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It’s been a weird week, I’ve had so few hours sleep that I can barely see straight, I’ve been working round the clock to meet my commitments at work and to get ready for job interviews in preparation for a move Scotland. Too this add the last ten days being dedicated to the final part of my beloved Spaniels life and well let’s say it’s not been the easiest period we’ve ever had. Theres been no running since the 28th January and to be fair I just haven’t felt like putting on my shoes and getting out there.

The problem was Vigo, my favourite race, my favourite route. However, I really wasn’t prepared for it physically or mentally. With every new thing that layered itself in life outside running pushed me further from the start line. However, when ThunderPad died I knew running Vigo would be a fitting tribute both to him (he loved mud and that part of Kent) and to pay homage to a race that I might be running for the final time (Scotland is a long way to come).

Seems I’d sold it into myself – back to the Vigo Tough Love 10 mile(ish).

Let’s briefly discuss the registration process which had a few issues. It seems the database and the numbers were the wrong way round – it was an admin error and I hope that anyone who ran it could see that guys worked tirelessly to get things working. Yes we started 40 minutes late but that time allowed the organisers to get on top of everything and also for the runners to get better acquainted. Stuff happens and these guys really pulled it out of the bag to get us running. Well done chaps.

But the race…

Was it still the stuff of legend? Was it still the race that I pencil in first when I’m planning my next years running? Is it still the best value and best fun event in the calendar?

I can save you the trouble of reading further and say, oh yes! You’ll never have more fun in your life than doing this tremendous race!

Here’s the overview

  • Pre-race despite the problems with registration the whole team pulled together to get the runners ready as quickly as possible. Well done
  • Arrived and immediately ran into the salty sea dog Gary!
  • Wonderfully wet route
  • The most enthusiastic and determined marshalling team
  • The uphills and the downhills are still the best around and they really do grind you to pieces
  • Beautifully clear Kentish views
  • A fabulous course
  • Mud everywhere
  • My Topo Athletic Terraventure were truly brilliant in the mud once again
  • The 10km runners were split off from the 10 milers pretty early which helped avoid to many pacing problems
  • Cool medal and another mars bar!
  • Incredibly well organised despite the hiccup at registration and there was regular communication from the organisers – they did everything right given the challenges.
  • Very well supported
  • Really excellent value

But the devil is always in detail and this is why it’s still my favourite race.

After the organisers had managed to successfully get everyone through the registration process we were mere minutes from starting. I took up my customary position at the rear and when the sound to go went off I slid my way forward with the other foolhardy souls.

The amble around the rugby field is an opportunity for some to burst forward, usually those who have never run it before or those going for the win. I was quite happy sat in the middle of the pack enjoying watching the surroundings go by. The thing about Vigo though is that if you let it then it will bite you on the bum and as early as the first leap over a log you could tell conditions would be treacherous but runnable.

The rain earlier in the week had sat heavily on the course and made the top layers of mud pretty damn slick and as I looked to avoid the worst of the first puddles I realised this was going to be futile and so sank my foot into the thick wet, muddy water. Woohoo I thought as I felt the freezing cold water pass through my Terraventure.

Splish, splash, splish, squelch, squerch I thundered across the ground watching the runners ahead of me and seeing the sections I should avoid. The good thing about going through the water is that it is probably the most stable section of the course – yes you run the risk of losing a shoe or two but it’s quicker than trying to go round the edge. Despite a bad back, no sleep, a week to forget and the toughness of the route I was making pretty good time and I passed through the 5km mark within 30 minutes.

Parts of the route were also dry enough to run through more quickly and here I made up time for the sections were conditions had caused delay. As I passed the many wonderful marshals I offered my own assessment that they, ‘hadn’t made it any easier since last year’ but with the downhills kicking in it felt like I was making swift progress across Kent. It wasn’t much later – probably 8 or 9km in that I felt the last few weeks really catching up on me and when I hit a fast downhill I knew that I didn’t have full control of my jelly like legs – that didn’t stop me thundering down though but the big road climb in the route did bring me to a stodgy halt.

I stomped up to the top and the water point, wishing I was closer to the finish. I had fluids and a jelly baby followed by a stern talking to myself before I set off again – legs exhausted and a minor hamstring pull. As I pressed on I enjoyed the views and the slightly slower running. It was about 3km later when my Vigo running buddy caught me up and grabbed me from behind saying, ‘let’s get this done buddy’ but even as we pushed on together I knew that I didn’t have the legs – still that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to put up a fight. I flew with all the dignity I could muster through the downhill and into the next field but the sight of the final climb in the corner of my eye made me poo myself just a little bit and I said goodbye to Mick.

The final couple of miles are spent in the knowledge that you’ve got the final ball busting hill to ascend and in the distance you can see a slow and slowing procession of exhausted runners making the best of it that they can. I took my time getting there as I knew there was no way I was doing it quickly and when I arrived I had a little joke with the marshal before giving it about five seconds of thrust! I descended quickly into a slow death march to the top but strangely even though I was going relatively slowly it was pretty consistent and conditions on the hill were such that this was a reasonable ascent. Lovely. As I reached the top I muttered to both myself and volunteers, ‘four times I’ve done this! You’d think I’d learn. Never again’ – there was laughter.

Last year I reached the top and gave it some welly but this year I was in pieces – my legs stumbled to get back into position and once we were moving it was fine. I knew that I was probably less a kilometre from the finish but I wanted to finish strongly and so ambled casually into the undergrowth of the final few turns. Here I met a lovely volunteer who got behind me and gave me a push when I looked like I was about to give up and from here I hit the afterburner – leaping across the log and into the home stretch. In the distance I could hear the sound of Mick shouting out my name and there was a runner about a hundred metres ahead of me. I flew like my life depended on it to try and catch him but he crossed the line a second before me. My sprint finish wasn’t quite as brilliant as it so often is yet unable to stop I charged towards the volunteers – coming to a less than dignified stop some metres beyond the finish.

What a race!

Caked in mud I shared an embrace with my long standing running friend Mick, his brother and also met his friend who described how he kicked on to take the race win a whole half an hour earlier than either I or Mick. Lovely chap and a very deserving winner.

Key points

  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Profile: Hilly, sharp ascents and descents
  • Date: February 2018
  • Location: Vigo, Kent
  • Cost: £20 (£25 on the day)
  • Terrain: Muddy, hilly
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route: It doesn’t get any better than this, the first mile or two is absolutely amazing whatever the conditions – you’re flying or falling through the thick oodles of mud. It drains you, it feels heavy but with every fibre of your body you know that this is the kind of race you’re going to adore based on this first section. The rest is simply a succession of ball busting up and down with very little respite but what it takes out you it gives back 10 fold and more. If you love running you need to do this route, preferably in this race.

