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After running the St. Peter’s Way I had decided that I wasn’t going to run for a week or so at all and I wasn’t going to race again until I was ready to tackle the March Virtual Run, this all changed the moment that my OH mentioned that I could join the Sidcup 10 mile race this morning.

I was still pretty bunged up when I rolled up this morning I was continuing to bring up phlegm off my chest I was cautious about whether I could do the race and more importantly I was concerned about the heat – yes readers, the heat! Regardless, I joined the main group at the starting line and moved swiftly to the back – this was not going to be a fast one.

We headed out at 10am and spun down the main road and I quickly realised that this probably wasn’t going to be the most exciting course as we passed through the local housing. There was a promise that the course was pretty flat but having been running around Sidcup for a number of years I was aware that actually there were a few tasty hills. The first section of the run out was flat and followed by a solid downhill but with a nice incline to the second main turning and then heading back along towards the start along another straight and a nice final bit back on a downhill and straight. Easy

I was hitting about 24.5 minutes per 5km which was in line with expectation and the first lap passed without incident. On the second lap I saw a young lady from the Orpington Roadrunners take a nasty fall that resulted in a ambulance being called, I saw her writhing about in agony (thankfully a couple of runners had already stopped to help her and so I continued onward). The second lap was equally uneventful (for me at least) and I moved up and down the mildly hilly course into the final lap, doing my usual laughing and joking with the volunteers (of which there were many).

As the final lap kicked in I could feel the heat catching up with me and I knew that I was due a bout of heatstroke but there was only 3 miles to go and so with a bit of a push I started to speed up. The idea was that I would come in at 1.15 but as I drifted along to the section where the Orpington Roadrunner had been taken out I also caught my foot and fell forward, pulling myself to safety but cutting my hand open and clearly pulling something in my groin. The runners around me asked if I was okay and I simply laughed it off but I started to slow down through the pain in my groin. A few minutes later I was caught by a chap called Richard who was running the Sidcup 10 as a warm up to the Brighton Marathon and he was pushing himself (not something I could admit to). What Richard provided was 3 miles of incentive, he needed a target and I needed a chaser – together we pushed on, I was shouting encouragement (or abuse depending on your perspective) and he was calling out that he was on my tail.

With less than 500 metres to go I put the afterburners on and sped home, overtaking the two or three runners infront of me to cross the line sometimes around 83minutes, nothing spectacular but it would do for today. I collected my medal and headed for the water station after having delightful man hugs with the lovely Richard.

I did make a few mistakes today, the first was that my normal double T-shirt technique was a problem – I was too hot from about half a mile in. I wore my Newton MV2 which are not suited to the 10 mile distance – 10km at best – I should have gone with the Adios! Worse though I seem to have given myself a mild case of plantar fasciitis for wearing the wrong shoes. I also failed to wear sunglasses or adequate sun protection for my neck and head – but it is early March and I really wasn’t expecting such immaculate running conditions. But regardless I did complete it and for that I’m very happy.

Conclusion
This was a curious race, the reviews said the course was a bit dull and they were right but the reviews also said that the organisation and marshals were excellent and that too was right, it is a fast course and if you are looking for something speedy this wouldn’t disappoint. The medal was okay considering that it only cost £10 to run but it wasn’t a classic (see photograph), the changing facilities and toilets were excellent as it was all held on a school and truth to tell I really can’t say anything bad about the race but nor can I say anything exceptional. Would I run it again? Maybe, but not for a few years I feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How very true!

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

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

Happy Sunday running guys

As anyone who knows me I buy more running and training gear than is normal, it has gotten to the point now where I no longer have any real clothes – I have only running, hiking, swimming and activity kit. The few bits of real clothing I own are locked away in a cupboard somewhere and they almost never come out, my work clothes are on a bit of a rotation and I replace them only as they wear out – however, I’m not here to discuss the details of my wardrobe – no – I’m here to discuss some of the excellent retailers I have purchased from this year and perhaps the reasons I avoid other retailers

Sportsshoe.com
I’ve bought several pairs of running shoes from these guys, including my much loved and also much maligned S-Lab Sense trail shoes. These guys offer great value for money, they offer excellent service and I’ve never had a single days problem with them. Their website is pretty simple to navigate, although the top navigation could do with a little bit of clarity, perhaps the fact there is more than running gear here is the reason it can feel a little cluttered but it has never stopped me from finding the things I want and the payment system is quick and easy. Highly Recommended.

