned out the course quickly returned to being more runnable for the most part. In truth despite the hills and mud this was a good running course with more than enough interest to sustain you for as many laps as you can manage. Hockley Woods looks like a really good training ground and if you’re local I’d recommend banging a few miles out.

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Organisation
The organisation was brilliant, the route was well marked, there were photographers and floating volunteers on the route and the checkpoint was well manned, well stocked and well protected for any gear that we had left behind. The volunteers were always on hand to provide the wrist bands to count our laps and there was always a lot of love and cheers as you rocked up to the checkpoint.

Awards
Medal and goody bag. The medal was big, heavy and has a fun feeling to it, the goody bag had Maltesers in (and other stuff) and that’s more than good enough for me. The real award though was the event and I think this was the general feeling from the runners I spoke to during the day.

Value for money
£30 seems like a very fair amount for a race this well organised.

I saw a Facebook post that suggested that £30 was too much but actually look at what you’re getting. A glorious loop on a glorious course with a big bespoke medal, an incredibly well stocked aid station/checkpoint and a really good atmosphere all supported by a wonderful team of volunteers who never stopped smiling. I’ll put it like this, I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less (I’m thinking East London half marathon and even the Royal Parks Half Marathon).

Conclusion
The Ranscombe Challenge (read the review here) has always held a special place in my heart as my favourite ‘laps’ marathon/ultra but the Hockley Trail Challenge has replaced it. I know that my experience was marred by getting injured but that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of this event. I would highly recommend running it’s a great experience and I know that I for one will at some point be back to add an ultra amount of laps to marathon amount of laps!

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I’ve been rather over stuffing the blog with race reports recently so this one will just be a highlights and that’s because it was a race that deserves highlighting

  • 3.14 mile loop (1-10 loops)
  • Almost entirely trail
  • One bloody big sandy hill to climb
  • Beautifully set around the green spaces of a very foggy Guildford
  • Immaculately organised
  • Great volunteers
  • Quality festive aid station
  • Nice and low key
  • Cost effective (a mere £16, you could put the price up a few quid)
  • Trophies for various distance winners
  • Nice play on the term ‘Mince Pie for the race name ‘ I mean who doesn’t love Pi (3.14)
  • Friendly atmosphere
  • I managed to get round despite exhaustion and a difficult time in Liverpool the day before
  • I got to meet the awesome Roy – Susie and Shaun’s awesome bulldog
  • Lots of lovely chatter
  • Great free Wacky Races buff
  • Great medal

Conclusion: Wacky Races are putting on a really nice event here and it’s well worth considering for the next offering. It’s just festive enough, it’s such a cheap race that even one lap would feel like good value and importantly it makes a great year ending race. You really can’t go wrong with this one and if the other events offered by WR are even half as good (most notably The Omen 66.6 miles) then you’ll be in for a treat. Recommended.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had been a good day.

Look at the size of this bloody medal!

Key points

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

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

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

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The enclosed pictures better illustrate how much I was having


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

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

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

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

But I digress and so back to the race.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key points

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was in agony.

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

Key points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Key points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  
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?

img_7095I lined up with the other runners and waited for the less than dramatic start but it was the kind of start line you wanted at 8am on a Sunday morning the weekend before Christmas. What was I waiting for? Well that was the Sikhs in the City Dawn ’til Dusk event.

It was a crisp day to run 25 laps of a 2km course in Redbridge, Essex and despite having had a pretty rubbish week this felt like just the the way to end that week and more importantly my running year.

On most days I’d probably have said that this wasn’t an interesting course, there was a lot of tarmac, there were a couple of busy roads and there was an uphill and a downhill however, there was something in air, maybe it was festive magic, maybe it was something more mystic but whatever it was I ran the first lap of the route and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I rolled up the hill with all the energy of someone running the half marathon and stopped only to have a high five with UltraBaby. I found that as I drifted round the laps I came across a number of runners I had previously met before. Ian and Bill were two fellow ultra runners that I’d first met at the St. Peters Way event in 2014 and we jollied our way round at various points on the course. Clare and Sam were also on the course, I’d met this pair of brilliant and tenacious runners at both the twilight Ultra and also the Saltmarsh 75 and they were determined to get a photograph with Fauja Singh (the man and marathon running legend – 104 years old and still faster than me). What this did was make it even more of an enjoyable event  and I was able to therefore have very pleasant conversation pretty much all the way round.

Now for those of you concerned that this wasn’t a race and more of a social gathering – let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

There were a number of ‘speed goats’ on the course giving it a proper go and watching them going full pelt was inspiring. Still, I’ll admit after my exploits in France a couple of weeks earlier that was never going to be me, I was going to be going slowly.  Anyway, I trundled round at a fair old pace and by the time I got to about mile ten I was feeling very fuzzy and warm.

I’d also started on the treats that the Sikhs in the City Running Club had laid on for us – cakes, breads, crisps and still and fizzy drink options. I’d added a bit of my own chocolate milkshake on the runners table but the organisers had gone out of there way to get it right and there was a little surprise as the half marathon point rolled round for most of us. The surprise came in the form of the onion bhaji and it was the finest onion bhaji I have ever tasted, it was warming and it was spicy with a delicious after taste that left you wanting more. It might be said this was my in-race highlight!

My only problem was that the combination of tarmac and hills had really knackered my glutes and I was feeling it by the time I hit mile 15 and so after speaking to a couple of the other runners I made the sensible decision to stop at the marathon.

I figured that for the purpose of another one towards the Hundred Marathon Club it makes no difference, I’ll still get a medal and I saw no reason to break myself further. Therefore with a bit of a spurt at lap 21 I sped up the hill to UltraBaby and the GingaNinja (who had returned from a trip to Westfield) and crossed the line. I went and claimed my medal that was presented to me by the brilliant Fauja Singh (I was much more excited by this than when Mimi Anderson presented me with my medal at the SDW50). I also made a grab for as many of the bhajis as I could – truly its worth doing the race just for these.

Conclusion
What a great event, with a great medal, organised by a wonderful running club. I’ll be back and next time (hopefully) I’ll finish the ultra on a tougher than it looks course and I’ll enjoy the fact it was a bargain at just £30 – and that £30 contains a nice T-shirt and a decent goody bag.