Organisation: No complaints – even with a bit of an admin error (for which they massively apologised) the team got on with the job and made it happen (and as far as I can tell the chip times look pretty good). I hope nobody thinks different as they really bust a gut to get the race underway as fast as possible. In other terms the race start, the execution of the on course support, the finish line and the pre race marketing and social media meant that actually the race seemed even better organised than ever.

A special mention goes to the wonderful marshals and volunteers at Vigo Runners and the Harvel Hash Harriers who make this happen. I know that some complained a bit about the muddy parking but let’s put a bit of a spin on it – there was free parking and there were awesome cadets and other runners who helped push out the cars when we got a bit stuck! This race had a real air of community spirit – don’t change a thing!

Awards: Pretty cool medal, Vigo also had something different, my first one was pretty generic, the others a little more themed – this latest one looks like it could be a sex toy (if you look at it in the wrong light! Ha).

Conclusion: This remains my favourite race, the SainteLyon runs it so close but this has a place in my heart that just edges it ahead. The ten mile (and new 10km) distance mean this is a very accessible race. The route is hellfire tough, brutal in places but also super fast in others. It’s a race that can be whatever you want it to be and I hope this continues long after I have slipped off this mortal shell. Sadly my move to Scotland means I doubt I’ll be down for every running of this race but I suspect I’m not done with Vigo – my heart will draw me back. If you’ve run it you’ll hopefully know what I mean and be drawn back too and if you’ve never run it then you need to.

In memory of Thai: In my final words I’ll say that I ran this partly in memory of my beloved Spaniel who we lost earlier in the week – he loved the area and no matter how hard the race was I knew that if Thai were running alongside me (during a training run – race sadly not really suitable for Cani-X) he’d have been complaining that we weren’t reaching the next muddy puddle quickly enough. Thanks for keeping me going out there ThunderPad, miss you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work guys.

‘I think I need another race,’ where the unlikely words to come out of the GingaNinja after the Mince Pi Run. It’s not that she has suddenly become enamoured with the idea of running or racing its more to do with the need to be healthy and a healthy example to ASK. With that in mind I found the Lamberhurst 5km event on New Years Day – a little road bimble that I had imagined would be a nice and easy leg stretcher. Let me assure you readers that the Lamberhurst event (the 5 or 10km) is no easy bimble but it is a shedload of fun – this is what happened…

Living about 30 miles from the race start I decided to use the opportunity to practice my driving along the country roads of Kent and with the rain being heavy this was going to prove a big challenge for someone who finds the idea of driving a nerve shredding experience. Thankfully I pulled into Lamberhurst at about 9.30am just as Google had predicted with all three of my runners intact.

Our GingaNinja inspired attendance was supplemented by myself and ASK for a 5km party of three. We ambled along to the village hall where I got a sense that the route wasn’t as flat as I had imagined… hmm. Still we grabbed our race numbers, a toilet stop and then waterproofed ASK (as she would be ‘running’ on the Unirider offering inspiring words to her mum) and soaked up some of the post New Years Eve cheer that clearly was still in the air.

As is often the way at races where ASK runs with us on the Unirider we receive lots of attention and this was no different with many of our fellow runners wishing us well or offering a cheery nod to ASK – something that I believe makes the experience much more positive for my toddler.

At the start line we chatted with more runners even as the rain began its downpour! ASK advised that she was getting wet but I promised that we would soon be running and wouldn’t notice the rain. At least half of that was true and we soon set off with the GingaNinja a little behind us.

The first challenge was a wonderfully steep hill and we shouted encouragement to the GN to keep on going as the hill got steeper. ASK and I powered past people and reached the first section to flatten out and gave the GN a chance to catch up, but our respite was short lived and we were all soon pushing onwards and with the field clear of the faster runners we could trundle happily along in the wet conditions.

ASK and I weaved in and out of the route and the remaining runners as we headed downward and back toward the village hall, giving the Unirider a real race test on the tarmac rather than the trails we normally run on.

Straight from the downhill though we entered our second significant climb but the GingaNinja had paired up with one of the lovely runners and I had got chatting to a lovely chap called Kev who like me had a youngster and was a Mountain Buggy user for taking his son out. Of course we chatted about the Unirider but also general running and this helped make the event much more fun for all. Of course ASK and I circled back to ensure that we all stayed together – this was very much a family race – and we continued to shout encouragement as the race progressed.

As we entered the next downhill we went a little quicker but my problem was that the heavy rain had stayed on the race course and ASK was getting mildly wet feet, actually very wet feet – thankfully like the superhero she is she didn’t complain and we thundered down the hill being greeted by the returning runners from the turnaround point.

We passed through what looked like a country house at the turning point and passed a grandfather and granddaughter running together – both looking brilliant and I used the young lady as an example to ASK of what she could be doing if she carries on being active. ASK was excited by this as the girl was almost all in pink!

The final climb was also the most challenging given the water on the course and its steep nature but both myself and the GingaNinja gave it our all and I suggested that we would wait at the top of the hill for her (and shout out support of course). I wheeled in behind the lovely marshal but had made a minor miscalculation in my turning circle and ASK fell off the Unirider for the first time. Thankfully we were almost stopped and no harm was done other than some wet gloves and a bit of a shock. There were also a few tears and so I cuddled my awesome little daughter and said, ‘don’t tell your mum’. She replied with the, ‘alright dad’ and jumped straight back on. However, her hands were now cold and with the rain still heavy she wanted to finish.

I told the GingaNinja what had happened and all credit to both of them we sped up to get back to the warm as fast as possible. The downhill was fun and I think we all enjoyed the run into the line with people cheering my daughter in and I heard the GingaNinja gave her name called out.

We finished and collected medals (mine immediately becoming the property of ASK) and headed indoors where we stripped off and put on warmer kit. What a belter!

Conclusions: Incredibly family friendly, lots of youngsters doing the child’s race, lots involved with their parents and grandparents in the main race. A nice, warm village hall at the start and a really, really fantastic route that could be as fast or as sedate as you wanted. The Lamberhurst races should be everyone’s start to the year and with the opportunity to grab a wonderful medal who wouldn’t want to do this on a wet New Years Day? Another great event from Nice Work and thanks for letting ASK take part with the Unirider, we are very grateful.

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  • Running poles making ascents and descents easier
  • GPS to making navigation a doddle
  • Compression kit to reduce muscle fatigue

What do all these things have in common? These are all aids many of us use to help complete long distance endurance events.

I use running poles when allowed, I almost always use a GPS device even if a map isn’t loaded on to it and before I realised compression kit was causing all sorts of injury problems I would often be found in ridiculously tight fitting attire.

There are two aid types though that I wonder about, the first I don’t use, the second I do (when I can convince the GingaNinja to rock up to a race registration).

Pacers and Crews: The aid I don’t use that I’m referring to are pacers and it was after seeing some amazing finishes at hundred milers and the like that got me wondering if using a pacer increases the likelihood of a finish and whether by using them are runners on a level playing field?

The other aid are crews – which I do, on occasion, use and I believe that in the early days of my ultra marathoning I really wouldn’t have gotten very far without a crew and the support they offer. But do they give me and others who use them an edge on race day?

