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IMG_6839When I wrote my first A-Z of running I knew that I had much more to talk about and that for certain letters I probably had dozens of examples, so this is part 2 of my A-Z.

A. Age
I’m 40 later this year and in many ways this doesn’t bother me one iota, I don’t feel the need for a mid-life crisis and it will probably pass much as the previous 39 did – with little or no fan-fare.

There is something with regard to age and running, well for me there is.

In my youth I was a short distance track sprinter, 100 and 200 metres, I was explosively fast but as I entered my later teens and early 20s I drifted from running and didn’t bother much, preferring fast girls and night clubs – I suspect a recurring theme in the adolescent community. However, by my mid 20s I had started to amble back to running, 1 mile, 2 miles, etc until in 2004 I entered the Preston 10km aged 26 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Still though I ambled around this kind of distance for years and didn’t race again. I enjoyed running but never saw it as a way of expressing myself.

Perhaps it took a little maturity and, dare I suggest, age to give me enough perspective to realise that lots of the good things in my life were directly related to running and at the end of 2010 I finally started the journey that I write about now.

Falling in love with running and devoting myself to it at an older age means I’ve always been focused on it (not always the right focus but focused). I moved quickly through the discipline/distances to find the area I most enjoyed – no time wasting (5km to 100 mile ultra in 2.5 years).

Ageing and getting older has also allowed perspective on the nature of achievement and that actually the human body is amazing and that actually our limit is determined by our will. Seeing men and women much older than myself running and often beating me to a finish line is inspirational.

In truth I’d love to go back and teach younger me all the lessons I’ve taken on board over the years so that I could start at a younger age but he wouldn’t listen. The truth, in my opinion, is that age is not a barrier to good running but actually the key.

B. Body image
I wonder how many of us love our body? Probably very few of us are 100% happy but mostly we get by. I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m fat, now rationally I am aware that I’m not fat, I’m mostly average but mentally, when I catch sight of myself and I see a fat UltraBoy staring back.

Running hasn’t honed my physique particularly and I’m not comfortable in the gym, you won’t catch me weight training but you will see me bench pressing many a mars bar. Undoubtedly I’m my own worst enemy, when I assault the biscuits or crisps or houmous I can hear myself saying ‘hey fatty, how you doin’?’ But I still eat it – I have an unhealthy relationship with food and this makes my body image problems worse. Some of you who know me in real life will have heard me use the term the ‘Compressport diet’ which is not a diet but both a joke and a way of living.

Effectively I eat less and run more in an effort to one day fit into my Compressport top and not look like a totally fat bastard.

I see lots of runners posting on social media platforms about how awesome their weight loss has been and while they should be hugely proud of this I do wonder what the original motivations were – I suppose because I know mine are ultimately down to a huge insecurity in the way I look and I suspect that no matter what weight or shape I achieve I’m always going to struggle.

C. Cycling
Cycling is back on the agenda and I’m fancying a triathlon. Sensible? probably not

D. Direction
I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB – then I went and attempted the CCC and thought, this is rubbish.

I believe we need a direction in our running, something to aim for – it could be a new bigger distance, a better time, a new race, weight loss, whatever, but having a driving force makes us better runners.

For a long time the direction was missing from my running and it wasn’t for the want of looking for one. I thought that achieving the start of membership to the 100 marathon club would be an aim, but I found myself put off by those doing things like the 10 in 10, which to me has always seemed like ticking off numbers rather than running great events (though no offence to those that do these intended). Then I finally found the road I’d been looking for and I decided to start going about things the right way and (as I write this in March 2017) I’m directing my energy towards, distance, elevation and tough as fuck events as I aim for my own ultimate challenge in the coming years.

E. Endangered Races
I am bombarded daily with emails, social media and other suggestions for ‘races you might consider’. Running is a multi-billion pound operation from kit, to gym membership, to nutrition, to therapies to the races but there is a saturation point for all of it. For example we’ve recently seen Pearl Izumi pull the plug on it’s well regarded running line because (I suspect) too much competition and, if we are honest, a confused marketing and naming strategy. However, the big issue for me is the amount of races – every weekend there are dozens (if not more) of races all over the country and a limited supply of runners – I’ve turned up to some amazing races to find numbers nowhere near capacity in recent years and while this is great for it not feeling too cramped, it’s doesn’t aid the longevity of events or the atmosphere. Anecdotal evidence points to events such as the Yorkshire Marathon, which sold out very quickly in its first running, still having room for runners looking for a northern marathon.

I’d like to see the major events such as the London Marathon, GNR and other mass participation races offering support by only accepting applicants from those who have run an equivalent distance in the year prior to their application. We should be fostering a culture of running and racing that is sustainable both for participants and for the businesses that run them – something to think about UKA?

F. Facing fears
Do something that terrifies you every single day (words I try to run and live by)

G. GoPro
I know runners with GoPro and action cameras look like tits but I don’t care I find carrying my GoPro Hero4 Session a reliable and efficient way of capturing memories and helping to tell my blog stories after a race. So while it’s not an issue to carry it I shall continue to do so.

H. Holding on (at races)
White Cliffs 50: mile 14, broken foot, lost. The Wall: mile 62, crying, 20 blisters. Saltmarsh 75: mile 35, crying, glutes destroyed. St Peter’s Way: severe chest infection, crying. Mouth to Mouth: undertrained, severe GI distress. Skye Trail Ultra: unfit, undertrained, vomit, GI distress, dozens of blisters

I’d like to think I’m a reasonable fun runner but the reality is I’m actually a terrible runner but with a decent amount of tenacity. The above races are simply a snapshot of the every event occurrences that dog my racing.

The annoying thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter what I do I can’t shake this monkey and it delights in giving me a good kicking in different ways at different races.

Even this year when I’m actually training, running properly, losing weight and preparing for races in an organised fashion I’m still being short changed (as proven by the Hockley Woods dog incident – read about it here). If I believed in luck, fate or karma I’d assume I was being singled out for some special sadistic treatment but I’ve simply come to accept that I’m never going to be a Scott Jurek or Tobias Mews.

What I do know though is that I can hold on when things go wrong (if it’s important enough to me) and maybe that’s my skill.

Not much of a skill is it!?! 🙂

I. Insurance
Is it a great big con or not? I’m not sure but what I do know is that for about £10 per foreign race I can use the Activity top-up service at Sports Cover Direct and it gives the GingaNinja peace of mind for the day when I finally do fall off a mountain.

I suspect we’ve all heard stories of adventurers needing to be rescued and ending up with enormous bills from foreign medical suppliers and nobody wants to get caught in that trap. Ultimately ultra running can be dangerous, at its best it’s an extreme sport and therefore I’d rather be covered than not.

