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img_1777In times of turmoil we seek summits and points of vantage to gain clarity of vision.

When I was younger I would go to the Lake District to climb a hill and breathe clean air and give myself greater clarity. Given I didn’t drive (or ride a bike) I would often find myself in places you could reach by public transport and so Ambleside was a popular choice for a young man with a busy mind.

Roll forward a decade or two and my mind remains busy but I’ve added both a driving licence and an ability to ride a bike and so when I saw the inaugural Ambleside Trail 60 on the ultra event calendar I decided that this was for me.

The race was being organised in conjunction between the long established The Climbers Shop (find out more here) in Ambleside and charity The Brathay Trust (find out more here) – both well respected pillars of the community.

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I therefore had high expectations for the event.

When looking at the Ambleside Trail 60 on paper you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s rather easy and with a tad under 2,500metres of climb it all seemed perfectly respectable. The problem comes is that when deciding to do this I had conflated the shortness of the distance and relatively low ascent numbers to think this was going to be easy. How wrong can you be?

But anyway let me add a bit of context to proceedings – I’d had an excellent July, training had gone well and I’d come off the Ben Vorlich Ultra feeling pretty good and without injury. The truth is I’d felt so good that I’d returned to training the following day and was looking forwarding to maintaining my running mental strength by taking part in the Thieves Road Ultra. In typical fashion though disaster struck and I took a nasty tumble running up a hill and put a bloody big hole in my knee and this was supplemented by a shitty infection that I couldn’t shift. However, with August 10th approaching I knew that momentum was on my side and I’d be okay(ish) to race but it seemed my August ultra curse was set to continue and the race was cancelled due to the potential for adverse conditions.

What happened next was that race was reorganised for two weeks later, my illness got worse and on race day I spent about 8hrs on the porcelain throne. This time it was me cancelling the race and so I rolled up to the Ambleside 60 with very little training but a lot of chocolate eating done.

As I’ve said I’m a huge fan of The Lake District and Cumbria, it’s a truly spectacular place and so I was very happy to be there on a beautiful morning watching the world go by.

Strangely for an ultra it was taking place on a Sunday which meant I’d had the luxury of bimbling around the Lakes the day previously taking in the delights of Ambleside and registering with the event organisers at The Climbers Shop. Registration was both quick and easy and the lovely organisers were on hand to answer all of my ridiculous questions. I was also mightily impressed that race sponsor Rab (I assume) threw in a warm beanie which is likely to make its race debut later in the year. It was here that I bumped into Ed, a fellow competitor from Ben Vorlich and it was lovely to ‘chew the fat’ with him for a few minutes and catch up about what had happened at the race end. However, we soon parted and I found myself at a loose end but with lots of wonderful outdoor stores strewn across the town – I decide me to make hay while the sun shone. Lunch was a delicious spicy chicken baguette with a slab of honeycomb cake and this was followed by short trips to Kendal and Keswick to make the most of my stay.

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I had the luxury of having a six berth dorm room all to myself at the waterside YHA in Ambleside and I went to bed early to try and get as rested as possible. Kit was prepared, breakfast readied and I knew where I was going in the morning.

The organisers had suggested the pay & display car park in Ambleside, which given it was a few minutes from the start, made good sense. With water bottles now filled I headed to the start in Rothay Park and silently soaked up the friendly, banter atmosphere. I’ve grown rather accustomed to knowing runners at races, wherever I am, both here and abroad – so it was something of a surprise to not see any faces I knew. I wandered around a little bit before setting amongst the throng of ultra runners all keen for the start.

We were all instructed to dib our chips at the start which had been attached to us at registration. I found these mildly intrusive as they never felt very comfortable around the wrist and I fretted about them working loose and ending up in a puddle of mud somewhere on a hill. Thankfully it never did work loose but I found it uncomfortable compared to some of the alternatives that I’ve had to wear. That said the system was simple enough to use and the setup both at the start and at checkpoints was well thought out.

With an 8am start looming we were all corralled into the starting area and after a short briefing and some words of encouragement the 175(ish) runners burst forward and out of Rothay Park and into the wilderness. It’s fair to say that a number of ‘trail’ races that I’ve been part of have actually had quite significant amounts of road or tarmac involved but this experience was very different. From the near outset there was trail and nature surrounding the runners.

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As we wound our way through the first few kilometres it was clear that this was going to be s tougher day than I had originally imagined and as I looked down at my faithful Suunto I could see the elevation metres quickly stacking up. Those first few miles were easily the simplest on the route and with excellent route marking even I couldn’t go wrong. We wended our way through the variety of trails, up and down hills and along some of England’s finest scenery. For the most part I was making good time against the other runners – using my preferred tactic of ‘go as fast as you cN for as long as you can and then death march it in’. I made sure I was taking on board regular fluids and even a little food from early in proceedings as this would ensure I could still take on everything late in the event. I topped up my intake with some Active Root, which is about the only electrolyte style supplement I can stomach, and this kept me level and stopped significant dips – something to consider if you’re running well.

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I ran the first 15km pretty consistently and covered around 600 metres of climb – despite the recent rains the ground was in good condition and the route was runnable. Although I had poles with me I had decided that I would refrain from their use until I really needed them and despite the ascents I didn’t feel I needed them in the firs quarter of the event. The views were delightful and this was very much The Lake District of my youth – some places dragged up long forgotten memories and it was a very pleasant experience. It was here that I met Deborah – about 2.5 miles from the first checkpoint. We chatted for a while, as we bounded forward and this was such a pleasant experience that I barely noticed the run into the checkpoint.

Checkpoint one was brilliant with the marshalling team all dressed as chefs with big chef hats, the team were incredibly well drilled – timer, water, food, out, out, out! I was very impressed with the team and the organisation of the event on the whole, if I were to take a guess this was not their first rodeo. The quality of the food on offer was brilliant and as I left the checkpoint I felt buoyed by the energy the team have thrust upon me. In the distance I could see Deborah disappearing and continued my journey alone.

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The second section was going to be tougher with the first 600 metres climbed this meant that there was still around 1700 metres to climb and around a marathon to do it in. 2 hours down – 12 hours to go. I knew that the first significant climb was soon to be upon us and in the distance twinkling like little neon and Lycra clad stars were a succession of slow moving runners as the route moved up a gear in toughness.

It was now that the route threw challenge after challenge at us, the trail had moved from being mostly runnable to being filled with big lumpy rocks, it was wet underfoot and it changed from soaking to dry making your shoe choice irrelevant in the face of the varying conditions. I threw open my poles for the first time and began the slow journey upwards, happy in the knowledge that I had built up a reserve of time in the early stages of the race. However, as I looked ever upwards it was with a deep sense of foreboding – this was the first and easiest ascent and it was far from easy.

I decided that given I still had some strength in my legs I would do the climb in bursts and so would have a short stop and then powered up the next couple of hundred metres, stop and repeat. This technique helps me with the fatigue my legs get from the constant ball achingly monotonous striding of hiking up the hills (something I knew I would be forced into later in the day). My lack of training in the last month and the over eating was also playing a significant part now in my performance – runners were passing me as I struggled with the up hills and the beating my feet were now taking. However, I knew that on the downhill as long as the path was relatively runnable I would be able to make up some ground. Where some runners are guarded about running downhill too quickly for fear of a fall I am usually pretty surefooted and confident in my own ability. Therefore once the peak was reached I felt that I had little choice but to open up the taps a bit and go for it.

 

My descent was as quick as my ascent was slow and I found myself able to catch some of the runners that had managed to overtake me and I felt with nearly 1,000 metres of ascent done and about 20km in distance done I was feeling confident and then the ridiculous kicked in – I slipped. Bang down – on my back, on my arse, on all my weakest points. The two young runners ahead of me turned and shouted to find out if I was okay and I waved them on but I was far from alright. My back, which is troubling at the best of times, had shooting pain running through it and I had cut my hand open in several places and was bleeding. I picked my muddy form off the floor and cursed my own stupidity – I ran down to the little stream and put my buff in the water and wrapped it around my hand attempting to soak up the blood. I had been very lucky, within a few minutes the bleeding had stopped and I managed to clean up the various gashes that now covered my left hand – the realisation was dawning upon me that this route was going to give me a good kicking before it was finished.

I pushed onwards through the next few kilometres, slowing a little to account for the worsening running conditions, the rocky terrain became incredibly hard going and in my opinion it felt more like fell running than it did ultra trail running but it all added to the complexity of the challenge of finishing. I finally reached the halfway point and was greeted by the most welcoming committee of marshals, supporters and runners. Given I was so far from the lead it was no surprise to see my fellow racers in various states of distress, I grabbed a bit of grass and threw my bag to floor and motored over to the food table and stuffed my face with the delicious sausage rolls with the amazing pastry (I’m going to assume veggie but don’t want to know as they were so delicious it would disappoint me to know I’d been eating something mildly healthy). I drank as much tea as I could handle, grabbed a bit of soft chewy cake, filled my water bottles and then followed the other runners out of the checkpoint.