This race comes highly recommended as do the Sikhs in the City. Thanks guys

img_7088img_7089img_7098img_7110

 

  • 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

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 

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 4 years since I started running but more importantly for me is that October 2015 marks 3 years since my first marathon. It occurred to me last night, as I was identifying the times of my marathons over the last few years – to fill my new (iamkat inspired) shiny running events spreadsheet – just how much running I’ve done. The more amazing thing for me is all this running comes despite two significant injury lay offs totalling nearly 9 months and I’m nearly 30 marathon or ultra distance races further forward than I was three years back. Sometimes looking back has its positives and what I was reminded was that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when things don’t go to plan. Perhaps that’s a lesson for life too.  

 

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

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

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

Thankfully for her EmLa returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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



  

Friday had been a hectic day for reasons that I shan’t go into on a public forum, it had been a 4.30am start and I was tired by the time I got home (around 8.45pm). The problem was I had done no preparation for the Ranscombe Challenge, no kit ready, no food ready, nothing.

I fumbled in the running wardrobe at about 10.30pm quickly grabbed an old pair of OMM 0.5 flash tights, some Salomon Exo compression tights, a favourite Eco top from the Snowdonia Marathon and a couple of other bits – I threw two fun size twix bars into my Oxsitis pack and I was done.

Sleep.

At midnight though UltraBaby had things to say that just wouldn’t wait but thankfully The GingaNinja dealt with her queries.

Anyway, race morning came and #UltraTeam took the relatively short trip to the Ranscombe Farm, a beautiful part of the Kentish countryside with great views in all directions (well except the bit next to Eurostar). I was being dropped off with the plan that my progress would be regularly checked to ensure that I wasn’t over doing it or worse ‘running injured’.

I rocked up the hill to the start point and waved a cheery good morning to the ever fantastic Rachel and Traviss – making sure I congratulated Rachel on her brilliant performance at TransGC. These two guys really never cease to amaze with how much energy, enthusiasm and personal care goes into their events and that started with their generous and warm welcome to raceday. I grabbed my number, put my   ‘Drop bag’ on the tarpaulin and then started nattering away to some of the runners, Steve, Mel, Clive and many more – some of whom I’d ‘met’ just the day before on Twitter.

With a few minutes to go Rachel called the rabble of runners to order and gave us our instructions and we all able to the line up. Perhaps that’s what I like about these – the gentle, no pressure nature – though I did disappear to the back.

As the race started I cracked open the Suunto and headed off – but the pace was a bit slower than I’d imagined at the back so I wiggled forward a bit and set myself out at a reasonable pace knowing I could slow later. The good news was that the course was dry, weather was crisp and the wind wasn’t too bad either and so I thrust myself up the first minor incline and then hurled myself into the first decline before being faced by what I knew would be the energy sapping hill.

And so it proved – my ascent up the first major hill was slow but not without merit and I managed to keep going without over-exerting. Glad to see the top though I took a few seconds to admire the view of Kent and then set back into my ultra trundle. We were crossing a field with a delightful curvature to it and again I knew this was going to be a bit of a bitch after a few laps. The fun though started here, as you dismounted the hilly camber of the field you were greeted by a heavily ploughed field and a chance to really ‘Bomb it’ and in my new Hoka Challenger ATR that’s exactly what I did.  I hurtled down the ploughed field at full pelt (and would do so many times over). It was a nice test of sure footedness and both the Hoka and I were happy about our performance but as we approached the bottom of the ploughed field it was much more a trudge to the top and for much of the next section which was moist but runnable.

Having never really run here I found each turn hugely exciting and so when I discovered that the second half of each lap was a nice fast downhill I took great pleasure in ‘going for it’.

Of course It remained undulating but here I was able to regain some traction  and push on a bit – leaping from muddy mound to muddy mound and happy in the knowledge I had the grip to do it.

I rolled into the aid station after about 35 minutes or so and stood around conversing and eating. As always at these events the aid stations are a star attraction – a lot of care and effort goes into ensuring we aren’t missing out on cake or fudge or little American chocolates (3 musketeers) and there were Emily’s delicious biscuits – which I ate a shedload of – yummy.

I shan’t go into too much more detail of my race as it was laps but there are some things and people to mention. Clive, doing his 50th marathon looked the mutts nuts as he belted out another brilliant run. Karl, who had to pull up at 5 laps because of injury – I walked back with him the last bit of lap 5 and explained that he had no reason to be dejected. He was a great runner and will be back soon – thanks also to his family who made me laugh several times as I was going round. Elaine who was speed walking the distance and always looked brilliant as we met up at various point on the course. A little mention to Amy who came along to support and ran a lap with me towards the end and hopefully got her competitive running mojo on track for SDW50.

There are a few other brilliant things though that happened here – UltraBaby joined me for my ultra distance lap and enjoyed every single second of it (those of you that follow my Instagram feed will be able to see the video footage). Interestingly despite the weight we ran most of it including the hills and got lots of ‘cutesy’ glances and comments 🙂 annoyingly though I’d had a 25 minute wait for UltraBaby to be ready for her starting role, so this did have an affect on final times. Though I confess that we did give it a bit of riz to the finish line as nothing says ‘hand me that bell’ like a sprint finish.

As for day two? That was tough and I’d decided I was only going to do one lap but I ended up doing three laps in the much muddier but probably more fun conditions 🙂 Traviss and Rachel continued with their excellent hosting and offered up the best cake in the land – I think I ate about five pieces. I did run half a lap with beloved hound (who at Fowlmead ran a half marathon distance) but this time he was restricted to just a cameo appearance for the final couple of miles and ThunderPad helped pull UltraBoy up that final hill.

So I ran about 69km this weekend, I’m not too sore and I had a lot of fun.

My thanks go to four truly brilliant people (and one hound) – obviously the GingaNjnja, ThunderPad and UltraBaby but also Traviss and Rachel who do so much for the running community in both events and inspiration. However, we shouldn’t forget the legion of supporters either – especially the lovely ‘band or bell’ ladies who made me smile at every visit to the checkpoint.

If you haven’t done Ranscombe yet then you need to, it’s hard, fun and achievable.

