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It’s day 18 of Juneathon and I’ll be honest I’m not really enjoying it. The chest infection I’ve been fighting for the last week has put a damper on the fun of running but it’s not just that – Juneathon for the first time seems quite isolated and I don’t think I’m 100% alone in that feeling.

I’m not the first to mention it but the Twitter community part of Juneathon seems a little lost – yes there’s lots of us posting times, distances and blogs but without any connection. Having done a couple of Juneathon and Janathon events before the thing I liked the most was the connectivity of it all.

I met ultra running legend @abradypus through Janathon at a time before either of us had started our ultra journey and I met the awesome @follystone through the same event. It’s fair to say that Jan/Juneathon very much started my love affair with the online running community and perhaps this is why I am disappointed by the online community aspect of it this time around, it has previously given me so much and this time it’s just not got going.

Now in defence of Juneathon it’s fair to say I’ve had lovely moments with people like @iRunSalt, @follystone, @drdavehindley and many others and we’ve been supportive of one another but there hasn’t been that big party vibe that was once the hallmark of Juneathon. I suppose it’s also down to me to bring the party along and in truth I haven’t – I haven’t tried to get near the top of the running part of the leaderboard and I’ve been cheating on the blogging by handwriting my efforts. I’ve also avoided the Facebook element of the event because I prefer the semi anonymous nature of UltraBoyRuns.

So is anyone but me to blame for my lack of exposure to the fun side of Juneathon? Sadly it would seem not. 

There’s also the lethargy that’s kicking in with the postings in the last few days. I suspect that many of us who sign up to something like this believe it will be easy to run, log and blog for 30 straight days but they’d be wrong and we are starting to see sore knees, ankles and everything else as the effects are taking their toll. I’m including myself in the negative output as a chest infection is curtailing my efforts somewhat, but with my chest starting to clear a little bit I’m going to make much more concerted effort to congratulate, cajole and motivate people to finish Juneathon with a bang. I really wanted to feel the highs you get from community running and sharing and we’ve got 12 days to make this feeling happen …

So come on guys and girls – let’s make this happen, let’s get our totals up and not let our legs give in.

It’s a funny thing this Twitterverse, I love the democracy of it, the sharing and the learning. I Iove the entertainment value of it and I find it alarmingly amusing. I also really enjoy the togetherness it brings, I’ve very much enjoyed meeting lots of the tweeters I follow and sometimes you’re even fortunate enough to get to know the people and form lasting friendships.

But what Twitter doesn’t do is give followers a real insight to my real life, the person I was, am or will be. UltraBoyRuns is a character, a sweary, annoying, supportive, arsehole type of character and for those that interact with him I hope we all have a cheery enough time. Twitter connections are fun, but they have, for the most part, limits. Obviously, occasionally my real personality will slip out on subjects like politics, mental health, ethics or something else dear to my heart but I can’t articulate the full nature of myself on complex subjects in 160 characters and if I could I suspect I’d be an idiot. My Twitter me isn’t the complete me and I’m sure the same can be said for most users of this very open social media platform.

Interestingly, I adopt a very similar approach in real life, those who meet me are given a version of me, much like we all do I suspect, but I will give out anecdotes and more personal information where I deem it necessary. To point the spotlight on an example of how private I can be – I chose not to inform my workplace or my colleagues (at my previous employer) that my partner was pregnant, I considered this a private matter and therefore not the concern of my colleagues or employer. However, there have been occasions in the last few months where personal information I have shared has been used as a gossiping point. Where information I have shared on Twitter has been used in the real world as a commentary to my skill as a runner, as a designer, as a guide to my tenacity and to make judgements as to the person I am. 

People are entitled to their opinion but when it gets back to me that this is happening and you’re attempting to influence others opinion of me – well you’ve made a mistake, a big fucky type of mistake because in reality I’m an angry, raging, bastardy type of person with few redeeming features and I despise those who need to live their lives through other people’s personality and/or achievements.

To make it clear, if you’ve read this piece then the chances are it wasn’t you who has been irking me, this is one individual who couldn’t respect the idea that conversations do not need to be spread. So, despite this, I doubt I’ll change being the person I am but I thought it would be interesting to share this rather personal insight in such a public way. Happy Wednesday.