Wiggle
I only discovered Wiggle this year and despite a stupid name it offers excellent prices and excellent products. I was able to source my Suunto Ambit 2 from these guys at less than £300 and have purchased several excellent running tops from them. Their site tends to be crammed with goodies but it can be a bit of a chore going through it all and my recent search for gaiters led me to try elsewhere. However, the service is impeccable and incredibly speedy. These are good guys to buy kit from and the regular sales they run are generally very genuine. Perhaps the best bit is the inclusion of little Haribo sweets in their deliveries.

Sports Pursuit
There is something about trawling through my hundreds of early morning emails that I don’t mind and that thing is the offers that Sports Pursuit insist on sending me. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Again this is a retailer I discovered only this year and while you are required to wait a little longer for your products they offer great value items that you can’t get elsewhere. Skora runners and Vibram Fivefingers have been my primary purchases from them during 2013 and each purchase has been excellent. It’s fair to say that sizes can difficult to come by sometimes and the returns are a little haphazard in what happens (there is no guarantee on return that they can get you a different size) but SportsPursuit are clear in their endeavour – bringing you great stuff at a decent price. Communication is excellent, packaging and delivery is excellent – what more could you ask for.

Centurion Running
What an ultra runner really wants from his shopping experience is people who know what they are on about. The Centurion store is not jammed to the rafters with kit – no. It has a couple of choices in key categories. So for example if you want a running vest/bag they have Salomon or Ultimate Directions, both of which are very high quality products and both used by in the ultra community. Additionally this was the easiest place I could find to buy Harveys Maps! It’s also nice not having to wade through oodles of crap choices and they have lovely communication, great customer service and speedy delivery. The fact that Centurion is run by runners for runners really shows and I’m very much looking forward to further purchases and events with them in 2014.

Ultra Marathon Running Store
A bit like the Centurion store really in that it covers a great selection of good quality gear but with a little more choice (and the home of Dirty Girl Gaiters in the UK). Service and delivery are top notch and you feel it’s good value for money. Again they tend not to fill their site with things that ultra runners won’t use – we get a range of products at various price points. No complaints about this store whatsoever. I shall be looking forward to further purchases in the near future.

Decathlon
This is a bit of strange one, I’ve got some running Tshirts that are nearly a decade old from Decathlon that cost about £2.50 each and they rock but these days I find their running kit no longer fits me very well, but they do a great range of bikes and this year alone I have bought a rockrider, a triban and a hybrid (for my OH). I’m also a fan of their general equipment, things like lights, bandages, tapes, locks, etc and they do a decent range of swim kit – though I prefer mainly their speedo stuff. The great thing is that Decathlon staff are generally pretty well trained and not only know their own sporting area but also a bit about other departments. Add in regular vouchers and competitions through their loyalty card and actually you have a company that seems on the face of it to care. The letdown is their website which seems to have been built by a six year old or had a management hand in the navigation. Once you drill down to product pages it’s all pretty good but finding stuff is a nightmare. With. Decathlon I’d always say try and visit a store as the experience is so much better.

Sweatshop
These guys have been a bit a bit of a class act for several years and although I’m not as regular a shopper there as I used to be I still find them pretty darn good and with a good selection of items. I suppose though that Sweatshop has been a victim of its own success via both growth and attempting to be all things to all runners. This means that there is a decent range from beginner to very experienced runner but not as much depth as you might like, it feels quite mainstream – although saying this I have seen more obscure products like On Cloudrunners, Nathan running vests and Salomon S Lab clothing in store over recent months and this was also the store I got all my OMM packs from. Sweatshop remains the best of the major high street running stores. However, on a couple of occasions (and a less positive note) I have noticed in store there has been a lack of running knowledge, especially in younger members of staff, however, I am still a reasonably regular visitor to Bluewater, Dartford, Rathbone Place and Trump Street and these guys have always been on top of things, so when considering a store to purchase from where you can try things on, these guys remain good.