Organisation Some events seem to need all the organisation in the universe, partly because they are bloated and partly because they’ve gone a bit mad. The Ranscombe Challenge is an example of how to properly run an event – for runners by runners. You simply couldn’t mark this down 10/10

Course The course had hills, it had flat, it had mud, it had views, it had pretty much everything you would want from a  trail run. As we understand it The Ranscombe Challenge is ‘Rachel’s baby’ and she should be congratulated on producing a truly winning course – I loved it so much I’m thinking of the Ranscombe Summer Challenge for my last warm up race before the CCC 10/10

Goodies Don’t get me started! I have come up with a theory that Traviss makes the goody bags so good just so that he can look even better as a runner on the days when he lines up next to us. In my goody bag included beers, matchmakers chocolate, a full chocolate orange, 100 marathon club smarties, mini chocolate orange segments, a kit kat chunky and so much other stuff that I can barely remember it all. The medals are as you can see amazing and I will wear them with pride – you can really see that a Saxons, Normans and Vikings event is an event laden with treasure 10/10

Atmosphere A few weeks back I moaned about the atmosphere at Brands Hatch which had lots of people, at the Ranscombe Challenge there are a lot less people but you really feel the love of it all, the love of the runners, the organisers and the spectators out on the course. To put all of this into context, my partner, The GingaNinja, enjoys coming to these events because they have such a positive vibe to them 10/10

Marshals There aren’t really any out on the course as such but the checkpoint every 4 miles provide a timely intervention if you ever need it (along with some toilets). The cheerful, helpful and smiling marshals were brilliant and seeing Traviss coming towards you as he prowls around the course always inspires you to push on a little bit (and then walk the moment you get out of his visual range). 10/10

Overall Brilliant 10/10

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Please note: The picture above was made possible in part by the runner I am about to blog about.

‘You useless article’ I think that’s what I called her shortly after we met and we’ve never looked back but for the purpose of this post I am going to look back a little and explain what this is about.

As readers will know I’ve just been badly injured for the last few months caused by a near unknown level of stoopidity, but during that time UltraBaby came along, I DNFd the Winter100 and I started a new job. It’s at the new job that I found a very inspiring character – @marathonwoman52. In this fellow tweeter and creative I’ve been able to keep my spirits surprisingly positive despite not being able to run – and it’s time to say thank you.

Now it’s true that awesome runners like @Susie__Chan and @Cat_Simpson_ are really the dogs doo-dars when it comes to being inspired to push harder, faster and further or @UltraDHC and @UltraRunnerDan when you want to know what ball churning tenacity is but I have an equally huge respect for those at the other end of the run spectrum that get up and pound the pavement for hour after hour in the pursuit of a better run time, a new challenge or simply to keep fit.

@marathonwoman52 falls very much at the heart of this final category and whenever I have the pleasure of speaking to her I find that my own challenges in running terms seem insignificant. Her chirpy, northern charm never fails to see the positive optimistic side and while she’s never going to break any speed records what she will do is go on to achieve truly great things in her own inimitable style.

And that starts here: in just a few short weeks she is going to tackle the mighty Brighton Marathon. Listening to the pride in her training is fantastic and I’m so thrilled to be able to get first hand accounts of how it’s all going. Sadly I won’t be in Brighton on race day as I’ll be running elsewhere but I know a lot of you will be heading down to Brighton so if you happen to see her or know her then make sure you cheer her in and if you follow her on Twitter (and do follow her on Twitter, I know my favourite community will only inspire her further) don’t forget to remind her to set up her justgiving page 🙂 – very interestingly she’s got herself involved in a Duathlon too, plus her run time at her first virtualrunneruk 5km was something to be very proud of. So she’s really gunning for a life fantastic, clad in lycra and lit in neon. She, to me, is living proof of why we do what we do – to be fabulous and prove that not just that this girl can but that everyone can.

Anyway to conclude, because I’ve gone on long enough. @marathonwoman52 I offer my most sincere thanks for you being incredibly supportive, whether you knew it or not, during my rehabilitation. And this is what this post is about, telling the world and my fellow tweeters that you’ve been one of the four amazing ladies (and my dog) that’s gotten me back on the roads and pounding the trails (the others being The GingaNinja, UltraBaby and ThumbMistress Rosie, my physiotherapist).

So thank you … oh and no bloody slacking.

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2014 has for me brought a lot of exciting challenges, lots of races where I’ve come away and thought ‘I fancy that again’ or ‘I know I can do better and next year I’ll prove it’. With a week before the Winter100 I’d opted to have a final significant run at the Fowlmead Challenge both in the hope of a new medal and more importantly an opportunity to see how far from fit my hamstring was. I’d heard a few bits about the organisers and how hugely friendly and intimate these events could be – and this was very much paramount in my thinking when I was looking for an event of this type.

Before I go into full race review you might want to check them out at saxon-shore.com – especially if you’re Kentish way, but even if you’re not these might be just what you’re looking for.

6.00am UltraBaby has slept for more than 7hrs, this is bad – we needed her up an hour ago to get her into the right zone for the day.

6.06am The GingaNinja dealt with our super powered offspring and I hastily threw on my Hoka, my new Salomon compression shorts and teamed them with my beautiful soft touch tech shirt from the Snowdonia marathon and a classic Ronhill top. I’d already applied what felt like a good slathering of Vaseline around my ‘downstairs madam’ and my nipples where feeling greasier than a Friday night kebab but this was all good.

6.24am Breakfast for three, for me it was a hearty ibuprofen, cuppa, yoghurt and a fun size twix – not the stuff of champions but it was being that type of morning.

7.30am I’m now ready… but I’m running round grabbing baby things, the GingaNinja still has her ‘on the tit’ and I’m now in that pre race nausea that I so often suffer with.

7.52am
Pre-race nerves have now evacuated the building via the toilet, thank god I didn’t have the hot burrito last night. That was perhaps the only benefit of not getting home from work until after 10pm.

8.03am
GingaNinja slides stealthily into the shower, I lock UltraBaby into the car seat, grab dogs extendable lead, grab dog, load car

8.14am Vroom, we’re off – but garmin says go the route that’s closed so we follow iPhone route instead.

9.06am The GingaNinja is getting a little tetchy because we could well be late, she doesn’t know where she’s going and she’s worried the baby is hungry – actually just 23minutes later we arrived and everything was okay. Proof positive that it is possible to run marathons even when you’ve got a five week old baby!

Anyway enough baby chat, we arrived at Fowlmead Country Park and its both excellent and ample parking, the start line and lap point were at the top of the hilly entrance overlooking the very pleasant cafe (and hose) with children’s play area, activity trails and awesome looking bike rides.

I rolled up to be greeted by the guys from the event and from the moment I gave in my name I felt like part of a family – they’d never met me before but it was just so friendly.

I grabbed my number and trundled back to car. The GingaNinja had now prepared UltraBaby for her first taste of bigger distance races, soak up some atmosphere – I did ask if the course was suitable to do a lap with the buggy but the RD suggested it wasn’t and he was very right (conditions were challenging from the off).

