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Covid 19 has created so many delayed and cancelled races with medals having being purchased and monies committed and the Frostbite was probably one of those affected. However, with restrictions eased a little the organisers managed to put on a little 5 mile blast around Lochore Meadows Country Park and it was a real corker!

I happened to be visiting Lochore Meadows that weekend anyway and so the race dovetailed perfectly into my planned weekend of paddle boarding, open water swimming, cycling, running, exploring, kayaking and eating. If you haven’t been to Lochore Meadows Country Park then it is worth looking up and well worth a visit as it offers an abundance of exciting things to do all in a wonderful space.

I woke up in the motorhome park nice and early and went down to the water before the day properly got going and then headed back to Rona for a cup of coffee and the change into my running gear. The day was already scorching and it was barely 8am. By the time I was ready the organisers of the race had set up and were ready to hand out race numbers and medals – presumably one of the Covid secure systems that they had in place to minimise groupings around the finish line.

I gave in my allocated number from the email that had been sent round and excitedly took ownership of number 185 in papery form – it was lovely to be sticking a number on my shorts again. I then bimbled around the start line and the loch for a while before making the short 5 minute walk to the start line down at the golf course.

It was here that I ran into a local Falkirk legend and it was a delight to see her after all this time.

Although I didn’t say it, the last time I ran into Fiona she gave me a proper pasting at the Skull Trail Race and that was 100% fair because I wasn’t fit enough to compete at any distance, but when she came over at The Frostbite 5 to say hello my immediate thought turned to revenge, albeit a very quiet and understated revenge. Actually this isn’t true at all really – my thoughts were around the bloody scorching temperature but keeping ahead of Fiona was certainly in my head as an aim for the day.

And so as 11am approached we all headed down to the start line and spaced ourselves out appropriately, I turned around, as I often do, to look over the other competitors and noted every single one primed with their fingers ready to hit the buttons on their GPS watches. I on the other hand was fumbling around trying to put my camera back into my race vest. I did manage to get myself set just before the off and I even managed to switch on my Garmin and then like a rocket I thrust myself forward around the field that we would circle on our way out to the course.

The course itself was a lovely mix of gentle up and down with well maintained paths offered throughout and the course had been thoroughly marked and was incredibly well marshalled by cheering and presumably overheating volunteers! For my part I felt the heat of the day affecting me but I pushed on with all the energy I could muster and although I was overtaken by a few of the runners I had blasted past in the early stages I was mostly holding my own and found myself at a comfortable pace as I thundered into the main section of Lochore Meadows Country Park.

Knowing this was an out and back meant I was memorising how the course went in terms of where I would need to give it a little bit of a push and as I ran alongside the loch side I knew that the turning point had to be soon – although I had still seen no sign of the returning front runners. On I pressed and into what would be the final straight to the turning point and I could see runners approaching, one then another and another – but not as many I expected. I have very much gotten used to being at the back of the pack and so it was a surprise as I joked with the marshal at the halfway point that I was still running rather well.

I’d now warmed up a bit too and found myself cheering on the runners coming towards me and then something happened to ensure that I maintained my pace.

Behind me I could feel the hot breath of another runner which proved a little dispiriting given I thought I was doing okay and so I casually moved over and offered my breathy shadow the opportunity overtake but he didn’t.

Now whether he was being polite or he didn’t have enough in the legs to shoot past me he remained in my shadow for the next mile. We introduced ourselves and said hello but there wasn’t really time for any ‘ultra type’ chat – both of us where clearly busting a get to get back. John though provided the inspiration I was looking for and I was able to hold my pace and my position ahead of him.

Occasionally I would turn around to see where he was and he was moving from just behind to several seconds behind me and as I approached the field that we had started I had about 10 or 12 seconds on him and knew that this should be enough to get me to the finish ahead of John because I felt a sprint finish in my legs.

The field was long though and I felt myself slowing as the heat beat down upon me and against the short stretch of tarmac I started to slow significantly, I was looking downwards rather than concentrating on what was ahead and so I raised my head, looked forward and pulled myself together for a suitably flying finish.