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It was here that I would make the relationship that would see me cross the finish line, though it did not begin well but I’ll get to that later.

From CP2 we were presented with a climb up Stake Pass, a beautiful climb and no mistake but a technical, rocky ascent that required maximum concentration all the way and its windy nature meant that you felt progress was even slower than it actually was. I used my brutish bursts of power to push myself up the pass and once more in the distance before and ahead of me I could see the swathes of runners slowly climbing to the summit. I kept telling myself that this is something I enjoy when moments of doubt would creep into my thinking but the reality was that my feet were burning from the damage that rocks underfoot where doing.

My feet are brittle at the best of times but the damp conditions coupled with the rocks were crippling me, the only plus I could find was that my Lone Peaks combined with Injinji liner and Drymax socks and my beloved Dirty Girls Gaiters were working overtime in protecting me from the worst of the route.

About halfway up local legend Keith passed me with his wonderfully consistent pace and all I could do when he went beyond me asking, ‘alright?’ I responded with, ‘had better days’ but Keith may have misinterpreted my joke for sincere annoyance and he simply shrugged his shoulder and pushed on. I thought nothing more of it really but like the cut of his pace and thought if I could keep up with him I might well be alright – but he, like many before, was soon gone.

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I retreated the comfort of the nearest rock I could find and grabbed some food from my race vest and looked longingly into the middle distance as dark and detrimental thoughts crept across my furrowed brow. ‘More than halfway’ I thought, ‘but my feet are bruised to buggery, my race vest is heavy and worse than that my back and arm was on fire from injuries both old and new’. However, the sight of runners closing in on me made me get off my backside and hurl myself up the hill and eventually I made it to the summit. I could see some of the runners who had made it past me and so I picked Keith as my target – if I could catch him before the arrival of the next checkpoint I would continue.

The route off the pass was as unrunnable as the route up with rocks jutting up from every angle and care required about just where the hell you were putting your feet. If you were less cautious you might have avoided the path  and run straight down the hill – but given I had no idea where I was or how far behind the next runner was – I did not fancy falling off Stake Pass. With all due care I made it to the bottom and leapt through the thick nasty smelling mud and crossing streams with all haste attempting to keep my feet as dry as possible. In the distance I could hear the clatter of Keith’s running poles and I realised I was catching him – having a target to aim for had made the journey much more focused and much easier and as I caught him I opened with the much cheerier line, ‘I’ve been chasing you down for ages – thanks for the incentive’ and from here a new race friendship was forged.

Keith was a bit of a running veteran and with 20 more years on the clock the than me he had well earned the right to legend status. He strode purposefully through the route, questioning the runability of some of the course but all the time remaining strong in his continuous push forward – I like Keith very much and over the next few miles we got to chatting and getting to know one another a little. But as is the rule in ultra marathons you run your own race and he reminded me of this several times as he suggested I not wait for him or that he would be waiting long for me. However, we were both moving at about the same speed ad so it turned out neither of us could shake the other one.

Something I was very glad of.

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The road to CP3 was hard and long, we had come off the hill and now it was just finding the checkpoint, hoping that we would make the cut-off and then pushing through as fast as we could up the biggest ascent on the course – Lining Crag. While we both looked and probably felt a bit shitty we both also seemed to gain a newfound mental strength from each other – I certainly did from him and when I started to leave CP3 Keith joined me for some further adventuring.

The strange thing was that despite our low speed we were starting to catch people again and in the close distance we could see runners who had long left me behind and, though I shouldn’t, I was buoyed by seeing other runners finding this a challenge or perhaps I was simply developing a second wind that might carry over the Crag.

Sadly my second wind was very short lived and as I began the ascent I felt every bone in my body scream for mercy, even with the first few hundred metres being relatively gentle this was a climb of false summits and false hope.

One of the great things about Keith was his wide and varied local knowledge, this meant that he was able to be accurate in his assessment of our situation, so when we approached the scramble up to the crag I knew that this was not the summit and that there were further smaller climbs to come. The scramble was actually surprisingly simple and the change of pace on the legs was welcome, I enjoy scrambling although I don’t do it very often as I am terrified of heights. So I finally reached the safety of solid ground that wasn’t going to try and kill me I was very grateful. We  made good time as we crossed the high ground and started to overtake people again and other runners came past us as they picked the pace up a little. On reflection it was nice to know that we were still in a race, often at these type of events you’ll find yourself alone for hours and hours and not knowing where in the race you are, here the numbers were just right to be able to have significant time alone but also know that you could still catch someone.

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We knew that the final checkpoint was at about 53km in and so it was with a little dismay that the ascent to the top of the crag had pushed us forward a mere 2km of the 12km we needed to run. Running remained hard going over the rocky paths and went as fast and securely as we could but both Keith and I were losing our footing at regular intervals and many of the runners had soggy bottoms but perhaps none got the soggy bottom in the way I did.

While crossing a boggy path I lost my footing and into the mid thigh depth mud my leg went, the trouble was that my other leg followed me in and as I fell in my whole body lurched backward in some attempt to create the muddy equivalent of a snow fairy. Keith turned to face me, barely disguising his amusement at the predicament that I found myself in. I managed to stand in the mud and could feel the vacuum attempting to suck my shoes in but I carefully extracted one leg and then the other with no significant loss.  I was caked in mud from head to toe but I had clearly picked the right kit for the event and my wonderful new Runderwear long boxer shorts and Raidlight Freetrail shorts soon dried off and despite being in 3 foot of wet, shitty mud my feet remained warm and toasty.

After picking myself up we headed along the remainder of the route down to Grasmere with little further incident, but we were aware that the final climb and descent had taken much, much longer than anticipated and I was keen to finish as I still had hours in the car driving back to Scotland.

I noticed that both Keith and I were rather quiet as we landed in Grasmere, tiredness was clearly playing a part but seeing the race organisers at the final checkpoint gave us a bit of a life and knowing that we were less than 10km from the finish was the mental nourishment we needed.

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We had been quite quick in the checkpoints up until this point but we stayed a little longer in Grasmere as Keith knew both of the guys from The Climbers Shop (I’m going to go with Mike and Gill but could be wrong). Gill had been at the registration and she clearly remembered my idiotic face from the previous day and the warmth with which I was greeted felt genuine and heartfelt and for that I was very grateful. They tried to stuff our faces with all manner of food and drink but we were so close to the finish that I actually wanted just my water filled and then off and the guys obliged.

Keith and I were very keen to see off the race before the dark became impenetrable and with all the speed we could muster we set out from Grasmere. This final section had a few light climbs on it but it was mainly tarmac that we were following and there was nothing to concern ourselves with – I seem to recall that we spent most of the time on these final few miles being rather jolly and looking forward to food, drinks, showers and in Keith’s case being reunited with his wife and the lovely Border Colllies.

I remember Keith commenting that at this point he had one speed and although I had recovered a little bit and probably could have run this final section I had no desire to leave my companion behind and in truth I’d have only managed to get about a dozen metres ahead before he would have reeled me in again. Meeting Keith made the experience of the Ambleside 60 much more pleasant than it looked like it might have been given the struggles I know he played a huge part in me finishing on Sunday.

We rolled up to Rothay Park and the dark had finally arrived, we thanked the marshalling staff at the final corner and as is my way I tried to have a cheery word/joke and thank you for the guys who were stood there waiting in the cold ensuring that we didn’t take a wrong turn at the final point. In the dim distance I could make out the large finish line inflatable and in front of it were two dibbing points so that we could get a final time. It took me an age to get my bloody dibber in but once I did we were ushered into a tent and given medals, beer and times.

Keith’s wife was there with the dogs and I joined them briefly to thank him and to thank his wife for loaning me such a wonderful gentleman for the day.

We had made it, I had made it.

Overview
Distance: 60km
Cost: £65
Location: Ambleside
Date: September 2019
Tough Rating: 3.5/5

Route
What they said about the route…

starting from Rothay Park, the Ambleside Trail 60 is a 60km loop made up of some iconic Lake District running. From the park, participants will make their way up and over Loughrigg towards Skelwith Bridge, Tarn Hows and from there onwards towards Coniston. Before reaching Coniston, the route climbs above Coniston Coppermine and toward Lad Stones. Continuing onward, the route makes its way to Little Langdale and after a short but punchy climb reaches Blea Tarn. Runners then make their way up Stake Pass and then follow the Langstrath Beck before climbing back up Lining Crag, the biggest climb on the course. Runners descend into Grasmere and slowly wind their way back toward Ambleside..

I’ve run over 50 ultra marathons and I’ve run across some of the toughest trails in the crappiest conditions and I can honestly say that the route of the Ambleside 60km was a bit of a terror. I mentioned earlier that this felt more like an ultra distance fell race than a trail race. Although the path was defined it was, in parts, brutal – despite the shortness of the distance this was a route that really threw everything at you and there was a procession of the walking wounded on the course as the Ambleside 60 took no prisoners.