The race briefing started a few minutes later and was casual but surprisingly informative. Traviss, our RD was laid back and continued the friendly theme that seemed to be the hallmark of these events. Post briefing we were given a little while to steady nerves (or create them) and then, as the bell tolled, we were off!

The Loop
The course was about 2.7miles of undulating trail – this description doesn’t do it justice. The route started out on gravel track for a couple of hundred metres to be swiftly replaced by ‘proper trail’ with puddles, mud and all the filth you’d expect from a country park founded on an old coal pit. The quick wet descent was replaced by a stretch of path and then up some mildly rocky hills before back into the depths of mud fuelled fun! As the laps wore on and the ground became more cut up this section became heavy going but nothing a reasonable pair of trail shoes wouldn’t be able to handle. As you swung a hard left back onto the track the course became a bit more technical on rocky paths and the descent needed a little care before you reached the hill of despair where you climbed at pace if possible. Now, with about 1 mile of the loop left to go the course went back to a fine gravel track but this was beset by oodles of deep, dark and awesome puddles – I went through every single one (testing the new drymax socks!), this was probably the mentally toughest bit of the course, especially as the laps wore on as it didn’t have the visual interest of the rest of the route but it’s never ending corner worked well to build mental strength. With the final 400 metres upon us there was a fast uphill and you’d completed a lap.

UltraBoy Ran…
I sadly ended up completing only 10 laps, not the 11 I had been aiming for… this is what happened. I went out too quick – my aim had been 4.75mph, nothing too silly but I started with closer to 8mph for the first hour and that with my hamstring effectively killed the run as a race but what it did do was allow me to have a sense of how I’ll feel later this week as I push on during the Winter100. By lap 4 I could really feel my body warning me against pushing any further and I did contemplate giving up at half marathon distance but then I fell upon a plan – I’ll take the dog to distract me because I wanted that next marathon distance for my assault on the 100 marathon club. So after completing lap 5 I grabbed my beloved Spaniel and we headed out – only one of us was allowed jelly babies and it wasn’t him. The fifth through eighth lap felt incredibly hard and my hamstring pulled with every move, the hound was also feeling it and again I felt like stopping but as I charged up for lap 9 there was a bit of a second wind and I improved my lap time a little. Each of the hills, each rock, every puddle felt that bit lighter knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again soon and so we pressed on until I could see the finish line and my final lap. With 400metres to go the hound and I decided that our running pride was on the line and so we belted out our longest stride and flew towards our medal! I was spluttering over the many delicious treats available but as I reached for the bell and I was simply grateful I’d done it.

Traviss passed out my medal and placed it gently around my neck – which was handy as it weighs about 10kg!

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But what you wang to know is would I recommend this to you? The answer is simply ‘cor blimey yes’, this is my favourite marathon I’ve run and as a laps challenge it is such a hugely entertaining event.

The things to look for as ever (for me) are the following;

Organisation and information
First rate, regular communications via email and Facebook and a very good website. On the day the event was handled with a deft touch, the RD and his team look like people who a) love running b) care about runners and c) care about their event. This section scores 10/10 and its richly deserved, when the race result and thank you email came in about 4hrs after the event you know this is a great race team!

Aid Station
Quality Street, homemade cakes, snickers, squash, water and lots of other stuff – this was an aid station to die for and it was stocked to bursting point. 9.5/10 (could’ve killed for a sausage roll by lap 8)

The Route
I enjoyed the route and if you’re a trail runner you’d have a great time bombing round the course (and in fairness the park). Despite being a nature reserve and extensively used as an extreme mountain bike venue, we were never bothered by other park users. The guys marked out a challenging but manageable course that tested our mettle. 10/10

Small and Beautiful
You can go and run London if you like but this challenge had about 50, maybe 60 runners, there was no ego, it was a really good feeling and we all supported each other – this kind of experience is becoming harder to find in the sponsored, corporate world of ‘Big Racing’. Traviss has crafted an event (a series of events) that you’d go back to time and again. 10/10 for a great time and atmosphere

The Bling?
Sometimes in life you get a bit of a shock – when I saw the medal hanging off the neck of one of my fellow runners I knew this was special. It harks back to the heritage of the run location and it feels like a medal should – other race directors take note please. 10/10

Value for money?
As regular readers know ‘value for money’ is something I’m always on the lookout for – especially in races. So how much was this? £35. That’s right, cheaper than most half marathons with half the bling, it’s cheaper than almost any OCR race and you could see that the cost was invested in the race and the runners. The aid station, the food, the medal, the communication, the donation to the country park, the organisation – this was a bargain. 10/10.

Conclusion
A great race, run by great people – please visit http://www.saxon-shore.com or find them on Facebook. I’ll be going back to Fowlmead and I’ll be joining them for their Tolkien Run next year as well as several others, sadly my physiotherapist has barred me from the Saxon Shore marathon saying that the W100 has to be my last until new year, but otherwise I’d already be entered. And if you’re looking for another reason to sign up to one of these extraordinary events then check out that awesome goody bag below. Sign up, you really can’t go wrong and you certainly will never forget it!

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I’ve reviewed the Kent Roadrunner before, a relatively local race to me and a really fun day in the sun – please note this race review contains poo, pain and a giant piece of bling – you have been warned.

On the Friday I packed the smallest amount of kit in the universe, buff, shorts, t-shirt, socks, race vest, iPod and brand new Inov8 Xtreme 208 (that’s not much when you’re used to ultra sized I ate a reasonable sized bowl of carbs and some delicious ice-cream, laid out my kit and went to sleep to the delicious sounds of Pearl Jam.

I didn’t sleep very well but nothing worse than normal and managed to get ready and to the race in plenty of time – as per usual it was the same mix of warm sunshine and party atmosphere as it was in 2013. I met up again with several runners I knew or knew of from my local Parkrun and in the distance I had spied TP100 runner Naomi Newton Fisher and several of the ultra runners from the National 100. Given my recent performances and a less than memorable face I kept my head down and went to drink coffee.

The race itself is 17 laps of the rather wonderful Cyclopark facility near Gravesend in Kent. My plan was simple, the first half would be bang on 2hrs and the second half would be about the same – this would give me the confidence to know I could pace @hitmanharris for the Summer Breeze Half next week. I trundled slowly around the course, waving at my partner, occasionally grabbing at some liquid refreshment and generally doing okay. My pacing was proving to be bang on the money despite the gradient of the course and because at 13.1 miles I was rather pleased with myself I tweeted out a picture of my Suunto.