Reading lots of recent race reports and talking to runners it’s clear that there is an appetite for the use of both pacers and crews but does it take away something of the challenge? Increasingly my view is becoming that yes, these things are taking away from something that, at its best, in my opinion, is a solo sport.

Perhaps if they’re going to be in play there should be greater scrutiny about how a crew and pacers can be used as I’ve witnessed some things during recent races that has made me wonder if too much crew access and too much pacing is creating an unfortunate imbalance in ultra marathons.

I met a Spanish runner at about 30 miles into an unsupported race recently and we ran together for maybe 12 miles. I enjoyed his company very much but the curious thing was that his crew met him at five different points along the route during the time we were together. Each time he would stop, chat, change kit, have a nibble, check his route, have a sit in the warm vehicle etc. It felt like the spirit of the race was not being adhered to and there were others too during this particular event that had cars literally following them down the roads – with family members joining in for a few miles as pacers – picking up food at McDonalds, etc. I’ve met people who’ve run past their homes or near enough to detour and been witness to them going indoors, changing wet or filthy kit, filling up food and then simply popping back on the route – all I should point out, within the rules of the race. I don’t begrudge this level of support – hell, if I could get it my DNF percentage wouldn’t be so high! However, though I’m far from a purist in running terms I do feel this takes some of the shine off the effort required.

The pacer question is very much a personal choice and are often subject to specific race rules but for me these are an aid that detract from one of the most important aspects of a race – the mental challenge. I could pluck an arbitrary percentage out of the air but I’d suggest that most endurance races are won and lost in the mind and not in the body. The pacer therefore can have a real, tangible effect on a racers performance and we are back to the point about imbalance.

All this said though I’ve been known to buddy up with runners on a route in order to ensure a finish although always with the agreement that if the pacing didn’t match we’d say goodbye and good journey. That changed a little bit when on the South Wales 50 when myself and two other runners joined up on the course then formalised our pacing/team running strategy to ensure that we all finished. It was perhaps this more than anything that got me wondering about just how much of a difference a pacer can make. Now to be fair Ryan, Pete and myself were all pretty ruined by the time we’d hooked up and it was as much about surviving the night as it was pacing but it gave me an insight to what a fresh pair of legs or a fresh attitude can do for a very tired ultra runner.

These days I’m much more a social ultra runner rather than a competitive one and I tend not to think too much about my position in the field, preferring to concentrate on taking in my surroundings and having a lovely time. However, this has got me wondering just how much better I might be if I had a team right next to me pushing me forward?

The purity argument: The reason I suppose I don’t do that and put together a team to get me through these things is simply because of my belief in the solo element. I probably would be a better runner if there was someone in my ear for the final 50 miles pushing me that little bit harder or if I had a crew with lots of kit ready and waiting. However, for me ultra running is being out there, facing myself and a trail and although I can very much respect other people’s decisions for using pacers and crews it’s less and less suited to me. Perhaps evidence of this was that the last time the GingaNinja crewed for me was the Thames Path 100 in 2015 – here she met me several times armed with chocolate milk, kit options and a regular stern talking to but since then she’s mainly been at starts and finishes if there at all and in truth I prefer this. Although it’s scary to think you’re on your own it really does heighten the elation (for me) upon completion.

All this said I’ll still be using poles (periodically) and GPS – I’m not giving those up anytime soon, I mean I’m not completely stupid! Therefore am I a hypocrite for suggesting pacers and crews detract from a level race but I’m perfectly content to gain an edge by using kit that some call ‘cheat sticks’ or by buddying up inside an event? I suppose it’s an individuals view and more importantly a race directors view and if you (or perhaps I) don’t like it well then I don’t have to sign up to that race.

And so… I’m curious about your views on pacers and crews, do you feel they offer you a better chance of finishing well? Do you think they give some runners an advantage that others don’t have? Would you consider them a hindrance? Or are they simply part of your ultra running armoury?



Life, the universe and then? 
Sometimes you can guide your life in such a way to make you believe that you have control and other times life simply asserts its dominance over you and gives you a bloody good kicking. I think I’ve had a charmed life, certainly over the past 10 years or so. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s morphed into something I consider very happy but it wasn’t always like that.

Finding happiness? One of the big pieces in the happiness puzzle was running, but unlike others who may have been Olympically or middle-age inspired, I came to running because I was going through the darkest period of my life. 

I’ve said before that I started running in late 2011 but that’s not strictly true – I’ve always run.

At school I ran the 100m, 200m and 400m, I was a decent cross-country runner and I enjoyed it much more than football, cricket or rugby. I was then an intermittent/lazy runner until around 2003 when I took a 3 month stay in sunny Scarborough because I needed to recover from what was effectively breaking down.

I suppose the truth of the matter is that I really arrived at a life filled with running because of this serious lapse in my mental health. I’d been in a relationship with a woman that had turned sour a year earlier and despite an a acrimonious break-up when she came calling, with serious issues of her own, I stupidly returned to try and help her.

This act of affection broke me into a million pieces, the problem I had was that I wasn’t qualified to help with her problems and she dragged me down beyond the point of being able to see clearly enough to prevent myself from drowning. I’m sure I’m not alone in such situations but at the time I felt at my lowest ebb and unable to see anything ahead of me – it felt a lot like I imagine the end of a wasted life would feel.

Though I don’t have a definitive recollection of everything that happened I do recall considering ending my own life, although I had framed it in thoughts such as, ‘what would happen if I wasn’t here?’ ‘Who would care?’ and ‘could a train ever not kill a human being in a direct hit situation?’

However, in reality, suicide wasn’t really on the cards as an option but it lurked as a concept. 

Thankfully I didn’t do that and I made a desperate decision that plays a huge role in influencing my life to this day…

I’d called my uncle.

He and his family lived in North Yorkshire and they kindly offered a place to stay and support. Little did I know his help would manifest itself best in reviving my love of running.

My uncle in his younger days had been a decent runner but as age, life and pies get to you then you let yourself go a bit and he had. It seemed we both benefitted from the fresh Scarborough coast line as we ran daily. The hilly roads and hillier cliff trails of North Yorkshire providing ample respite from my own stupidity. I even saw Jimmy Saville running up and down my hill a few times in the days when he was still ‘Saint Jim’.

My uncle was (and assume is) a pragmatic man and his approach of seaside air combined with exercise might seem a bit Victorian but actually I hadn’t gone so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t be reached and his solution was the right remedy for me.

We didn’t really talk in any detail about what went on, (stereotypically) men don’t, northern men don’t and we didn’t – other than a brief chat on a late night stroll up the hill to his home. I think this left us both a little uncomfortable and neither of us ever really returned to the topic other than in one heated argument (the point at which I knew I was recovering and knew it was time to leave).