This is not a route for the inexperienced and had the weather conditions been worse then this would really have given the competitors a challenge that even more might not have finished. What I will say though is that the Ambleside 60 route gave so much back in views and beauty that you really can’t complain about the temporary pain inflicted by the course.

The climbs were tough, the variety was welcome and the route marking was exceptional – just a few less rocky roads would have made this a more complete running experience. Don’t misunderstand me though this was a brilliant route and I feel fortunate to have seen parts of the Lake District that only become accessible if you are willing to put the effort in. The highlight of the route for me was the second climb up Stake Pass, which as well as being as tough old boots, had the wonderful sound of gushing water on both sides of the pass, it had majesty all around it and there was a eeriness about it as you could see nothing of modern life as far as the eye could see – wonderful.

So, perhaps a few little tweaks to make sure that this doesn’t become an ‘only suitable for the mountain goats’ and the route cold be a real winner for everyone wanting to take part.

Organisation
The organisation was 100% top notch, from registration to the near army of marshals that were posted on the course – this was some of the best organisation I have ever seen. The route marking for the most part was fantastic, the little map we received at the start was perfect as a guide and the pre and post race information was concise and informative. A huge thank you should go to all the organisers and especially the marshalling and medical staff who offered friendly faces all over the day. Races like this do not happen without the support of lots of people behind the scenes – and it was clear that the work they had put in here had really paid off.

Kit
I go mountain running most weekends and I go hill running after work and I know what kit I need to carry with me, I know how to be safe in the mountains and in adverse weather conditions and to that end I felt that the mandatory kit list was a little over complicated. I understand completely that safety comes first and that not all runners are experienced in the hills but there does need to be a balance. I did note that a number of the runners had very small amounts of kit with them and you had to wonder how where they fitting all the mandatory kit into such a small space?

Given my back issues carrying all the required kit was always going to be one of the main challenges I faced during the Ambleside 60 and I have a preference to carry specific things that help my individual race needs. For example I have my ridiculously weak feet so spare socks are a must and I’m known to take a picture or two so spare battery is also an essential. But rules are rules and it is important that we all adhere to them – they are designed to ensure your safety isn’t compromised, might just be worth looking next year about a little more flexibility between the mandatory and recommended kit.

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Goodies
Having great sponsors like Rab and Ultimate Directions mean that sometimes there are excellent goodies and this time there was a delightful Rab beanie available pre-race and post race there was some Hawkshead Brewery beer, which if you’re a beer drinker is a great reward for a job well done – obviously as a teetotaller the beer is less relevant to me but I know someone who’ll drink it for me. The medal was nice and understated, which seemed very much in keeping with the whole ethos of the event and I appreciated that. I wore my medal proudly all the way home to Scotland and as I crawled up the stairs to my bedroom upon returning home I made sure that it took its rightful place with its brother and sister medals at the top of the stairs.

Value
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it, the value for money aspect is very much down to personal opinion about your experience. I very much believe that the Ambleside 60 was excellent value for money at £65 and to be fair if you’d charged a little more it would still have represented good value for money. The little goodies, the excellent event staff, the support both before and after, the photography and the challenge of the event itself mean that you have to say you really did get bang for your buck. Some people might bemoan the lack of race T-shirt but the truth is I would rather have had the beanie – it’s always nice to get something useful that most races don’t think about.

Special Mentions
I owe this finish to Keith – I would not have made it without you. Thank you.

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Conclusion
Is this a great race? Not yet.

Does this have the potential to be a great race? Oh yes!

2019 as its inaugural running was a damn fine event, it gave the best views of Ambleside and its surrounds that I’ve ever had the honour of laying my eyes on. The Ambleside 60 has much to recommend it and if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day as we did then you’ll bear witness to a visual treat. The medal for this one really  is worth earning and you will feel like you have accomplished something truly spectacular when, or perhaps more appropriately, if you cross the finishing line. The organisation of the race, for me, makes this one stand out in the memory too – there was genuine care for the runners and that should be recognised, nobody got anything less than 100% from the excellent team.

However, this isn’t perfect I’ve mentioned that it felt like a long distance fell run in places and the course was incredibly hard going at times, even in good conditions. I genuinely believe more responsibility should be on the individual regarding kit choices and I’d probably prefer to see the race run on a Saturday to give runners the Sunday and a chance to rest for their weary bones before a return to grindstone of work on a Monday (I found the drive back to Scotland really tough and Monday was weird in the office). However, if nothing changed, if the race came back next year in exactly the same format would I run it again? The answer is 100% yes, there is something special about the Ambleside 60 and it deserves its soon to be well established reputation as a tough as old boots brilliant ultra marathon.

So if you’ve read this and thought, he sounds likes you had a horrible time, then you’ve misunderstood me, there was no misery for me just a real ball busting challenge – which is primarily what I look for in an ultra marathon and if it is what you look for then you’re going to have a mighty fine time.

Check out the race details here


Your favourite races over time will change and a couple of years ago I looked at which events had given me the most joy but since then I’ve run another 50 races and I thought it was about time to refresh the list.

I’ve limited my list to just a single choice and the previous winner if there was one. The thing is though there are lots of great events that didn’t make the number one spot, the Green Man Ultra for example comes a very close second to the SainteLyon while MIUT, UTBCN and Haria Extreme could all easily take the top spot in their respective categories.

At the other end I hate missing out the City of London Mile and the Bewl 15 but hopefully this list provides an interesting read and a starting point for you to find your own favourite races… and you never know maybe one of these races will become your favourite sometime too.

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Category: Obstacle Course
Winner: Grim Challenge
Previous: Grim Challenge

I suppose this remains my favourite OCR run because I don’t really do OCR anymore. However, having done Survival of the Fittest, the Beast in the East, Xtreme Beach and several others (though never a tough mudder) I’d say that this ‘natural’ OCR still has great character and deserves consideration for some end of year fun. Why do this race? mud glorious winter mud.

View the gallery here

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Category: Timed
Winner: Brutal Enduro
Previous: Fowlmead Challenge

I’ve completed a number of timed challenges, many of them with SVN who provided the Fowlmead Challenge but without a shadow of a doubt my favourite timed event was the 18hrs I spent running around a truly spectacular route near Fleet to the south west of London. There was something quite magical about the tree lined, up and down, 10km lap that really tested the mettle of the runners – it helps I think that it was a relatively small field, a great atmosphere and a thoughtful organising team. I was somewhat dismayed to note that there was no 2017 edition but I live in hope that this great value event returns because I know I can do much better than I did last time. Why do this race? A truly awesome route that never gets boring no matter how many times you do it!

Read the review here
View the gallery here

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Category: Up to 5km
Winner: Chislehurst Chase Fun Run
Previous: Westminster Mile

I’d been trying to run the main Chislehurst Chase 10km for about 4 years when I finally found the time to rock up and hammer out a couple of laps of one of my favourite Kentish routes around Scadbury Park. The unexpected bonus was the children’s 2km fun run which was a nice, tight loop. UltraBaby in her first race to be powered exclusively by her own legs ran well for the first kilometre but then needed some minor cajoling to finish (in a respectable 30 minutes). The huge cheering crowd and the positive atmosphere filled me with joy but also my daughter who only the week before had turned 2. The medal that they placed around her neck remained there all day as she told passers-by of her running success and still she strokes her ‘Chase’ medal when she tells me, ‘my medals are here dad!). Great event! Why do this race? it’s fast, furious and family friendly

Read the review here

Category: 5km
Winner: Xtreme Beach
Previous: Ashton Gate Parkrun

I do love Ashton Gate Parkrun – it’s outstandingly good fun and also the starting point for one of my favourite ultra marathons, The Green Man but when I think of the 5km race that brought me most joy then it had to be Xtreme Beach. I’d been injured for quite a long time when this came up and at the last minute I decided to attend the inaugural event near the Bradwell power station in Essex. It turned out that Xtreme Beach was a looped OCR event through the most hideous smelling crap on the planet with ball busting challenges to face on each loop. I settled for a single loop as I didn’t want to disturb my hip injuries too much and by god it was fun! I came out of the filthy waters around the power station in shades of black I wasn’t aware existed and the squelch from my trainers indicated I’d not shirked my responsibility to give it some welly. Lots of fun packed in to that event – I wonder if it’s still going? Hmmm.

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Category: 10km
Winner: Chislehurst Chase
Previous: Medway 10km

The Chislehurst Chase is a double winner from me as the 10km trail race is an easy choice as one of the best 10km races around. The two lap route around Scadbury Park is windy, hilly, muddy, fast and challenging – it demands that you give every inch of yourself as you wend your way round the course and the rewards are pure exhilarating enjoyment. When I lived near Orpington I would regularly run fast laps around the main trail here and thunder up and down the hills with my spaniel but to get a medal for doing it was a lovely added bonus. Why do this race? a tight, twisty and runnable course finished off with a blistering sprint across the track. Outstanding.