J. Job
I written before about how your job can affect your running. I mean let’s be honest who doesn’t occasionally have a stinker of a day and then let’s off steam by pounding out a few miles pretending each step is on Alex Keith’s face.

My problem in the relationship between work and running is that because the job preys on my mind long after it should and I find it either stops me wanting to run or worse sends me angry running.

I recall an issue of the comic Guardians of the Galaxy from many years ago where the phrase, ‘an angry opponent is a sloppy opponent’ was used in the dialogue and when I’m angry at work it makes my running angry, and worse it makes it sloppy, risky and often just plain stupid. Guardians of the Galaxy were right – but I bet they didn’t know they were talking about me.

I realise this a problem with the subjective nature of my job and my desire to retain some professional dignity occasionally – perhaps if I cared less about the quality of my work then I wouldn’t be so riled when it gets ridden roughshod over.

I often wonder if others share this issue and how it affects them outside of the work environment?

K. Karimmor
In my notebook there’s a list of things I despise; ‘my mother’, ‘the people who voted leave in the EU referendum’, ‘the people who voted for Donald Trump’, ‘the knobhead Donald Trump’, ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn’. However, there is one name missing from that list and it covers a wide area and that name is ‘Karrimor’.

I’d recommend looking up Karrimor who have an incredibly sad story, a high quality British brand that was snapped up by hideous ‘businessman’ Mike Ashley. He turned Karrimor into the cornerstone brand of his Sports Direct empire. Now that name is synonymous with poorly and cheaply made outdoor and running rubbish that because of its huge high street presence lures in unsuspecting runners and erodes the market share of the independent running and outdoor retailers.

Basically if you love running then don’t shop at Sports Direct (or associated brands Sweatshop and Field & Trek) because there are so many better and reasonably priced brands that treat their staff and customers with the respect they deserve.

And if you see someone running, decked out in Karrimor gear can I offer you this advice. Run with them for a few minutes, tell them about kit that will support them, tell them of Run and Become, London City Runner, Up & Running, Decathlon, Wiggle, Likeys, Castleberg Outdoors and Ellis Brigham and then go about your business as normal. And I recommend you do this partly to save me from setting all of their Karrimor kit on fire.

L. Lone Peak 3.0
Since I started running I think I’ve worn pretty much every brand and every style of running shoe – or at lest it feels like that. However, there have been a number of stand out pieces of footwear over the years, my banana yellow Vibram FiveFingers Komodo, my first pair of Adidas Adios, my Inov8 Race Ultra 290 but perhaps most notably the Lone Peak version 3. It’s fair to say that I’ve loved all the Altra Lone Peak that I’ve owned but none had the same comfortably supportive feeling that the LP3.0 – visually they might remind me of an American muscle car but underneath they’re all class. The LP3.0 are a reminder to me that having a trusted shoe can make all the difference in running.

M. Mud
I have a loving relationship and it’s not with who you think it might be – it’s with mud and when you love trail running I believe you’ve got to love mud.

N. Negative thoughts
In both running and not running I can be both up and downbeat, it’s the nature of life but I’m lucky that I rarely hit the extremes of high and low. However, when I’m running I do suffer with negative thinking and it’s something I’ve long been working hard to combat.
Outwardly I’ll say ‘you’ve got to run your own race’, ‘I’m just here for a bimble’, ‘I’m just here for the cake’ or whatever. But I like to do well and I like to push myself to do well.
Recently at the Hockley Woods Challenge I thundered through the first 3 laps believing I was on my way to a four hour hilly, muddy trail marathon (and a bit). Then when I was upended by a dog that came out of nowhere and bowled me over I immediately knew I had done something to my groin in the landing. The problem was I was far enough enough to determine that I should complete it but not far enough to do myself some lasting damage.

The thoughts that rolled round my head for the best part of 30km were a little unkind to myself and the problem is that I’ll carry that self loathing and negativity into the Amersham Ultra if I’m not careful.

Thankfully I’ve been using these negative events to try and double down harder on the elements that have been going well and so even if I can’t see it at the time I try and analyse it shortly after to ensure that the negativity remains short lived.

It’s not ideal but I’ve found a negative mental state to be the ruin of my racing and running, much more so than any physical injury I might ever have picked up.

O. ‘Off’ time
When I started running again I wanted to be like Ron Hill with a 50 year RunStreak behind me but what I found happened was that my body simply wasn’t up to it and as I pushed myself further and further my body eventually gave up.

I’ve learnt the lesson of not resting and have now dropped back from races that I don’t need to do – I’ve dropped out of junk miles and I’ve given myself rest periods across the year to allow more time for my body to heal and to train smarter.

For me, the key elements of my ‘off time’ are that I’ve adopted a ‘no race’ policy for July/August which should stop getting DNFs through excessive chaffing and I’ll cap ultra marathons per year at about a bakers dozen. I’m also varying my daily RunCommute mileage from as little as 5km to as much as 25km and ever the occasional rest day thrown in too.

Off time also gives me greater capacity to spend time with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby and might even allow me the capacity to train for a sprint distance triathlon. Perhaps I’ve come to the conclusion that switching off leads to better switched on!

P. Planning
I’m always in planning mode, 2017 was in the planning stage by the time I’d reached April of 2016. Ultra marathons, especially the very popular ones sell out quickly and you have to be ready to catch them – MIUT was done on the day of release for example – and was sold out 5 days later (or so). I have thankfully only missed out on one of the races I was looking at doing and that was the XNRG Pilgrims Challenge, (which I have now left too late for two years in a row – lesson learned) I’ll be aiming to get there next year.

Planning is essential though for more than booking in races, it’s at the heart of training too. I have been heavily focused on hill work, building my strength with buggy running and gently increasing my distances in preparation for all the elevation I have planned. This is because between the UTBCN, MIUT and SW100 there is around 20,000 metres of climb over 360km – so planning is essential. Knowing the races I’m doing is providing an incentive to train both harder and smarter.

For smart running you should always consider smarter planning – something it has taken me a long time to learn!

Q. Quiet
Stood at the summit of a hill somewhere in rural Kent there was no silence – there was the rush of the wind and the rustle of the leaves shipping around, driving rain pounding my back and my hot deep breath was beating on my ear drums. But I was alone, so very alone – I looked forward to see signs of brightly coloured waterproof jackets but the weather had kept people indoors, warm and toasty. I scanned my surroundings some more and realised I’d found what I was looking for – a little bit of quiet. My breathing slowed, my heart rate dropped and the rain and wind became friends and I just enjoyed a few moments of quiet. I imagined this is what a car feels like in an automated car wash as the mud was hewn from my limbs by the rain, but there were no soapy suds on this hill. My quiet was broken by a sheep creeping up on me but I like to think it was there seeking much the same thing I was and so I vacated my space and gave it to the sheep.