Run and Become
I’m a bit of sucker for a good shoe collection and great service and this is something that you always get from Run and Become. The staff are all runners, all very knowledgable (at least in the London store I go to), they have a great range of products in store and there is a feeling that they wouldn’t sell you a shoe that wasn’t fit for purpose. These guys are so popular that there is often a reasonable wait to be seen by the staff but it is worth it. My last purchase was some Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji socks and what I received was not only the basic back story to the shoes but also a bit of knowledge about the lady serving me, who was also a VFF user. If you happen to be near St. James Park and are in need of some kit or just to view some running porn – this is the place 🙂

Pete Bland Sports
Pete Bland will be getting more of my business in 2014, great service and quick delivery and a website that despite a rather strange navigation it just works. I bought my first pair of Hoka from Pete Bland Sports and they generally have a great range of running gear but being based in the Lake District is the thing that makes me love them as the Lakes are just about my favourite place in the entire universe. The little thing I loved the most was the later Twitter interaction about my experiences with the running shoes I had purchased. Classy

Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow & Rock
No good if what you are looking for is road running materials but if you are looking for trail running kit then Cotswold Outdoor, Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock are pretty fine. All have a good range of footwear, clothing and accessories covering brands like OMM, Rab, Salomon, Hoka and Inov8. If you are in London then all three can be found with big stores in the heart of Covent Garden and all have highly trained staff who generally know what they are talking about and if they don’t they’ll get someone that does. Each of these stores has provided me with key pieces of kit over the last year or so and will continue to do so. In terms of online then I find Cotswold to be the easiest to navigate and find what I’m looking for but both Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock offer excellent online services.

Sports Direct
I do have one bugbear though and that is Sports Direct. I find myself disheartened every time I walk past one of their stores and if I ever find myself in need of going in to one I generally find myself leaving quickly without purchase. I know some will argue that they offer competitively priced equipment but I find what little Karrimor equipment I do own never gets worn because it just isn’t as well made as some of the similarly priced clothing from Sweatshop or Decathlon – this of course is just an opinion but it is based on the experience and longevity and general feeling of the kit. The worst part of the experience is the staff don’t appear interested in whether you are being sold suitable footwear, suitable equipment or your general well being as a customer. I haven’t bought much here for quite some time and I don’t see myself heading back there anytime soon. Overall a disappointing retail experience.

Favourites?
Anyway, there are lots of very good retailers out there, these are just some of my personal favourites and ones that I have gone back to time and again. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites and I’m always keen to learn about new places offering useful kit, great advice and most importantly brilliant customer service.

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It was a busy morning at the base of Snowdonia, there were people all around, stretching and pulling and aimlessly muttering to each other. The sky was decidedly grey and the breeze was knocking gently against the rocks of the mountain around us. I couldn’t really think very clearly at all, my head was pounding from the headache that had been torturing me that morning and a tidal wave of sickness was consuming my belly but this was a start line and on a start line I do one thing and one thing only – focus.

To roll back a little we have to go back about two months and my epic failing at the TG100, here you may recall I managed not to complete the race – my first and only DNF. It was a combination of work being very busy, injury taking it’s toll, a hideously unlucky race day with the weather and a lack of training – it seemed that as I roll forward to the Snowdonia Marathon that I would be plagued by a similar set of circumstances. Just ten days before I was due to line up in the Welsh mountains I damaged my Achilles and with a long standing hip injury things didn’t look to cheery. However, if there’s one thing I’m full of it’s tenacity and I was going to run. My already limited training was cancelled completely, I stopped cycling and swimming and moved into a routine of icing and stretching at every opportunity – this had the benefit of soothing my aching Achilles and hips but wasn’t helping my preparation for distance. In a desperate bid for a pre-marathon event I signed up to Xtreme Beach and ran just one lap of the course (6km) before I felt the burn of my injuries and lack of fitness. There’s trouble at mill, I thought.

It was all made even worse by the fact the only pair of shoes that didn’t pull or run on my Achilles was my much loved but over used Newton Distance. Now I love my Newton Distance but these bad boys had done more than 600 miles – the mesh fabric has started to tear and worse the sole has pretty much collapsed – these shouldn’t be run in. However, when I was packing my kit to head off to windy Wales I knew that they would be coming with me.
Anyway an 8hr car journey to Harlech in Wales later and I was cosying myself in a little cottage – only mildly concerned that the gale force winds would tear the roof off – still an early night, a decent dinner and I was ready for the race!