Read the review here

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Category: 10 mile
Winner: Vigo Tough Love 10
Previous: Vigo Valentines Day

The only thing more fun than the Vigo Valentines Day 10 mile was when they made a few minor course changes and turned it into to the stomach churning, arse clenching Vigo Tough Love 10! This is the Kentish equivalent of a fell race and is both fast and furious while being a proper ball busting grind. The race failed to take place in 2016 but with the support of the Harvel Hash Harriers made a triumphant return in 2017 with a few minor course amendments and a superior sprint to the finish line. There is something magical about this race, in any incarnation, but the 2017 version for me is definitive and I’ll be back for a fourth crack next year! Why do this race? because it’s the best race around and at a mere 10 miles and a cut off of nearly 4 hours – anyone can do it… if they show a bit of tenacity.

Read the review here

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Category: Half Marathon
Winner: Summer Breeze
Previous: Summer Breeze

The half marathon distance is the one I run the least because it’s the one I enjoy the least. However, that being said I’ve run a dozen and I’ve never found one more exhilarating than the ‘Summer Breeze’ on Wimbledon Common. It was a hot, muddy, slow run with my former colleague HitmanHarris – I was injured and he was steady – it should have been an awful afternoon but actually it was as much fun as I’d hoped for and will make an effort to return in 2018 to this bimble with the Wombles! Why do this race? you’d do this race because it is so far from what you might expect and that’s a really good thing.

Read the review here

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Category: Marathon
Winner: Vanguard Way Marathon
Previous: Liverpool Marathon

My first marathon was in Liverpool in 2012 and while it was a fun it was a busy road marathon and pounding pavement, as I would discover, is not what I enjoy, nor does my body. Roll forward a couple years and the 2016 Vanguard Way Marathon – a race with almost universal approval, small field, beautiful trail route and a delightful medal what’s not to like? Well the VWM takes you on a tour of your own limits, you’re guaranteed to do ‘free miles’ as you get lost, the water may well run out at the checkpoints, it’s the middle of August with large swathes of the route held in a bloody sun trap and there’s a couple of arse quiveringly unpleasant hills to climb! I suppose you’re wondering why I’d say this is my favourite marathon then aren’t you? Well that’s easy, any race that tries to kill you has definitely got your respect. I suppose you can only truly appreciate being alive when you stand a chance of not being and the VWM provided that opportunity by the bucketload. Why do this race: the VWM is the UK version of Dignitas, just with a lower success rate. A tough as old boots marathon and in the August heat can be a real killer.

Read the review here
View the Gallery here

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Category: Ultra (up to 50km)
Winner: XNRG Amersham Ultra
Previous: N/A

Because I’ve expanded on the race distances I’ve done the 50km category has made itself available for a winner. Thankfully there was a very clear choice in my mind and that was the event that took in some wonderful trails around Amersham and also gave me my first experience of the wonderful XNRG. There was a certain zip and energy that accompanied this friendly, charity fund raising event and it seemed to me that everyone was up for a bit of a bimble. Now it’s true that I was feeling rough as heck for most of the race as my guts tried to force me into a DNF but I held on to record a respectable finish and have lots of lovely chats with some truly awesome. Why do this race? because it’s for charity, because it’s run by XNRG who are amongst the best in the ultra business and because it’s an amazing route.

Read the review here

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Category: Ultra (50km – 75km)
Winner: SainteLyon
Previous: St Peters Way

I loved the muddy glory of the St. Peter’s Way in Essex but for me the SainteLyon is both my favourite race in this category and also my favourite ultra. It’s the middle of winter, it’s midnight and there’s 6000 other runners all stood in Saint Etienne ready to launch themselves towards Lyon. It has twinkling headtorches as far as the eye can see, it has French locals out with cow bells cheering you on and it has a truly fast finish as you bound under the illuminated archway! It’s an amazing race and an amazing experience. And if you’re running it in 2017… we’ll I’ll see you there. Why do this race? it is simply unforgettable.

Read the review here
View the gallery here

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Category: Ultra (75km – 100km)
Winner: South Wales 50
Previous: N/A

I had no idea that the South Wales 50 would leave such a wonderful mark in my heart and there are lots of reasons for this. The route is compelling and tough, the organisation is top notch and the medal was both excellent and hard earned – however, it’s none of these that make this my favourite race in this category. The real reason is the bond of friendship that drew together the runners – I’d never seen so many quickly formed bonds made. I met Pete and Ryan who I will forever hold in high esteem and have huge respect for (good luck at TDS and RoF guys). Importantly though these type of bonds could be seen all over as people got to know one another on a way I’d never seen before. I would highly recommend the South Wales 50 – but be prepared for a toughie. Why do this race? it’s tough, it’s intimate and it’s great fun.

Read the review here

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© UltraBoyRuns

Category: Ultra (over 100km)
Winner: Skye Trail Ultra
Previous: Thames Path 100

I’ve said many times before that Skye tore me apart, broke me but also gave me one of the greatest race experiences I’ll ever have. Skye showed me ‘I can’ and I made sure I did. This race is as small and as intimate as you like, it’s run by ultra runners for ultra runners and it is tremendously inclusive. But don’t get caught up in admiring too many of the spectacular views because Skye is a ball buster. Enjoy Why do this race? because it’s there and everyone should run Skye.

Read the review here
View the gallery here

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Looking back at this race report gives a real indication of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed in my approach to running and races. The Wall came about because I needed a new challenge and a new focus and it helped set me on my own road to Damascus and for that I’ll be eternally grateful but as I reflect back I can see that I’d be hard pressed to recommend this race, so much so that when I was asked my opinion of The Wall by a runner considering entering at Endure 1250 I suggested that if they liked trail running they should consider something more exciting like the St Peters Way or the SDW50.

The most memorable thing about this race for me was realising that I’m not a size 8 running shoe and actually a size 10, I finished this race with more than 20 blisters and almost no toenails. The Wall was the last time I wore Adidas and so I should thank it for putting me on the road to Pearl Izumi, Hoka One One and eventually Altra – in a size 10!

New content is italics, my original report is below;

Key points

  • Distance: 69 miles
  • Profile: Gentle
  • Date: June 2013
  • Location: Carlisle
  • Cost: £135 (2013) now even more expensive 
  • Terrain: Light trail, tarmac
  • Tough Rating: 0.5/5, the challenge is in the distance not the course
  • Next running: June 2017

In the beginning
 This all started in October last year (2012), I’d just finished my first marathon and had discovered that I hadn’t got a place at the London Marathon for the third time. I recall tweeting Rat Race saying that if London didn’t want me I’d become an ultra runner and that’s what I set about doing.

In the meantime I added a second ultra (or first ultra as it arrived in March) and managed to break my foot in the process but a swift return to running followed and although I’ve stayed pretty consistently injured throughout the year I’d managed some decent races and knew that I could complete my original challenge – The Wall.

My training hadn’t gone well (something’s never change) until I saw that Juneathon was just around the corner and I threw together a competitive streak of 7 races in 6 weeks and combined this with about 350 miles of running over the last 6-8 weeks adding in a lot of hiking and swimming.

This finally proved to me that actually I could do The Wall and inside the first 2 weeks of Juneathon I managed a little over 200km of running to help me prepare mentally. The challenge then would be to ensure I still had enough in the tank to run well on race day.

The Lakes
I arrived in Carlisle (the start) after an epic week in the Lake District, I ran about 7km each morning and hiked a total of about 60km up some lovely hills adding in about 1500m of positive elevation and some seriously challenging hikes with HP, my dad and our hounds. I also took part in race which rather than a run was The Great North Swim (full report being written) and proved just the antidote to some of my running jitters, a highly recommended race by the way. Carlisle is a lovely place, well from the visitors point of view and after collecting my race number from the castle we headed around the town to check out a few bits, grab some food and walk the dog. Lovely.

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What happened next was quite strange, we entered a small park near the Travelodge we were staying in and there in front of us was a man collapsed in the late afternoon sun. I advised HP to back away and I approached gently, I could see the man was breathing but didn’t want to move him incase there was and injury that I might make worse. I spoke to him but he wasn’t very lucid given that by the park bench was an empty bottle of QC and four cans of Red Bull. HP called the emergency services and swiftly an ambulance turned up, we had kept the man company while the medics arrived and upon catching sight of him called out ‘Hello Stephen’ – he was clearly a minor celebrity in the A&E department at Carlisle. Well good deed for the day done I retired to the hotel and discovered that I had neglected to pick up my timing chip from the registration point.

At nearly 8pm I rocked up again to the castle, not realising I was once again saying hello to @HelzBelz1982 and laughed and joked my way through the registration process again as the Rat Race crew sorted out my last few bits for me. I also took the opportunity to purchase myself a hooded top and some new half price full length OMM running tights as a replacement for my Skins A200s which I have never really found very pleasant to wear.

Back to the hotel, pack my bag, get my kit together and then sleep. I hit the hay about 11.30 but was awake again shortly after midnight, cramp in my legs was giving me all sorts of problems and the heat of the room was a nightmare for someone who needs cold. Windows open, duvet off, sleeping in the shower, sleeping with legs up against the wall – I tried it all but nothing worked. At about 3am HP awoke to beat my calves into submission and I was able to get about 90mins sleep. Not the best preparation but it could have been worse I might have gotten no sleep!

