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Time: 8 Hours
Target: 8 Laps

It was about 5.30am, I’d had a lovely big mug of coffee whilst sitting upon the old porcelain throne and yet no matter how much I jiggled and wriggled – nothing would be released. So with much trepidation I rose from my perch and slapped on a handful of lubricant and squeezed it into every crevice before putting on my running kit – for today was Falkirk 8 hour Ultra day.

Surprisingly I’d been quite relaxed about the race as my week had been busy with a disaster situation over Scotland’s status in the European Union and Saturday had brought me the opportunity to go racing with my daughter and also join a pro-independence rally at Holyrood Park. So the reality is that the Falkirk Ultra came as something of a light hearted surprise to my week.

Let me roll back about three weeks to my status as a very unfit, very overweight, very slow runner who was about to attempt Tyndrum 24 (read about it here). While I had very much enjoyed the event I’d also been left feeling a bereft, missing my fitness and my turn of pace but mostly I was missing my ability to endure. I’d run less than 8hrs in good conditions and managed a paltry 30 miles in that time – Falkirk with forecasted cruddy conditions seemed to be headed to an even worse result.

Still with a coffee inside me and dressed for a race I drove the few short miles to the car parking and then grabbed my stuff with the aim to be at the registration tent nice and early. As I ambled through the park I wasn’t quite sure what would greet me outside Callendar House but I hadn’t imagined that an entire race village would be being constructed – yet here it was, being built before my very eyes.

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There were dozens of little tents and shelters going up for groups of clubs and runners and suddenly I realised that there might not be anywhere for the solo entrant to dispense with their stuff, thankfully my fears were unfounded and the registration tent would become the excellent location for drop bags. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I dipped into an empty registration tent at about 6.45am and picked up my bits, including a goody bag. Now normally goody bags are rubbish and when you’ve entered a race that costs £30 you don’t expect much in the way of extras but this was different.

In the paper bag we were given a Tunnocks tea cake, some Brewdog beer but most importantly was a lovely lightweight hoody and a pretty cool buff. I’d requested one of the cowbells too and made an £8 purchase of the race woolly hat. I felt like I was fully loaded on merchandise.

For the next hour I ambled around making a nuisance of myself as runners I knew came in for registration and said hello and had lovely chats with them all. There were a couple of guys from the Tyndrum 24, some local runners that I’ve gotten to know over the past few months and even a few of the Linlithgow Running Buddies that I’d had run with a few times.

The Falkirk Ultra was turning into a bit of an ultra meetup and there is nothing wrong with that.

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As light came the little race village that had been built the atmosphere began to grow and then the music started and the PA system kicked in – all systems started to ramp up and then we heard the announcement that we would be kicking off at 8.15am – so take your place behind the line and get ready to go. Here it was that I ran into Frances and Kieron from the Linlithgow Running Buddies – I felt compelled to complain about his wearing of ‘Shites’ (shorts and tights) but before we could get into the rights and wrongs of it we were off.

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Now for those of us that are local we will have been  well aware that Falkirk had recently enjoyed a healthy dose of rainfall and some snow too – this meant that the course was bound to boggy and with hundreds of runners passing through the route on multiple occasions the surface was going to be churned up extensively. The course itself had undergone some reconfiguration in the days leading up to the race due to the creation of a small temporary duck pond/lake just outside the main house – therefore what the next eight hours looked like were anyone’s guess.

For the first lap I went out pretty hard  – I knew that the aim was to produce 1 lap per hour or thereabouts and if I could add in some contingency while my hip and back were in decent shape then I could slow down later without too much concern about finishing. I put myself in the middle of the pack and gently hunkered down to my race strategy, not keen to chat to anyone on the first lap – I barely acknowledged the wonderful volunteers and marshals that were at regular intervals on the course.

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I ran to the first and only significant climb on the course and for the first lap made great strides up it, I was determined that I would run up this bugger at least once today and I managed that but no more (I promised myself, it hurt far too much) and it was a decision that a number of runners would make.

As I reached the top of the hill I could see ahead of me the ‘shit show of mud’ that awaited us – on a good day with fresh legs or being a good strong runner you’d eat this up but being neither strong or good I was going to struggle through this – and I did. I enjoyed this section of the course, it felt the most ‘trail’ and despite it being a little bit narrow because the mud was so churned up it was still a delight to see it on each and every lap.

In the early laps I could see runners both slow and fast avoiding the worst of the conditions trying to protect their feet but for me I was confident that my combination of Lone Peaks, Drymax socks and Injinji toe liners could easily go through the worst of it and still protect my rather sensitive tootsies. Infact in these early laps as others went around mud I chose to go straight through it and enjoyed it as it the spray attached itself to my legs. I do love it when you’re absolutely coated in mud before you’ve done your first mile and this reminded of running my beloved Vigo Tough Love 10.

As I came out of the mud and back onto the more traditional country park paths I found myself slowing down a little bit, this was harder packed and therefore less good for my old and knackered hips but still very runnable and much more to my tastes than the harder trails of Tyndrum 24. I bumbled along letting runners go past me and occasionally overtaking a runner and soon found myself heading downwards to more enthusiastic volunteers – possibly the most enthusiastic I saw all day, however, at this point I was still on a mission – how fast could I get round that first lap.

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The lap from this point was still headed in a generally downward direction and it was still going through the more heavily wooded area of Callendar Park  – this was rather enjoyable and I was confident that I knew were headed to the turn out of the woods before rejoining the park a bit further down and then along the tarmac back to the start.

Sadly I was only half right.

I was right about the downward curvature back into the park but in the distance I saw a procession of runners heading back to the tarmac via a rather dippy, slippy field and even at this early stage you could see runners pretending to be aeroplanes with arms aloft looking for balance.

I reached the turning back on to the grass and moved slowly down it – this was nasty already and I swiftly sought out a return to what looked like a path. I ran along down into the dip and then climbed back out with all the skill of man with no skill whatsoever. This climb down and the clamber up proved to be some of the most comical viewing during the day and would give you a little smile as you watched runners struggling with it and knowing that you’d shortly be the entertainment for some other poor unfortunate!

But it was soon over and we were back on flat, sensible tarmac… but that was not a good thing. I didn’t yet know it but this section of the route would be the real mental test, every looped race has one, the bit you really hate, the bit that makes you think you should pack it all in and for me it was where you hit the tarmac again until you were back at the checkpoint.

Thankfully the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra had something of an ace up its sleeve and that was the four sets of checkpoint volunteers that saw you through this horrible chore and even on lap one I needed the inspirational words of these lovely people. Ambling alongside the lake for what felt like an age I looked enviously towards the other side of the water to witness runners completing their first lap or in some cases getting well into their second. It wasn’t until I made it to the other side of the lake that I wished I was back on the other side…

Before a single runner had set foot on the checkpoint side of the lake it was already a well churned bog – the runners weren’t going to improve that but it was going to make for an interesting battle between us and sliding feet first in the cold lake just a few feet below us. I crossed the thick oozy mud in good time and propelled myself forward in about 33 minutes but a toilet and food stop made it more like 39 minutes before I set off again.

My stop was probably the longest one I had during the whole event as I’d missed breakfast and wanted to make sure I ate regularly. I chowed down on some kinder chocolate, a couple of delicious Caramel Freddo and a chocolate milkshake before filling up my water with Active Root – damn fine stuff that is, probably stopped me crapping myself!

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I soon returned to the drizzle and the course having removed my long sleeved layer in an attempt to stop me overheating. I am led out waving at those who gave a cheery hello or supportive wave and offered encouragement to those coming in – loops makes it easier to wish people well and you’ll sometimes remember those who, like myself, might benefit from a word or three of encouragement.

My second lap was nowhere near as energetic and the first section of the loop was getting muddier and more treacherous with every step, but this I was enjoying and the volunteers at the bottom of the slope seemed to be having fun with it too (well as much as you can have within health and safety guidelines of getting your runners safely through). I continued to stretch my legs until I reached the bottom of the hill and then my body told me that this was it, each loop was now going to be a case of hanging on and seeing if we could get to the magic 8 loops.