Bounding to the finish, bouncing along like Bambi I felt amazing and hurled myself across the finish line and enjoying just a little moment of pleasure knowing that for the first time in ages I had run pretty well.

John came in a few seconds behind me and I thanked him for pushing me all the way – I would have slowed down if I hadn’t felt his chasing in the early stages of the second half of the race – really inspiring.

But what of revenge? Well Fiona made it back a minute or so after me and looked as cool as a cucumber, out for a morning stroll rather than a hard race (I looked like a fat bloated and sweaty pig in comparison). I have no doubt that had she had it in mind she would have given me another drubbing but I’ll take a finish ahead of her – just this once.

I ambled back to Rona, the motorhome, taking my medal out of the pocket I had kept it in during the race and put it around my neck, I felt a deep swell of pride wearing it and felt like a million dollars for running on that hot Sunday morning. Awesome!

Conclusions?
What a great race, great location and brilliantly organised. This is one of the first times that racing has felt like it is returning and I’ll be looking forward to more events from the guys at Trails of Fife (you can find their Facebook group here) and I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to do their race at the end of June. It is races like this I feel that really being the running community together, for not much more than a tenner you get a medal, a well organised event, a classy route and the opportunity to run with runners from your community – what more could you ask for?

When I am not off doing ultra marathon events these are the types of races I enjoy the most, relatively short distance with a wonderfully mixed group of runners and an inclusive, friendly atmosphere.

Great job guys.

Video
Below is a short video of the race from my perspective, enjoy.

I used to look on at the ultra marathoners who completed the Centurion Running Grandslam with a little bit of jealousy but never fancied doing it myself despite really wanting to test myself in a series.

Why?

Well I rather fell out of love with Centurion Running and stopped racing with them – no skin off their noses, they’ve got ultra runners and ultra running wannabies banging down their door to get in to their races. I never felt like it was a community I was comfortable in, now this isn’t to say that Centurion don’t put on good events – they do, really good, but they stopped being for me, a socially awkward introvert.

So, given that Centurion was probably the biggest UK Grandslam in the south of England I probably wasn’t going to get to do a series of races in this format.

Fast forward 5 years and much has changed I’m living in Scotland and a driving licence has been achieved which has brought access to all sorts of lovely new race opportunities including Hardmoors and GB Ultras. Now while the first 18 months here have been about getting settled, buying a new home, etc I’ve become determined that after a rubbish running in 2019 that 2020 would be a year of interesting race opportunities.

And so my road to a grandslam began.

Late in 2019 I came across Ranger Ultras who race in and around the Peak District and they immediately caught my eye. It was after my failure at the Ochil Ultra that I signed up for the Y3P (Yorkshire Three Peaks) that Ranger Ultras put on. However,  it turned out that injury and illness would conspire against me and so on the day before the race I pulled out.

However, the description of their event intrigued me and there was something rather ‘old school’ about them that I really liked.

I put them on my ‘must look into for 2020’ list of race providers, though by this time 2020 was pretty well formed with 5 or 6 ultra marathons already booked in. But I figured I’d like to go back and give the Yorkshire Three Peaks a bash given I’d missed it just a few weeks earlier.

Roll forward to the start of this year and there are positives starting to show themselves – I’ve been running a bit (woohoo), I’ve finished four races of which two were 50km each – not bad for a bloke, who if he were a building would be described as condemned or at the very least dilapidated. I kept sourcing new events to do this year and interestingly kept managing to squeeze them in – but not in the months that had the races of the inaugural Ranger Ultras Grandslam. Hmmmm.

In my head I began working out the logistics – the Peak District is a reasonable distance from Scotland and with a large family trip to Canada this year I  wouldn’t have oodles of annual leave to use up in travelling to and from events.

The races needed to be of a distance that I could travel down to after work on a Friday night and still be fresh enough come Saturday morning to race – as criteria that precludes anything over about 60 miles.

Thankfully the first race was 57km along the Pennine Bridleway – a perfect distance as I look to build up again, a perfect time of year as it should be rather windy and wet without too much sunshine and with a reasonably generous time allowance it should be both achievable and challenging.