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a sip of coffee and no food

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

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

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

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

Boom

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

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

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

So that was the experience but what about my opinions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MarchVirtual10kmI’m not allowed to run the Nuclear Blackout on Saturday as my OH refuses to take me to the start line so it seems that my next race will be the excellent March Virtual 10km (the OH is doing the virtual 5km). Having completed the UKRunChat Virtual 10km last month this seemed like a great opportunity to grab another medal. If there is still space I would highly recommend going over to www.virtualrunneruk.com and signing up – you won’t regret getting out there and earning another medal for your collection and you’ll be donating to charity too.

Have fun running

I was having a discussion about the value of blogging as you run with a colleague and a fellow runner, we met about a decade ago and have periodically run together – he’s something of a monster having completed dozens of marathons and a few ultras, I’ve often looked toward him as something of an inspiration and although we have beaten slightly different running tracks we have always been very respectful of each others achievements – but on blogging and Twitter we simply could not agree and more for the first time ever it got insulting.

The suggestion was that my blogging has no value other than to publicly air my dull thoughts about what running means to me and that there is very little interest in what I (and others like me) have to say. I disagreed

It was here that it started to get even more personal and he laughed at my rather poor blog spelling – here I defended myself saying that my blogging often takes place while I’m commuting or walking to work and spelling errors are the result usually of the dreaded autocorrect

He further questioned the value of race reviews that focus so much on my personal feelings about them and less about the numbers ‘people don’t much care how you were feeling, they care, if anything, about splits, elevation, pace, etc.

I tried to explain that if I wanted to write about pace and splits and speed and the more technical end of my running I would but that the reason I write about my experiences in the way I do is that if I feel good, bad or even amazeballs that is something that might lift someone else, or empathise with someone else.

To this he countered that my audience was too small to actually offer a connection to other runners but my view is that my blog has a couple of hundred hits per day, not massive but then I don’t promote it extensively and as long as one person finds it of use then it has done its job and sometimes the job it does is let me express my running angst or happiness. Does this seem so bad I asked?

By this point I was feeling a little dejected and so the conversation turned onto Twitter … another thing he simply couldn’t understand.

‘Why would you waste your time chatting on Twitter – you could be running?!?’ At this he had a bit of a point I could be running instead of tweeting but at the same time the Twitter community offers lots of advice, support and ongoing shits and giggles. I get to (hopefully) inspire others to get out the door or offer advice based on my experience and in return I get the same.

His counter argument was that I should join a running club, thereby giving and receiving support in the real world. That being around other runners would inspire me to break back into better times, better finishes, avoid injuries and generally be a better human being or something.

We simply couldn’t agree and by the end of the conversation I was actually angry and we haven’t spoken since. But does he have a point? Would I be better dumping Twitter and blogging in favour of joining a running group? If I did though experiences like seeing @abradypus at the Country to Capital at mile 24 just wouldn’t happen. Randomly being stopped by runners in the street who recognise your picture from your blog or Twitter feed wouldn’t happen. And being recognised at ParkRun for your Vibram-clad monkey feet wouldn’t happen.

This conversation has been rattling around in my head for a few days now – I’m hoping it goes away soon.

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5.30am and an email arrives – the Dartford 10 miler is cancelled, 3 years I’ve been trying to run this, once I pulled out because of an injury and now twice it has been canceled and I haven’t been available for the re-scheduled date. The good news is that the race organiser made the right decision, the River Darent had broken it’s banks and the water, several days later, hadn’t drained.

Instead I did a very hilly 10 miles in a pretty healthy 1hr 17minutes. So no medal but a really positive run and I got to test my Salomon hydration belt, nice and easy to use and very comfy – though it gave me a seriously sweaty back.

I hope everyone else had a lovely sunny January run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How very true!

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

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

Happy Sunday running guys

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My train journey in a morning is usually split between sleeping, playing on Twitter, replying to emails, working and even occasionally blogging or playing Words with Friends ( usually being beaten by @follystone ). However, this morning I happened to be tweeting the usual rubbish when I got caught up in a storm of my making. I mistakenly suggested that the way to be positive was to do something silly and my silliness was that we should walk 600metres into a public place and pretend to be a Gorilla/Ape/Monkey. Sara @4pairsofwellies seemed to agree that this was a good idea and that I should do it, so arriving at Charing Cross I switched on the Suunto, headed and out and 600metres later found myself at Trafalgar Square, under Nelson’s Column making ape like noises and wandering around going ‘oOO, oOO’.