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Breakfast was a little light with just a small tub of natural yoghurt to keep me company but my lack of sleep had proven something of an appetite suppressant and so I quickly got ready, loaded up my kit and carried out the rest of the luggage and off to the start line.

Arriving at Carlisle Castle was a strange feeling, I sensed impending doom as I looked up at the portcullis and thought it might just drop on my head. But I went in and chatted to some of the runners, had a few laughs, drifted around wishing my fellow competitors well.

Ultra running doesn’t have that competitive edge (well not unless you are at the front) and everyone simply wants to survive the experience. As 7am came around you could sense both tension and humour in the group, nervous laughs from the first timers and those with ultras under their belt already.

Start
A short safety briefing and a 10 second countdown brought about the race start and we were off, straight out of the castle, through Carlisle and off into the wild blue yonder. I don’t really remember much about the first stage other than at 15miles I went off too quick, but it was an enjoyable romp with Simon, Keith and another chap whose name eludes me. We stayed together a little while, had a few laughs and then parted just as we came up to the first pit stop. The weather was pretty damp but not torrential and the overcast conditions were making for good running and actually I was really rather enjoying the experience. I completed the first section in under 2hrs 30 and only stopped briefly to chat to a chap called Stuart and the GingaNinja who was waiting with the hound.

We had all been told that stage 2 was tough, probably the toughest stage in terms of ground, elevation and experience and as the weather got worse this turned out to be reasonably but not completely true. The hills came thick and fast and with a mental note to myself that the hills should be walked I slackened my pace and strode purposefully up the hills. Once at the top I could begin to run again and used common sense to pick up other runners who I could chat with and have those few laughs that might get you round to the next stage. As I crossed the large stone steps going up into the second section of this stage it finally dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it might be and when the photographer asked for a sprint and smile and I gave a grimace and gazelle like jump. To be fair I was still enjoying this more than enough to take in the stunning scenery on offer and the opportunity to see some of Hadrian’s Wall was fabulous. And as I was heading into the latter phase of stage 2 I came across @bryanwe (now @ultradhc) who recognised me from behind, something of an achievement I think given we had never previously met. And I had just recently been overtaken by David, a fellow Liverpudlian (now in Scotland) who was running a stunning race. All of this meant that I felt very jolly going into pit stop 2. I joked and laughed with all the marshals, grumbling in a semi jovial way about the distance, lack of serious hills and the lack of beer, it costs nothing to be nice to people who would clearly still be stood there showing us the way in the early hours of the morning.

At pitstop 2 we were offered some rather disappointing looking soup, which I’m told was rather nice but the idea of drinking down the hot vomit didn’t appeal, I decided the only sensible solution was instead a hot cup of tea and a couple of Chicken Tikka sandwiches – delicious.

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I chatted with a couple of the Rat Race crew from the day before that i’d had a laugh with and it was nice to be remembered.

Anyway quick change of clothes, new OMM arm warmers, update my food and water stores and a swap round of unnecessary kit and I was away again, 30 minute stop (ha! These days the idea of such a long stop might as well be a DNF), not too bad really. What I should of done though was listen to my body and rather than rush out of the door I should have strapped my toes up which were, even at 32 miles, starting to blister – but I didn’t and this was a mistake.

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Then came the soul destroyer.

It was only a 250m climb from the bottom to the top of the hill but it felt like miles through the undergrowth and upon reaching the top I felt all the energy I had gained in the pitstop drain away and for a few minutes I walked, noting that my feet were sore.

However, with composure regained I headed back out to a running pace, slow running but still running and found my feet again, the weather was beginning to warm but with my hat and sunglasses on I felt I would be okay. I passed through lots of picturesque countryside and chocolate box villages that seemed very inviting as they were littered with little pubs, full of food and beer – yum. But I was still on course for about a decent finish time and therefore I would have to miss the delicious delights on offer and find pitstop 3 and this was were sadly The Wall stopped being a race for me and more about the need to finish.

The End?
I came into the pitstop bang on the time I predicted but the cost had been substantial, the blistering that had started about 15 miles earlier were now crippling. I stripped my feet down and the GingaNinja applied emergency compeed to the key affected areas and also places I suspected would blister. I changed socks too as my first pair were soaked which I suspect had helped bring on the severity of the blistering. At first count there were 10 blisters across my feet.

Nasty but I’d cope.

I left the pitstop wondering if the frailty of my feet with more than 22 miles to go was going to kick in but with nearly 7hrs before midnight I intended to make a decent push for a swift finish

Sadly all of my work began to unravel pretty swiftly and the road became lonely and long, still scenic enough but I felt at the end of my tether and around 8pm I called the GingaNinja and cried. I was failing, but with some comforting words and a gentle push I decided to keep going. But this 17 mile stretch was going to test every last ounce of my mental toughness and when the GingaNinja arrived at the second checkpoint between the pitstops I knew she was worried. What happened next though was a bit of a miracle. No, my feet didn’t heal, but I did discover enough energy to power to the final pitstop. I could see runners slowing around me and felt that I was not alone in my pain and so I came into the final stop, made a final call to change into my Speedcross 3 and use a pair of hiking poles. once this was all sorted I would be off once the medic had cleared me and checked I was suitably visible.

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What I do know is that I was both lucid and determined and as an added bonus one of the other runners asked if we could go together on the final leg. I’d met him earlier and he’d already been puking and making the kind of noises that people do before they give up but credit to him, he had hung on in and it seemed we both needed the company and the support. Sadly for the life of me I can’t remember his name and should have gotten some contact details from him but I didn’t.

The Final Seven
Anyway, we set out about 10.30pm in the knowledge that only a major miracle would let us finish by midnight but it seemed we were both in too much pain to care really and we were both keen to finish. Head torches on we ploughed across the course and through the night, making only relatively minor mistakes, maybe 2 miles worth and enjoyed each others company and as we hit the quayside we looked on in awe towards what we knew would be the finish line.

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However, what struck us first about the quayside was the sheer lack of clothing being worn by the ladies of Gateshead and their use of the word ‘fuck’. I mean seriously these were kids!

Maybe it’s because I’ve become such a middle aged old fart but even I was surprised by the potty mouthed youths that littered the banks of the Tyne.

I digress…

In the distance we could see the winking millennium bridge and I told my new buddy that we would be crossing the finish line running, not speed walking as we had been. He agreed and asked if we should race it but that seemed at odds with the ethos of ultra running and so as we jumped onto the bridge, having a laugh and joke with the marshal and decided we would run the second half as it was downhill.

I don’t really remember very much about the finish, it was all a bit of a blur, I remember the photographer, the GungaNinja, ThunderPad and bright lights. I remember the sense of elation at crossing the finishing line, no pain, no sorrow, just unabashed joy – I grasped my companion and we raced arm in arm to collect our epic medals, delicious post run food and a little chat with the medic.

Sitting in the finishers village there were dozens of runners strewn across the area, some who had finished, some who had given up, one chap gave up at 60 miles, I couldn’t have done that (nearly 40 ultras later I really could do that and have done it), perhaps it took more bravery to say ‘I can’t do it’ than to keep on going regardless. But whether they finished or not the people who were in the finishers village were all winners because they had tried.

And that was it, that was ultra 2, The Wall. There are a few more things to say though before this epic blog post closes.

Organisation
The first is that the level of organisation was very high. Rat Race really do know what they are doing, a corporate events company  who know how to create safe and secure opportunities for wannabes athletes. They’ve had time to get it right, as my partner said they make events that are designed to be finished, they want you to make it and while these things are relatively challenging they are very do-able. 10/10

Community
The runners themselves were pretty much all of a positive mindset, all passing on support or help were needed. Ultra running is like no other type of racing, the only person you are racing is yourself and that’s one of the most difficult concepts to understand as you move from say marathon running to ultra running. In terms of runners I met some great guys, as mentioned the chap who did the last 7 miles with me, David who I met at the hotel the night before and again several times around the town and the course, Stuart who wasn’t competing but there supporting his wife, great advice about keeping your head up and the three great Irish guys who I was jigging along with. There are actually too many great people to mention. Rat Race sometimes takes criticism for being dull routes and overpriced and these criticisms are far too accurate but they are inclusive safe events that allow beginners a taste (albeit an expensive taste) of ultra running.  8/10

Food

Food was generally of a very high quality and lots of it, my only tiny grumble was the vomit looking soup at the halfway point. Unsurprisingly I didn’t actually eat that much and I had a decent amount of my own supplies but it was good to know that I want going to go hungry if I had to stop on a hillside somewhere. I’ve heard in later years since I ran The Wall that the food has become less high quality and much cheaper, I can only confirm that in 2013 it was decent 7/10

Facilities
Toilets were clean, water was plentiful and the pitstops generally had enough in the way of cover and setting should you need them. Vindolanda especially was and example of what you can do with a few tents if you really put your mind to it. 9/10