There were however two rather large problems – the first was that at just 11 miles in my hips started to give in on me again and the second well that was a call of of nature at around 8 miles in.

Let me roll back an hour or so to being sat curled up on the loo trying to make haste with your morning deposit – but my body just wasn’t playing ball – so I lined up to the race knowing that I was carrying around the course a dump that could have fought off Godzilla. Anyway with my pacing going so well I decided that I would thrust aside my problems and clench deeply and as I hit 13.1 miles I knew what would be my first port of call – the portaloo. I’d very much like to thank TZRuns for having a well stocked and clean portaloo which made my 12mins 18secs stay more pleasurable than it had any right to be.

Leaving the portaloo I felt lighter and much more refreshed but now that one troublesome weight had been dispensed with I had to deal with the other – my useless hips. I pushed on through each lap, waving merrily at several of the runners and hurling slightly abusive encouragement at others. In the hazy memory of the melee that were the last few laps I finally managed to get into a bit of a rhythm and plodded onwards until hearing the sound of the bell to signal my final lap was ringing in my ears. I drifted around the course much as I had done all morning and it wasn’t until the final push up Tourette’s Hill that I opened my stride out and flew forward like the wind, crossing the line in my customary sprint finish and beating the two runners who had been significantly infront of me only half a lap earlier.

It was a disappointing time, a disappointing way to run but a great race and I’ll probably be back next year to see if I can actually run a decent time on this lovely track.

I did learn a few things though regardless of my disappointment – the first is that you probably shouldn’t wear new trainers straight out of the box for a marathon – my Inov8 are lovely and comfy but it was my first time in any of their road shoes and my first time in minimal trainers for ages, a mistake I feel. I also confirmed to myself that tarmac running probably isn’t my primary thing, nor is sunny running – winter trails seem to be were I am happiest. I can also see that I am steadily getting worse at running because of injuries and running too many races and I am finally addressing this issue after more than a year of suffering. The GingaNinja who was at the race described my running as painful looking and that I wasn’t enjoying myself and she was right, there was very little in terms of big strides, sprinting or good form – so I am finally being looked at more seriously to get to the root of my problems.

TZRuns put on excellent races, offering really good quality medals and a handsome goody bag. The quality of the event and the marshalling is unquestionably good and it’s a small enough field for this to still feel intimate but not too sparse. If you haven’t run this one before then do consider adding into your late spring schedule – you won’t regret it.

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1. Don’t race too much
The last couple of years I’ve raced on average once every two weeks, this year I’ve raced big distance at around the same amount and what I’ve learnt is that the body doesn’t have time to recover and that training is badly affected because you feel as though you are in constant taper. Worse than that, when your training takes a hit then your race pace drops off. Racing should be part of your running I believe because it gives us targets and opportunities to test ourselves but it shouldn’t be at the cost of regular training.

2. Train enough
One of the things that many runners do is get to a point and suddenly think that’s it, they can do it and they can just continue to do it but the reality is a little different. We need to make sure that we continue to train year round to maintain the continuous health benefits of running. It doesn’t take much to actually feel much better from running but by the same token it doesn’t take much to feel lethargic when we don’t. Your training will be determined by many external factors but it’s worth keeping your running consistent and doing it regularly. Short but often pays bigger dividends than long and occasional.

3. Listen to your body
Believe me your body knows best, listen to it when it calls out for rest, listen to it when it says it go faster. Don’t ignore your body be they good times or bad.

4. You will be your own worst enemy
You’ll become a bit like a petulant child, wanting to do more, achieve more and you’ll push yourself, you’ll go too far either physically or emotionally – I think we all do at some point. Try and listen to common sense, if something sounds stupid then it probably is.

5. Make sure your shoes fit
I’ve spent the best part of my running in shoes that are too small for me. I should be a size 9.5 (UK) but I’ve been running in size 9s, it’s not a lot but what it does in my case is push my toes against the end of my toes and leaves them susceptible to blistering. Over longer distances this is exactly what happens and each person is different – so if you haven’t been fitted, please go and get fitted, there really is nothing worse in running terms than a pair of shoes that just aren’t right.

6. Don’t get caught up in technologies
Calorie Counters, GPS, video cameras, hydration systems, number belts, boosting trainers, minimal trainers … the list of things we apparently cant live without goes on and on. Running stores are constantly offering us new ways to part with our hard earned cash. Sometimes all you need is a pair of trainers and any old clothes. yes having the kit is great (and I’ve got a lot) but there is a lovely sense of getting back to those first few runs when you pick out a comfy pair of runners and hit the trail. Remember the joy of running.

7. Don’t run before you can walk
You know that feeling just after Christmas when you’ve put on a few pounds and you suddenly think it would be a bloody amazing idea to start running? Then you see yourself as a bit of Usain Bolt and that first run you feel like a legend – you probably did a kilometre, maybe two – then it takes you a week to get back out there? I’m not the only one who has been through these various stages. Anyway, the point is that as you come to running it is important that you take things slowly – build up your endurance, your distance, your speed, work on the way you breathe and learn how to get the best out of both body and kit. Plus remember that doing 5km where half of it was walking is still more impressive than sitting on the sofa watching cat videos on YouTube.

8. Eat for the running regime you do
I should listen to my own advice on this one – I’m a terrible eater, I don’t carb load, I barely eat vegetables, I don’t like fruit very much and my one remaining tastebud is targeting Mexican food and Mexican food only but because of this (partly) I can be prone to weight that bounces around and a lack of energy because I haven’t fuelled properly for my runs. Eat properly! Eat enough! Eat the right things!

9. Get to know other runners
Each runner is very individual and we all have our nuances and idiosyncratic ways but we’ve all been there and done it. We know what it’s like to lose toenails, to buy I’ll fitting shoes, to wear neon in public. I turn up to ultras now and there is almost always somebody I know or at the very least have met and chatted with before, infact I’ve raced so much in the last three years that even when I turn up to a 10km race there is a very good chance I’ll meet someone I know. This community spirit is in part why I really love running, but that same community is a great source of information, inspiration and fun. Next time you’re out running maybe just say hello to a fellow runner and see where it leads you.

