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

Why?

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

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

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

And so my road to a grandslam began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s look for positives…

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

Ha.

Check out Ranger Ultras here and get involved

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It’s August and the year is drawing to a close. Yes, you read correctly, we are now on the swift spiral down to the 2017 races. Strangely, you, like me, have probably started your planning – undoubtedly you’ve already picked a couple of possibilities for your ‘A race’ and you’ll have some ideas regarding the races you’ll run as supporting ones but how far and wide have you looked for races this year? What are your criteria for running in 2017?

I have a range of criteria that help me draw up my options race selection.

  1. Location and accessibility
  2. Distance
  3. Size of field
  4. Heat
  5. Medal
  6. Elevation
  7. Views of previous participants
  8. Opportunity
  9. Public profile
  10. Proximity to fun

Location: A good race, as far as I’m concerned should achieve ticks next to at least half the list above; with some carrying more decisive weight than others. Location and accessibility are key, if I can’t get there then it’s not going to happen and as I’m reliant on the GingaNinja or public transport then there are races that simply aren’t reachable. However, because of my interest in the Bob Graham I’m finally resigned to learning to drive! The location also has to interest me – so Bristol for the Green Man was awesome, Isle of Skye was inspiring and Lanzarote will I know be tremendous.

Field Size: Also carrying lots of importance for me over the last three years is the size of the field – I’ve run ultras with 10 other people and I’ve run them with thousands of other participants. What has become clear is that I prefer less runners. A centurion race for example is a good size with a couple of hundred runners that spreads out quite nicely and the Skye Trail Ultra with less than 20 runners was absolutely brilliant. SVN events typically have 100 runners at most and this gives it a great atmosphere but also once a race gets going it can develop a nice sense of space, freedom and even peaceful isolation. My experience at the CCC start line (nasty and aggressive) and ‘follow the leader’ trail felt quite false so I’ve been avoiding bigger races – although the SainteLyon with nearly 6,000 runners never felt crowded and the atmosphere was electric. I suppose this also leads in to preferring a race with a lower profile – therefore the London Marathon wasn’t entered this year for the first time in seven years.

With regard to the CCC though – it did give me another important criteria ‘elevation’. I realised that the thing I love doing is ‘up and down’ or at least ‘undulating’ and years of bombing around the Lake District have been some of the happiest in my life. So after my failure in Champex I have used 2016 as an opportunity to add hills into my events. Rachel’s Ranscombe Ramble, Skye Trail Ultra and the Vanguard Way Marathon spring to mind and both the Ridgeway and Haria Extreme will have testing elevation.

So looking ahead I’ve been drawing up plans for 2017 and the list of potentials is quite long but I’m only looking at a couple of race types; marathon or above and the mile (that is unless Vigo Runners get their act together on out on the Valentines 10 mile!!). Below is the long list, some of these are worth looking up!

  • January Winter Tanners (50km)
  • January Ranscombe (8hr)
  • January Peddars Way (77km)
  • February Thames Trot (80km)
  • March Skraping Ultra (47km)
  • March Green Man (75km)
  • Apr Highland Fling (80km)
  • Apr Liverpool to Manchester (80km)
  • Apr Le Grand Defi des Vosges (132km)
  • Apr Rodopi Challenge ( 80km)
  • Apr Rachel’s Ranscombe Ramble
  • May L2M (160km)
  • May Ridgeway 40 (64km)
  • May UTSM – Ultra Trail de São Mamede (100km)
  • May Westminster Mile
  • June City of London Mile
  • June Mont Blanc Marathon (80km)
  • June Lavaredo (119km)
  • June Tenerife Blue Trail (97km)
  • June Ultra Trail Serra da Freita (100km)
  • July GranTrail Courmayeur (90km)
  • July Ice Trail Tarentaise (64km)
  • July Medway Mile
  • Aug Stour Valley Path (100km)
  • Aug Ultra Great Britain (320km)
  • Aug Green Man Express (76km)
  • Sept Trails du Haut-Koenigsbourg (108km)
  • Sept Isle of Man Ultra (55km)
  • Sept Ultra Trail Monte Rosa (116km)
  • Oct Autumn 100 (160km)
  • Dec Saintelyon (76km)
  • Dec Dawn ’til Dusk Ultra (50km)

At the moment the anchor point to the year would be the Trails du Haut-Koenigsbourg as its near the GingaNinja’s French family contingent and I’d like to go back and run sub 10hrs at SainteLyon. The one that niggles is the Autumn 100 which having DNF’d so spectacularly a couple of years back I really want to prove to myself that I can do it – but this means returning to Centurion and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do that – but we’ll see by the time 2017 A100 comes round I won’t have run a Centurion race for more than 2 years. The only one I might miss out on because of my anchor race might be the GB Ultra in late August but plans do have a habit of revising themselves as the year rolls on.

Anyway good luck in your plans for 2017 and if you have criteria or a race I should be considering then let me know.

Happy running.

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