Signage
For me the best part was that signage was accurate and clear, only near Gateshead did any of us go wrong and this we suspect was the work of vandals or trophy hunters. But the race team answered calls quickly when directions were lost and this was very reassuring. This was the major difference between this ultra and the WC50, the fact that the guidance was already worked out and very accurate meant that we could concentrate on the running element of the ultra. Not to put the WC50 down because actually of the two I preferred the course and much smaller field of runners of the WC50 but The Wall with it’s easy navigation meant you could focus on running . 9/10

Marshals and Supporters
And perhaps most importantly were the marshals and the supporters. The marshals were always happy to see us, or at least smiled and they gave us what we needed, no matter the weather and as for the support, there was just enough to see us through, especially at the key points. For me personally I realised that actually this is a medal that three should share, the GingaNinja and the hound should share it, because without those two and lots of Twitter support I would never have made it. 9/10

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Scenery and Course

The course and the scenery were okay, green, lush and open were often not far away but we were often on Tarmac so didn’t really connect with the trail and I’d have liked a lot more Hadrians Wall – we saw about 40 stones of it. The thing I wanted basically  was more trail, there was a little too much road running, had I known I probably would have worn road shoes as they would have handled most of the course and for the rest my Vibrams were in my bag 🙂 you would run this for some of the scenery, but be aware there were some seriously dull sections as well. But then it can’t all be an oil painting can it? As for the physicality and challenge of the course on paper this one looks pretty simple but it isn’t though nor is it a real ball buster, if you’re looking for genuinely scenic and really touch then this isn’t the one for you. 4/10.

And you
, should you do it?
I’d originally said yes to this but given the cost and lack of trail I’d probably say no – but that’s based on the experience of much better races. The Wall is much like the Race to the Stones/King it’s a safe pair of hands ultra and perhaps a starting pointing for those too scared to try a Centurion or navigation race. It’s too expensive though for what it is but despite this it still attracts people looking to step up their distance. I won’t be going back though. 3.5/10

Heroes
And a final word on a couple of unsung heroes, the medics at 1am who looked at my feet for me, you were brilliant and the ladies who were serving the food in the dining room at the finishers village, you were outstanding and I’m grateful you gave me the beef goulash, yum!

Conclusion
I’ve discovered I’m not an ultra runner yet, oh yes I’ve run a couple but I’m a novice and have lots to learn, I’m going to carry on running them much to everyone’s annoyance and hopefully one day I too can call myself an ultra marathoner. My conclusions about this race stand true today – yes these days I call myself an ultra runner but I’m still a novice, the great thing about this sport of ours is that you never stop learning and I’m grateful for that.

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January feels a very long time ago in running terms and it has very much been a year of two halves. One half, excellent, one half was pretty bollocks – literally. I also raced a lot less than usual too after taking a little bit of advice from my physiotherapist with only 20 races attempted rather than my usual 30+ per year.

  • Country to Capital
  • Green Man
  • Ranscombe Challenge
  • Ranscombe Ramble
  • Hillsborough to Anfield Run
  • Run for the 96
  • Skye Trail Ultra
  • City of London Mile
  • Brutal Enduro
  • Endure 1250
  • Vanguard Way
  • Darnley Challenge
  • RunThrough London Greenwich
  • Ridgeway (DNF) (55/86 miles)
  • Chislehurst Chase
  • Chislehurst Chase Fun Run
  • High Weald 50km
  • World Vegan Day Run
  • Haria Extreme (DNF) (80/102km)
  • Mouth to Mouth

Race Overview
When I look over the race list and two DNFs it tells a slightly sorry story but actually the reality is very different. Yes this year has been hugely disappointing in results terms but there are other ways to measure your year.

However, there are a couple of disappointments such as the way the Hillsborough to Anfield run went and my subsequent falling out with my father (something I haven’t chronicled but am considering) and my pulling out of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal 130 which in part was caused by the events at the H2A. This left me without a hundred mile (plus) race for 2016 and that’s disappointing. There was also the pulling out of TransGranCanaria, I had signed up this when I got over excited at the CCC but hadn’t considered what a long distance mountain race might do me so early in the year. Not going to TransGC was a good decision though as it meant not overextending myself before I was ready. On the positive side though I stuck to my guns and avoided the easy option of going back to Centurion events and will carry this through to 2017 as I look to continue my search for smaller, more intimate racing.

The Planning
When I was planning the year out I placed the marker races in March, May, August and November so as to spread them out and I chose races that I felt would give me new ultra based experiences. Those races were The Green Man Ultra (heavy mud), the Skye Trail Ultra (mountainous), Leeds to Liverpool Canal Race (distance) and Haria Extreme (hot mountainous) – this seemed like a year to kill for but there were changes that were needed due to injury, family problems and a lack of training after Skye and so I dropped the Leeds to Liverpool Canal and replaced it with the excellent but shorter distance Ridgeway 86.

What happened?
It was very much a year of two halves with the first half of the year going brilliantly and the second half of the year being pretty much a write off with a few positives thrown in. I started the year by joining the Wonky Wanderer at Country to Capital (read the review here) for her first ultra. Having convinced her that she should run it I was compelled to join her on the start line and it proved to be one of my most positive ultra experiences ever. Yes C2C isn’t going to win awards for being the most exciting race, but it is varied and challenging while being highly accessible as a first real ultra. Being there to see Emma cross the line in a little over 10hrs will remain one of my most treasured memories long after I finally retire from running.

Country to Capital should have been followed by the Vigo Runners Valentines Run but in 2016 this race was cancelled, much to many runners annoyance.

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Therefore, I managed to pass through February without racing and my next time on a start line was the brilliant Green Man (read the review here) in Bristol. The Green Man has the distinction of joining my favourite races list rather highly, it was muddy, it was tough and the course was an absolute delight. The best thing though was meeting lots of the local Bristol runners, catching up with the amazing Roz Glover and best of all was meeting Elaine who single handedly kept my spirits up to the finish line.

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Racing was replaced by a bit of cold weather training in the arctic circle (partly to see the Northern Lights). I managed to add XC skiing as well as lots of really fun running – the ice, the snow, the cold and the amazing scenery just filled my heart with joy. I took time out of every day I was there to just go off-road and see things that are certainly not on the usual trails (read about the Finland adventure here).

I came back to the UK fired up and ready to train.

With running going surprisingly well I turned up for a double header of running at the Ranscombe Farm and Wild Flower reserve. It’s pretty well known that I love a bimble around Ranscombe and I’d considered this a perfect opportunity to test my body against a bit of elevation prior to disappearing off to the Isle of Skye.

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The Ranscombe Challenge and Rachel’s Ranscombe Ramble (read the review here) offered two different routes around the reserve. Day one was good and strong for me, about 30 miles run but with some mild feeling in an old injury but Day two was pretty terrible with less than 15 miles added to my SVN total. The route around Ranscombe and small field nature of the event makes me a regular there but I wish I had just done the Ranscombe Ramble as this was the tougher of the routes and lots of new fun. I’d love to go back to the Ramble next year but sadly the timings are a little out for me – I’m hoping that SVN might run it later in the year to allow me to test my mettle properly against it.

The injury at the Ramble left me with something of a quandry – it wasn’t a nasty injury but it did require rest and with the Hillsborough to Anfield Run only a few weeks away I actually needed to be training. I chose to do the sensible thing and rest for much of the time before the H2A and then be as sensible as possible during the H2A. Sadly the Hillsborough Run went very badly for me both in terms of distance and what happened with my father in the aftermath. I came away from the H2A event incredibly deflated, sore, injured and ill – this was likely to have an effect on running the Skye Trail Ultra just a few days later and Skye was, as we’ve discussed, one of the big marker races for the year.

So after returning from Liverpool I prepared my kit for the Isle of Skye just five days later. Friday arrived and amazingly I was ready to run, at least mentally I was, physically I was a bit of a mess but I’d give it a bit of welly and hope for the best. I travelled up to Skye on the Caledonian sleeper train and what a tremendous experience it was – it was my first time on a sleeper train and just being there was exciting, eating haggis, watching ‘My Week with Marilyn’ and catching up on Barkley related race reports. The only downside was that I awoke from the journey with terrible travel sickness.

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Thankfully I recovered enough to be race ready 12hrs later and at 5am in the morning on the Saturday I blundered through the Skye Trail Ultra (read the review here) with all the energy I could muster. Skye was as promised, was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done – it was filled with beautiful views, majestic climbs and terrifying navigation. Skye destroyed my feet and it destroyed my head but what it gave back was massive in terms of belief. I’d recommend the Skye Trail Ultra more than most ultras and it was certainly my favourite race this year and plays second fiddle only to the SainteLyon (read the review here) as my favourite ultra of all time.

UltraBaby and I were next on the running scene, this time joined by the GingaNinja at the City of London Mile (read the review here) and we gave it some fair welly (I did it solo and as a family runner) and this was a great fun event, nice and fast on the roads around Cannon Street, London. If it’s back next year we’ll be signing up and UltraBaby will be attacking this one on foot (rather than sleeping through it in the buggy). This was a lovely community experience and although I didn’t quite run it as fast as I might have hoped I did enjoy it.