The second and third race are then not until nearer the year end which again works for me (mostly). The Yorkshire Three Peaks takes up October and at 100km will serve as an excellent test of my running in preparation for the year ending Cheviot Goat.

Missing the Y3P last year was a real annoyance as I had entered late in the day and had to pull out even later and I feel that as a runner who has covered a lot of ground across the UK this iconic route should have been done at least once.

Maybe that’s why it is this grandslam over some of the others – The Peak District is a place that is relatively unknown to me, they’re new and I like the challenge of new. I like the adventure of seeing the sun go down on a new horizon, I enjoy the feel of a new ground below my feet though I am confident that by the time I have run the weekend double header of the white and dark peaks at the end of November I will be fully sated and probably and bit angry at The Peaks but I will hopefully feel that I fully adventured there (at least for a little while).

This adventure is very much about continuing my journey to find out who I am and who I want to be.

I moved my life from London so that I would be able to do stuff like this, so that I could fill my boots with things that make me smile and things that can inspire me to consider joining races like The Spine or The Race Across Scotland. I have need to push myself to limit of my physical ability and perhaps more importantly my mental ability – both have which have being a bit lardy over recent years.

I feel that the grandslam will make me work harder and keep my mental endurance on track – vital for both my running and my day-to-day life.

If I do get through the first challenge of the PB57 I will know that I then need to get through, amongst others, the Ultra Scotland and the Loch Ness 360 because these will form the basis of my fitness to take on the rest of the series. Each completion will hopefully build confidence going into the next – the tough times will come if something goes wrong in one of these events as it did last year and I will be working hard to stop one bad event unravelling the rest of the year.

But let’s look for positives…

The bad news is that attempting to scratch the grandslam itch may only make that itch worse – I can feel it. Success here (and by success I mean completing it) will make me want to take a crack at the Hardmoors series of races. However, I have no idea if I will achieve the Ranger Ultras Grandslam, my failure rate suggests that there is a good chance that something will go wrong during at least one of the races but I am hopeful that the risk of missing out on the grandslam finish will push me onward towards some form of glorious end.

Ha.

Check out Ranger Ultras here and get involved

Related & Recent


Skye Trail Ultra (The Ridge)
‘It’s this way’ I called over to Neil and pointed southwards and then I looked down, the descent was terrifying and amazing in the same instant, being awestruck though was soon replaced by the reality that I had to descend this.

SainteLyon (highest point)
From the viewing point, at 3am on a cold December morning, I stopped to turn back and watch the twinkling of thousands of head torches in the distance gently lighting up the trail. C’est magnifique!

St Peters Way (The final push)
Darkness was upon me and a gale blew me from pillar to post. The gentle final shaft of light cast a foreboding shadow of the finish line and church in the distance. It was the most beautiful finish.

Vigo ‘Tough Love’ 10 (That Hill)
‘Don’t worry, it’s not that bad’ said an older fell running type when describing the final hill of the Vigo 10. With absolute clarity I remember creaking my neck skywards to see the top of the hill, what a sight, what a hill, what a route!

What do all these things have common? Well they were my first experience of some section of a race route and always under race conditions and most importantly the first sight of some of the most spectacular views available.

I’ve often gone back to races I’ve loved – Vigo (favourite race) and the SainteLyon (favourite ultra) are prime examples but no matter how much I love these races none of them will be able to capture the awe, joy and delight I had as I saw the route for the first time. There is something special about your first time, even if it’s not your best result at that race or it doesn’t go to plan – there’s magic in a first go at any race.

Racing fresh
I would be lying if I said I had never done a recce but on the few occasions I have I’ve found that rather than enhance my experience of a race it actually takes something away from it. Perhaps it is that when you live for the unknown, the discovery and the curiosity then having those things taken away in race removes the enjoyment (for me).

The thing is I have a belief that there is nothing better than the first moment I pass across an amazing vista, run an amazing piece of trail, soak myself in a muddy puddle and lightning, in my opinion, never strikes twice.