Sometimes Twitter can you please advise me against my own stupidity or my efforts to make other people feel #Positive

I’ll point out that photographic evidence was submitted to Sara, but as I have a secret identity to protect (being a superhero an’ all) all you get is the second of the photographs which was taken next to the Big Blue Cock – rather apt I thought.

A big blue cock, next to a man pretending to be an ape, dressed in a big blue hoody – whatever next

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I could sum this up in one sentence, that sentence would be ‘feck me that was fun’. But this would provide an injustice to supporting a lovely new event that clearly took lots of organisation and had certain challenges of nature that threw things slightly into chaos – let me explain.

I signed up a couple of weeks ago to Xtreme Beach with Xtreme running because it simply sound an absolute hoot and because at the time I didn’t have a knackered Achilles, but just a few short days before, for the first time I injured the one thing that I really didn’t want to injure. Thankfully with a lot of effort and a lot of ice I managed to drag myself to start line in Bradwell on Sea in Essex. The first thing we noticed was that the emailed out directions to the event were very good and we arrived in very good time with the added bonus of free parking. Awaiting us was signage to indicate we had arrived and there were runners and race organisers floating around directing people over to the start line – all good so far. I even noticed that the couple of toilets weren’t in bad condition either – although I was there early and didn’t use them but the good lady did and she wasn’t too distressed by them.

I nipped over to the registration tent where I remembered that I had left my ‘Waiver form’, say on the printer at home, but the guys resolved this problem pretty easily for which I was grateful. I was asked how many laps I intended to do and I offered my usual – all of them please answer, the full 18km. I had decided that I would keep running until it was no longer safe to do so and therefore I needed to make sure I had the right amount of distance signed up for.

I was a little distressed as my feet had taken a soaking in the long grass on the way to the registration but there was nothing to be done about this now and although I had now seem a much drier path it was too late – perhaps a little directional signage would have helped here? I have to say though it was a rather jovial atmosphere though and by the time a few dozen runners had arrived and the music was in full swing, one could of mistaken this for a bit of rave had it not been for the early morning setting and the amount of trainers and Lycra on show. Sadly it then turned a bit miserable when the first obstacle hit home – the hail storm, this was well and truly beyond the organisers control but being in the long grass of the field with no cover meant that we pretty much all took quite an unpleasant soaking and the race was still 45 minutes away. I was freezing and contemplated pulling out as what looked like a load of fun now looked like being pretty miserable but I’m glad I didn’t.

10.30 turned up and the race should have started but over the PA system we heard it was running a few minutes late and that the warm up would take place soon. This was fine as at least they kept us informed and the warm up was okay although I felt some of it in the long grass might have led to potential injuries and given my already knackered state I took this section rather easy. So despite a few teething problems, mostly caused by Mother Nature the registration was pretty smooth.

At the start line we all ganged up together and readied for the off, I started in my customary place at the back and would work my way forward, the first kilometre was fine although bereft of any really nice scenery or challenges and I used this to move up the field a little bit. Then we saw it, the first of the challenges, we crossed into what can only be described as a very long stream of glorious shit, chest high in places and filling all our crevices with black mud. My Speedcross 3 with their gloriously grippy grip kept getting caught in the mud and refusing to come free but I powered forward as only a runner can! I slipped at one point and my head was dunked just below the surface and this was the bit where I knew I was going to enjoy this. After what felt like an age we came out of the mud and many of the runners simply started to walk but I pulled myself out and started to run for the monkey bars, it was a great disappointment that I saw a number of the runners avoiding the black pool of filth because if you weren’t going to do the adventure element of the race then what was the point? Anyway I digress .. I managed about 2/3 of the monkey bars and then hurtled past a dude called Gary who I had met earlier, I jumped under the first of the netting and used my head as a guide (getting friction burns on my scalp I think!) coming out of this was a delight until I crossed onto the beach and the lovely Marshall advised we were going down on hands and knees again. I adopted the same routine and came up for air quickly, holding the netting for my fellow competitors. Pushing onwards and upwards I came to the tyre lift and hurled some abuse at a lovely chap who was offering comedy support, into the water once again and then back out hurling my tyre on the rack. I was now tiring, more from a lack of training and being injured than the course but it was taking its toll and I hoped to simply make it to that second lap. I threw myself over the double wall they had erected and then onto the bag of stone lift – it was here I decided on doing just a single lap as the weight of the stone make breathing difficult and while I recovered once the weight was off me I wasn’t sure I fancied it again and my Achilles was feeling tighter than I had hoped. I therefore trundled beyond the turn, thanking the Marshall and organiser at the turning but deciding to go to the finish. I did give the finish a bit of fizz as is my usual way and I sprinted straight into the final obstacle of two large gentlemen brandishing large cushioned batons to beat me with! Ha, wonderful.