And this was the last time that they year went really well or at all to plan.

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By the time we entered the summer the wheels had really started to come off. It started with the Brutal Enduro (read the review here) which was a tremendous event and highly recommended if you’re looking for a  challenging and inexpensive looped event. I really enjoyed the Brutal Enduro because of the variety inside the 10km loop and the fact that it was very inclusive event with a positive atmosphere but by 60km I’d had enough of summertime chaffing and injuries that continued to flare up. So I returned to my tent and caught up on some sleep. What I did know was that I had enjoyed the experience enough to try my hand at another looped trail race and so bundled myself off to the Endure 1250 (read the review here)I should have known though that lightning doesn’t strike twice and Endure 1250 was one of the least interesting races I have taken part in. Where Enduro had views, hills, challenges, excitement and atmosphere this felt flat, dull and lifeless. The worst part of it wasn’t any of this of course – the worst part was the horrendous chaffing I suffered within the first 10km. You might think this was colouring my view of the race but not so, I just didn’t enjoy it and hoped for better when I hit the trails once more.

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It seemed though I had cursed myself because the Vanguard Way Marathon (read the review here) was probably the most serious of the issues I faced while racing. It had been a hot day at the beginning of August and this one had been flagged as being tough, partly from the navigational point of view but also from the undulating nature of the course. In typical fashion I got seriously lost but also had to contend with both serious heat stroke and no water at the halfway point. I had consumed an entire 1.5 litre bladder of water in the first 13 miles along with water at the first checkpoint and had now run out. by mile 14 I was in quite serious trouble as the sun came blazing out. I had collapsed in a heap overlooking the lovely views of the Vanguard way for a little while before I came to and called the GingaNinja – slurring my words. However, I survived back to the checkpoint and managed to refresh my water supply but it felt like a close run thing. All the positives of the year seemed to be disappearing rather quickly but that being said I really loved the Vanguard Way Marathon and would do it again – the views were spectacular and the route was amazingly good fun, even when you add a couple of miles. Knowing what I would have to face would give me a better chance of being prepared for this Croydon bad boy!

The effect of the heatstroke lasted several days, it was really quite severe and so when I lumbered up to the Darnley Challenge (read the review here) less than a week later I was still not quite right but there is (as stated) always fun and chocolate at an SVN event and so taking in some of the delights of Ranscombe, Cobham and Gravesend(?) I ran a decent marathon for the first time in ages as well as adding a medal that was about the size of my head, can’t be bad.

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But my response to the Darnley Challenge could not mask the fact I really wasn’t ready for the Ridgeway 86 (read the review here). I’ve come to the conclusion that you really should not start a race if you’re nervous about whether you have the fitness to finish it and R86 was an example of a race where I was making excuses before I got anywhere near the start line. I suppose there was a clue as to my readiness when my calf simply seized up on at the RunThrough 10km in Greenwich Park a week earlier.

However I did rock up and I ran the first 43 miles in a decent time and even when I reached my final port of call at about mile 55 my body was in surprisingly good shape – what ruined it were my bollocks once again. The terrible chaffing that had been the bane of my racing through the summer had once again struck. My nuts were about the size of a couple of watermelons, fecking hell they hurt! The funny thing is that despite it being a good race I wasn’t really enjoying it all that much, having DNf’d the Winter 100 a couple of years ago this took in some of the same route and I didn’t find it inspired me to continue. A shame as it was a well organised and challenging race and even though I’ve said to myself I’m never returning to it, I’m sure I will.

It was then that my year hit a real low, I argued with the GingaNinja about running and racing, causing my public withdrawl from all running and racing. I ate a lot of pizza, drank a lot of Lucozade and refused to get the physical problems I’d been accumulating looked at. My retirement lasted a mere month but it was a very long month that really took some bites out of me, it kicked my fitness into the ground and I had piled on the pounds, all in all it was a shitty episode that was very public and very horrible. When I returned to racing at the Chislehurst 10km (read the review here) I gave it all the welly I could muster and even though I ran a reasonable time I knew I wasn’t in anyway fit enough to face the High Weald 50km (read the review here) but when did that ever stop me?

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At High Weald I was slow and steady but nothing spectacular and that was fine, it was a comeback race but it was far from ideal. I had toyed with the idea of not turning up to this one but I really wanted one of the mugs and the only way to get one, bar stealing one, was to run the bloody race. The good news was I was going to be testing my Altra Lone Peak 3.0 properly on the course and the better news was that the undulating nature of the course meant I was at least going to be doing something I love – trail hills.

During the race I felt like I was being punished a thousand times over for my ‘retirement’ and the sunstroke that got me about halfway through the race was unfair but I really enjoyed another bimble through Sussex and I’d certainly go back and run this one better. The best bit though was that post race I was allowed to have McDonalds chocolate milkshake again (just like after the Vanguard Way Marathon) as it helped to cool me down in the quickest possible way. Thank you McDonalds!

High Weald had given me the incentive to start training properly again and I did start on a programme of good miles, better eating and strengthening – it seemed like I was back on course after some failure but my fate seems to be that I am to write about my misadventures rather than successes! And when one Tuesday evening as I was buggy running with UltraBaby I felt my calf finally give up the ghost and it was ruined.

8 weeks until Haria Extreme. Turd.

For nearly three weeks it was painful to walk and I was resting as much as I could while remaining active by gingerly walking to work and back as a minimum. I thought that rest was the solution – it wasn’t. I called in the physiotherapist and she worked all the magic she could, my physio has gotten my ready for races before when I’ve ruined myself and I trusted her to do so again. The advice was rest, TENS, stretching, heat and physio – hours of it daily and for a change I gave up those hours to rehabilitation.

2 weeks until Haria Extreme. Progress.

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With no training I signed up to the World Vegan Day Challenge (read the review here) and hoped to test my calf for a few miles. As it was a weekday challenge the GingaNinja wasn’t available to take me so I was required to cycle the 13 miles to the race start. When I rolled up to Ranscombe Farm Reserve I managed a rather surprising marathon distance. However, I knew all was not right and trail ride home made me realise I was going to have to up the rehab if I wanted to survive. I stopped running again as I knew that my best chance of reaching the start line of Haria was to stop moving and continue fixing.

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Haria Extreme (read the review here) was the end of the year marker race – I had been looking forward for this for months and I wanted to give my all but knowing that your body may not hold up and that your training had been non-existent meant I was nervous.

However, I drew heavily on experience at Skye to help me overcome the mountainous sections and I remembered that whatever else I did I should enjoy it infact I spent so much time looking up in wonder at the beautifully dramatic landscape that I almost forgot to race. Haria was harder than Skye, it turned me inside out in a much shorter time, the heat hit me, the elevation hit me and the naked ladies hit me (not literally). I finished about 20km short of the finish and that should have tortured me but it didn’t and the reason was I am learning that by taking on harder and harder races I know I will fail more. Haria let me experience failure while giving some tremendous memories back.

I cut my shins quite unpleasantly and my calf muscle pulled me apart again but I learned that despite my lack of fitness I was within a cats whisker of completing Haria Extreme, the weird thing is that I had nearly 10hrs to complete just over 20km, maybe as I sit here reflecting I should have carried on but ultimately I know I did the right thing.

With Haria out of the way though I could then focus on finishing the year and this I did at Mouth to Mouth (read the review here), no pressure, a beautiful race on the south coast that was only mildly troubled by GI distress. I remember thinking as I crossed the line, what a lucky bugger I am

Original aims of 2016

  • Don’t DNF
  • Test yourself on more mountainous terrain
  • Avoid the easy route to ultras by returning to races you’ve done
  • Don’t buy as many pairs of shoes
  • No half marathons, they bore me

How did it finish up? 

  • I bought lots of pairs of shoes
  • By year end I will have run about 2000 miles in 2016
  • I had two DNFs
  • I managed not to run a half marathon!
  • I did run lots of smaller, more intimate races, avoiding mass participation
  • I had several experiences of testicle chaffing
  • I had several experiences of serious GI distress – the south downs have a new hill on them and Skye has a ‘no go’ zone with a half life of about 3,000 years
  • I learned to not worry so much about what other runners think of me
  • I’m still a lard arse
  • UltraBaby got to her sixth race medal

2016 was such a mixed year, it was filled with so many challenges that I overcame and so many that gave me a bloody good kicking. The important thing wasn’t the failure, it was how I dealt with that failure. I was frustrated and angry with myself at both Endure 1250 and the Ridgeway 86 – its fair to say at R86 in fact I was furious. The problems that got me at these races though I believe I’ve resolved (kit changes) but the lesson learned from Haria was to test myself at harder and harder races and accept that not finishing is the price you have to pay sometimes. The whole retirement/injury thing had huge consequences and I’m still trying to get back into shape and only now returning to full time training, so I’ll be trying to avoid both of them going forward but ultimately 2016 I’ll look for the positives and there were many.