Sometimes I run to find quiet and sometimes I find it.

R. RunCommute
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the humble RunCommute. When I decided to start running and training for the Grim Challenge all those years ago I knew that running at weekends would never be enough and that I needed to adopt an efficient use of my time – that efficiency was running to and from work. I remember that first time strapping my OMM 25 litre classic pack to my back and running from Regent’s Park to Victoria Station, it was so tough but I felt like a Cram or Ovett.

Until I did it I hadn’t realised just how many people had abandoned or part abandoned public transport and their cars in order, presumably, to improve their fitness.

RunCommuting also brings little cool ‘mini-games’ like Kit Watch, Strava Art, Time Attack, New Route Finder, Race The Bus and a personal favourite The RunCommute PhotoChallenge.

The RunCommute hasn’t always gone to plan and has been at the ground zero of a few injuries over the years but it’s always felt that it has given much more than it’s ever taken and while I probably take it for granted I certainly won’t be found abandoning it.

S. Scotland
Jedburgh, The Fling, The Devil, The WHW, Glencoe, Skye, the Charlie Ramsay, Celtman… Scotland has a lot going for it in running terms and I’m considering a change of location and moving north of the border.

I’ve grown increasingly weary of the English and the whole EU referendum makes me disgusted to be English – I am proudly European, defiantly European even. Now my thought is that if I can’t save my own country, because the level of idiocy has pretty much reached its spunk unloading climax, then perhaps I can help the Scottish people to achieve independence and find a new home in the EU.

The benefits are many, I’d get to live in the countryside, be closer to some of the best trails around and I’d be in a country where the majority want to stay in the EU. In running terms though the race scene looks brutally beautiful and that’s a decent sized consideration for me.

I always thought I’d stay near to London but living in Kent has highlighted with tremendous clarity that the future for England is intolerance and trouble and that taking a punt on Scotland may be the opportunity that I, my family and my running have been looking for.

T. Training
Do you remember training? Training was something I used to do several years ago when I was getting ready for mr first half marathon. Training was something other people did and training was a bit of a waste of my very valuable time. I managed to run nearly 40 marathons/ultra marathons on very limited training over about a 3.5 year period.

Interestingly though I also picked up 3 DNFs, a couple of serious injuries, and any number of smaller injuries and piled on enough weight to consider myself a bit of a fatty. Yes I was doing the RunCommute but I was never committing to longer, more structured, targeted miles, essentially I was coasting and yet still turning up to events wondering why the magic just wasn’t happening.

Since the start of December 2016 I’ve very much been focused on delivering the promises I made to myself and this has required training. I’ve actually been committed to weekly averages of around 40-50 miles, speedwork/fartleks, hills, buggy running and a more co-ordinated approach. However, I remain ‘fluid’ in the way training is achieved and I’m not sure I’ll ever quite be ready for written plans or dogma but at least I’m training properly and I feel fitter than I have done in years.

U. Unirider
If you’re a runner and have a child aged between two and six (size dependent) then the Mountain Buggy Unirider is probably the best piece of kit you can own (reviewed here). My daughter and I are often looking for ways to extend our adventures and this single wheel push along ride is an ideal way for the pair of us to go running round muddy, hilly trails and fast, flat roads! There is something really quite fun about watching UltraBaby scream out in excitement as we bounce across gnarly trail, calling out, ‘faster, faster dad’.

V. Vigo Tough Love
If you want to truly fall in love with trail running then this is the race for you – it has a little bit of everything. A ten mile run through Kentish hills this offers nothing but the opportunity to truly enjoy yourself. Up, down, through mud, through water and across the finish line – it’ll never, ever be a fast course but it is an exceptional course and deserving of the high praise it gets. You can read my review of the 2017 event here.
W. Westminster Mile

I have favourite events and I have preferred distances – the Westminster Mile combines the two. The mile, to me, is one of the great unsung heroes of running. With the mile you can be ball breakingly fast and make your lungs gasp for air and you can feel the exhilaration of a race in just a few short minutes. The Westminster Mile allows for both of these things but adds in drama and atmosphere – it’s a great day out with thousands upon thousands aiming to lay claim to a fast time around the course.

Of course the best thing is that it’s a family event and UltraBaby already has one finish to her name and after a year off will return for the 2017 edition. Highly recommended wherever your age, gender, fitness level or even if you aren’t that interested in running.

Find out more here.

X. Xenophobia
I was recently on one of my longer runs and was briefly joined by another runner who was going in vaguely the same direction as me, he wanted to chat and I was fine to listen. He was telling me about how he had turned to running after a heart attack at 35 and that he had turned his life around. All very noble I thought and then he got into politics and particularly the EU referendum and perhaps it was were we were running or something about me that suggested xenophobic or mildly racist but he decided to espouse his theories about the ‘fucking scroungers from Europe’.

I kept my cool and told him that I had voted remain, and felt more European than ever because of my belief and research that his statement was simply not true at which point he called me a ‘traitor’ and decided to run off in a different direction.

As a tolerant person (to a point), despising only stupidity, a lack of curiosity and my mother this man highlighted why I dislike running in Kent, why I despair about England and why I love running in Europe.

Our friends on the continent (and north of the border) offer such a tremendous welcome to their countries and their races that this is very much now my preference for running (I’ll race in Europe three times in 2017, UTBCN, MIUT and SainteLyon and possibly in Scotland too).

I don’t want to come across people like the man who ran beside me telling a total stranger about his hate filled beliefs – xenophobia and intolerance have no part in my running community. Running should be the most inclusive of all the sports!

Y. Yearly
I think some runners will return to races year on year, perhaps because they really enjoyed it, because it gave them a personal best time or because it’s local.

I did four editions of the Kent Roadrunner because it was local to me but at the fifth and sixth time of asking I’d had enough of running round a cycling track in the heat, I simply wanted more out of my racing.

The only race I return to year on year is the Vigo Valentines Run and this is because that’s a very special race that is never the same twice and brings untold levels of joy to me.
I’m curious about the mindset of those who always have to run London Marathon, Brighton or wherever. I suppose for me there’s now so many great races that you can do a new route, meet new people, take on new challenges almost every time you choose to race.

I don’t really want to be critical of a persons choice to do the same thing over and over but I just wonder why you might limit your experiences?

With nearly 150 different races completed I feel that now and again I can go and revisit my favourites (SainteLyon this year, Skye Trail Ultra next year) but this is only because I’ve already done lots of different races. However, I still go looking for new experiences and this year (so far) all but the Vigo 10 and SainteLyon will be new races to me and I can’t wait to be surprised!