I was cut, bloodied and bruised but I felt rather wonderful at the finish line and this was a great event.

Perhaps a few things to consider though, I run for the bling … I suppose I’d rather have a medal than a t-shirt, the goody bag was decent, banana, hot soup, T-shirt, water (although would like to have seen the logo on the T-shirt). The registration area would probably have been better in the car park, or on slightly more even and drier ground given the autumnal setting and then we could have been led to the start line.

The marshals were excellent, giving clear directions and lots of lovely support, so many thanks to them. I imagine that as the event gets bigger and better the organisers will add little tricks and touches to the route and the obstacles but I thought they made great use of the landscape and terrain in developing complex challenges. The choice of 6,12 and 18km on the day and as you are going round was also very welcome and that option to stop when you needed to meant I was actually able to participate despite injury.

I would certainly do this again, although the normal entry price of £40 seems reasonably steep – even things like the Grim and Beast in the East manage to keep it a little cheaper than this but the discounts via Twitter (and I imagine Facebook) made the cost more sensible – infact for the £22.00 I paid I thought it was a bargain.

In conclusion I can say a few things, the first is that while this is not on the scale of the Mens Health Survival of the Fittest, nor Grim Challenge it has an epic charm all of its own and if they manage to tweak some of the very minor problems in registration then they have a winning formula and coupled with a great attitude and a listening ear this event will become a regular on many peoples calendar. Finally I would like to congratulate the organisers for their hard work because without them we wouldn’t have places to race and they seemed so genuinely passionate – plus the thing I really loved was that they wanted the runners feedback – this is the kind of thing that will make this event stand out as it moves forward. So thanks very much and good luck for the future Xtreme Running and I look forward to seeing you for the 18km next year.

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There are very few pieces of equipment that fill me with as much joy as my signature series Ultimate Directions race vest. Perhaps my Hoka, maybe my original Adidas Adios or maybe my first OMM 25l bag but these all felt very real, things that could be used in a day to day scenario either for training or going to work, the UD Signature Series doesn’t feel like that, the UD vest feels like something you wear when you are racing or hitting the ail big time. I’ll point out that I am a regular user of the vest but there is something that makes you heart skip a beat when you put on a piece of kit like this because it helps get you into the zone.

Anyway enough of my gushing, this is a very simple review based on my experiences with the UD Peter Bakwin signature series vest. I’m not a professional athlete, I’m not even a decent ultra runner but I run regularly, race often and want good, value added kit to ensure that my collection steadily grows.

Let’s start with some specifications of the product and go from there:

FEATURES (FRONT)
– GPS Pouch (buttons accessible)
– Bottle holsters can carry 26 oz.
– Gel or bar pouches (4)
– Electrolyte or valuables pocket (2)
– Fully adjustable Sternum Straps (2)
– Emergency whistle

FEATURES (BACK)
– Cuben Fiber bellows for large or small loads
– Secure Lat Pockets, with full pocket behind (2)
– Two sizes main compartments
– Single pull bungee compresses entire pack
– Trekking pole (2) and Ice Axe loop (1)

SPECIFICATIONS
Volume Capacity: 12L
Fluid Capacity: 2 x 591 mL / 2 x 20 oz. bottles
Weight: 340 g (496 g with bottles) / 12 oz. (17.5 oz. with bottles)
Height: 41 cm
Width: 23 cm
Depth: 11 cm

I specifically bought this bag a a replacement for my OMM Ultra 15, which as a bag I love to bits but as a race bag it sits quite low on my frame and I find the need to have a map pouch permanently attached to me which makes the bag difficult to remove during a race – so much so that during the White Cliffs 50 I need the aid of some of the support crew to help me back into my bag. Let me make it clear though, my OMM 15 is my current daily use bag and often my first choice race bag, but for the ultra distances I felt I needed something that reduced movement event further, was lighter and built specifically with the ultra marathoner in mind. My search was extensive and I looked up bags and vests from manufacturers like OMM, Salomon (whose range is outstandingly good), Nathan and even Decathlon.