I had decided that I was going to take the ultra dress route for this one, wearing my short OMM 0.5 Flash tights and Ronhill Vizion long sleeve top, both have always performed extremely well and I had no concerns that they would do anything other than perform well again. I added my Ultimate Directions PB vest and two full water bottles as I wanted to manage my own supply (and as you’ll see I’m glad I did), this also gave me the best location for my Montane Minimus waterproof and some delicious Kinder Chocolate. My only concern was footwear and I tried my Hoka Mafate, Merrell Barefoot, Salomon Speedcross 3, Adidas XT3, Vibram Komodo and several others before it became clear that my only choice was going to be the knackered Newton Distance. I looked at them and they stared at me and we spoke

ND: I can do this
UB: you can’t
ND: we won’t let you down, when have we ever let you down?
UB: well you were pretty shitty at the Bewl Marathon
ND: yes but even you agreed that was your fault and it was your dodgy toe that forced you into wearing us that day, we got you round!
UB: what about all those times you slip on the concourse at Charing Cross station because you’ve got no grip…
ND: look numpty boy, if you wanna race you’re going to have to wear me so stop this ridiculous conversation and slap me on UltraBitch!
UB: yes Newton Distance, sorry Newton Distance

That’s perhaps not quite how it went but you get the idea. Anyway fellow bloggers and runners I arrived to the race village and drifted into the main hall, grabbed my number, avoided the cameras and went back outside to the car to get my bearings, take in some of the very vibrant atmosphere and chat with some of the runners. Most notably I met Gavin and his lovely family, he was a bit of veteran and aiming for about 4.15/4.30 as a finishing time and his view was that you take your normal marathon time and add about 30 minutes. In my head this meant that even with the injuries I could probably still run 4.45/5.00 as my average flat marathon time is about 3.30 and trail about 3.45 with a hilly marathon just over 4.10. Gavin and family provided a nice distraction and as we left each other I felt rather better than I had done all morning. With a need for some food I headed on into the Race HQ and picked up a delicious bacon and sausage bap – something to ease the queasiness and put a solid lining on my stomach for what is billed as the toughest marathon in the UK. As I sat down to eat over in the corner of my eye I saw the face of a man I recognised – someone I had never met but the reason that I run Ultra Marathons and the bigger distances, this was the man my other half really wanted to murder and not me.

I strolled over to Tobias Mews, both a running legend and also a rather good writer – it has been my honour to occasionally design layouts for his writing and it was because I was reading his articles that I decided to become an ultra marathoner. I introduced myself and simply thanked him for introducing me to the stupid world of ultras and returned to my quickly cooling bacon and sausage bap. What a day it was turning out to be – filled with all sorts of good and bad things but meeting Tobias filled with further confidence that today was going to be a good day.

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The start was only about half an hour away and it was time for a few pre-race photographs (sadly not to be shared as UltraBoy likes his secret identity) and then off to the start. I hooked up again briefly with Gavin and his family and chatted about the upcoming challenge and also about football which distracted me from the slight rainfall that had started to come down but in my bones I could now feel the race energy swelling and all the injuries and excuses that had been shackling me where drifting away.

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The pre-race briefing bypassed me other than to not that we should smile for the cameras and I heard the sound of us leaving, my feet started off and the fury of pounding feet reverberated in my ears and surprisingly it was my own feet I could hear. It was a cramped start and actually it was a little difficult to get going but with the fire in my belly and knowledge that Kinder chocolate was in my pocket I proceeded to push my way through the groups of runners. The Snowdonia Marathon has three big hills in it and the first comes very early on and I assume is designed to destroy your spirit but I was feeling surprisingly spritely as I forced one foot after the other. I even managed a few laughs and jokes with Batman and a couple of there other competitors, it was quite a jolly field. The first hill for me was probably the most amazing in terms of the view – it had all the drama and mystery I associate with the Wales of my childhood. Having pored over the course profile I was expecting this to be challenging but what I hadn’t expected was for it to feel unrelenting, what kept my, and I suspect everyones, spirits positive was the knowledge that there was a significant downhill to come. As I reached the top of the first challenge I could see the runners in front of me dipping below my vision, clearly pelting away and I did much the same. For the first time in the race I stretched the muscles in my arms and legs, pumping away, looking down into the vastness below – wonderful and I was 10km in and only 55 minutes had elapsed – I was in good form. I passed by the turning at the bottom of the hill and there I was greeted by the very cheery face of Richard, the manager from the Dartford Sweatshop who I hadn’t seen since we ran a bit of the WC50 together – we chatted briefly as he ran alongside me and he wished me well and I left him behind awaiting the arrival of his other half! Onwards I hit the trail and left behind the steady path and used this as an opportunity to bounce around a bit, have some fun, race a bit and continue my usual chitty chattiness that I enjoy on a raceday.