But with limited exchanges over my mental wellness I felt the need to balance the support provided by my uncle and his wife by adding in talking therapy as a way of exploring what had brought me to my knees. Unfortunately I found a therapist determined to focus on my parents as the root of the issues I had rather than the slightly more obvious ex-girlfriend fucking around in my head. Thankfully I found the therapist and I got on very well and the conversations quite stimulating which in turn opened up my own ability for assessment with a renewed clarity.

In the weeks that followed I was able to reconnect with myself and through my newly acquired active lifestyle I began to feel physically and mentally stronger.

I started to set out some basic life rules* that (mostly) to this day I live by, but at the heart of that was a promise to myself that I would be active – this would form the cornerstone of ‘me’. I also came to understand that my life rules must be fluid and flexible because it was my own dogma that had made me fragile and vulnerable. However, in my dealings with the ex-girlfriend I had compromised myself and no amount of flexibility should allow that to happen again. 

And so armed with words to live by I did just that and the past 15 years have been (mostly) the best of my life. And in all that time only once have I had a scare that it might all come tumbling down and that was last year during my very public retirement from running.

The Risk of Return? With the GingaNinja disagreeing about how much running I do I found myself in something of a quandary. After many successful years of both good mental health and running I found myself in a position where I was being asked to curtail some of my active exploits.

The danger of this was an immediate downward spiral back towards being less mentally happy which would ultimately (I believe) have endangered my relationship.

I tried to explain this without the context of my experiences in the early 2000s and feel that withholding this information made the problem worse than it needed to be. Thankfully a solution was achieved where I neither compromised the security of my health or my relationship. No easy feat but it was the right outcome.

Times and people change. In the years since I first encountered a mental health problem I’ve become a very different person, so much so that my near 40 year old self would barely recognise the younger me. And even though I’m still a reasonably anxious person it now fails to overwhelm me, I’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘everything will just keep happening so I’ll just get on with my bit’ and this is just fine, but it felt like it was a very long road to get to this stage.

Concluding. I never thought I was a candidate to struggle with mental health and I never believed it would take nearly 15 years for me to talk about it in a public way but perhaps I simply no longer care what anyone else thinks. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen lots of blogs and forums on the topic and feel that my experience may be of use to someone or maybe I just like talking about myself.

However, having discussed other peoples challenges and resolutions in search of greater understanding I’ve come to realise that no two issues or answers are the same. I’m a big advocate for an adventurous, running lifestyle to give yourself breathing space and time to think but I am very aware this isn’t for everyone and need only look to my ex-girlfriend who helped bring my own problems to the fore. Running was not the solution for her but it was for me.

What I would urge anyone who finds themselves in a difficult position, anxious, depressed, sad or some other form of mental illness is to seek support (support information from Mind, click here). There are options and most of all there are ways to navigate around or away from difficultied but your journey will be as unique as you are and recovery takes effort and nothing in life is guaranteed.

But ultimately stay happy and as Bill and Ted said, ‘Be excellent to each other’.

While you’re here below are a few facts from mentalhealth.org.uk 

  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.
  • In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression – a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was higher among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%).
  • Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide
  • Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.
  • Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

And these numbers from Mind make sad reading (the full survey and information can be read here);

  • Generalised anxiety disorder 5.9 in 100 people
  • Depression 3.3 in 100 people
  • Phobias 2.4 in 100 people
  • OCD 1.3 in 100 people
  • Panic disorder 0.6 in 100 people
  • Post traumatic stress disorder 4.4 in 100 people
  • Mixed anxiety and depression 7.8 in 100 people

*For those interested and still reading I earlier mentioned the ‘Life Rules’ I established nearly 15 years ago. Having found the original list I wrote I have down exactly as was in my sketchbook. It was a good list then and it’s a good list now.

  • Be curious
  • Keep moving
  • Look up
  • Question
  • Listen
  • Fight
  • Never compromise yourself
  • Work hard, earn everything
  • Stand up for your beliefs
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Give people what they need not what they want
  • Have faith in people
  • Live the life fantastic

I’ve been trying to pay it forward a little and say thanks in meaningful ways. It all started last week when I saw that lots of the big names were once again lined up for the #RunUltraBlogger nomination and as much as I love some of the names on the list, it was, to my mind, mostly uninspiring and I wanted real runners who motivate me and so I nominated the two that have inspired me most over the last 12 months or so.

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The blogs therefore I nominated are UltraRunnerDan (dan-fattofit.blogspot.co.uk) and Totkat (www.totkat.org). If they make a shortlist (or whatever the process is) do be sure to give them some support – they both highly deserve it for their awesome running and tremendous contributions to ‘run’ debates and healthy living. And even if you don’t vote for them do go along and visit their blogs and see what can be achieved with a bit of tenacity. They really are excellent reads.

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Now, while in awards mood I also slid over to The Running Awards website and both put my tick next to some of the nominees and also nominated a couple of races.

The most important things I nominated were the SainteLyon (best international race) and the Skye Trail Ultra (best endurance race). This seemed like a good positive thing to do – the SainteLyon is (I believe) the second longest running ultra marathon in the world and is an inspiration – I recommend that all ultra runners look it up and take part (there were only a dozen or so English runners there last year).

The other nomination for the Skye Trail Ultra is for three reasons 1) it’s a small local race across a tremendous landscape 2) it deserves to compete against much larger races because it has a spirit not found at places like VMLM and 3) the race director Jeff Smith is a brilliant, brilliant man who gives up his time to put on the most amazing event!

You can click links here for both The Running Awards and Run Ultra Blogger awards to find out more. Run Ultra Blogger awards are available by clicking here and the The Running Awards can be found here

Now before I go I wanted to discuss a different way I’ve been paying it forward via running; but as many readers will probably be aware I’ve been heavily focused on politics the last few months. This is very much because the referendum result has left a shit show which I feel has shown how nasty, insular and intolerant the UK has become. It saddens me hugely that many people, I had once considered friends, voted leave with the key reason being immigration.

Roll forward to the last week… twice in the last week I’ve been running slowly home and it’s been cold, really cold – winter is finally upon us.

On one of these cold early evenings I saw a man reading a book, a little bedraggled, trying to remain warm – he looked homeless, he certainly looked like he had troubles. I asked if I could buy him something to eat and he accepted. It wasn’t much but I bought some hot food and drink to take to him because who knew when the last time he’d eaten properly.

He was English or at least had an English accent, white, young(ish) probably my age actually – we didn’t speak much because I was cooling down post run and I didn’t want to embarrass him by standing over him as he ate. I wished him well and we shook hands.

I wondered if I had done right?

I did a similar thing tonight, a young(ish) lady who spoke little or no English, not enough clothes on, carrier bags with possessions that looked like her entire life and no hope. I was at Charing Cross with 15 minutes to spare before my train and I spotted her. I mimed the idea of food to her, tried to explain I’d just be a minute or two (I was) and thankfully she was still there when I returned. Given she couldn’t understand me, nor I her, I didn’t feel the need to make small talk but as I stood to leave she grabbed my arm, pressed it firmly and smiled thanks.