What happened next is a bit of a haze of names, hiking and sheer bloody mindedness. I met Ed a few times who was a lovely runner that was having a bit of a day of it – but actually going really rather well, there was Heather who had this awesome hat on that had a charm almost as big as it’s owner and then there was the lovely Susan who I ran a really brilliant lap with having a lovely chat with.

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The ever amazing Neil passed me a couple of times – always with practical words of encouragement and Fiona 1 and Fiona 2 both gave me lovely supportive boosts as they too saw fit to pass by me. It wasn’t just people I’ve met before though – there was Julie from Strava that turned round in the registration queue to say hello and I ran into a couple of other runners who shouted out, ‘hey are you UltraBoy?’ To which I of course reply, ‘ sort of…’ and I was either known through this blog or Strava.

The Falkirk Ultra really was a running community event.

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However, I did meet one runner that made me laugh every second I was with her and that was Tracy (without an e). I think we were both on lap 5 she was ready to call it a day over an injury concern and I should have been thinking the same thing as my hip and groin were ruined. But some days you meet a person who lifts your spirits enough that you forget about the trauma and you’re reminded that you’re actually going okay.

In the time we ran together I found new energy, I was a bit lighter on my feet and I forget about the previous laps and the tiredness of my legs. I did promise she’d make it into this blog and she makes it in not so much for how brilliant she was (although she was) she makes it in because she said, ‘my mums at the bridge, I’m getting a hug’.

Well that’s a red rag to a bull.

‘I’m getting a cuddle too. What’s your mums name? I’ll ask her does she remember me, dip in for the cuddle and then tell her it was a hot steamy night in ’83 – she had the white wine spritzer and I had the babysham’.

I have no idea what Tracy’s mum must have thought but I hope she understands that what happens at an ultra stays at an ultra (wink, wink – I joke).

Tracy (and mum) were awesome and I am pleased to say that both of us made it back out on another lap.

By lap 7though I was sore, really sore and although I was still well within my strategised time I was hoping the short loop would open soon so I could forget the long loop and I’d probably still reach 50km (a shorter loop opened up at 3pm to allow runners to continue running without forfeiting distance when the bell went for the finish at 4.15pm).

However, I finished lap 7 with about 90 minutes remaining – I felt the need to go and do the big loop one final time – despite having already said most of my thanks to amazing volunteers. It very much felt like the only sensible thing to do… well maybe not sensible but I was doing it anyway.

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So steeled for one final battle I headed out and this time with nobody but myself and the clock to run against I found my second wind and started running up inclines, more fool me of course but I was making a much better fist of lap 8 than I had on a couple of the others.

I danced and twirled my way around the course – daring the mud to take me – daring it to cast me groundwards bit it never did. In truth, despite the conditions I remained sure footed throughout but never more so than now. I battled down the hill to a meeting with ‘The Badger’ (more on him later) and onwards toward the finish – there would be no short loops for me.

As I crossed the tarmac in the distance I could see my daughter waving feverishly toward me, and I to her. I picked up my feet and my pace to continue the illusion that her dad is the worlds greatest runner and as she called out I lifted her high into my arms in a display of muscular movement I did not consider possible.

I stopped for a few moments to talk to her but time was pressing and I wanted to make sure this lap counted and so I waved goodbye to my family, thanking the lovely marshal at the turning point and then I headed for home.

One final lurch across the mud and there I saw the finish and most other runners on the short lap – I didn’t want to limply cross that line – I wished to show my mettle and so with the GingaNinja and ASK at the finish I picked up my feet with 100metres to go and raised hell with a sprint that swerved between the short loop runners and crossed the line in a flurry of my own excitement.

I’d actually done it.

I’d made it.

  • Distance: 3.8mile loop (ish)
  • Ascent: Nothing hideous – just felt it (under 100 metres per lap)
  • Date: February 2020
  • Location: Falkirk
  • Cost: £30
  • Entrants: 350 (inc. relay runners)
  • Terrain: Muddy, undulating
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

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Route
What do you want from your route? A route that will be predictable or one that surprises you? The Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra has something for everyone to love and something to loathe. I loved it for the most part, the mud was challenging, the inclines & the declines were awesome and the tarmac that threaded it together was minimised.

Even with last minute changes to the route this still felt well prepared and overall you’d be silly not to fall in love with this. Obviously I’m a little biased as I live near Falkirk and run often in or around the park but this route took in some fun bits and even in the grey weather we had it’s still a lovely place to run.

The route was incredibly well marked and heavily marshalled but not in an intrusive way, you just felt secure in the knowledge that the race really did have your back.

My hope is that the route recovers quickly from so many runners racing around it so the event is welcomed back next year – this is a great place and a great place to have a route of this nature on. Scotland needs ultra marathons during the winter to support runners like myself and Falkirk will benefit from the goodwill of runners and a deepening reputation as a place where great events can be held (let us not mention Epic from the week before!)

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Organisation
I’ve been to a few races in my time and I’ve seen good and bad organisation but let me assure you that the organisation, preparation and selflessness of the organisers went so far above and beyond any expectations I had.

The organisers deserve a huge amount of credit for producing an event par excellence!

I was impressed by the race village that popped up (which the organisers might not be 100% responsible for but made sure it was sensibly located, etc), facilities such as toilets were excellent, parking was sensible given we, quite rightly, couldn’t use the main facilities at Callendar Park.

Even the organisation of the short loop, the updates for race timings seemed to be so effortless, it was a joy to behold – you, as the runner could simply get on with the business of dying out on the insanely fun course! Of course we all know that only a lot of hard work makes something like this look effortless, so my huge congratulations.

As a solo runner I was also mightily impressed about the way the big registration tent was cleared down and our bags were elevated off the ground to ensure that we had very easy access to our kit and I found myself very happily dipping in their briefly each lap and then coming back out onto the course to be welcomed by the race supporters – it was really nice.

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Value for Money
I normally have to question just how good the value of an event is but I can be effusive in my praise that this is probably the best value race you’ll ever do – £30! Let me put this into perspective – that’s the same as coffee and a toasted sandwich at Starbucks for two – and this race gives you a lot more than any corporate monster will.

Compare this with say the Epic Falkirk race at Callendar Park a few days earlier and you can immediately see the difference.

The route was fun, the time and dedication of the people who put this together was clearly evident. The excellent thought that went into the items in the goody bag was really appreciated and then the bespoke medal – what a corker.

People of Falkirk, people of Scotland, people of the world – this is an amazingly good value event and while I would highly recommend it to all of you could you make sure that I get a place every year as this is my local ultra and I’m going to look forward to it year in, year out!

Volunteers
I promised I would get to ‘The Badger’ and here we are but first I want to say a huge thank you to every single one of the marshalling team, on a cold, wet day at the start of February you stood out and supported hundreds of runners that you probably didn’t know and you gave each and every one of love and encouragement from start to whatever our finish was.

I was particularly fortunate, I got to have cuddles with just about everyone, the lovely ladies who were at the bottom of the hill and gave me both cuddles and the odd kick up the arse. The cowbell ladies who must have had ringing ears by the end of the day and the poor young lady who lost her leopard skin print gloves – amazing. The dancing ladies, the downhill turning point marshals, the chaps as we ran back into the park – all of them had a cheery smile no matter how many times I told terrible jokes.

The guys on the tarmac – couple of lovely beards there (one ginger and one badger), these guys I looked forward to seeing each lap and got lots of big hugs from them. There is something wonderful about drawing big chaps into a cuddle with a fool like me – plus it gives you a lift and hopefully it reminds them just how much they are appreciated.

I’d also like to say thanks to the great ladies who were at the two bridges who accepted my flirtatious charm with all the humour it was intended with.

And then the couple of guys at the run back to the checkpoint, one to advise us to get closer to the water as the ground grew ever more treacherous and one to bang his piece of metal with a drum stick – I may on lap 7 have suggested that I knew were he could put that drumstick… you can guess the rest.