It’s for this reason that I don’t get running a race route in preparation. I mean why would you?

Obviously…
I understand if you’re at the front of the pack chasing the prize of a win or a high placing – you want every advantage possible and knowing where you are headed and what you’ll face will certainly count as an advantage. But if you’re a bit like me, middle of the pack bimbler, then maybe like me, you’re there for the experience of being amazed and challenged. I wonder if you any of you feel that foreknowledge of a route can deflate the joy of that?

I’m also aware that some do it for the enjoyment and some do it for the feeling of security. But if I did it I would feel as though I was robbing myself of moments I’ve come to cherish.

There is a solution…
For those that want it though there is an obvious solution to save the route while at the same time condition oneself to the terrain you’re running and that’s simply to run in as close to race conditions as possible. When I rocked up to the CCC I went running in mountains that might mimic the conditions I’d face but I didn’t go anywhere near the Monte Bianco until race day.

When I ran The Wall I spent the week prior running in the rain soaked Lake District bouncing around Grizedale, Skafell Pike and others but I didn’t get near the north of the Lakes to tackle the route.

I’d therefore picked up a bit of relevant local information without compromising my enjoyment of the event – but this isn’t always practical when you race a lot or the location is a bazillion miles away. I just don’t worry about it (that said my arse is a bit quivery about having never run on the Brecon Beacons next weekend!)

Why I’ve never run the North Downs Way… I’ve been asked why, despite living so close to it that I don’t train (often) on the North Downs Way and I’ve never really had an answer but as I was reflecting on the writing for this post I realised why – I’m waiting for a single day race to take place there that I really want to do.

Surprise yourself… I guess I’m not suggesting that you give up the preparation for races – that would be silly and counter productive for many but I’ve met lots of runners who get so caught up in the detail of a race that they forget to look up and admire their surrounds and the last time I checked running was supposed to be fun. During Escape From Meriden I met a young gentleman who when I asked why this race, he responded, ‘well you get to see new things don’t you?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

So with the weekend upon us, whether you are racing or not maybe go left instead of right, look upwards instead of down and make sure you ‘see new things, lots of them!’

I’ve now taken part in over 120 races and I’ve loved almost all of them but I’ve loved some a little more than others. Below are my favourites in each distance and event type and why you might fancy it yourself.

Obstacle Course
Grim Challenge

There’s been a glut of self styled ‘hardest mud run in the universe’ pop up in the last few years but the grim challenge has a good pedigree in putting on ‘hard as fuck’ runs on an army vehicle testing track. The grim was my first race – I trained for three months for it and at the end I felt like I’d died as I crawled, ran and scampered through a variety of natural and man made obstacles. When you add in that it takes place in the middle of December this is a challenge to really raise that festive cheer in your bones.

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Timed
Fowlmead Challenge

‘Dear Traviss, I’ve been injured for quite a long time, have you got a space on your Fowlmead Challenge as I’m doing the W100 the week after’. This was the begging letter I sent to Traviss Wilcox to ask him for a place at a event to try out my severely injured hips. The course was muddy, a bit hilly, multi-terrain and just plain old fun. The fact I ran a lot of it with my beloved Spaniel means this race holds lots of good memories for me.The laps nature of the event mean that lots of people wouldn’t fancy it but this makes it easier to get access to cake. The final selling point would have to be the amazing medal though – like all SVN events the medals are both gigantic and incredibly decorative. Sign up to one today!

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1 mile
Westminster Mile

Just a single mile – The Mall to The Mall. It’s a party atmosphere, it’s fast, it’s furious and in my first ever single mile race I had an eight month old baby strapped to my front. I launched myself round the St James’s Park course and flew like my life depended on it and for a few spectacular minutes this felt like the London Marathon might (if I ever get to race it). The medal and race village added a new level of brilliance to proceedings and for £8 you couldn’t really ask for anything more – and then you check out the goody bag and its filled with stuff you want! Ace

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5 kilometre
Ashton Gate Parkrun

I’m aware that this isn’t a race, doesn’t involve any medals and shouldn’t really be here but the thing is that the concept of Parkrun is fundamentally a good one and though it took me a long time to come round to it I rather enjoy it when I attend and the Ashton Gate Parkrun is a great course. 2.5km slog upwards and then a superfast 2.5km downwards. If you’re a Parkrun tourist or happen to be in Bristol anytime soon then this is the run for you.