I could have cried.

Instead I smiled and waved gently before getting on the train to write this.

I see lots of homeless people as I run, people selling the big issue, refugees desperate for help, the mentally ill, the runaways, those hiding in plain sight and I don’t know how to help but what I do know is that too many in the UK see these poorest of people as a blight and a problem.

But maybe we could look at it differently?

Instead of seeing a homeless woman, try and see a woman who needs help. Instead of seeing a starving refugee, see a hungry man. If you were displaced, tired, hungry, distraught, abandoned wouldn’t you want someone to help?

Post referendum result I’m scared what my country is becoming.

So I’m asking you to do something for someone else. I’m asking you to pay it forward, help someone else or if you can’t help someone else then consider helping yourself by fighting to overturn the stupidity and the rhetoric of this country.

It’s never too late to start making a difference. #IAmEuropean


Mr Corbyn,

I’m writing to you on behalf of my daughter, UltraBaby, she’s not even two years old and I’m worried for her. I’m worried about a United Kingdom not in Europe, I’m worried about the consequences of the actions of the people of our nation in just a few days time and ultimately I’m worried about the future. So I’m writing to you because I want her to be involved in a United Kingdom that is an integral part of a culturally and economically rich Europe.

Is that too much to ask?

Therefore I’m imploring you to do two things for my daughter and for those who can’t or won’t vote across the UK.

  1. I need you, without caveats, to get behind Europe and our position in it and rally sleeping labour supporters.
  2. I need you to get on a platform with the Prime Minister and rally the whole damn country. If Clement Attlee could share a stage with Josef Stalin and Harry Truman you can do it with David Cameron.

Help my daughter remain European Mr Corbyn, because she isn’t being given a choice in this decision and I believe she deserves the best possible future and the best possible future doesn’t include leaving the EU.

Thank you in advance for anything you can do to truly help.

UltraBoyRuns

  
‘You’re still going?’ my grandmother cried, exasperated by how far I’ll go to run, ‘but those Muslims are killing people in France!’

My grandmother I should point out is an old style racist, the kind that makes snide comments about race, colour, gender, sexuality or appearance. She doesn’t appreciate that the attacks in France were NOT committed by Muslims, Catholics, Christians, Jews or any other religion – they were committed by people who hate and more importantly people who hate everyone and everything.

Obviously my grandmother is concerned that I’m off to race the Saintelyon in a few weeks time. She’s worried that a big event with runners might be a perfect target for a terrorist attack and in this she’s got a valid point – I mean let’s not forget how vulnerable runners are – Boston was not so long ago.

But at no point after the horrific events of last week did I think ‘maybe I shouldn’t go to France’. Infact I think it’s vital that I go to Saintelyon, it’s vital we all go and when asked on Twitter if I’d been put off I suspect my answer was already known.

I remember growing up with the IRA bombing cities and towns not far from me but there was never any doubt that life just went on, we got on with things and while I realise that this modern warfare is a whole new level of danger we must ensure we stand strong and simply ‘get on with the life we were leading’. Disruption, difficulty, suspicion, hate, panic these are the things that the attacks are meant to create – so why play into their hands? I’d rather be tolerant, supportive and tenacious.

So I am going to continue to be.

I’m not changing my avatars on social media instead I’m going to do what I always do and that’s be me. I’m going to go to France and enjoy the Saintelyon, I’m going to continue as a citizen of the world and embrace its diversity and I’m going to hope that there aren’t too many people like my grandmother out there because we all need to pull together whatever your background

Vive le France

Ultra running and parenting are two things that require a genuine level of dedication where you must give your all if you are to get the rewards you desire. Now despite my best efforts I’m feeling the strain of that dedication at the moment – it didn’t go unnoticed in my dismantling of my failure at the CCC that it was not helped by the fact that the two weeks prior to the race had seen the baby more restless than normal and my (already limited) sleeping pattern further hindered.
UltraBaby is a genuinely good child when it comes to letting us rest and catch up but with teething now in full swing I’m starting to understand the struggles that runners have when young children are involved.

The Before Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to get home from work, change into running kit, kiss GingaNinja goodbye and then go running for several hours. Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to say ‘I’ll run home from work tonight – all 40odd kilometres.

The Now Now I spend most of my time wondering if I’ll get back in time to collect her from the childminders or get home in time to put her to bed so that gran doesn’t have to. By the time this is done, baby and work prep for the next day and well you don’t always feel like going and banging out 20km or more.

The Commute None of this is helped by (on average) my 2 hour commute (each way) from my Central London job to home in sunny Kent and it’s further compounded by my partners regular late finishes which simply make me feel like I’ve got to get home. Weekends are equally prone to fracture with the GingaNinjas work and a lack of family network close by that we can draw on for support – therefore running is now challenging.

I do as many of the right things as possible. I run pre and/or post work most days. I’ll parkrun, I’ll buggy run and I’ll race regularly so I’m still achieving bigger distances even when training isn’t going well. But there’s only so long you can keep going like this before the lack of coherent training, sleep and even eating cause some mischief.

I’m Lucky Really I shouldn’t complain, I have it relatively easy, I have a supportive partner, a baby that isn’t too demonic and a dedication to the medals – I just want my cake and to eat it too – and I mean the whole cake, not a slice! Running is my primary hobby but UltraBaby is my responsibility and so I need to learn a greater degree of balance to ensure that I can continue to successfully parent but without too much compromise in ultra running!

What about you? I’m curious to hear how other running mothers and fathers manage to get the ‘time on their feet’ in and what ‘little tricks’ they’ve developed to make running, especially ultra running possible in the face of full time work, children, commuting and the plethora of other things that seem to get priority over running!

  
I’d like you to read the below email from Martin at Likeys, one of the best outdoor stores in the UK – if not the world. They are an independent retailer and like many others from all over the country they are being battered by the larger, more powerful companies and we as runners (both ultra and not) have an opportunity to do something about it. I’d also love you take a look at the event photograph above and see how much kit is there – tonnes of it and I’m confident lots of it was advised on by the independent retailers I’m writing about now. Read on…

This isn’t your typical email but I would like to share some thoughts with you….. and as a reward, there is a 10% discount code at the end of the email – but if time allows, please read the following first.

Likeys (like most other independent retailers) have over many years strived to provide the very best service to our customers. This service includes the following…..

* Sourcing the newest and best products, often putting our necks on the line in bringing innovative brands and products to the market – brands such as Hoka, Nuun, Raidlight, X-Bionic, Aarn, Injinji (and many more) were first seen in Likeys, long before the “Big Boys” had even heard of the brands.

* We freely give advice for all manner of running and adventures whilst always having the customers’ needs at the very forefront of our minds. We have had customers traveling from as far away as Zimbabwe specifically to pick our brains, whilst we have stayed open until 12.45 in the morning to make sure a couple of athletes got the advice and correct kit choices for an extreme ultra they were about to compete in. In a nutshell, we will always go that extra mile to look after our customers.