If I missed anyone out, believe me you aren’t forgotten – every marshal and member of the team contributed a massive amount to its success and I am confident all the runners would bow down before your dedication and tenacity. Brilliant, just brilliant.

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Awards
Lovely hoody, lovely buff, Tunnocks teacake and an awesome bespoke medal. Do I need to say anymore? Brilliant

Conclusion
This looped race jumps to the top of the list of my favourite looped races and just a favourite race in general – toppling the Brutal Enduro for loops and I am sure my enthusiasm for this race will live long. If you have never attempted the Falkirk 8 Hour Ultra then you should consider it, if you aren’t an ultra runner then get involved in the relay as that looked incredibly competitive and you could have all the fun without the pain.

As for me, well I had a lot of fun but my hips will pay the price for that fun – they started to feel pretty crappy at about the 25km mark, this though is a significant improvement on the 5 miles they managed at Tyndrum 24. The important thing for me was that I am starting to improve – it’s true I’m still a shit runner but a shit runner that is getting mildly fitter and with that I’ll hope to improve pace and distance.

I went into the Falkirk Ultra with no expectations but hopes that I would make this my 53rd ultra finish and I managed that – it might have been at the bottom end of the ultra distances but after a rubbish 2019 of running I’m pleased with the way this weekend went. I can now go to the F50K with a bit more confidence (just need to learn to navigate).

Ultimately what can I say other than this was stunning and I hope to see you all next year for a few extra laps.

Related

It’s such a cool experience being on the supporting side of a race that I don’t know I haven’t done more of it! ASK and I love shouting, ‘hurry up mummy, we’re cold!’ as incentive to the GingaNinja to get round a bit quicker.

This weekend the Team UltraBoy found themselves at Alice Holt near Guildford for one of the self proclaimed ‘Brutal Runs’. A 5km bimble through some pretty nasty boggy trails and waist high waters. Having recently passed my driving test I decided that I’d do the driving to the event and try and experience what my OH describes as the slightly dull task of being chauffeur and main cheerleader. However, I found the drive to Alice Holt rather pleasant and we parked up nice and early so a toilet stop could be had and a bit of a warm up.

ASK and I ran round the muddy fields, through some of the trails on the Unirider – for a bit of a laugh – spraying muck all over ourselves and found a playground to play on. The GingaNinja meanwhile had collected her number and was waiting for the start.

At about 11, post warm up we all headed to the start line. ASK and I ran to the bottom of the starting hill to get a few photographs. Then they were off. BOOM – 120 women ran past us and as the ginger one ran past us our daughter shouted out with all she could muster, ‘run mummy run, run faster!’. With the race now we’ll underway the child and I jumped beck on the Unirider and headed off into the mud and to find a suitable waiting location.

We took up residence at the 4km marker where we had a clear sight of the runners coming towards us and we could holler support for several hundred metres. It was here I met Joe, from Bournemouth with whom I had a delightful chat about parenting, running , eventing and a life outdoors – he too was awaiting his partner but we took it upon ourselves to cheer the runners as they came round.

With his other half having passed by he made his way back to the start and we were left to await the arrival of the GingaNinja and we were soon rewarded when I saw her in the distance. I told ASK I’d seen mummy and before the sentence was finished she was already shouting, ‘I can see you, come on mummy!’

She looked in surprisingly good form and cleaner than I imagined she would look as she passed by with less than a kilometre to go. There was lots of waving and cheering from us before we got back on the Unirider and thundered after her. The final ascent was tough going but the runners were pushing themselves and the GingaNinja hurled herself to the top. At the final turn there was a nasty final dip into the waist high water which I didn’t fancy with the child so we flew down the trail to find a shallower crossing and although we managed it we missed the finish at the line by seconds!

However, many hugs were awarded to the quite stinky GingaNinja who really had earned them. Well done.

As for the event, I’d recommended the Brutal Run as I had so enjoyed the Brutal Enduro a year or two back and this event proved just as well organised, just as well supported and just as brutal. The organisers should be very pleased with the events that they put on and the medals are wonderful.

Keep up the good work guys.


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

Ed Catmur you say? was my reply to the tenacious Sasha…Well I’ll be honest at that point I shit myself but it wasn’t the first time that had happened across a series of recent events.


But let’s roll back a little bit. July 19th and there’s a rap on the door, it’s 8.30am – ‘stick the kettle on son’. It was Pops arriving in sunny Kent to do a bit of babysitting while UltraBoy dusted off the wetsuit and swam the Great London Swim. After a bit of a catch up we headed off to the train station and meandered towards the ‘swim village’. Getting to the Millwall docks was no easy feat with all the improvement work going on there and with a buggy it was remarkably slow progress but we finally cracked the nut and in font of us we saw a succession of Great Swim signage.


We ambled around the start line for a while watching a couple of waves hitting the water and saw that the waves of people entering the dock were rather smaller than I remembered from 2013. I spoke to a chap who had clearly just finished and he confirmed that the earlier waves had been much fuller but that the afternoon had been rather quiet. ‘Bugger’ I decided to head up to the finishing area and see if is was any busier and thankfully there was more happening and swimmers were bimbling about in their wetsuits or stripping themselves out of wetsuits. I sat down on one of the public benches outside the main arena and already having my swimming shorts on simply stripped off and jumped into my wetsuit (using my newly acquired knowledge of putting a carrier bag over my hands and feet to make getting into the wetsuit so much easier).

At this point my dad, UltraBaby and I headed to the start line but here my family rather than aiding me with my nerves got rather over-excited by the appearance of Brendan Foster, former champion middle distance runner! My dad became giddy with joy and started discussing running and swimming with him – he was a warm and genuine gentleman though and it was lovely to meet him – I just wish it hadn’t been while I was sweating in a wetsuit. I left my dad to his hero worship and entered the acclimatisation area in the water, the water was warm and pleasant and nothing like the last time I had done open water swimming, the concern was that the field of swimmers numbered about 20 and I was going to be slow as I had completed about 20 lengths of a pool since UltraBaby arrived. This mile of open water swimming was looking like an increasingly stupid idea.

Still I did the warm up, abandoned all ideas of pulling out and when the klaxon fired I ran to the water – leaping in and I put on my best ‘freestyle’ swim stroke – that lasted all of 50 metres and I began breast stroking my way to the finish line. Here it got both brilliant and crappy – the water was pleasant, the view was interesting and I’d picked up ‘Bridget’ on the safety boat as my conversational aid. This was the best and worst bit of my day – I was at the back and didn’t have the resources to catch the swimmers in front of me. Less than 200 metres I made the sensible call to adjust my targets. ‘So Bridget, success today is a) finishing and b) not needing to hold onto your kayak’ and then we chatted all the way round and thankfully she was a brilliant and lovely woman.

Without her and that awesome sense of humour I doubt I’d have made it but with the safety boat always within earshot I was able to push on even when the waters were against me.  I was now about 1000metres in and I spotted my dad and UltraBaby on the dockside, they both waved enthusiastically and while my dad was more interested in chatting to the ‘lovely ladies’ he did get me a cheering parade all the way back and I could hear my name being called from far and wide.

With 50 metres to go Bridget and I parted ways – she had seen me safely home and all that remained was for me to haul myself up on to the ramp. I ran up to the chip timing station, waving at ‘my adoring crowd’, as quickly as my weary legs would carry me and thanked the lovely volunteers for their efforts.