5 mile
Southend Reindeer Run

The Southend Reindeer Run was a glorious little five mile race that saw a few hundred suitable attired Santa Claus’ bimble around this delightful coastal course. It was a race, as you might expect, filled with festive cheer – and by the end I was filled with festive pies. Delicious.

10 kilometre
Medway 10km

10km was once my favoured distance, I could hammer out a 10km in about 36 minutes – I felt fast and I was fast. Sadly injury and ultra running has all but killed off my pace and I’m not so interested in getting back to my speedier days but from time to time I’ll enter a 10km for kicks and to give myself a push. The Medway 10km saw my dad and I drift around the delightful sights of the Medway region of Kent. I wasn’t expecting anything of this race but it offered a stunningly attractive course, some killer hills and a nice challenging, athletic track finish and winding route – highly recommended. 

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10 mile
Vigo Valentines Run

The Valentines Run put on by Vigo Running Club isn’t just my favourite 10 miler it’s also my favourite race. It has everything, a cannonball start, glorious wet mud, trees to clamber over, every kind of shit covered and coveted terrain, epic downhills, grinding uphills and a fast finish. This should be number 1 on everybody’s list of races to run.

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Half marathon
Summer Breeze

I had no idea what to expect from the Summer Breeze half marathon but what I got was a properly hard trail half marathon. It has a lovely race village, a brilliant atmosphere and most of all a race that felt worthy of your time. The course was a couple of laps around a boggy Wimbledon Common, winding its way through some pretty dense and mucky ground, it was an undulating course and properly killed my glutes. However, despite this I bloody loved this race and I treasure my Tshirt and medal, both of which were awesome 

13.1 – 26.2
Bewl 15

I suffer with ‘the Curse of Bewl’ but while the marathon and the half have chewed me up and spat me out each time I’ve run them the 15 mile I hold in high regard because despite it being a similar course it’s just so much nicer (I like the marathon there don’t get me wrong) but the 15 mile is fast and furious, it’s a proper grind through proper mud. This is a race that gets the blood boiling and you want to give it everything and more. The medal, organisation, Tshirt, beer, cakes, on course treats (including sponges) all make this a glorious and guilty treat for runners everywhere!

Marathon
Liverpool

My first marathon remains my favourite, it brings back good memories, my dad was there, the GingaNinja was there and I gave it everything. The course as was is no longer running from BTR and it’s the Rock n Roll marathon now. A shame as it was a corker of a course and incredibly well organised.

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26.2 – 50 miles
St Peters Way

45 miles of slipping, sliding and bouncing round Essex. This was a real race, run by real runners and nothing more than a shining example of what happens when you put less than a hundred runners in the middle of winter through their paces. The harsh Essex coastal winds make this a real challenge and the short day almost guarantees you’ll be running some of it in the dark but it’s a real demon that you’ll appreciate completing. The finish line at St Peters Church was a spectacular sight (running past it recently on the Saltmarsh 75 brought back good memories)

50+ miles
Thames Path 100

Take a race, underestimate it, let it destroy you and then fall in love with it. The TP100 had a Stockholm Syndrome style relationship and I felt kidnapped by it. No hundred should be taken lightly and this one is a proper foot destroyer but the effort is rewarded with a course to keep you mentally challenged and a buckle reward to keep you motivated. As its a Centurion event it also benefits from excellent organisation and a thoughtful approach to the course. A good hundred to run but don’t underestimate it.

So that’s my current favourites, but what races should I be doing to topple these glorious events? Happy running.