Z. Zippers (UD jacket)
I quite like the Ultimate Direction waterproof jacket but it does have a couple of very serious flaws and the most major one is the really crappy zip – it’s weak, feels like it’s going to break and offers no sense of security. When compared to the zipping mechanism of my 4 year old Montane Minimus there is no comparison – the UD comes a distant second.

So come on UD you’ve improved the Signature Series no end with the PB 3.0 – let’s see you do the same for your waterproof jacket.

‘Have you got any Haggis left?’ I inquired. It was 9 minutes after midnight and the lady responded by saying ‘we’ve stopped serving’. Looking crestfallen the chef responded in a thick Scots accent ‘aye’. Five minutes later I was chowing down on a tasty tray of Haggis, neeps & tatties – this was when my adventure to The Isle of Skye truly began.

Key points

  • Distance: 74 miles
  • Ascent: +4500 metres
  • Location: Isle of Skye
  • Runners: 14
  • Terrain: Mixed, boggy, rocky, tough
  • Race Director: Might be Santa
  • Tough Rating: 4/5

A week earlier I’d had a bad day of running at the Hillsborough to Anfield Run where the implications and costs have proved incredibly high and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it to Skye. A recurrence of injury and the arse end of my chest infection made it all seem highly unlikely. However, intensive work on my glutes and hamstring had helped to ease the problem and my chest infection was more a gloopy mess than anything serious. I heaved a sigh of relief as I slung my giant filled Macpac rucksack on my back and departed to Euston on Thursday evening.

I’d chosen the Caledonian Sleeper journey for travel for a number of reasons but the most important one was that I wanted to experience the overnight train and watch Scotland go by in a hazy blur and it was delightful, I caught up on some movies, read a book, wrote my blog piece about the EU Referendum and chatted to other passengers. At about 2am I finally drifted off to sleep in the comfort of my chair (standard class is still pretty good) and found myself dreaming of hills.

I opened my eyes about 5.30am and saw we had crossed the border, I was in Scotland – all I could see were hills and green, it was lush and fresh. The problem was I felt travel sick, my head exploded and I rushed to the toilet to try and puke my guts up but one toilet was broken and the other was blocked. My cosy journey was turning into a nightmare, I got a cup of sweet tea from the food carriage and sat back down, began breathing deeply and tried to stay calm. Eventually arriving into Inverness I had 25 minutes before my bus arrived and so I stormed around the city seeking headache tablets and more water. With both in hand I boarded and say at the back, curling up into a ball concerned that my race might be over before it started.

Despite everything I held myself together and tried to enjoy the latter part of the bus trip as we crossed the Skye Bridge from Kyle and as I hit Broadford my mood further improved and the fresh air gave me just what I needed. I stood motionless outside on the high street, taking in my surroundings and then gingerly walked up to my accommodation – I had arrived.

At about 3pm I attended the early race briefing and met Chris, Kevin, Emma, Barry, John and Allison as well as the man of the hour, Race Director Jeff Smith, who if you described him would be somewhere between Father Christmas and Billy Connolly, he had a good calming presence about him and it was a delight to have him go through the map with us, give us hints and of course do kit check.

The eclectic group of runners were a mix of English, Scots and French and there was a nice atmosphere despite there only being a handful of us.

I left the briefing, continuing to chat briefly with Chris one of the other highly experienced runners – which gave me some concern as I felt, despite nearly 30 ultras under my belt, perhaps I didn’t have the right kind of experience for this.

Back to my room, final kit and drop bag checks, shower and then sleep – in a few hours time we would be off.

At 2am I ran down to the village hall desperate to avoid the heavy rain – although my drop bags were waterproof my kit wasn’t and I didn’t want to get to the start line wet, I suspected there would be enough of that later. But just a few minutes later I rolled in to see Barry, John, Chris and Allison as well as Paul and Owen, everyone was looking a little sheepish but Jeff kept us all jolly with a cup of tea and those delicious Scottish tones!

By 2.45am, with a 3am depart to the north of the island for the start line it was clear not everyone was going to turn up. 30 runners entered, 10 had already had to pull out and a further half a dozen didn’t make it to the start line for whatever reason – there would be only – 14 starters. Yet this didn’t create any sense of missing out, infact it made it all quite cosy and there was chatter on the way to start and we watched as the day gently broke around us. We had arrived at the start of something special.

Out of the fun bus we all ambled around, taking in our new surroundings while Jeff prepared the final last bits. It was all very casual, well oiled but casual and it felt like you were amongst friends and so when we lined up to begin there was no real mad rush to the front. Yes, we had Paul and Owen who set an early pace but once they were gone to battle it out for the win the rest of us settled into our stride and prepared to face the oncoming trail storm!

The first section was a nice piece of uphill gravel track which gave a false impression of the next 73 and a bit miles. Once we had lost this we entered the wilderness and faced off against the boggy, mostly unmarked trail.

People took moderately different paths to begin the ascent up the Trotternish ridge, some choosing a lower path and others a more fulsome climb, I was somewhere in the middle – keen to make the ascent but more keen to stay on track. It was heavy going and already my feet were sodden and the Altra Olympus although reasonable were not built for this and I realised my Lone Peaks would have served me better. However, I made swift progress and battered my way to the top and soon bounded into a run. I pulled out the GoPro to grab some footage and quickly made my way down a fast descent. The Olympus picked up the trail nicely and I was feeling very positive that this was going to be fun.

Then the sucker punch came…

I was busy admiring the scenery rather than being focused on the course and I tripped, breaking the selfie stick and cutting open my leg. I pulled out my arm warmers to stop the bleeding and wipe away the most of the dirt and hurled myself forward. The trouble was I could feel my knee – 4 miles in and I was broken already, all my early bluster seemed just that now – bluster!

Regardless I began chasing Kevin down who was a little in front of me and overtook Chris who had stopped for refreshment, while continuing to delight in the scenery around me. These were the photographic opportunities as well as a good chance to thrash any knee injury out by putting a bit of pace together.

My aim was to hit Quiraing as quickly as I could and although not fast I was making decent time. Kevin remained just ahead of me and in the distance I could see the glint of a camera lense and the deep red of a pair of Race Ultra 290 – it was The Big G or The Boss who had come out to photograph Skye and the event. I thundered toward him and plonked myself down, exclaiming that, ‘bloody hell its hard’. We chatted for a minute but out of the corner of my eye I saw other runners and so put a bit of a spurt on where Jeff, the RD was waiting with some water. I hadn’t really consumed any of the 1.5litre bladder I was carrying but had emptied my 125ml soft bottle so filled this as I knew the real CP was over 20 miles away. With all the energy I could muster I ploughed onwards and importantly upwards (please feel free to correct me if I get names or hills wrong) past Biodha Buidhe and Bein Edra. Both with impressively destructive climbs and equally impressive descents – it was during these sections that I finally started to look around, as much for respite as for the views but I allowed myself time to take it all in and take in the enormity of the task ahead. It was here that I properly met Neil – one of two chaps who would define the way my race would go.