There was little more to do now other than collect my medal and shower and as ever the guys at the Great Series had a nice medal and a decent T-shirt. What was missing was my own personal sense of elation, I was tired, I was sore and I’d been last in my wave – but with no training and bad prep what more could I have expected. Thankfully the Great Series of events really is well suited to the novice/under trained as it is to the elite athlete and the amount of safety crew about was s testament to the care they show to their entrants.  I’ll be back for a fourth Great Swim next year because it’s a great event and I might even add in the Great Newham 10km which is where we are headed next…


Pops hadn’t just come down to the South East for a bit of gentle babysitting, no, he’d also come down to run the Great Newham 10km. To add a bit of history to this my dad raced at the Olympic Stadium at one of their 2012 pre games test events and to this day says he beat Usain Bolt by three months (the old ones are the best ones). Now it was 2015 and three years later – a lot has happened in that time, some good things, some bad but Pops wanted to run this one in sight of his granddaughter – UltraBaby. We set off nice and early and arrived at the Olympic Park with both time to spare and time to take some souvenir pictures, especially as both of us were proudly wearing our Virtual Runner UK shirts. As we meandered down to the starting area a voice called out to my dad ‘what are you doing here?’ In typical fashion my dad saw someone he knew – another runner and we all ambled down together to the main thrust of the event, chatting merrily about the run.

‘Tea?’ I offered ‘sun cream?’
‘Both’ was the reply.

It was a hot, sunny day and the start was still an hour away, we mooched around the Start Fitness store, bought a few bits and grabbed as much free lucozade, water and other goodies as our little hands could carry (it was a warm day after all). As the clock ticked down my dad headed to his wave (as he described it ‘the slow wave’). Thousands of runners lined up waiting for their final instructions, words of wisdom from my dads new best pal Brendan Foster rang out over the PA system and Paula Radcliffe offered some encouragement to those about to race BackToTheStadium.  UltraBaby and I ran up and down the crowds in the buggy grabbing photographs and eventually waved a cheery goodbye to Pops as we stationed ourselves about 200metres beyond the start line.

And then it all went off – runners flying towards us – thousands of them in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. I stood with my camera poised to grab the snapshot of my dad coming through but there was no sign, more runners came through and then more – still no sign. Suddenly in the distance I could see him wandering through – running gently behind a very attractive young lady and his eyes firmly cemented around her bum – it seems he’d found his inspiration to complete the distance. With Pops having passed us by we headed straight to the stadium to soak in the atmosphere. We were politely if inefficiently sent to the ‘buggy park’ were UltraBaby and I deposited the UltraMobile Mk II and then we went off to find our seat. We were housed near the runners entrance into the stadium and either side of us were the big screens displaying the runners names. Pops have indicated that he’d like a photograph of his name in lights – as the chaps back home would never believe him.

With baby on one knee and DSLR and giant zoom lense on the other we waited patiently. To fill our time UltraBaby and I tweeted several photographs under the hashtag #BackToTheStadium and sure even the dinosaur clad child appeared giant size on the screens around the stadium but with the race reaching the hour mark we needed to concentrate and wait for Pops. The problem now was that despite all the noise and the general hoopla – El Babio had fallen asleep on my arm and was resting like a dead weight on me.

Bugger. Still she wasn’t going to miss her Pops arrival into the stadium and when he came thundering around the corner I pulled up the camera – grabbed the shot of the big screen, woke up UltraBaby to join in with cheering and then photographed him ambling round the track to the adulation bring thrust upon all the awesome runners. UltraBaby went straight back to sleep. My dad collected his medal and joined me for a little bit atmosphere soaking and he described it as a fun and enjoyable race. It was well organised and well supported and he felt this was a good bookend to his ‘Olympic Park’ running career. I know there was some criticism (especially from long distance runners) that the course was a bit boring but it seemed that mostly people enjoyed it and especially the spectacle of coming into the Olympic Stadium – as Pops said ‘what a feeling, what a roar!’

He may well be back.

Thankfully this was not the end of July running – far from it – there was the little matter of the inaugural Twilight Ultra. The GingaNinja had already advised that I’d be out on my own for this one (especially in terms of getting there) but given the track nature of the event I felt this was a decent final event as I wait for the start of the CCC and so I signed up.

I headed out to Hainault nice and early with the intention of grabbing some supplies and breakfast and then meandering to the start line. However, a succession of train delays and a lack of suitable shops meant I arrived at the Redbridge Cycle Track having not eaten and with only a Cadburys fudge for company. I grabbed a cuppa from the track reception and then signed in. Martin from Nice Work (the organisers) greeted is warmly and advised there was a starting line of 12. Not a great number but substantial enough to make it a bit competitive. We were walked out to the start line of the course as 10am closed in on us and advised that the aid station at the start of each of our 31.5 laps would do there very best to get us whatever we required to finish the race and simply let them know and they’d arrange it for your next lap (a nice little extra I thought).

As the horn was fired to denote the start I saw the blazing sun rising higher and higher and wished I’d been more sensible and used sun cream but I hadn’t and by Sunday I was looking like a well cooked Lobster. I was running with Toby at the beginning and we got to know lots of stuff about each other – we’d never met at any race and had very differing experiences but he was a great runner and we powered well around the course together. At this point we were jostling between third and fourth place behind Ed Catmur who managed to lap us before our third running of the track (what a runner)!

The course itself was basically 0.8km downhill 0.5km flat and 0.8km bitchy uphill with some horrid switchbacks thrown in for good measure – if you followed the running line – I wasn’t quite so good at following the run line and managed to add a couple of extra miles but nothing significant. The real challenge for this was going to be securing your knees on the fast downhill and getting up the hill as fast as you could. Some of the runners described the surroundings as a bit dull but actually I found it an engaging, interesting and pleasantly difficult course with the added bonus of being able to see your fellow runners doing their thing. By lap 10 I was speed walking the top half of the hill and it was proving a mental drain knowing you would have to face it again. But interestingly by lap 10 the marathon runners were ready to join us and this made for a greater degree of enjoyment, it was also an opportunity to final meet the truly awesome Karen Summerville who was taking part in a weekend marathon double.  At about lap 3 I was feeling a little queasy from a combination of heat and a lack of food and I decided that I need to solve my problem quickly. The food selection was decent and I chowed down on a couple of oranges for the juice and kept pouring water over my head and soaking my new ‘Anton’ buff but I needed something else ‘Tea please’ As of lap 4 I drank a cup of tea every lap – much to amusement of the awesome volunteers and spectators but this kept my race alive as I simply couldn’t eat anything solid.

The real problems came mid race though, I turned my ankle at lap 14 and this was quite unpleasant to run on, slowing me much more than I had hoped it would. There was also the added distraction of the queasiness I had felt earlier in the race which, upon returning, made me feel incredibly sick for a few laps near the 30 mile point but thankfully I shot through both of these with some deep breathing, clear thinking and bloody mindedness.  As I was entering the final few laps we were joined by throngs of half marathoners, who all looked fresh and fast, but they soon slowed in sight of that bloody ascent! The arrival of fresh legs gave both the ultra runners and marathoners a bit of a lift and we all pressed that little bit harder for a while. I caught Toby up a bit and we ran together again for a while as he’d had a few rough and ready laps but was looking composed and in good shape.

At lap 26 I called for a change of liquid and requested a chicken cupasoup – which may well have been the stomach settler I needed because I hit the next lap faster and better than I’d run much of the previous few and from here I knew the finish line was infront of me. Soon I would witness Jools and Toby both finish and I wasn’t a million miles behind but as I entered the final lap I gave it some proper welly – even running the final ascent and offering up a sprint finish to cross the line. I quickly grabbed my medal and technical t-shirt (both of which were pretty good) and offered my unending thanks to most of the marshalling and medical team – all of whom had made my finish possible. I even got a little wave from UltraBaby as she had arrived just in time to see me complete the last few laps.

Now a few days later – the ankle is slowly healing and I’m feeling more prepared for the CCC and although I’m underprepared and still not quite right in the glutes I’ll arrive in France with decent self belief.  These three races (and Bewl) have fuelled my desire to do well in my first attempt at an ultra on foreign soil. And thanks to a series of well organised events with lovely atmospheres I go in with a big dollop of positivity. If you get a chance do look up Nice Work  they run races all over the UK and they are beautifully low key, local and fun races and of course if you fancy dipping your toe into swimming I can’t recommend the Great Swim series highly enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phone away, off we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done chaps and well done @hitmanharris for persevering.

 

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Amazingly this was ultra number 6 for me, I’ve now got more ultra marathon medals than I have marathon medals – that to me seems a little bit crazy. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the SDW50 and am looking forward to tackling it again but this was a real beast of a course over some challenging terrain but enjoyable conditions.