* We always try to be as competitive as we can be with our prices.

* We passionately support the sport we love – over the years we have sponsored the Questars Adventure Race Series (past 6 years). Have been the main sponsors of the popular 3-4-5 mile race series in Brecon (past 5 years), as well as giving away over £5,000 worth of sponsorship to ultra-runners in 2013. Plus year in year out providing numerous spot prizes for many races both locally and around the country.

* We organise both the Beacons Ultra (8th year in 2015) and the 6633 Ultra in the Canadian Arctic (7th year in 2015). Both races organised with the primary aim of providing the competitors with no frills ultra challenges at different spectrums of the range of madness…. These events are organised because we love the sport… simple!!.

Over the last 12 months there have been seismic shifts in the outdoor retail market, with a number of large corporate retailers picking up on the boom of off-road/trail/ultra running, the results of which for customers is that there have seen some wonderful online discounting, particularly on items that were once perceived as specialist. 

Naturally as a business we have noticed this, and a survey that we conducted a month or so ago confirmed that discounting is a significant factor when buying. However, it was equally obvious from that survey that the knowledge of specialist retailers, the personalised customer service and enthusiasm of independents which are freely given are also very highly regarded when making a purchase.

Independent retailers don’t have the financial clout to compete with these behemoths of the industry, so whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, unless there are changes, I can foresee Likeys closing its doors to the public in about 14 months when the lease on our current premises comes up for renewal. 

In the 9 years Likeys has been around, neither Sue or I have ever paid ourselves as much as the minimum wage, so please read the above knowing that we are not trying to line our pockets, we are simply trying to maintain a service that we truly think will be missed if Likeys go. Likeys (and I think this will equally apply to many other independents that are caught up in this current discounting melee) has always been a passion before any business sense could be applied to it, so making money has never been the overriding factor, but alas even we have to make enough to pay the bills and pay the wages of those that work alongside us.

Now before you go jumping to any conclusions…. This isn’t a begging letter, it is merely a statement of how I see the market panning out for specialist independents such as Likeys. 

So what am I saying….

Well, quite simply I would like you to consider supporting the independent stores (including Likeys) as much as you can in order that they can continue to support you in your adventures wherever they might take you. If you see an item for a few pounds more at an independent, please don’t assume they are being greedy, they are simply trying to bring products to the market at a fair price that will allow them to stay in business. Please support us independents, as your good custom means far more than you will ever realise. In return you will continue to get the excellent customer service, the free product advice, the enthusiasm and passion that only an independent store can provide….. and it’s only the likes of a Likeys that can offer you the chance to tackle what is probably the toughest race in the World!!!

Whilst I don’t imagine the above musing will change the world, I am a born optimist, so fingers crossed I am hoping enough people will appreciate the true value for money you get from independents that will see both Likeys and many of the other brilliant independents survive for many years to come so we can share the laughs and tribulations as you go on your merry way competing in daft events in this country and further afield.

Now, I mentioned a discount code….

Bearing in mind what I have written above, we would love it if you didn’t use it (wink wink), but equally we know everyone likes a bit of a deal….So, as a “Thank You” for a few minutes of your time reading the above – for 10% off anything you buy at Likeys (www.likeys.com) from now until Friday 26th, simply type in the two words coloured green above into the promotion code (without a space between) during checkout and the wizardry of the Likeys website will do the rest for you.

Very best wishes

Martin

P.S. Please feel free to share these sentiments with others that you think might appreciate them

I’m not including the discount coded because I’d rather we paid the price on the tin. But the point is that we as runners need resources like this, I don’t mind if you want to buy your Christmas sale bargains from Wiggle or. GoOutdoors or whoever but would it really hurt to spend that small bit extra to ensure we keep these places open?

To ensure I’m not being hypocritical I can tell you that 9 out of my last 10 pairs of running shoes came from independent retailers but I admit that my Salomon race vest came from Wiggle and some of my cheaper training kit comes from places Decathlon or buying direct from the manufacturer at things like the London Marathon Expo (though I still try and support smaller companies like Runderwear at these events). I’m also due to purchase my CCC shoes this week and given that I’ll be buying Altra Lone Peak 2.0 I know that I’ll be going to an independent retailer (either Accelerate or ultra-runner.com) because I think it’s the right thing to do and because the service and advice I have received from both these companies in the past has been really top notch.

All I’m asking is that you think about these companies, look beyond the giant discounts and try and remember that the deal you are being offered by Sweatshop and SportsDirect usually isn’t as good as you think (funny how Mike Ashley’s hand is involved in those two businesses and we are talking about the death of independent retailers). Let’s not forget these guys support the races we do with prizes, sponsorship, race day stores – if we undermine them too much then will the races that we love so much start to struggle to find funding? It’s a vicious circle isn’t it?

Help me out visit an independent retailer today and maybe make a purchase – do you really have to look that hard to find Run and Become? Likeys? Ultra-Runner? UltraMarathonRunningStore? Castleberg Outdoors? George Fisher? Accelerate? Endurance Store? Jog Shop, Brighton? Give them a chance and help them out – if not for you then for me – because I shop in them and I want them to stay around.

Just a thought guys.

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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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This will probably be the penultimate post I produce prior to the WNWA96, the walk is just 2 weeks away and everyone is starting to get excited, but it’s also a very difficult time for those more deeply involved with the campaign as last week the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy opened, and this is a timely reminder of why people like myself are joining this wonderfully powerful and symbolic event.

It is perhaps too easy to forget, in the haste of preparations for the event, the reasons we are walking but that reason is as a thank you for the 25 years of support that have been given to the families of victims and to the survivors of the disaster.

I am sure that many of you who have read my posts about this walk will at least know something about the events of the disaster and will probably have seen the news reports that have been filling news channels and online services for the last few weeks – I am sure you, like I, can see how hugely emotionally and physically draining it is for those there.

Yet despite all of this there are a group of people who will sing, chant and make merry as they head from Hillsborough through to Anfield, via various northern football grounds. It’ll be a little bit like Scousers on tour – can you imagine it, dozens of Liverpudlians traipsing across some of the most inhospitable hills that Yorkshire and Lancashire have got to offer?

The walk obviously runs parallel to many of the other tributes being planned but this one has an air of joy about it and idea that my father could have not only conceived this lovely tribute to his brother and all those affected by Hillsborough but also take part in it, fills me with a pride and a joy that I will never truly be able to express. And so when he bangs out another old Irish folk song at 4am to lift the spirits, or tells one of his ‘classic’ jokes, rather than do my usual ‘sticks fingers in ears’ I shall afford myself a rye smile and hum along to the tune or help him with the punchline.