He caught me about an hour after leaving the first mini checkpoint and we ran together for the next few hours – I discovered this was a second crack at it for Neil and he was a seasoned ultra runner with a good humour and a varied repertoire of conversation. Between us we pushed through the uphills and the downhills despite my trepidation, especially on the descents as I was terrified of slipping over an edge or worse but his calming influence was much appreciated. When we reached the bottom of the Storr climb we found a small stream and filled out now heavily depleted water supply and I took this as a first opportunity to change my socks, dry my feet and look at what was happening between my toes.

It was all a bit funky with my feet and I knew I didn’t have the capacity to deal with at the bottom of a hill but the next CP couldn’t be that far. We made the ascent up the hill where The Big G awaited us with his camera and we stopped briefly to say hello but then it was back to it. Neil and I used the downhill to gain some much needed momentum but also once again freshened up in the streams. Moving forward was still feeling pretty good and although my knee was troubling me I felt I had a handle on it.

Another mile fell and then another and we arrived at the final ascent of the ridge.

I could feel my insides doing cartwheels and my legs turned to jelly, my head had turned to mush. I couldn’t think and I was spinning out of control. I had just enough about me to urge Neil on and when he was out of sight I collapsed into a heap. I held my head quietly for a few minutes and tried to focus, I started playing out Star Trek VI in my head as I often do when I need a distraction. Within a few minutes Kevin caught me and asked how I was, I told him I was feeling a bit crap but I’d be alright, I said the same to John as he passed me but as Allison approached I picked myself up and started moving again. For me this ‘final’ hill was harsh, it was steep and it was a scramble. I needed to stop every 20ft, my head still spinning but I knew I needed to at least get to Portree so I could either DNF or sort myself. After about 20 minutes I made it to the top and hurling off my bag I proceeded to vomit all over the grass. I lay there for a while, unable to move but the griping of my stomach was continuing and I found myself in need of a different type of evacuation. Let’s put it this way my arse could have put out the flames in a burning house I evacuated that much liquid shit. I thankfully had all the requirements to resolve the situation in cleanliness terms but I needed to lie down again. It was race over.

If I’d have had signal is have called mountain rescue but I didn’t so I picked myself up and headed onward – regularly checking my GPS to ensure I was going the right way. What I hadn’t realised was that my GPS had stopped working and I was off course, I’d been travelling around 90 minutes through rough ground and places I shouldn’t have been before I found some houses. I followed the road for a while but realised I had no idea where this would end up so I found a field of tall heather and harsh plant life that I could cross, another 40 minutes passed before I finally managed to make it to the road to Portree. By then my legs were sliced to bits and my arms whipped – I’d had enough, the sweepers would easily have gotten past me and the other runners would be ahead – I would surely be timed out.

With some trepidation I approached the checkpoint, I was pretty downbeat. ‘Hi, number 37… no sweepers haven’t been through yet… there’s runners behind you… you aren’t being timed out.

‘I’ve had heather jammed right up my arsehole for the last two hours’ I exclaimed, making light of the fact I looked like death. I was offered a giant pot of Vaseline – but I didn’t fancy the double dip possibility.

I was there for about 20 minutes, change of shoes, socks, dry feet, call the GingaNinja, fix Suunto, take painkillers, learn how to read map, load lucozade into main pack, fill water, change food. I now had a chance, if I could keep my feet dry I might just make it. The guys at the CP were so amazing and supportive and offered a bit of tough love when they felt I was getting comfy.

I set off at a decent pace, fast walking and light jogging, I wanted my feet to recover a little. I also ate a good sized portion of chicken, chocolate and lucozade – all of this combined to continue my recovery and by a mile or three in I was good to go. True another runner burst past me but I wasn’t interested in his race I was interested in mine. The road section allowed me some respite and when I finally got the harder trails again I was ready to commit to them. Here despite the water I kept my feet dry – using the rocks, however small, to ensure I arrived at CP2 with dry feet.

This was fun running now, I was enjoying myself again, leaping across waterfalls and bouncing down trails – all my strength had returned, though my feet remained an issue and had taken the brunt of the punishment and there was nothing I could do about that.
Into the campsite before CP2, another fording or three of rivers, a cheery hello with a German family and then I was greeted by my name being chanted from the volunteers! Dear god I couldn’t help it but I put in a turn of speed and thundered up towards them rushing across the road to collect my much needed nutrition (yazoo chocolate milkshake) and more dry socks for later in the day.

Just a few minutes in the checkpoint but long enough to tell a few jokes and meet the sweeper who had caught me in the last few metres of the second leg. I was advised he was there more as an aid to getting home rather than the man who’d time me out.

I’ll talk about Andy more later but for now let’s say he was a diamond geezer.

I set off to CP3 feeling pretty okay but with the knowledge that this section was noted for being wet. I’d made the bold prediction just prior to leaving that if my feet took another soaking then I really would DNF but instead I pushed on as fast as I could over the heavily stoned trail and through the Cuillins – I was passing through as the sun was starting to dip and all around I could see the majesty of the island dancing before my eyes. I leapt across the various waters, being mindful not to get too wet and always on the lookout ahead for a more sensible route but always with half an eye on the fantastic views.

Eventually Andy caught up to me again this time when I needed to stop and dress a gigantic blister that needed immediate attention. This particular toe has become a bit of a challenge in recent races, especially where moisture is an issue but a single large compeed sealed it up and I was soon on the move again. A couple more miles of moist track soon became damp bog, passing the bothy towards the south of the island and approaching my next proper cry.

Andy asked how I was with cliff edges. I explained that I was petrified of them and a vertigo sufferer, I didn’t mention that multiple bouts of labyrinthitis had left me with poor balance in situations like that also. We put on head torches and began assaulting the cliff edge – higher we climbed and I could feel the exposure to my right, hear the saline of water beckoning me towards my doom like a Siren calling out to a sailor. I moved as swiftly as I could, tears dripping down my face and Andy a little farther ahead. I’d been told this would be a few miles but that it might take as much as 90 minutes. Andy proved his diamond geezer status by being straight up – he helped by preparing me mentally and never saying ‘it’ll be over soon’ – I learnt quickly to trust him. Eventually we descended down and moved onwards then back up towards Elgol but the route had thinned out and we arrived into the CP to be greeted by the brilliant Karen. Here there was a little shelter, some food, Irn Bru and tea.

‘Two teas please, one with sugar, one without, oooo is that Irn Bru and is THAT a mister Kipling individual wrapped strawberry milkshake cake???’ I changed my socks here for the ones in my race best as I’d foolishly decided against a drop bag here.