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My only problem was one of a Paula Radcliffe/Call of Nature… I was hoping for a portaloo on the route but it never came and for a while it was all I could think about but clearly it must have focused the mind because when I saw the lovely toilets I was at mile 12 and even with an eight minute stop I still managed the first half in just under two hours. As the course continued it was a very light incline we were treated to and this posed few problems but the second of the big hills was a huge challenge, probably only as steep as the first but with people walking it felt like a much bigger task and do I slowed to a speed walk and used my ultra training method of dealing with the hill – walk it quickly. This got me to the top of the hill and I was away again, a little Kinder chocolate and some fruit strings and I felt pretty fresh.

It was about mile 14 where things changed for me, I was meandering round the course, trying primarily to ignore the pain on my hip, keeping hydrated and chatting to fellow runners and here I met Grant. Let me start by saying Grant is either a hero or madman, probably both because he entered the race with only three months training behind him and had this as his first marathon.

Surprisingly he wasn’t carrying any hydration and had unfortunately at the halfway point started to feel the burn of his knees – we’ve all been there, we know what it’s like but this seemed a new experience to him and given that his longest distance had been 16 miles (I’m sure you can confirm this fella!) I wasn’t sure he would make it without some support. Being rather jovial company we decided to run together for a bit but after a while it occurred to me that he’d come out of the blocks too quick and I suggested we stayed together to ensure we both finished a very tough course.

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As we came to mile 18 Grant was feeling his knees increasingly but he continued to make steady progress through the course and only once did I see his head drop and so hopefully my few words of encouragement got him through the moments of anguish and together we strode up the final hill, working together to make sure we didn’t lose sight of the prize. The final hill was an amazing experience and had circumstances been different it would have been fun to have run but our steady progress meant we reached the summit and were able to run the next couple of miles and along to the final water stop. With time ticking away though and daylight disappearing the weather also took a turn for the worse and rain began pelting down and with a whipping wind it became a harsh course.

Grant had, it seemed, won the mental battle to get to the finish – he wasn’t going to stop now and he looked visibly more positive, even if his knees hurt like hell. For my part I felt fresh and light on my feet and as we pulled in to the final water point something else happened – Grant was having a water stop and a young lady – Julia rocked up looking frozen and in dismay. She spoke to the marshall but she was barely audible on the hilltop and the marshall asked if I could talk to her. It turned out she was so cold and weak that she felt she couldn’t go on – mile 23 and a bit! I asked her what was wrong and she explained she was feeling light headed and cold, with a bit of effort I undid her jacket from her waist and got her covered up, gave her Kinder chocolate and some water and both Grant and I offered to stay with her to make sure she got to the finish.

We made our way slowly down the final hill, we could see the finish in the distance. Grant was slowing further but I knew that it was our new running buddy that needed the support and with just a mile to go I turned to see Grant and make sure he wasn’t going to stop and asked Julia if she was capable of running. Now warmed, watered and chocolated we set off at a fearsome pace and as we approached 800metres to go I waved goodbye to Julia aswell, safe in the knowledge she wasn’t going to stop.

Both feet now lurched forward, cries of ‘great finish!’ welcomed me and I thrust my chest forward and pumped my arms to my traditional sprint finish, the line was in the distance and with every ounce of my strength I flew under the giant red inflatable. I had done it.

Grasping my new slate memento I thrust it aloft and growled, despite a reasonably poor time I was happy I had finished the Snowdonia Marathon.

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The Race?
The race was actually tough but far from impossible and infact I found this a rather endearing course and will in the future be back to complete it in a faster time when less injured and more prepared. The course was in places in beautiful but as with all 26.2milers there were sections that were a little bit dull but overall you wouldn’t complain about the quality of the vistas. The atmosphere was electric at times, the support was fantastic almost all the way round and you could feel the quality of the field you were amongst – almost every person had trained properly and everyone was ready for a marathon.

There was generally ample water on the course and more than enough gels (though I’m not a gel fan), only one of the water stops was bereft of water, but this was a fairly vital stop, at the top of a hill and a number of the runners really felt the lack of water here – I was grateful I was carrying my own supply (and yes I did offer to share it where needed :)).

Goodies?
The goodies were surprising, the first was the excellent T-shirt which has been worn several times and although no medal there was a branded slate coaster, which while not amazing will provide an excellent momento of a great race. At the race finish though I was disappointed to note that there was no fruit, cake or sweeties – just a bottle of water and that was not what I wanted – I wanted chocolate.

Conclusion
Do this race, you won’t regret it but it wasn’t what I was expecting – perhaps that is half the fun of it.

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

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

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