10. If the plan isn’t working, change the plan
Training plan says ‘Monday AM – 10km jog’ and you get there and you simply can’t manage it or you don’t feel like it but by Monday PM you are feeling guilty. What to do? Change the goddam plan! No sense in being ruled by your training plan, you are in control and if something hasn’t happened then do something else. Don’t give up because you miss a deadline

11. Enjoy running, if it regularly becomes a chore something’s wrong
We all have days when the wheels have come off and you don’t feel like running and that’s fine but when it’s a regular thing you should perhaps ask yourself if there isn’t something else you can be doing. We run for pleasure (most of us) therefore if it makes you miserable step away from it. I’m the moments when my mojo has deserted me I tend to rock up and watch a race or two and I know that the moment I see runners streaking last me I’ll want to be out there – doing my thing and earning my bling.

12. Vary your training
A necessary evil? Probably. However, mixing up the way you train means that you are more likely to be successful on completing the races you do. For me I’ve found that varying my training has meant that I can roughly retain a respectable pace for a 10km while still running ultra distances. If I focused on one of these things I’d be much better at it but the training variations mean I can keep completing these races even if I’m not a a competitive any longer.

13. Vary your locations
There is nothing more fun that running down a new street, hitting a new trail, finishing up at a new cafe, getting lost in a country that you don’t speak the language in. Whatever you do try new routes, variation – see the world through running eyes because believe me it’s amazing what we miss as we drive to places. I found that I was getting bored of my evening commute from Regent’s Park to my mainline station in the evening and so to jolly it up I remembered that I live in one of the most exciting cities on the planet and so I started looking for memorials, sculptures, signs, famous buildings, infamous places and even culture events to run through, beyond and even in some cases – above. This meant I had to go via different routes, sometimes just a single street but now each night I see something new when I run and that fills me with joy.

14. Leave the GPS at home
I love my Suunto, I love watching running data and yet I love the freedom of not tracking what I’m doing and just running free. During races you can be held accountable to the watch, equally so in training – beating yourself up for not reaching the six minute mile, annoyed because you failed to do the whole 13.1miles, getting only to 13.02 before you’re stood outside the gates of your house. Humph! Leave the GPS at home sometimes and throw off this (very awesome) bind.

15. Do other sports
Running is very much my sport – I love every minute of it, even when I hate it but it does produce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on our bodies and we are susceptible to injury, fatigue and even occasionally a bit of laziness. I’ve found that by mixing up my running with other sports that I gain a better all round fitness.

I tend to find I focus on swimming, hiking, ‘countryside outdoor pursuits’, cycling and Pilates as my other sporting activities but team sports are equally wonderful and all you need do is tap into your personal interests and find something that you enjoy.

16. Run in the dark
Actually this should be ‘run at different points in the day’ but for me not enough runners run at night time and this in my opinion is an awesome time to do it – there’s peace, the roads are quiet and you really get to the heart of your thinking process and focus on the job at hand. For ultra runners the benefit is that we acclimatise to the fears that come during the night time, there is nothing worse than seeing shadows moving and fearing the worst – the dark can be a great friend.

17. Buy last seasons trainers
You want the latest kit? But the truth is that this stuff is usually untested by the majority – by buying last seasons kit not only do we benefit from runners experience and reviews but also it’s usually cheaper.

18. Always save something for the end
Jimmy McKenna, the only man who ever gave me running training (aged 8) left me with a piece of advice that has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. ‘Always finish strong, doesn’t matter how you run but cross that finish line like Steve Cram’. And he was right, I finish my races with a push, arms pumping, chest thrust forward and both feet off the ground. It always makes me feel good.

19. Don’t be afraid of failure or the DNF
Who cares? Well you will when and if it happens, you may well even cry but the important thing is to get straight back in the saddle. A DNF can show a positive attitude to your body, if you’ve pulled up with injury what’s the point in risking more damage by continuing. Equally though knowing when not to DNF is vital as you should try not to give up unless it’s necessary. Some of the most useful learning I’ve had as a runner have come when things have gone wrong, perhaps the most important thing is to learn from this and hope not to repeat it.

20. Have pride in your achievements
Wear your medal, wear your shirts, brag about distance, brag about times – like the manufacturer says ‘just do it’

21. Don’t mull over a slower than expected time
You’ll run pretty crappy times periodically – both in training and in racing – get over it. Don’t let one bad experience ruin a week or month or a years hard grafting on the road. To dispel he myth of bad running I simply adhere to the idea of producing a PW or personal worst, this means I’m always achieving some form of target even if it’s a rubbish one 🙂

22. Don’t forget the back end
Running takes huge swathes of our time in both the training and the getting ready to run. Sadly kit doesn’t clean itself, Suuntos don’t magically upload and races don’t book without you. Running isn’t a hobby it’s a lifestyle.

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After the highs and lows of the WNWA96 I was very keen to get back to running. It’s been a couple of weeks since I did much more than a couple of kilometres and the 100miler at the weekend has left me both physically and emotionally drained. However, to the rescue has come the Virtual Run and so this evening I strapped on the only shoes I could get on my feet – that’s right my old and very battered Newton Distance and decided I would do my 10km.

After about 4km I was very keen to give up, but with the deadline for entries only a few days away I knew that I needed to push this one out and so with a push I hit the first 5km in about 28 minutes. At the 5km point I dipped away from the rather sunny Regent’s Park and started my journey across London. The first five were much more like the warm up and I drifted perfectly happily between the streets of my city, stopping only occasionally for red lights and swift moving traffic. As I approached Piccadilly I added a bit of frenetic pace and hurriedly moved through the human traffic – even daring the odd raid through the cacophony of noise that was the road traffic. I blasted through Haymarket and down into Trafalgar Square were I completed the 10km in under an hour – which was the aim.

Thanks once again to the VirtualRunnerUK for getting me out there and a special congratulations for successfully completing the London Marathon as well as continuing to keep us all active!

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‘Anymore than about £70 and you’re paying for the label and the current seasons colour’ I was told this by a trusted running friend and this got me thinking. I’ll add the caveat that this was said in 2010 and therefore adjusted for inflation and other factors lets say £75 in 2014 money. Now to prove his point the first edition of the Adidas Adios Boost which was in Sweatshop for about £110 dropped to £75 in the winter sale…

Hmmm. Are we being duped into buying over priced running shoes? Unusually for this blog I’ve been doing some research – I’ll admit I’ve not gone very far with said research but its a start, but this posting is mainly about my own experiences in attempting to find the best pair of running shoes for my feet and just how much am I willing to overpay.

Let’s start with (some of) my current crop of running shoes, how much I paid for them and more importantly did I consider that good value for money.