My new companion Andy was making haste with clothing and footwear changes and all in all this was a proper stop – 20 minutes probably but it was needed. Here I ran into Barry again, this time thankfully not in his tiny shorts, his race had come to a premature end unfortunately. Had I been a gambling man I’d have said he was good for the win here but a niggle meant he’d taken the safer approach to ensure his was race fit for events in June (check out his events at www.highfellevents.com – these look fun). John and Allison also were at this CP and I got to say hello, how’re you doing, etc and they both looked strong and in good form – this was pleasing to see. To my mind they were well on course to a very respectable finish. Sadly though, the runner (Andy I think) who had stormed past me between CP1 and 2 had blown up and had nothing left, he looked in pain and was pretty miserable. However, he like Barry had clearly taken the sensible decision – I felt I still had this within me, just and I’m not one for common sense.

Andy and I set off in good cheer, having thanked Karen as we left, chatting a little here and there as we went – the next section was a fairly simple 8 miles and thankfully also uneventful save for seeing the sun start to come up and we could discard our headtorches. It was a consistent pace here and we simply watched our surroundings drift from our view, but what surroundings. I’ve been lucky enough to see the sunrise on spectacular views in places like Iceland, Ethiopia and Thailand but this was amongst the most amazing places to find the sun warm your face with its first glow. We felt better, we felt warmer and we soon found John and Allison and together we trudged to the final CP.

The guys were well prepared for us, the kettle was already on and I sat down to change my socks for a final time. Boom! I was going to make it! I could sense it, for the first time in over 60 miles I knew I had it in me despite everything that happened.

The four of us set off together though John and Allison clearly had more in the tank than I and so trundled in ahead. Andy warned that the next section was incredibly rocky, hilly and troubling. He was right.

After a short road section we rejoined the Skye Trail to find that the rocks cut through us like a hot knife through butter. Every step was sending shooting pain from my feet up to my neck. I was in agony, I was desperate to stop but the others were making slow but steady progress. We climbed and climbed for what felt an age, even the views out to sea could not soothe me now and my head was starting to fail me. I could hear myself saying ‘I just need to hold on, just hold on, 10 more miles’ we stopped at a gate to both regroup and discover than Andy’s right foot had exploded underneath – blood or pus we assumed. The four of us looked pretty broken but ultra runners have that weird tendency to say ‘fuck it, let’s do this’ and this was the point we were at. From here we followed the coastal path from Blaven to Broadford, this was a good path and if you were out doing a nice 10 mile run this would be awesome. You could move swiftly on the up and down, over rocks, jumping streams, taking in the smell of freshness all around – but we were slow, methodically placing our feet, trying to minimise damage.

I was frustrated for much of this because my body felt good but my feet offered me nothing and this was playing out as a battle in my head and as we trudged up the final trail ascent I wanted to simply stop and DNF. Andy took the tough love approach ‘well you’ll have to tell Jeff, he’s in Broadford’. Despite the fact I’d given up on myself Andy hadn’t and I tried to hold it together, I pressed on and on and we finally reached the ‘Marble Line’ a white marble gravel track. Andy had promised this would be easier going but the fine dust cut straight my Lone Peaks and caused nothing but excruciating pain.

I urged him to go on ahead – I would make it from here whatever happened but he told me ‘it was more than his jobs worth to leave a runner behind’. I groaned a lot over the last couple of miles as the sun beat down on me and I’m confident Andy could quite cheerfully have throttled me – I would have throttled me. But then I saw the final sign ‘Skye trail ultra’ in big black letters on a little yellow sign.

Less than a mile

I hobbled down to Broadford and Andy urged me to cross the line running. I advised I didn’t have it in me but when all was said and done I couldn’t crawl across the line and I insisted Andy run with me. To be honest it was all a blur, but I picked my feet up and gave what I imagine was my best Linford Christie. The crowd of supporters, runners and volunteers howled with encouragement as I threw myself across the finish and collapsed to the floor. Jeff seeming a little concerned I might be about to die but thanks to the care of my fellow competitors and a little tenacity from me I’d made it.

The route
Have you ever been to the Isle of Skye? If yes then go back, if not then get up there. The route is everything you want from a race, it’s hard, exposed, unforgiving and unrelenting but it pays you back with views that so few people will actually ever see. It’s off the beaten track and it encourages you to think about your environment.

The Harvey’s Map is invaluable but Skye has clear natural markers that you can use to navigate but still it’s not a route to underestimate. That’s not to say that improvements couldn’t be made but if the race route didn’t change you wouldn’t be too worried, it is exceptional.

The Race Director
Jeff Smith is a man with a passion for the outdoors and that shows. His casual style hides his organised side but it’s this casual side that kept his event from feeling forced. Jeff is a dude and a dude who knows how to put on an event! My only complaint was that he shouldn’t have apologised at all for the number of runners, he should be incredibly proud of his achievements. He has produced an event that any race director would be proud of and I hope it grows bigger in the coming runnings.

Organisation
Top notch – from the runners side it was all seamless – organised, early registration, easy transport to the start line, well drilled drop bag system and volunteers who couldn’t have done any more. It wasn’t slick that would suggest corporate nastiness, it was just knowledgable. It felt like it was organised and managed by runners and outdoors people – basically people who knew what they were talking about.

Checkpoints
The first 26 mile section is too far without checkpoints – I understand you can’t have people with drop bags on the hills but this was hard. Even the water stop at 10km while welcome wasn’t enough and if someone went missing here you might struggle to narrow their location.

However, that being said, nobody died and that first section was a mighty and worthwhile challenge. As for the CPs themselves they were brilliant, the volunteers as I’ve said were tremendous. It seemed odd at first to not offer food but actually loading your own drop bags for each CP made sense – I had exactly what I wanted. Often at other events I ignore the food because it’s not what I want – the drop bag system worked well. I can imagine this might be more troubling if you’ve got an event with hundreds or thousands of people though.

Volunteers
I won’t remember all your names but I will remember what you did for me. Thank you guys. There’s also a special mention to The Big G (my boss) who came out to photograph the runners, we were all incredibly grateful for this support and I especially was because seeing a face I recognised was invaluable in those early stages. Thanks fella (in joke).

Competitors
I’ve run alongside some truly great people over the last three years of ultra running and every single one of my fellow competitors was brilliant. But for me personally it’s Neil and Andy who I owe my finish to, thanks guys.

UltraBoyRuns
I paid what I thought would be a heavy injury price for completing the Skye Trail Ultra but there was an upside – my glutes didn’t fire and my hamstring held up. Yes I was sick, had a serious case of the galloping trots, sliced my legs apart and destroyed my toes and feet but when all is said and done I did a near 10 mile hike later on the day I finished. Effectively I was fine and once my feet stop burning and the skin heals I’ll be back to running (hopefully on Saturday, less than a week after the race).