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I originally got into ultra running because of my second rejection notification from the London Marathon, I’ve said this before, but what kept me going was the dream that I’d run the UTMB, but today (trapped on a train) that’s not my dream anymore – far from it. The UTMB (and MdS) as we all know is one of those ‘big name’ races, a bit like the London Marathon and it was the RD at Challenge Running who reminded me that you’ve basically got to run three big distance other ultras to qualify for the UTMB – it was then that I saw the logic of looking round for other ultras and not just qualifiers. For me my ultra running adventure is evolving, it’s become about seeing bits of the world and the UK that I otherwise might never, it’s about a quality piece of metal to hang round my neck and it’s about knowing I can do it.

Now it’s true that I’m going to enter the CCC but the criteria seem more forgiving and the distance more fun for a first mountain race. But the truth is if I don’t get in I really want to run both the TRA Ridgeway 84 miler and the Ring of Fire both of which would mean I couldn’t run the UTMB or the CCC. There’s also the Saintelyon which I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years and I’ve been inspired by Cat Simpson and her Atacama Crossing and fancy one of the big desert races, but probably not MdS.

I’m going to be applying my shorter race logic to the longer races – find those little golden nuggets of races because in them you’ll find glorious experiences. Obviously I’m still running qualifiers for Western States, UTMB and all the other ones you need to qualify for but I’m not so sure it’s a given that I’ll do them even if I get in.

Even my marathon running is adopting a similar strategy – I’ve just discovered saxon-shore.com and there you’ll find lots of lovely looping marathons on trails around Kent. They are inexpensive and I suspect (ask me again after this weekend) brilliant. I’m planning on using these marathons as a way to put a serious dent in my assault on the 100 marathons, now there is a dream I haven’t given up on 🙂

So why do you ultra? And has the change in qualification put you off the UTMB? Or would you rather race the smaller more intimate runs? What’s your reason for ultraing?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s that time again when runners the world over start looking back at their achievements in the last year, but I’m saving that for a blog post when I feel the need to improve my mood. I’m looking forward to 2014, it’s targets and what I can do to make them happen.

2014 is going to be a slightly different year to the last two, I’ve spent the last couple forcing my body over the line in as many races as was humanly possible – this has turned out to be about 50 races in one form or another (three ultra and four marathon distances included in the last year). However, 2014 has to be more refined as I discovered that during the last 12 months I’ve been suffering from a succession of injuries and this is as much to do with not enough training as it is to do with racing too much. Therefore, 2014 is to be the year of the ultra, Country to Capital will kick things off, followed by the St. Peter’s Way, then kicking on to the SDW50, staying with Centurion for the NDW100 and then with a bit of luck and a fair wind I’ll be adding in the UTMB inspired CCC at the end of August (surely much to the annoyance of my body after the efforts of the NDW100 three weeks earlier) and I will hopefully finish the year with the Saltmarsh 75 (the only nonUTMB qualifier) and back to centurion for the W100.

This is a good number of ultras and with consistent training and good form I’m hoping to qualify UTMB 2015 after my failure this year. The changes that might well be adopted to this list are that the CCC might be replaced by the Ring of Fire which would act as my first multi day event and I might not get a place in the CCC. And should I not get in to the W100 then I would consider the Saintelyon Ultra which looks amazing, though depending on when W100 runs I might go for both and risk my body a bit.

So my targets currently stand at the following

Complete a minimum of five ultra marathons
Qualify for the UTMB 2015
Improve training regime
Consider once again joining a running club
Bring my 5km time back under 20 minutes
One cycling event (at least)
One outdoor swimming event (at least)

On paper it all looks surprisingly easy but after just three ultras this year I am acutely aware of how much of a burden this is and with my body still not quite right (back and hips continuing to trouble me) it will be an even bigger challenge. What has dawned on me is the value of looking after my body and for the first time ever I’ve started doing Pilates and stretching regularly, rather than when I’m forced into it by my other half. I’m still not doing the eating clean thing though, I just can’t bear to eat vegetables, it just gives me the shivers and despite knowing that there are so many benefits to eating clean my mouth and mind just won’t let me do it – not even for a place in the UTMB.

Well that’s my list started, what about yours? Have you started to map out new targets for the next 12 months and what will keep you on the road? Happy running kids.

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