Anyway, as is often my way, let’s roll back a few days to incidents that I have no control over and that most certainly had a detrimental effect on my race day face! On Monday of race week it turns out that my grandmother (whom I’ve written about before) took a reasonably serious tumble in her home, breaking her ankle and injuring other bits of herself as she went down. It was a hospital trip and then a hospital stay, even as I write this she’s there – and miserable about it.

What this meant was a lot of preparation. I squeezed all the work in the universe into a couple of days, managed to get a work laptop for designing on the go, advised my pregnant partner that I’d be away but be back in time for her hospital appointment on the Friday afternoon, slipped in a desperate appointment with the physiotherapist to try and fix my knackered hips, kit check with Mick (more about that running legend later) and even fit in a last minute race to Waterstones to pick up a couple of maps that were needed just in case kit checks were very thorough. This was then all topped off by my partner being on call until 1am in the morning on race day and me not finishing my kit packing until well beyond this time with a 5am start – let’s be honest this wouldn’t qualify as the best of race day preparation. This all meant that by 5am on Saturday April 5th I was pretty much over the race and fancied DNSing for the first time.

However…

At about 5.03am I stepped into the shower and allowed the hot pillows of water splash over my exhausted body and for the first time in days I looked over towards the mirror and I stared ahead and said to myself ‘you are an ultra runner’. I dried quickly but thoroughly, added in a copious (but as I would discover later, still insufficient) amount of Vaseline to those areas most affected by chaffing and then grabbed my kit from the top of the stairs, stroking my previous race medals as I went past for good luck.

My race preparation usually means that I get dressed in the dining room – this is where the remainder of my kit is usually laid out and also it stops me disturbing the rest of the house. Kit is now pretty settled thankfully, Ronhill VIzion LS top, my much loved tech shirt from the Snowdonia Marathon, 0.5 OMM flash tights, CompressSport Calfguards, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Drymax socks and my still beautiful Hoka Stinson Evo all topped off with my Buff and sunglasses (just incase) – I’ve still never quite managed to fix the underwear problem but I live in hope that I come up with a solution soon.

With this done I scoffed a bit of Soreen, had a big cup of tea and even a couple of those kids yogurts, a breakfast of champions I hear you cry. Not really but I’m not sure I’ve prepared well for an ultra marathon ever – though I am trying to amend some of my poorer habits.

With all of this done I said goodbye to the GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraHound who were staying in bed to recover from a challenging week and then I headed off to see Mick who would also be running the race as well as supplying the transport to the start line. I arrived at his house, feeling surprisingly perky, said hello to Nicola his wife and met his in-laws who were joining us for the journey to the start line.

It was a thankfully uneventful journey to the start line and as we approached the parking area I could see @abradypus in the distance – sadly she failed to notice me, but it was nice to see a smiling face so early in the morning and as we arrived at the main registration area with just an hour to go to the start everything had a wonderful air of calm about it. I suppose that is the benefit of going to an event that has such a distinguished, even if short history – you got the feeling that they really knew what they were doing.

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So a quick kit check, followed by the collection of my ‘chip’ to get my number and within a couple of minutes I was done and ready to go. Mick wasn’t far behind and we drifted over to the excellent changing facilities, what was a college or school on the field changing room with little benches that reminded you of being 14 again.

I was already changed so I used this an opportunity to tidy up my bag after the kit check, have some Lucozade sport, clip on my number and chat to a couple of the other runners. Strangely nerves had pretty much deserted me, which given my level of preparation and on reflection was a bit of mistake.

We were thankfully early enough to have nice and easy access to the toilets and after a few minutes we were simply stood around basking in the ultra indulgent atmosphere of the beautiful Worthing morning. We were soon joined by running and Twitter royalty @abradypus and @cat_simpson_ and also @annemarieruns who I had originally met at the White Cliffs 50 just over a year ago – again more running royalty. I introduced Mick who was at SDW50 losing his ultra cherry and suddenly it went from pleasant to having that carnival feel. The whole Centurion atmosphere that everyone raves about kicked in and you really were being pulled along by it.

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With mere minutes to go we hurled our bags into the van for delivery to the finish line and then strolled over to the start. I’ll be honest I didn’t take a lot of notice of the safety briefing as I was too busy chatting to Mick and Anne-Marie but it all seemed pretty straight forward and then it all happened in slow motion – the start.

I started moving forward rather gently and within a few seconds I found myself setting off in the traditionally too fast manner that has been the cornerstone of almost every race I have ever done but regardless at the first corner I saw @cat_simpson_ thundering past me and what a sight she is to behold in full flight! However, ultras are very much about your individual challenge and I had originally said that if I could come in with a finish that started 10hrs … something then I would be pretty happy.

The first few miles I was finding reasonably difficult and as I stormed up the first hill I could already feel my hips, additionally the uneven ground was a challenge even in my Hoka. The good news was that it was pretty dry and actually within a couple of miles the sun had really come out and I was forced into my first of many changes which was the removal of my under shirt.

I slipped my shirt off, attached it to the back of my Ultimate Directions and then quickly set of again, this time with Mick who had caught me up. Suddenly from behind came a runner – at sprint pace – to hand me back my sunglasses that I had thrown away rather recklessly on the course. Grateful, I thanked him for his sprint and carried on – Mick and I joking that the chaps sprint might well cost him dearly later!

The next few miles passed by pleasantly and with a nice troupe of runners both in front and behind I progressed at a steady but reasonably sedate pace. I had eased myself into the race, become familiar with the terrain and was feeling pretty good as we dipped down a rutted path about 6 miles in, my legs were feeling fresh at this point and as we headed across the first of many rolling hills I finally started to understand the enormity of the task ahead – because in the distance lay hill, after hill, after monstrous hill.

Mick and I caught up with one another again and at this point I had to confess that there was going to be need of a Paula Radcliffe moment and I was forced to abandon my comrade and seek shelter in the bushes just before checkpoint 1. However, there was a hiking group just across from me and I felt rather ashamed to ‘Paula’ all over their hiking destination and therefore I made haste for the checkpoint and filled up on the goodies that the amazing Centurion volunteers offered. It is quite possible that I guzzled down about a litre of Coca Cola on my own but feeling refreshed I set off again at a bit of canter.

From here we were marshalled across a busy road and onto the next of our many climbs, we came to the top and once we had headed out alone the road I decided I would once again try and stop and deliver ‘paula’ which was becoming an increasing burden and I was confident that my ‘paula’ need was affecting the way I was running and therefore no good for my hips. However, once again I was thwarted by a lack of sufficient cover and therefore I rolled back up my 0.5 OMM Flash tights and continued onwards where much to my surprise the lovely @abradypus caught me up.

I ran with her for a few minutes but the problems I was facing and her overall pace meant that there was no way I could manage to keep up at that time – if I was lucky I might catch her later but there was the ‘paula’ issue to deal with. The last time I saw @abradypus she was thundering past her pinked topped nemesis and she looked like she had a lot of energy in the tank, so much so that not only did she dip in below 10hrs at the finish but she overtook both Mick and Anne-Marie on her way to South Downs Way success! Huge congratulations to her!

Anyway, after the next major hill climb I finally found some respite in the form of some thorny bushes that straddled a road and here I hid for a few moments checking that runners were not going to be alarmed by the sight of a 36 year old man trying to recreate a moment that simply shouldn’t be recreated. Anyway having achieved a measure of success I hit the trail again and this was were I would meet Sue.

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Sue, I am sure wouldn’t mind me sharing that she was a 61 year old ultra runner and an amazing lady with lots of energy and a nice zippy style that put my old hips to shame. We chatted for a few minutes and realised that we were gong at roughly the same pace and ended up progressing through the miles together. We chatted about lots of things including Springer Spaniels, Greyhounds, our respective partners, races, etc. And actually this partnership proved crucial I think for both of us for quite a long time. When I was struggling up a hill, she would put out a cheery little something and vice versa, it became like a mutual appreciation club but I was fully aware that with the way that my hips were feeling I would need the company for as long as possible.