On the day
My dad or in this event perhaps ‘leader’ would be a better title, remains concerned that nobody can complete the whole distance in the time and that a relay is the best and safest way forward. I agree very much that in the main he is probably 100% correct but I have no such concerns for myself. Having just come off the back of the 4800ft of elevation of the South Downs Way 50, completed in under 11hrs, with two twisted ankles I am more confident than ever that I have the capacity to do the distance in the time.

My goal
I would love to complete the 96miles, not just because it is a truly remarkable achievement but because it will serve as a lifetime reminder to me of the effort and strength of those who have sought the truth for nearly a quarter of century – more than two thirds of my lifetime. I consider that a couple of weeks of slightly sore feet is a small price to pay to honour all those people affected.

I look forward to being able to put my arms around my dad at the end and saying ‘well done’, I look forward to telling UltraBaby of the brilliance of the men and women who undertook this challenge defiantly and I look forward to explaining the symbolic nature of it in the brightness of the truth that the families so very much deserve.

7 ultra marathons I said, that’ll do for 2014 I said – 460 ultra race miles, that’s enough I argued to myself but in the back of my tiny little mind there was another challenge gnawing at my being. There shouldn’t be of course – the races I’ve already got planned and the races I’ve run would be enough for anyone, add to that we have UltraBaby due later this year and there are the long running variety of ongoing issues with my hips, knees ankle and back.

But, talking to my dad has inspired me to one final push.

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough football tragedy, I’m not going into the details of this as other people can do it infinitely better than I. But in the last year nearly a quarter of a century after the event, great strides have been made by the families in getting the one thing they all want, the truth about what happened that day.

It is important to note that the hard work that people like my dad and the other families have put in to getting to the truth has been enormous and it is vital to remember the support of so many people has been required to get to this point. My dad felt at this landmark juncture in the story that there needed to be something positive done – to say thank you to all those that had walked even the smallest part of this very long journey.

And so came to life the WNWA96 – or to give it a fuller title the We Never Walked Alone 96 mile walk.

96 miles of walking between Hillborough to Anfield in around 36hrs. I’d like to say that it’s a team of crack commando walkers who are ready to complete this task but it’s not, it is simply dedicated walkers, dedicated supporters and everyday people who want to help say ‘thanks’ but also do something special to ensure at this time we really don’t forget.

It was originally planned that the walk would be done as a group of individuals all completing the 96miles but given the enormity of the task at hand, the actual terrain and the time limit, it was decided to turn into more of a relay. Therefore, most of the walkers will complete as much of the 96miles as possible and then use the sweeper bus to rest and then rejoin at later points.

And this is where I come in…

I have such huge admiration for my dad, yes he’s a campaigner and all round good egg but he is also one of the reasons I run, he was a runner, he was competitive, he helped inspire me to my first marathon and most of all he is my dad and as I launch into fatherhood myself soon I finally realise what a difficult job that has been.

The thing is he’s not as young as the man who has run all those marathons – like London and Bolton Hill – he’s not as quick as he used to be and when I heard all about his trialling of the route from Sheffield to Huddersfield and his description of it as a challenge of champions I knew that I should probably be involved. Given that my dad is also set to become a grandfather for the first time shortly I was keen that he make it through the distance as safely as possible and what better way to ensure that by going along.

I figure that by donning cape and tights once more I’ll not only give myself some excellent preparation for the NDW100 / Winter100 but I’ll also be supporting my dad, the campaign and everyone who has ever dedicated a moment to helping the families. My part is tiny and in truth a bit selfish but my dad is a hero to me and I’d want to support him in something this special and ensure he gets through it to. Funnily though I expect it’ll be a two way street and it’ll be his experience as much as anything that will help me get through this challenge.

So dad, if you are ready for 96 miles so am I and I’ll see you on the start line and I expect to see you on the finish line.

On a final note …

This is not a charitable event, it is not raising funds, it is maintaining awareness. The guys who are doing this are all involved for very different reasons but are all united by their desire to maintain the legacy of the 96 who died in 1989 and the need for the truth to come out. They would I am sure welcome your vocal support via Facebook and Twitter and I know that as I am clambering across the hills between Sheffield and Liverpool I will need that vocal support too.

Find out more on Twitter at @25yearsWNWA or at facebook.com/WNWA25years

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Sometimes you are lucky enough to meet inspirational runners, the kind of runners that make you wish you could be them. I met Mike last Sunday at about mile 3 of the St. Peter’s Way Ultra and ran with him for many miles before he powered on to a great finish and I wished then I could have been him.

Now what does this have to do with anything?

Well, as I’ve said before I don’t run for charity – it’s not my thing, I don’t have the tenacity to go chasing people for cash, I’d rather donate to others and when I met Mike I met a runner that I wanted to donate to. He’s not running a single specific race to raise money, he’s challenged himself to a 1,00mile minimum over the course of 2014. I think that’s impressive – especially when it contains ultra marathons!

Importantly he didn’t ask me to donate money, I asked him if I could. The charity he is running for is a small one, it’s not an Oxfam, Plan or Macmillan, etc (all of whom do amazing work but who are all quite large charities). Momentum are small, local to South West London and Surrey and do really great work – you can see for yourself here http://www.moment-um.org and if anyone would like to help Mike reach the biggest total he can then I know he would be hugely grateful. As an added bonus you will see on his virginmoneygivingpage that every pound donated to him will be matched by Bloomberg.

So I know this is a busy time of year for runners coming round hitting your pockets but I believe this one is worth it. I’m sure you are aware I wouldn’t support anything or more importantly anyone I didn’t believe in, so, if you have anything to give then I know how much it would mean to Mike.

As a useful and potentially donation clinching fact is that Mike runs in Hoka, therefore clearly he has good taste-the photo above is Mike in action at about mile 10 of St. Peter’s Way rocking his beloved Mafate 3.

Anyway thanks for listening chaps and good running this weekend wherever you are.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RunningSox

I was reading a blog post some months ago about running and depression and how running can’t solve depression, further it talked extensively about the attitude of some runners who claimed that going for a run could clear the mists that cloud the mind of one who is depressed, it was a fascinating piece written by someone whose partner did/does have depression and at the time it really got under my skin. I’d meant to write something at the time but as with all things you get caught up in life, etc. but as I’m sat on the unmoving train this evening I was thinking about this very topic again and so I’m writing and I’m writing about two particular periods in my life when running was the thing that probably made the difference between surviving and not.

I go back to 2002 when I was at the end of a relationship, this was fine, I’d been upset but actually had moved on rather easily – met a new girl, was having a jolly old time in London and I’d started running again, not much but about 5 miles every couple of days and feeling really positive about it. I was running around the country lanes of Surrey like a man possessed some days, I remember the exhilarating feeling of having the wind in my hair and a good feeling all around me.

When the ex returned to the scene needing some emotional support it threw things into chaos, my whole life was, to put it mildly, flushed down the shitter.