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Newton Distance
Paid: £99.00 (per pair)
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Sweatband
This was my first foray into the world of lugs and Newtons and I remember the first time I put them in the shop and thinking, that my feet had found a new home that they would never want to leave. Newton Running are a pretty specialist maker of shoes with a core band of supporters but have been growing in popularity, the problem with niche shoe makers is that their product tends to be expensive and these were no exception, even at the £99.00 I paid (per pair, I ended up buying several pairs) they were pricey. I found them excellent on dry roads but on wet surfaces they can be hard going and trail should be a no go for these road shoes, so they had a limited use, however, the first pair managed more than 700 kilometres, performed reasonably at the Bewl Water Marathon and the Snowdonia Marathon, neither of which would have trails suited to these shoes, but the wide toe box meant that (due to injury) I had to wear them. So in that sense they were excellent value and even now after 700 kilometres I still sometimes do a few commuting kilometres in them. All Newtons are built to a very high standard and clearly made with excellent materials and more than enough consideration is given to the design – they are shoes designed to stand out in every single way. They are also my shoe to lounge around the house in, I simply find them comfy and therefore they are worth the money I paid out, but could I recommend them at the full price? In this instance I could, the Newton Distance is a well put together shoe from a specialist maker, they won’t turn you into Steve Cram or Scott Jurek but they will provide excellence over the lifetime of the shoe. I’ll be buying more of these soon.
Value: 8/10

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Newton MV2
Paid: £50.00
Normally: £99.00
Retailer: Newton Running
I went back to Newton when I was looking for a replacement for my Adidas Adios 2 and I hadn’t wanted to upgrade to the Boost edition as they it was still such new technology that I wanted to give it a season before I tried them (plus at £109 I thought they were too expensive). Newton did a deal for their sprint edition model, the MV2, low profile, same quality materials as other Newtons and a decent set of reviews. When they arrived they were lightweight, compact, filled with lightweight producing technology and they felt as fast as lightning. But they came with a caveat and that was that they would not endure – some of the reviews suggested that the MV2 had a lifespan of about 200km and upon receiving them I could see why – the upper feels flimsy and after my happiness with the distance these were quite a disappointment. Now what I will say is they are fast shoes, they feel amazing but are they are £100.00 worth of running shoe? No not even close, my original Adidas Adios cost £75.00 and I ran over 700 kilometres in them, raced nearly a dozen times in them and they never once failed me – these feel like they are a 5km shoe but that couldn’t do that too many times in a week, just incase you were asking too much of them, I’ll be honest even at £50.00 these feel a little bit expensive but I still love them and we do to running together. Interestingly my experience with the MV2 will not dissuade me from trying other Newtons, but perhaps I’m best sticking with the Distance (a pretty fast shoe in itself).
Value: 4/10

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Hoka One One Mafate 2
Paid: £62.50
Normally: £120.00
Retailer: Snow & Rock
Pro: Quality build, good ride, good endurance
Con: Blistered on 100mile ultra at five miles in after getting soaked but user error, been excellent since
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 9/10

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Hoka Stinson Evo
Paid: £125.00
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Pete Bland Sports
Pro: Build quality, ride quality, endurance, excellent road to trail ability, offer less fatigue on your knees.
Con: Expensive but worth it, my feet came away from last ultra in pretty good condition thanks to these.
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 9/10, for me a near perfect shoe.

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Salomon Sense Ultra
Paid: £75.00
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Sportshoes.com
Pro: Build and ride quality, decent transition from road to trail but definitely a trail shoe
Con: Slightly too exposed to the elements, not a great fit only feet but that’s only my feet 🙂
Distance: 35km (so far)
Value: 6/10, at £75 these feel well priced but much more than this and they feel expensive

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Merrell Barefoot
Paid: £50.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Blacks Outdoor
Pro: Lightweight, well made, Vibram sole, multi-purpose footwear, well designed alternative to VFFs
Con: Not suited to heavy trail but handy for road to light trail
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 7/10, reliable and fun shoes that can have any number of applications but as a specific first choice running shoe they aren’t quite there. Having said that I always take a pair with me as a backup during ultra marathons

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Adidas Adios 2
Paid: £80.00
Normally: £80.00
Retailer: Sweatshop
Pro: Lightweight, fast, well designed, reliable, have endured well
Con: Not as good as the original Adios
Distance: 1250km (over three pairs)
Value: 9/10, even though I’m not as keen on v2 these are an unbelievably good shoe that I use in training as well as racing.

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Adidas Ace 3
Paid: £35.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Runners Need
Pro: Lightweight, bright, reliable, comfortable ride
Con: Not as good as the Boston or the Adios
Distance: 100km (so far)
Value: 6/10 at £35.00 you can’t argue that these make a nice change from the Adios or my other lightweight running shoes but at £75.00 they don’t feel as though they have enough under the hood and I’m not sure I would trust them over a marathon distance.

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Vibram Fivefingers Komodo
Paid: £135.00 Normally: £135.00 Retailer: Vibram
Pro: Unique, challenges your own perceptions, build quality, good for endurance, showstopper
Con: Get twigs trapped between your toes, getting your feet caught on the visually impaired aids on the road, they hurt like hell if you accidentally heel strike
Distance: 900km (original pair)
Value: 9/10 near faultless until they finally gave in, second pair just as good – very expensive but worth every single penny as I saw my times tumbling in Vibrams and my distances increase.

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Vibram Fivefingers Speed LS
Paid: £88.00
Normally: £110.00
Retailer: Field and Trek
Pro: Unique, build quality, showstopper
Con: uncomfortable
Distance: 40km
Value: 3/10 I can’t wear these for running, so I wear them as a work shoe – never understood how my Komodo were so perfect and these so nightmarish. Blisters, discomfort – the lot came with these. Sad as they are beautifully understated shoes.

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Skora Phase
Paid: £42.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Sports Pursuit
Pro: Nice lacing system, beautiful to look at, nice comfortable ride, suitably barefoot, niche running shoes, well built
Con: Not so great as a big distance shoe – lovely sprint shoe though
Distance: 150km (so far)
Value: 8/10 I wear these both as running shoes and day to day shoes as I bought the black ones. Comfortable, inexpensive and nice to sprint in. Well worth £42.00, probably not worth £75.00

The reality is that I remain unconvinced that paying big money for big shoes means you’ll get any better results on the road, the track or the trail. What it does mean is that you’ve spent a lot of money on a pair of shoes. I tend to buy expensive shoes not because they are expensive but because they have a specific fit for me. The Hoka One One for example I own because they have a wide toe box and have helped to reduce the impact of blisters on my feet during ultras. But I’ve made mistakes – I was lured into the Salomon S-Lab Ultra shoes because of the name and now I own a pair of shoes that might occasionally get a 10km trail run rather than the ultras they were supposed to race in. Shoes like the Skora Phase were inexpensive enough and with good enough reviews to warrant taking a punt on something new and actually I really like them and when they pop up in sales I will certainly buy some more. I recall @Cat_Simpson_ saying that she never bought the current seasons shoes as she wanted to let the reviews come out (and presumably see the flaws) before buying. This is very much approach I’ve always adopted also and hence why I rarely pay full price for any shoe and if I do it really has got something special in its box of magic tricks.