Sue and I continued climbing the hills and making progress through the field, so much so that we actually passed people we thought would have had a much better chance, of a much better time than we were aiming for. Still we had a plan and the plan was a good one – sub 11 hours. We picked up a couple of other runners on the route and as we passed into third checkpoint we were in remarkably good cheer and my thoughts of handing in my number had disappeared. And so we ambled onwards and the next few miles meandered past us like an old friend – or perhaps more akin to the miles already achieved!

The volunteers at the fourth checkpoint and just beyond the 33 mile point were wearing sombreros and handing out both excellent advice and delicious snacks. The route from here looked a little ominous though but it was met with a happy heart and the little team we had amassed spread themselves out a little bit and trudged up the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse either of the summit or of the crew at the bottom of the hill. After ten minutes of straight climbing we could see neither the top nor could we see the volunteers and crew at the bottom and so, still laughing and joking at our good fortune to be out on these wonderful hills we pressed on.

At this point @ultrarunnerdan who had been stalking us for some time finally joined the group and being a veteran of the SDW100 gave us some excellent advice about what was upcoming (even though he lied about the severity of what was to come) and together we ambled in and out of each other’s company. It was here as the group had spread itself out that tragedy on the course almost caught me out.

I had been bumbling along at my own little pace, Sue had decided to push forward a little bit without me and @ultrarunnerdan was a few hundred metres behind me and I decided then to give a little sprint to allow my legs a slightly different movement. I was going pretty well for a guy with no hips left and I was keen to give the good looking girl, holding the gate open a show to remember …and then I did.

As I passed the gate, flashing my winning smile I caught my Hoka on a rock and tripped and was sent sprawling. I managed to stay upright long enough to get my hands in front of me – but it was too late, the damage was done. I had twisted one ankle, bloodied the other – though I wouldn’t know about the blood until nearly midnight. I picked myself up and in the haze of pain and shock I simply started running, telling Sue that we’d never make the 11hr finish time if we stopped now. Progress was steady but I was in pain and again the thoughts of DNF came to the forefront of my mind! I urged Sue to push on with Annalise (spelling?) a very nice Swiss lady who we had met earlier in the race and adopted into our little posse, but we all remained together for the most part. What could have proved to be the end of the race for me proved to be the point I managed to pull myself together and head into the next checkpoint taking over Annalise, Sue and even @ultrarunnerdan who exclaimed ‘here he comes’ as I thundered past him and into the hall, almost blasting straight past it.

‘Milky coffee,’ I called, ‘you lot are my favourite checkpoint since the last one’

I slurped down my coffee and in marched Sue … ‘4 minutes 37 seconds’ I exclaimed. We knew if we left this checkpoint with 2hrs remaining we would probably make the 11hrs. Sue drank her coffee quickly and we stepped outside – there we the noted the patter of the rain on our skin and decided this was the point to whip out our waterproofs. Now fully waterproofed the three of us set out in search of @ultrarunnerdan, we once again hit the ground running and finally the urgency of the run became apparent, we could finish this in time, we could finish this in the light, we could finish this.

The three of us headed up another killer hill and the grounds remained this rather difficult stony affair that offer respite to our feet and here on the difficult terrain the combination of my hips and my ankles meant that Sue and Annalise were finally pulling away from me and I urged them forward, knowing that my sub11 was now quickly fading away. I took a cursory glance down to my Suunto and saw that I was still 10km from the finish and had less than an hour to go. Yes I was going to get a medal but it wasn’t a medal I would ever look at with pride.

However, with a thrust of guts and determination on the downhill into the churchyard I was cheered in by a combination of locals and volunteers and there were Sue and Annalise – I had caught them.

I had a sip of coffee and no food

‘Are you okay?’ Sue inquired rather urgently
‘Yes, now move, let’s go’ came my rather gruff and dogged response.

I bounced down the stairs out of the aid station and never looked back, my ultra running colleagues were now behind me and I pushed quickly up the final ascent, infact it was some of the quickest movement I had managed for several hours. Yes my ankles were on fire and my hips resided at checkpoint 3 but I really didn’t give a flying fuck about any of that. I could smell the finish line. Annalise briefly powered past me but in the descent I knew that I would be more surefooted and I thundered down the hill in a positive and yet controlled manner – a fall here would bring the race to its conclusion a mile or so too early and so I made sure that every step was the right step.

The runner I was then shadowing soon hit the tarmac and we were finally in Eastbourne, ‘goodbye runner, I’m having you’ were my thoughts as I pushed through the roads of Eastbourne. Now following my Suunto very closely for signs that the course as coming to end I kept seeing floodlights and feeling that we must finally be there, but the end never seemed to appear.

10.49.59 was the time on my watch and I passed the final corner – another runner in my sights, boom, caught, onwards. Words of encouragement wee raging around my head and I threw out equally encouraging words with gay abandon. There was the sports centre, there was the track, there were the floodlights – follow the lights.

Boom

I could hear the cheer of the assembled group. @abradypus claimed that she thought it must be someone else by virtue of the fact that I was still running at all, but the watch said 10.56.33 and I wanted a 10.57.something time (watch not gun time). And on the final bend I gave it everything, every last ounce of strength that remained to me was thrown into the last 75metres and I crossed the line – more joyous than you can probably imagine.

At the finish line there was @abradypus whom I must sincerely apologise to for probably being incredibly rude. It was that moment when you finish a race and you just can’t see straight anymore and there was all the pain I was in and I just didn’t give the right response. I did of course go for sweaty man hugs later but still it never hurts to say you’re sorry.

A minute or so ahead of me @annemarieruns completed the race and I caught up with her as she prepared to eat some of the most delicious chilli available, she was all set to be running the Brighton Marathon about 12hrs later! Legend! Sue, Annalise and @ultrarunnerdan came in shortly after me and completed the final stage in stunning times. I know for certain that I finished under 11hours and I’m confident most of them did too for which I’m really happy.

So that was the experience but what about my opinions?

Race and Course
I don’t think that anybody could fault the race or the course, it was tough, it was challenging and it was ultra. The South Downs Way is a hard packed course and offers little respite on the feet. The runners I met who were wearing Hoka One One tended to be grateful and those in more minimal shoes such as the Salomon Sense Ultra said they were feeling the fatigue being caused on their feet by the course. I would highly recommend running the South Downs Way at any time of year but it is very exposed to the elements – so do be careful. The route also benefit from not being closed and therefore we, as a running group, were able to converse and be supported by the cyclist, horse riders and hikers who were out and about. 10/10

Support
The support was pretty minimal in terms of on the course support and often inaccessible to friends and family who might want to follow you around, with the exception obviously of those people braving the elements of the South Downs Way. The many smiles and cheers we received were much appreciated. The support at the aid stations though was simply fantastically 100% and it was my pleasure to offer at the bare minimum a smile as we passed through and the odd bit of flirting if I had the energy. 9/10

Aid Stations
The aid stations were all well stocked and well manned, the volunteers and Centurions themselves provided excellent checkpoint help. The food was generally of a very high quality although there was a lack of diversity in the savoury options and I struggled to find things I liked (perhaps I missed the chicken nuggets found on the St. Peter’s Way). However, that said I didn’t struggle to fill up and the biscuits and cake at Checkpoints 1 and 3 were particular highlights with the addition of coffee at the last couple of checkpoints a real lifesaver – the Centurions really know how to put a spread together. A word should go to the volunteers and crews also, they were 100% amazing and without them things like this would be impossible and we were all so grateful. 9/10 (10/10 for the crews)

Value for Money
As with the course and so many of the elements of the SDW50 you really can’t fault the guys, not one iota. And in the value for money department this is a race that delivers in spades. At £65 you are almost the same price as the Run to the Beat half marathon or the Royal Parks Half and what do you get for your money? Signage, support, an excellent well labelled supporting website, goodies and best of all an experience you will never ever forget. I even think there might have been showers at the end, but I was too busy trying to find trains to care about being clean. 10/10