The one bit of pain that won’t heal quickly is the cut in the old undercarriage. I did it when trying to get to Portree and some thorny thistle like crap ripped into my nuts. There’s a nasty cut from my bollocks heading backwards and so there’ll be no running until that’s healed and yes it hurts when I sit and it hurts when I walk – it just hurts! Hopefully this will heal quickly too, but we’ll see (with a complex combination of mirrors i might add).

Goodies
Beanie, medal, trophy, sweeties, alcoholic ginger beer. Jobsagudun. 

Tough Rating
4/5 – given the distance, the elevation, warmth, midges, conditions underfoot I consider this a bit of a ball buster. If you gave it an inch it would take a yard or worse your leg. We had it pretty lucky with the weather but in more wintery or low visibility conditions this would surely be considered even tougher. Do not underestimate what is being asked of you, it might only be 74 miles but they are hard, worthwhile miles.

Improvements
There are things I’d consider to make this an even better experience, the most important would be some minor adjustments to the route if possible – not to fundamentally change it but perhaps to make coming down off the ridge a little easier and descent into Portree more obvious, this would also potentially offer an earlier CP which we would all have been grateful for. Other than that only the trail route to Blaven might get looked at given the opportunity for debris on the trail.

In terms of organisation and everything else it was top notch and communication was good although I was required to re-activate my Facebook account to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

As a final point I think it would be great if the local community were more involved – local businesses, local people – everyone I told about it was fascinated and the community spirit on Skye appears incredibly strong – I think the race could easily harness this just as other events like Celtman do.

Would I do it again!?
I’ll be back, the course chewed me up and spat me out. On the scoresheet it reads UltraBoyRuns 0 – 1 Skye Trail Ultra. I’m unlikely to be back next year given my desire to do new things each year but assuming there is a 2018 I’d consider myself almost certain to be on the start line again. It takes courage or blind stupidity to complete this but if you do enter you won’t regret it, I know lots of you are thinking – dear god this poor sod has a terrible time with all his issues but believe me this race made me nothing but happy and I’m glad that Andy stopped from just sitting down in a field and crying myself into my bivvy bag 🙂

Conclusions
It’s the hardest, most insane race I’ve had the pleasure of doing. It tested fitness, stamina and tenacity. At no point did it say to me you can just call this one in – it demanded respect, it desired my attention.

This event turned me inside out, it made me sick, it made me bleed and it made me cry but it gave me the best memories of running I’ll ever have I think – and that’s high praise. The Skye Trail Ultra joins the SainteLyon at the top of my list of favourite races.

If you’re looking for the challenge of a lifetime, if you’re sick of running on roads, if you fancy getting properly lost inside yourself then this is the race for you. It’s got a little something for everyone and you’ll love it.

The race director might not blow the trumpet of this race but I will. So get your kit on, Skye awaits you but let me assure you with this one – the Skye might just be the limit.

Find out more at www.skyetrailultra.co.uk or search ‘skye trail ultra’ on Facebook (or you could just click the links!

Good luck.

A full gallery of photographs will be added shortly

My year of running: I remember January arriving and I’d been allowed a single solitary run in the previous 3 months. My physiotherapist seemed to believe that I needed a complete rest from running but by January as I was climbing the walls she told I should start running again – remembering that I had to take it easy.

I neglected to mention my race list for 2015 but that didn’t stop her asking. I explained that 2015 was less manic than my previous race years but still pretty hectic. I explained to her I’d build up sensibly and I would actually do some training – and I did.

During 2015 I put in more than 2,000 training and racing miles but 2015 was about more than covering a decent amount of distance – it was about completing new challenges and recovering from injury all while being new to parenthood.

My first few races were build ups to the SDW50 and ultimately the CCC but I returned to racing with the Vigo 10 which is perhaps my favourite non ultra race and it’s relatively local so when I was looking to return to racing this seemed a no-brainer. I was painfully slow as I trudged round the course and climbed the final ‘knee wobbler’ hill but I did complete it and I really enjoyed it – it was great to be back. I came away from the race thinking that I was cured of my injury woes and I could have kissed my physiotherapist I was so grateful.

Obviously it didn’t all go to plan – not by a long stretch, I followed Vigo up with the Brands Hatch half and this was a full on nightmare. My leg started to break down within about 7km and although I held on until 14km I knew I was going to have to hobble back to the finish line and this was very much what I did. It was a grim day and I was staring down the barrel of the gun again but my physiotherapist took a slightly more realistic approach and explained that setbacks do happen. Additional work revealed lots of physical problems that could do with correcting and we were able to identify that tarmac and hills are the main things that bring on ‘The Attack of the  Glutes’. And with a prevention strategy and further work I progressed nicely through the year. Yes, its true that I was in agony for the SDW50 but in the run up to that both days of the Ranscombe Challenge had gone exceptionally well.

I also managed to go to my final Centurion Running event for a while and complete the Thames Path 100 therefore getting the monkey off my back regarding my failure at the Winter 100 when all my injuries did finally gang up on me and leave me in a bad way. The winning of a Centurion buckle has been something I’ve been looking for a while now and I’m glad its done because it will let me focus on other things in 2016.

Post TP100 I took a bit of time out and did the Medway 10km with my dad, Bewl 15, the Great London Swim with no training whatsoever and the Westminster Mile with UltraBaby (running an 8 minute mile with a baby strapped to my chest). I banged out a slow Marathon at the Kent Roadrunner again as its my local marathon and I always enjoy the medal if not the course and its always a nice affair as there are usually lots of runners I know there – my sprint finish against Traviss Wilcox was a delight. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jools and Kat – along with a proper introduction to Ed Catmur at the inaugral Twilight Ultra in Ilford, this was supposed to be the final warm up for what would be my first proper foreign race…

I suppose 2015 had always been about France and my double trip to race on the French trails, in December it would be the SainteLyon but first up was my dismal showing at the CCC. I wasn’t quite up to it, it was much too hot for me, it just went badly and I fell during the race and came away from it feeling like I did after the Brands Hatch Half Marathon. However, despite my complete deflation I decided to get straight back on the horse and upon returning to the United Kingdom entered the Saltmarsh 75. With a month to recover from my exploits in France I rested perhaps a bit too much but I rolled up to the Essex saltmarshes and gave it some welly. I’d been incredibly lucky to discover that ultra runner extraordinaire Ian Brazier would be competing in the same race and that provided a real boost as Ian is the the kind of hardcore runner who inspires with his effortless charm. So thank you Mister B!

The end of the year was working out much better than the start of it!