But there does appear to be a trend to convincing us, through expensive marketing, about new technology in shoes and how much it will improve our running. Do you remember Nike Shox for example – lauded as the next big thing in training shoes or the the recent bandwagon for barefoot running or technology that springs us forward and returns energy to our bodies? And what do the manufacturers want? They want us to buy them, more often, in more colours – get rid of those old favourites that have been hiding in your cupboard for years because they believe, that you will believe that there is a Usain Bolt inside of you – and that can be brought out with your new runners. Hmph!

As runners we all know that finding a shoe that fits and works is invaluable regardless of the cost, brand, shape or size but there is an ever creeping group of marketeers who are convinced we will pay over £100 for knitted footwear or shoes with springs. Hmmmm, the only shoe I’d pay stupid money for are ones with jet rockets concealed in the soles.

The following articles offer some interesting insights – though of course it isn’t all to be agreed with and neither offer conclusive evidence as to whether we are being over charged by sports companies keen to take advantage of runners as the sport becomes ever more fashionable, but they do offer food for thought.

http://www.scpod.org/foot-health/2013-latest-news/news-archive/expensive-vs-cheap-running-shoes/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/6968891/Why-expensive-trainers-could-be-worse-than-useless.html

Mike O’Neill, podiatric surgeon and spokesman for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists said “it is not the cost of the trainers that is important but the suitability of the trainers. 

How very true!

But we all go into a shop with a closed mind, I know for example that I won’t event try Asics on because my experience of trying them on is that they don’t feel comfortable and I don’t really like New Balance as a brand for the shoes – and I really haven’t tried even a small portion of the options they have available. Plus I know that if my shoes don’t come in some ludicrous colour then I’m not spending my money on them – I will not wear white trainers!!! Therefore, no matter the research or what we are told is probably best for us we all have a pre-determined picture of the shoes we are going to buy (hence why I ended up with a pair of Salomon I’m not that keen on – but love looking at).

The article from The Telegraph goes further and asks about the value of having shoes at all! Well for me I need some running shoes, mainly to stop myself form getting dog poo between my toes – yuck but you catch my meaning. So are we overpaying for shoes? Yes, marketing machines have seen a niche and are exploiting runners, but at the same time we are keen to be exploited with the aim to establish that new PB. How many of us could really go barefoot or buy that pair of Crane or Hi-Tec running shoes that according to Mike O’Neill are no worse than their expensive cousins. The cycle continues and until we are ready to admit we enjoy being conned and having the major manufacturers tell us what is good for us then we can never start down the real road to running glory.

Happy Sunday running guys

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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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Between March 3rd and October 26th 2013 I earned 15 medals, 21 Tshirts and 22 race times. Not quite the 25 I was aiming for in 2013 but it was an injury riddled year. Proud of these races and medals though I am, 2014 is set to be bigger, more challenging and all together nastier. I hope each of my fellow runners takes a little look at their own medal haul tonight and thinks, ‘yep, I’m pretty amazing’. Well done guys

It’s Christmas I hear you cry, it’s that time of year when the whole world kicks back and takes a bit of a break – well not if you are a runner. For me Christmas Day itself is being moved to Boxing Day because of the logistics involved and because my other half is on call that day and I see no sense in trying to have the traditional quiet day when I could be out running. So my festive morning will be spent motoring through the back roads of Kent before taking my new puppy on her first walk outside – exciting times, but enough about my festive plans there are a couple of more exciting things to talk about.

The first is a brief point, as some of you are aware I used to blog under a different name but gave up the blogging after I’d had some unpleasant experiences, in that time one of my very excellent running friends set up the UltraBoyRuns twitter account and also the UltraBoyRuns WordPress blog and for the first few posts he was blogging as me but after a little nudge and a promise that I would maintain a much lower profile I started contributing again, I’ve now taken over both accounts full time now as my very good friend tells me that he’s had enough of pretending to be me (all the superhero business was a bit much). I am in the process of setting up an archive of the older material as I hopefully made some useful points and interesting posts. Anyway basically I just wanted to say thanks for continuing to read my general witterings and it shall be full steam ahead into 2014 as I look to further improve on my race tally.

The second thing is my overview of 2013.

It’s been a really weird year of running – firstly because it didn’t properly get going until my first race of the year which was the White Cliffs 50 in March and finished rather suddenly at the Snowdonia Marathon in October and while there was a huge amount of training involved during the year it felt like a bit of a failure. I failed to run 3000miles, I failed to qualify for the UTMB, I failed to complete the TG100, I failed to put in a sub40 10k this year, I failed to get into the London Marathon. I felt like a year of failure if I look at it like that. However, there is a flip side. I did complete The Wall and the WC50 both in UTMB qualifying times, I did become an outdoor swimmer and complete both the Great North and Great London Swims, I did record another 3 marathon races and added more than 20 medals to my ever growing collection and I did earn enough qualifying points to make an attempt at qualifying for the CCC, the little sister of the UTMB.

It has also been a year of injuries, there was a broken foot, there have been general feet problems, plantar fasciitis, ITB problems of epic proportions and now an ongoing hip and lower back problem – some of which has been caused by over training and continuing to train while I have been injured.

My favourite medal of the year was the Kent Roadrunner Marathon and my favourite race was probably too difficult to choose but The Great North Swim was amazing and so was Rat Races Trailblazer but for sheer determination it would have been the White Cliffs 50. There is something about crossing the line after 54 official miles and nearly 60 not so official miles with a broken foot  having just sprinted the last kilometre in your Vibram FiveFingers

Next year is a year of ultra marathoning and very little else (well maybe a triathlon and a few other smaller bits) but I’m hoping that I’ve learnt from my 2013 experiences and will use these to power myself forward. My new found love of cycling and swimming will surely only enhance my prospects of keeping middle age at bay and there is a positive feeling in the air that next year might be my year.

Good luck for 2014 runners and keep running, keep blogging.

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be back in a bit, have biscuits ready

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