Medal and Goodies
The medal is brilliant – not as blingtastic as say The Wall or as rich in heritage as perhaps The St Peter’s Way but it has a beautiful charm of its own and more importantly, as a young boy pointed out, it has a sword on it. The medal and the T-shirt were both very understated and I really liked that and will be wearing both to my next fancy dress party, where with mock indifference I shall wear both and tell people I’m a Centurion. 9/10

Conditions
The conditions on the course were excellent and the guys had clearly worked their magic to neither bring too much sun or leave it at home. I can’t score this, they don’t control the weather

Live Tracking
The live tracking was a bit of a bag of uselessness, it didn’t kick in until beyond the halfway point and then only once before the finish – but on the plus side they did attempt live tracking and I am sure this was simply a minor technical hitch. 4/10

Navigation
The navigation was faultless, I really didn’t need a map, compass or infact the GPS file on my Ambit 2 – brilliant marking 10/10

Conclusions
This is a bit of a strange one, despite everything, despite it being absolutely brilliant, it still wasn’t my very favourite ultra – that honour still rests with the St. Peter’s Way but the SDW50 is an outstanding course with outstanding levels of organisation and if you are an ultra runner I would urge you to try it. This felt like a labour of love for the guys who organised it and if they can retain that feeling going forward then they will have one of the best events in the ultra calendar. I’m very much looking forward to both the NDW100 and the Winter100 with these guys because I have the confidence in the team that they won’t let me down and all I need to do is not let myself down.

I learnt a lot of lessons as well on the course – the first was more hill work, more sprint work and more everything. The next thing was that I should try and prepare better for big races because when you have a crappy week in the run up then it shows on race day. But the most important thing I learnt is that you should never, ever forget to put a shedload of vaseline on your nether regions unless you want your balls to looks like a pepperoni pizza. 9/10

And on that note, happy running guys and thank you Centurions

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Country to Capital
Valentines Challenge
Virtual Runner RunChatUK 10km
St Peter’s Way Ultra
VirtualRunner March 10km
Sidcup 10
VirtualRunnerUK Sport Relief Triathlon
Tough15

The year is sixteen weeks old(ish) and I’ve already managed to amass ten new medals and two new event T-Shirts plus there are at least ten more races I’m involved in before the end of the year – five of which are upcoming in the next month:

South Downs Way 50
We Never Walked Alone 96
VirtualRunnerUK April 10km
VirtualRunnerUK April 5km
National 100km

Can I break my annual return on medals which currently stands at 25? At this rate yes but I’ll need some shorter distances and even more importantly I’m going to have to start planning my winter 2014 and 2015 races – especially with the arrival of UltraBaby on the horizon.

So to all of us happy planning and even happier running 🙂

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I’ve been racing quite a lot since the turn of the year and this has been helped by my participation in the VirtualRunnerUK events. I was incredibly pleased to see that they had decided to run a Sport Relief event as it made sense that we might all fancy a bit of a go at something different and so a few days before the Sport Relief weekend the entries opened for an any distance and time event in cycling, swimming and of course running.

Sat in the comfort of my armchair I mused to myself about the fun I could have doing all three and in no time at all I was signing up to the swim, then I was signing up to the cycle and finally the run. It was then that it occurred to me that I could turn this into a personal triathlon and so I set about planning a route where I could minimise the transitions – because the swim section would realistically have to be in a pool. I planned it to be a cycle followed by a run and finished with a swim.

What actually happened was this

On the Friday – the first day of Sport Relief, and the night of the televised event , I went out and did a light 10km, this was unintentional but it served the purpose of completing the run section if I didn’t manage to do anything else. The reason I was worried was that my OHs mother was visiting and this meant that there would be non sporting activities that I might have to engage in – meh.

However, I revised my plan so that everything could be completed on the Sunday morning – nice and early and with a shunt in the running order. My VirtualTriathlon would be a 5km cycle, 500metre swim and finished with a 5km run (although there was a second 5km bike ride to allow me to get home from the pool). The first part was the 5km cycle, I span out of the house and hit the road – pushing my bike as hard as I can manage, which to be perfectly honest isn’t that hard and I did the hilly ride in about 16 minutes. It wasn’t anything spectacular but I was saving myself for the swim section which I knew would be the hardest part for me. The transition from cycle to pool was just under 8 minutes, which I didn’t think was that bad considering I needed to lock the bike up, get entry to the pool and change.

I hurled myself into the pool and began swimming the 25metre lengths, struggling as always when I’m in the water. I was alternating between freestyle and breast stroke as I’m not strong enough as a freestyler to do the 500 metres. So with all the energy I could muster I powered up and down, over and over again – so much so that I lost count of my lengths and therefore ended up doing about 625metres, although the Suunto can’t be considered definitive in its accuracy in the pool and it was probably more like 500metres. However I powered though the distance in just over 13 minutes and even with the time consuming transition I was still in good form. As I was swimming I made the decision to dry as little as possible out of the pool and throw on my running gear and thunder out of the leisure centre – leaving behind my bike kit which I would pick up later. This method meant I was held up for less than 10 minutes between getting out of the pool and starting the run.

Straight out of the door from the centre I knew a slowish route up a hill and back again. It was at this point that I could feel the hunger I normally associate with about mile 18 of a marathon and I had neither food nor water on me. Hmmm, this was difficult but I wasn’t likely to stop now and in reality I was flying.

Bang, kilometre 1 gone, bang kilometre 2 gone – I was expecting my feet or my back or my hips to suddenly implode and I’d need to use my Friday night 10km as my run distance. Thankfully kilometre 3 and 4 ebbed away into the ether and I was on the return to my bike and other kit. Sadly I came up a little short at 4.89km but in an excellent 16.32 – probably looking at a 17.30 5km which is the fastest I’ve gone in a long time.

For a while I sat at the wheel of my bike, feeling like I was going to puke – but I didn’t and when I finally stood up I knew I’d done something brilliant and I have VirtualRunnerUK to thank for the opportunity.

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So I’ve been a bit quieter than normal on the blogging and tweeting front as I’ve been busy doing, as my partner puts it, real life. But now it’s back to more fun things and by fun I mean sport.

As regular readers will know there are a number of things I want to achieve this year but this has had a huge bomb thrown into the middle of it called UltraBaby. Advice seems to be suggesting that having a baby will have a negative impact on training, running and racing and I can see how that might be but I’m going to do my best to race as much as is humanly possible this year and then see what the future holds.

And so to my 2014 aims – the triathlon.

I haven’t yet been able to find a suitably timed, local triathlon that I can get involved in, that is suitable for beginners and available at the sprint distance as my swimming isn’t very strong and my biking is nervous. However, to the rescue has come my new favourite event – the Virtual Run, from VirtualRunnerUK (I’ve blogged about these guys before).

To coincide with the Sport Relief weekend they are offering the opportunity to go cycle, swim or run a sport relief distance, get a medal and also donate to a charity that I feel very positively about.

So how does this link up to my aims for 2014? Well, I’ve signed up for all three elements and I’m thinking that if I were really clever I could turn this into a type of personal triathlon. Sounds ridiculous I know but I’ve found that the virtual events have made me feel competitive during training and I’ll be transitioning as quickly as I can. Obviously for the sake of logistics it won’t have the same kind of feeling as a real triathlon but it will make for a bit of mid March fun before I head into the Tough 15, SDW50 and the hugely important (to me anyway) We Never Walked Alone 96mile Challenge. I’ll also be doing it in a slightly different order than a triathlon (as far as I’m aware), for the logistics side I’ll need to do my cycle first (only 3 miles) followed by a 5 mile run and then a 1500metre swim.