Into the home stretch of the year and I added the Ranscombe Challenge for the third time in a year  with Jools, Kat and (I finally met) the awesome Emma (mk1) finally. A very happy marathon distance was covered and I’m looking forward to next years ultra in her company. There was also time to have to pull out of both the Tolkien and Hugin Challenges but replace those with the Thames Meander over in Kingston-upon-Thames where I felt very fortunate to meet Emma (mk2) and run into several old friends from my London Social Runners Meetup Group.

As November wore on I grew in confidence for the Virtual Runner UK Poppy Challenge which encouraged me to add more and more distance to my November total and there was the best finish in the universe to November when UltraBaby joined me for her fourth race of 2015 at the Greenwich Movember 10km and we bullied our way round the course to being the fastest buggy runners – even if I did nearly flip the buggy as we raced over the finish line.

However, it was December that brought the highlight of the year and the SainteLyon which was an awe inspiring race through the French hills from St Etienne and Lyon.

In review: If that’s (SainteLyon) the last race of the year then this was a properly awesome 9 months of running. I’m hoping that I might be able to go the entire year in 2016 without any injury breaks. It’s fair to say that my injuries have not cleared up completely but I am at least managing them and I’m now actively avoiding races that I know will set them off.

2015 was a great year of racing, true I didn’t race nearly as much as I did in the previous years but I think that was very much in response to my body telling me to pick the races I do more carefully and know my own limits.

My original aims for 2015?

  1. Get a Centurion buckle
  2. Run at one of the UTMB races
  3. Race with my daughter
  4. Cross the line of a hundred mile race with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby
  5. Race with my dad
  6. Successfully recover from injury
  7. Complete 5 ultra marathons
  8. Complete 1 marathon
  9. Enjoy running
  10. Engage with more of the running community 

How did it finish up? 

  • Well I did earn my Centurion buckle (just the one, I’m no Bryan, Dan or Louise).
  • I did race at the CCC but this ended up being my DNF of 2015.
  • I raced four times with UltraBaby and had a great time at each event.
  • I crossed the TP100 line with my family and it was an awesome feeling.
  • I raced with my dad at the Medway 10km which was one of my favourite races of the year. 
  • Injury was a little more complex, I’m still in recovery and that may never change, however, I now have a management strategy and I take a more considered view of the races I’m doing.
  • I completed 7 ultra marathons in 2015.
  • I completed 3 marathons in 2015.
  • For almost every second I was out on the road or the trail I had a great time and never once felt like I didn’t want to be running (well maybe during Brands Hatch, that was depressing).
  • I had the honour to reconnect with lots of great runners I’ve previously met but also had the opportunity to meet and run with lots of new and exciting runners. 

Below is my full race list for 2015

  • Vigo 10
  • Brands Hatch Half
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 2
  • Virtual Runner March 10km
  • SDW50
  • Darent Valley 10k
  • Thames Path 100
  • Medway 10k
  • Bewl 15
  • Great London Swim
  • Westminster Mile
  • Kent Roadrunner Marathon
  • Twilight Ultra
  • Virtual Runner June 10k
  • CCC*
  • Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
  • Saltmarsh Day 1
  • Saltmarsh Day 2
  • Poppy Challenge
  • Thames Meander Marathon
  • Greenwich Movember 10k
  • Saintelyon

*Timed Out

The future: Now the focus is on my plans for 2016 – I’m already booked in for Country to Capital (with EmLa) then I’m going to try and defer my place for TransGC to 2017 in favour of The Green Man Ultra over in Bristol before I step things up a gear with the second running of the Skye Ultra Trail in May.

I suppose though that next year is all about my entry to the Leeds – Liverpool Canal 130 (if I get a place), this will be my toughest challenge to date and will be the furthest I have ever run. If I don’t get a place though I will finally go and run The Ridgeway with the TRA. Sadly I won’t have room for my regular marathon next year either (Kent Roadrunner) and I’m a little sad about this but you can’t keep doing the same race over and over again.

For the end of the year I’ll be looking at the ultra distance for the Haria Extreme in Lanzarote and if time allows I’d love to go back to Lyon and rerun the SainteLyon but that might have to wait until 2017!

What about you? So how about everyone else’s 2015? Did it go well? Did you avoid injury? Did you achieve thousands of PBs or did you focus all your energies into Parkruns? What plans do you have for 2016? What races should I consider adding to my calendar?

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

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

Sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Brilliant 10/10

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I really happy to see that ‘those girls can’ no matter their body shape, size, age, hair colour or lifestyle. I’m pleased that we are encouraging women to take part in sport and get active, stay fit and live longer. I’m extremely happy that there is a small pocket of the universe that is an antidote to negative female body imaging stereotypes and I’m impressed that lots of people are on board with it. Perhaps the thing that it’s done best is open up the conversation about female activity and self worth.

They describe it as, ‘This Girl Can celebrates the women who are doing their thing no matter how they do it, how they look or even how sweaty they get. They’re here to inspire us to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.’

However, I’m a man and an active man and I suffer with poor body image and low self esteem especially when confronted with my sporting peers. Does this seem ridiculous to you? I mean I’ve run over a dozen ultra marathons, countless other races, I was the regular fastest finisher at my Sweatshop 5km and I’ve even taken well to outdoor swimming. But I fear the judgement of my peers, who lets be honest, don’t care what I look like or where I finish, but can I defeat that negativity and self destructiveness? I’m struggling to do so.

As is the problem with a poor body image and low self esteem, as much as I can rationalise it to myself here I can’t turn that into something I can use. So I’m always looking for ways to keep my weight under control, avoid form fitting clothing, avoid full body photography, the list goes on. It might surprise readers to learn that I often hear myself say ‘I’m too fat to run’

It might be sexist to suggest that men don’t talk about this but I believe that to be relatively true-which is probably why the ‘this girl can’ campaign wasn’t a little more inclusive to those of us ‘who can’ wiggle, jiggle and move but are still constantly fighting an uphill battle despite being men.

So keep up the good work ‘This Girl Can’ but remember there’s a whole other gender that might also benefit from your support. Just saying.

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I don’t raise money for charity because I’m a miserable, unpopular, uncharitable and friendless git. However, I know a brilliant little runner who is raising money for Macmillan (learn about their work here).

I’ll give you a brief overview so you know who you’re supporting: Tea drinking, designing, Wotsit eating, mad for it Manc and most importantly cancer surviving marathon runner. Please look up @marathonwoman52 on Twitter and if you can help her – just a single pound would be brilliant and you guilt her into beating her personal best and inspire her to even more wonderful sporting achievements.

You can donate by clicking here

If you can’t donate cash that’s groovy – perhaps you’ve got a spare few seconds just to tell her – via Twitter – that she’s doing brilliantly in her training because I know, like you, the value of some positive feedback via social media or even a passer-by in the street.

Thanks for your time (and your hard earned pennies).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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