I found myself in a situation of reliance, something I hadn’t been in since before I was at university. I found getting up in the morning, I had no motivation to do anything, even running had turned to crap and I couldn’t see beyond the end of the day, this was one of the darkest parts of my adult life. I had nothing positive to hold onto and wasn’t quite sure what was going to become of me and at that point I’m not convinced I cared. Even had I been able to run during this period nothing could have alleviated the despair.

Seeing the serious nature of things I joined my uncle in North Yorkshire for a little while to help remove me from the rat race and just let the wind beat against my face. It was a combination of him (a bit of a running legend in his home town) and later my father (just a legend) that coaxed me back into picking my life back up.

What they both knew was that the thing we all shared was a love of running and by making me join them on the road or in a field, in the cold and the rain that I could be forced to think about my physical condition rather than mope about my mental one. The running returned to me a sense of normality and strangely self worth. I eventually started going out on my own and running along the Yorkshire coast, often starting up in Scarborough and ending up 20 miles away somewhere new. The running invigorated me and as I would pound the deep, long hills of the north I was able to come to terms what I felt, at the time, had been treachery, deceit and my own stupidity. The running gave me the space to open up to myself and regain my self reliance. The running certainly hadn’t cured me of the issues I was going through but it did offer respite from the downward spiral and also gave me a goal.

However, it wasn’t until incident 2 that I realised that I can never give up running.

The second incident involved a relationship with a very particular lady – you perhaps are seeing a pattern here (although not all of my relationships have ended up being bonkers)? Anyway… my two year relationship was pretty damn rosy, we enjoyed each other’s company, had a couple of cats and even bought furniture together, we saw lots of RomComs, ate out at all you can eat buffets, played Nintendo Wii, dieting when not eating buffet, saw lots of Lloyd Webber musicals and lived in the east end of London.

When I look back at this time I realise I’m not a fan of Lloyd Webber musicals, I prefer dogs to cats, I don’t like all you can eat buffets, nor Pizza Hut, I’m not a big fan of computer games, didn’t need to see so many RomComs and never really got into the swing of East London, always preferring the south and most importantly I really hate diets.

It wasn’t until she had started cutting me off from my friends, had me going to bed by 10pm (the witching hour) and insisting that I give up running that I realised I wasn’t in a relationship I was a slave to somebody else’s personal tastes.

Funnily though it was really over the fact that I loved running that the relationship was ended, looking back both then and now I realise I would go for longer and longer runs because I was at peace hammering the streets of Ilford, Barking and West Ham. The thought of having running taken away from me showed to me how low my spirit had become around her because it was all I had left. You don’t see it until you are free but I was being turned into something she thought she wanted and what she neglected to remember was the me she originally met she liked because I was active, I ran, I watched foreign movies, I read classic books as well as absurd ones and I looked good in a pair of short shorts 😉 When she stripped away all the things that she did she removed my personality and I’m not sure she even liked the end product.

So one insignificant evening I left behind the furniture, the cats and a woman that wanted to take away me from me. I spent a lot of running time afterwards wondering if I had done the right thing and never once did i look back on it as a mistake. After the first incident I knew that if I wanted to avoid losing myself again then I should continue just the way I had been.

So running saved me mentally

Now, before anyone talks about personal responsibility, in both of these cases I am 100% aware that I had some very serious faults – most of which I shan’t be publishing here.

I’m also very pleased that both the people involved have gone on to find love, success and happiness and I’m pleased for them. These were complex situations though that left me emotionally and mentally drained and without the continuous presence of running I’m not sure what I would have turned to. Drink? Sex? Overeating? I have a over developed sense of anger and so maybe I’d have been violent? But running played a very major part in me surviving and so we come to today, why have I not fallen into a pit of my own self angst? is that down to running?

Simply put, yes.

Today I’m lucky my partner understands why I run, understands the phrase ‘I run to keep me balanced’. She comes to the races and sees my beaming face on the finish line, she appreciates that the occasional Sunday morning sacrifice stops me tipping over some imaginary edge. I don’t drink, don’t do drugs, nor do I smoke. I don’t even regularly attend nightclubs anymore (just occasionally). I run because it makes me happy.

Running is my vice and my friend, it offers both solitude and listening and I’ve been heard to say that if I ever declare ‘I’m giving up running’ that there is something seriously wrong or there soon will be. Running can’t cure depression but in my case, a man who is deeply emotionally charged, it keeps the possibility of depression and mania at bay.

Running makes me a better person, I’m 100% convinced of that.

So, when you find yourself in a difficult situation you must find and do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it but don’t be afraid to find crutches to ensure you make those first steps to a better life. I chose running and running chose me and I’m glad it did, what did you choose?

Three ultra marathons this year, all over 12hours, all rather wet, one freezing cold and all of them a challenge but not for me, they were a challenge for my primary support crew, the wife and the dog. She’s the designated driver – I don’t drive, she walks the hound while I run , giving him probably the most fun he’s had in a month but even a dog walk can’t last the whole length of me running. She carries my additional supplies, usually changes of clothing, spare socks, additional food and good cheer. She’s also my primary cameraman which I have to say I’m grateful for because over the last few years of racing she’s got some rather nice shots of me. She acts as support for the other runners as she waits at the checkpoints, often helping out the official runners, she’s a bit of a legend and I couldn’t do it without her, which is why I say my medals are often run for in her honour (and the dogs). But next year I’m running at least four ultra marathons, probably more likely seven or eight in an effort to ensure I get the UTMB points I so desperately crave and this leaves me with a problem – my friends aren’t really runners and they are spread out across the globe so asking them to crew for me is a bit of a no go and I’ve discovered that this is a problem for many of the ultra running fraternity. It seems to me that this is the greatest struggle of the ultra marathoner – that our nearest and dearest do get a bit bored of standing round at checkpoints waiting for us to turn up.

So what do we do? One solution, which is the one I will be adopting for at least my first couple of ultras next year is to run them completely solo. This offers a couple of unique experience challenges – I will have to carry all my own kit, there won’t be anything waiting for me at the mid point, it would just be me and the spare pair of Vibrams and 12litres of space in my Ultimate Directions vest. But then there is the alternative, ultra runners by their nature seem to gravitate towards one another and I know that at the very least a couple of my lovely twitter followers offered to support me on my aborted TG100 attempt and this gave me a thought – perhaps the Twitter community could be helping each other out? Now I don’t drive so I wouldn’t be much use in the driving round stakes but I would make a decent pacer for so someone doing a 100 miler to help them through those most difficult of stages. Plus this would be an excellent way for practice on some genuinely tough trails but also what fun knowing that you helped someone achieve their dream.

It seems to me that this makes for a way to give something back in addition to the volunteering element – something I also intend to get into over the next year or so.

So there we go twitter and wordpress I am offering myself out as crew, to help support one or more of my fellow runners, of course it’s subject to being available, free of injury and the like but then you racing is dependent on those factors too, but what needn’t be a factor is a lack of crew support. I hope more of the wonderful social media community will consider thinking about this too because as the song says ‘we get by with a little from our friends’.

Pyllon - ultra runner

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