I’m fully aware that this won’t count as completing of one of my 2014 aims but it will take me one step closer and that’s very much what running and training is all about – making progress. So time to crack out the old iron horse, hope the Hoka dry and pray my swimming shorts don’t become any more translucent…

I know that a lot of the people I follow or are friends with via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram read my general witterings and then very sensibly ignore them but I would urge you all to support this outstanding event, if you aren’t doing anything this weekend, hell even if you are doing something this weekend then get involved. If you don’t want to sign up to the VirtualRunner version of things or even a Sport Relief event near you then can I urge you to open the door, smell the fresh air of the day and just doing something active. Take the kids, take your significant other, take an opportunity to challenge yourself.

My pregnant partner, the lady carrying UltraBaby, is looking at doing at least one of these events – possibly all of them, only at the shorter distances and she will speed walk the run section but if she can do it then so can you.

What’s holding you back?

Look forward to reading about your adventures on what could be a very active weekend.

400km in 30 days isn’t actually that much and I had started it not so much as a running challenge but more a Hip scoring exercise, just how much could my hip handle? Well the answer to that was ‘not much’. And I’m going to need to figure out just what my body can handle as this is a year that I can’t afford the time off for surgery or things of that nature plus my physio has been instructed to just help keep me on the road – he thinks I’m mad by the way.

With that in mind I haven’t run since Friday in an effort to rest my hip and burning shin. I’m going to ease off the big distance and go gentle for a week or so and build back up, although there will be a slow 10km done tonight to complete my Virtual Run.

With the St. Peter’s Way Ultra just a couple of weeks away it’s important that I get my hip as strong as possible or at least as pain free as possible, I know I’m capable of completing it even in the event of being injured but with 2 UTMB points on offer I’m keen to put in a real shift and run a decent time. But this all remains to be seen.

In other news I was leaving the train station on Friday night and a chap tapped me on the shoulder and asked about my trainers. I told him where I’d gotten them, gave him as much advice as possible and then discovered we would both be running the SDW50 and live about 5 minutes from each other – weird and cool.

I did also manage to pull a 15.30 4km – which makes me pretty happy but the continued accuse of my body makes me much less happy. Still it’s the price we pay for racing glory.

Finally before I go I shall update briefly my race status and announce that. ‘Yes’ I managed to book my place for the Winter 100 with Centurion Running, this has been on my mind for months – the need to book my place! Therefore on a bright shiny Saturday morning I sat waiting for entries to open and at about 10.51(ish) they did. With a urgency not seen since the last someone said there is only one Kit Kat left in the cupboard I made my application. Approved. I was in the Winter 100 – phew. It was at this point that not only was I was raving on about how wonderful it will be to run in an epic 100 ultra in beautiful English countryside but I also updated my blackboard of races and here I saw a problem.

No Marathon.

I quickly returned to the computer, connected to my friend Google and slammed in some variables. Within seconds Google was suggesting races all over but it kept coming back to one particular one the ‘Kent Roadrunner Marathon’. Now as some of you will know I ran this race last year and so I was a little hesitant but Google came to my aid.

‘I’ve searched this bad boy out for you, you enjoyed this race, you know the course, you know people doing it, you like the medal, its big and it jingles, plus you weren’t happy with your time last year, maybe you could go back and do a bit better.’

I could hear Googles words in my ears and suddenly I found myself signing up for a race that I’ve already done – not something I am in the habit of doing and there was a nagging in my mind even as I paid my £33 entry fee about running 17 laps or so round a track (again) and then I heard it.

In the background Google was cackling at me, ‘remember UltraBoy, you’ll have run 42laps round that very same track just three weeks earlier as you do the National 100’.

Shit burgers, Google had screwed me like a $5 hooker – damn it. Too late now, but still the Kent Roadrunner is a favourite of mine and did really enjoy the day last year, so lets hope for more of the same and a slightly quicker time.

So there we go Ultra number 7 and marathon number 1 of 2014 booked. Still looking for the perfectly timed beginners Triathlon though. Hmmm. Have a good running week chaps.

A few days ago I saw a blog posting about ‘favourite medals’ from Neon Anonymous and was inspired to follow this up with my own posting (or rip-off) based on that post – please read the original at http://neonanonymous.com/2013/10/12/our-top-5-medals/. Although in addition to my top 5 favourite medals I was going to add my top 5 favourite race Tshirts too. I’ve now been racing for just over about 2.5 years (I’m not sure my single Preston 10km in 2004 counts as part of my regular racing) and in that time I’ve gathered around 40 medals and 25 Tshirts so picking my top 5 could prove a little bit difficult. But here goes…

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Now as many of you eagle eyed types will have noticed this is in fact not a running T-shirt but actually a swimming T-shirt that I earned for swimming my first sub-hour mile. Now a sub-hour mile may not seem like much to you but when you realise I did it all breast stroke then you can see why it took me so long and therefore I wear this cotton T-shirt with a great deal of pride.

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My second choice, and these are in no particular order is my Saxon Shore Ultra Trails White Cliffs 50 T-shirt, this was my first ultra T-shirt and brings back the memories of what I thought would be the hardest 14hrs and 54minutes of my life. Running on damaged feet, wet, cold and in the middle of a very frosty March I managed to wend my way to the finish and this lovely item, to be fair it’s not great to run in but it’s great for a cooler day when I’m hiking or walking the dog – and I do occasionally run it to remind people that I am an ultra runner and I wear this proudly.

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This bad boy takes me back to racing against Mr. Ladds and the Bladonmore crew at the 2011 Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest and on that day I felt very, very fit and this t-shirt is also often worn with a great deal of pride, ideal for a run on a cooler day and decent wicking as you would expect from a Rat Race organised event – they do give away pretty cool stuff. I only ran the London but the shirt is also a reminder to me that there are a few others I should probably make the effort to get my arse too.

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This one is a strange one, it’s not my favourite race, not even close as it’s a two lap course with a bitch of hill in the middle combined with the fact I vomited twice the time I did it, but the medal and the T-shirt are a delight. It’s funny with this because the colour and design aren’t my thing at all, it’s all a bit garish and the Hermes character on the front and reverse combined with a weird typeface should make this a design disaster but not so. Being of a creative leaning I can say hand on heart that this simply works, all the elements come together and give a T-shirt you actually want to wear again. Infact this shirt is one that I’ve seen being used at other races and given the start line only had about 250 people that’s pretty impressive.

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‘Grim’ll Fix it’ almost seems inappropriate given what’s happened with Jimmy Saville but this T-shirt reminds me of being covered in dollops of mud, twigs, shit and blood – clay dripping out of every pore and water being expunged from every orifice. This T-shirt was the thing that started me running again, this was what I earned for being stupid enough to brave the icy waters of The grim Challenge.

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As with the shirts the medals come in no particular order but I start in what was a very happy place – The Royal Parks Half marathon! not my fastest, not the best race in the world but not a bad one either. But this has a uniquely delightful medal, I believe made from the park itself and this was the first of my two medals and for my money the better of the two, slightly bigger and less well defined but informing the key characteristics of the future models. This medal has hung proudly at the front of my collection since October 2011 and it still makes me smile.

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I didn’t take this one off for a week! I hurt a lot after my first ultra, it had been a crucifying experience but when I crossed the line I got a medal that exuded blingtasticness. This was a medal to wear with pride and while not the biggest (that’s later) it just felt so brilliant in my hands and the contrast between the medal and the black lanyard gave it a really classy finish.

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This event and it’s matching medal for The Great North Swim remind me about the value of doing things other than running. With the Great London Swim also being my home medal race I could resist including this on the list of faves. The best bit of this medal is that it feels nice, looks antique and has lots of raised elements that just make you to oooooo. As I travelled home with my fellow swimmers we all clutched at this one and also wandered around Sainsburys with our medals proudly adorning our chests.

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The biggest and heaviest medal in the UK, I think that says it all really. Great race too.

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This one was special, special because it says ‘expert finisher’. Special because it was 111km in about 18 and a half hours. Special because I had earned it. Special because I had worked my way up to this, trained long and hard, been hugely injured in the effort to get there and this beauty is a special reminder to me of how much I love running.

So there we go, obviously I have lots of favourites and memories attached but these are from some of my favourite races, covering different distances and race types – but what’s your favourite medal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyllon - ultra runner

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