It was while looking for new and interesting races that I stumbled across the Centurion Running website and there was a fairly small but well packed shop with goodies just destined for my basket – but the thing that caught my eye where the Ultimate Directions race vests. Not only where they in the same price bracket as the Salomon but they had a rather nice colour way that made me think they’d look rather nice on. The fact that the bag was jammed to the rafters with technology and innovative features was simply a bonus to me.

I made my order from Centurion Running as they were offering it at both a decent price and my fellow tweeter @abradypus recommends them and their events and as a consequence I wanted to support an organisation doing good things rather than give my money to taxation specialists Amazon. It arrived very swiftly but like the muppet I am I had ordered the wrong size – bugger. But credit where it is due centurion simply took back the item and replaced it with the M/L version which I knew would fit me right in the sweet spot – and that is a not a euphemism.

Of course I was keen to try it the moment it arrived but I tend to carry a lot into work and the 8litre capacity of the main compartment probably wasn’t going to be enough – so I waited patiently for the weekend and on the Saturday morning set out for my long slow run, I say long it was probably about 20 miles but enough for me to consider that I would need to take liquid with me and a few bits of kit like a waterproof incase the weather turned heavy on me during the height of summer.

I put the pack on, fiddled a little with the two small front clips and a slight adjustment to the single cord tightening system and I was ready. The first things I noticed was that vest was tight to my back and by tight i simply mean that it didn’t move, it used my form and followed me, even when loaded it remained a balanced pack and there was no bouncing around. Adjustments are simple to achieve too once you’ve got the hang of not having dozens of straps floating about and it is in this quality engineering that you can see that Ultimate Directions have really thought about how the back is going to come together. I added my two water bottles to the front of the vest and filled each of the pockets with suitable items and set off for a great run. The truth is that I barely knew the bag was there. My one complaint was that I couldn’t figure out how to get the water out of the bottles and had to unscrew the buggers, a nuisance but more down to user error than anything else.

Upon returning home I was able to strip the pack down a bit and start kit testing for the Thames Gateway 100. Despite being an ultra runner I tend to carry too much stuff, I prefer to be prepared and carry a few extra items rather than drop the weight I’m carrying but sacrifice essential items. The back of the pack was perfect for this, straight in went my Montane minimus jacket, first aid kit, head torches, iPad mini! spare socks, arm warmers, mobile charging device, maps and waterproof trousers. In the outer mesh I was able to place a small wind proof jacket and had I really needed it I could have added another small item of clothing to the compression straps that run over the back. Into the side pockets I added a buff, some electrical cables such as my Garmin and iPhone charger and a little bit of food. more food was added to the side pockets of the water bottle front pouches and I still had room for my mobile phone and further food stuffs. Still though there was a bit of room … UD say they have built in a space for ice axes and cheat sticks/hiking poles but I use the Black Diamond Z pole which are not telescopic and so are reasonably bulky. However, using the two side pockets and flicking the cheat sticks under the straps means you can have your cheat sticks to hand. Interestingly even fully loaded the bag feels lightweight, good on the back and most importantly comfortable. It was perhaps the one good thing that came out of my DNF at the TG100 that the bag came through we flying colours and solved the problem of me being able to take off my bag whenever I wanted to.

There are so many twists and loops on this pack that you think you will never actually fill them all, but it is a testament to the team who put this together that they know what runners want and need that nothing feels wasted. A brief note on the water bottles is that they like the bag are fantastic, they feel clean, taste good and the grip is excellent. The issue I had was that I neglected to pull the water feeder up and therefore found it difficult to get water out on my first trial of the pack – a brief internet search put me right and am convinced that these bottles are possibly the best ones I own.

I’ve seen some reviews that say the gel pockets on the side of the bottle pouches can ping the gels out but I didn’t find this but then I would be more likely to store biscuits or jelly babies in there. I’d love to find a downside with the pack but simply can’t, perhaps the fact it isn’t waterproof would be an issue for some but then you have to balance weight against materials used and I think the Ultimate Directions PB is a perfectly balanced pack.

Do remember it won’t be for everyone and at over £100 and possibly as much as £125 it is an expensive piece of kit but it is very worthwhile if you are distance runner and looking for a dedicated bag this might just be for you. For more information search on YouTube for the Peter Bakwin Ultimate Directions video and see the pack in action or visit this URL http://youtu.be/ILcv7D_Yq80

The pack is available for many good online retailer such as the Centurion Running. Enjoy.

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