Perhaps the most exciting positive was seeing so much more of the UK, trying new types of running, on new trails, in new countries. It was a positive that I raced less and positive that I realised the mistake I would have made by trying to run the LLCR130. I’ll make mistakes going forward but there is something rewarding about being accepting of that.

The one change I think will make a huge difference to me to is that I’ve stopped worrying about what the other runners think of me, I’ve always been a bit fearful of the judgement of my peers – perhaps we all are but it was proving to be crippling. It stopped me entering the Hangman Ultra and also from submitting applications to races where I knew significantly better runners than I would be on the start line. I’ve very much come to embrace that I am me, warts and all. I wish I had learned this lesson so much sooner. There are a couple of my peers who helped me see this and if you are reading this and you think it was you then it probably is.

So without naming names – thanks.

The future
More of the same, more races, smaller and harder races, more running, considered training, hilly runs and some, if not lots, of mountains, certainly thousands of metres of elevation. I’ll be previewing my 2017 plans in the next few weeks which will help me firm up my exact race and training trajectory – but be assured I’m ‘on it, like a car bonnet!’. I don’t even know what that means.

What about you?

  • So how about everyone else’s 2016?
  • Did it go well? Did you avoid injury?
  • Did you achieve thousands of PBs?
  • Did you focus all your energies into Parkruns?
  • What plans do you have for 2017?
  • What races should I consider adding to my calendar?
  • Will I have another year of two halves?


I was looking for an alphabetic list that could identify how the last five years of running have come to be; it’s one item per letter currently which means there’s loads of great stuff missing but I reserve the right to add additional items to my alphabet run later. 


A: Altra.
At a time where I had literally tried every running shoe going, from Nike to Hoka and back again, I finally found some solace and comfort in Altra running shoes. For a fat-footed hobbit like myself Altra have saved my feet from becoming even more of a mangled mess than they already are. The lesson is to use kit you can trust.

B: Burning Bullet Hole. I’ve suffered the burning bullet hole and other chaffing related issues on more than one occasion but thanks to a liberal use of bodyglide and a pre-race routine that I’m very happy with this has stopped being the issue it once was (Endure1250 aside). I do recall at the WNWA96 that at about 86 miles in the burning sensation was so severe that I sharpened a small amount of toilet roll and created my own personal anal plug to create a soft environment for my arse cheeks to rub against during the final 10 mile slog down the East Lancashire Road.

C: CCC. I started ultra running with the UTMB races as a goal – I was driven by a desire to go to a mountain and test myself amongst some amazing athletes. To come away from the CCC not only injured, not only with a DNF but also with a tremendous sense of disappointment haunts me a little. However, the CCC gave me one great gift and that was the desire to run races I really wanted too and therefore out of that has come the SainteLyon, the Green Man and the Skye Trail Ultra – so not all bad.

D: DNF. The ‘did not finish’ had been heard three times during my racing career, the TG100, W100 and the CCC. For the TG100 conditions, organisation and support were so terrible that a DNF was almost inevitable – of the eleven starters only three finished and you know when race master Ian Braizer pulls out that you probably made the right decision.

The W100 I’ve never really spoken or written about as this one hurts more than any of them. I was a father for the first time – mere weeks earlier, I’d been injured for almost six months in the run up to the W100 and had done almost no training in that time – mainly using races to keep my fitness up.

My physiotherapist had warned against my involvement saying that there was a chance I might never run again if I took part and when I DNF’d at the halfway point I was crying and miserable. My injuries from that period have never recovered 100% and I learnt from the experience – so much so that when I twisted my ankle at the Brutal Enduro a couple of weeks back I almost immediately stopped as an ultra distance was already secured and I saw no reason to ruin myself.

My DNF record has afforded me a clarity of perspective and a sanguine approach to races. Races will always be there and it’s better to survive than destroy yourself. I know some will look at this as a cowardly approach and that you’ve got to ‘man-up’ but I’ve run in pain more than I’ve run without and I can tell you there’s no shame in a genuine DNF.

E: Enthusiasm. I suffer with the post race blues, whether it’s gone well or badly – I’ve just got one of those personalities. So even when it’s going well there’s a bloody good chance it’s all going to fall apart any second.

F: Fartlek. Fartlek is my favourite type of training, lots of fast and slow, obscure distances, running between two trees at a pace that’ll make your lungs burst! Glorious.

G: GingaNinja. The GingaNinja has often been the person who kept me going at races, the person who took me to races and rescued me when it all went pear shaped. Without her my ultra running adventure would never have gotten started – I recall the run up to my first ultra in March 2013 and she let me decimate the house with running kit for 3 months prior with kit laid out and constant chatter about it. Obviously much has changed in the 3 years since but she has generally remained my biggest supporter and I’ll always be grateful for the time and effort she has put in to supporting my hobby.

H: Hills. For a while I couldn’t even walk up a hill without my glutes and hamstring tearing me a new arsehole. I felt that my time running hills was likely to be over. However, it turned out I was averse to tarmac not hills and now I love nothing more than banging my way up and down a trail. For me the truth of it is that there’s something especially glorious about a steep climb, enjoying the vista finished off with a speedy descent down a horrific vertical drop!

I: Injuries. I’ve had my fair share of injuries, some more serious than others, there was the foot I crucified at my first ultra, the glutes and ITB problems I had long before I knew what an ITB was, the broken finger that I never really got fixed properly, a thousand blisters, hundreds of times slicing open my body as I hurled myself into the void of trail running and of course the worst thing – the chaffing injuries – my poor bollocks. The truth is though that these were all self inflicted, I drove my body to self destruction and even though I do look after myself a little better these days I still push it beyond its limits. Injuries have been a recurring motif in my running that I simply now accept as part of the experience, yes you may think I’m blaise about injury but actually I do what I can to keep it under control and I try not to think about them too much – which works for me. 

J: Jenni. My ex-girlfriend who was a bit of a control freak! It was here that my interest in running really kicked off again. I used to go running to stave off going back to the house we shared – especially in the latter days of the relationship. At the time I didn’t really realise how under the thumb I was and it wasn’t until I looked more objectively at the relationship (while out running coincidentally) that I finally realised that this wasn’t a healthy relationship for either Jenni or I and we went our separate ways. However, despite this the running continued and so from adversity came something very positive.

K: Kit. I’m sure a kit whore, kit hoarder and kit lover. I’ve always loved a bit of retail therapy – be it a new piece of technology, hobbyist thing, clothes or craft – when I discovered running gear though I knew I had found my Nirvana. There is no doubt that (shoes included) I could fill 10 x 100 litre duffel bags easily with running kit. There are currently nearly 40 pairs of active running shoes (plus another 50 or 60 retired shoes), more than 50 race T-shirts, over 100 purchased run T-shirts, over 20 long sleeved base layers, 4 GPS watches, 30 pairs of shorts or tights, dozens of socks, 15 Buffs, 10 race vests/run specific bags, 6 pairs of gloves, 3 external battery packs, 3 waterproof with taped seams jackets, 2 action cameras… the list goes on and on and on. The good thing is that I run regularly enough to use most of it. Yes I’ve made a few strange purchases or things that aren’t quite right (Skins A200 leggings for example) but generally I’ve spent my money well, fully researching a purchase before making it. I’ve also used my purchasing as a way of supporting local business too – much of my stuff comes from companies like Castleberg Outdoors, Likeys, London City Runner, MyRaceKit and Northern Runner. However, it’s undoubted I buy too much stuff but I don’t drink, smoke or have any other expensive habits so running it is!

L: Liverpool. Much to my dismay I am, by birth, from Liverpool – I say dismay not to offend the northern city but more that I’ve always felt my heart was in the south. But in running terms I made my marathon debut in Liverpool and that set me on course to collide with a love of long distance endurance running. So while I have no affinity with the city of Liverpool and I feel lumbered with its accent I’ll always be grateful for the part it played in my running. 

M: Medals. 130 medals and counting. I do love a medal. The GingaNinja has nearly collected her 20th medal and UltraBaby collected number 6 at the Chislehurst Chase. It’s an obsession with oddly shaped bits of metal.

N: Nuts. I’ve written previously about my dislike of labels and the ‘nuts’ one is my pet hate. Now it’s true I have some leftfield ideas and sprout concepts that might test the limits of convention but when it comes to running I’d ask whether it really is ‘nuts’ or whether sitting on the sofa, eating biscuits, watching Eastenders, waiting for the inevitable heart attack’ is actually the ‘nuts’ thing to do. 

Nuts though also refers to my mental ability to stay a balanced and responsible human being. I originally took up running in response to the end of a relationship – my uncle suggested that it would give me a focus at a time when I was drifting aimlessly. To his credit, in my case, he was right. Running allowed me a little bit of structure, stopped me moping around and provided a way forward which has contributed to having a reasonably successful personal and work life. Running stopped the darker side of my personality from taking hold and sending me down the deepest, darkest rabbit hole. I would always worry that if I stopped running or it was enforced upon me by injury I’m not sure how I would replace it. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that running has become a part of many of the good things in my life – from base fitness to exciting holiday destination choices – it really does get involved in everything.

O: Over eating. I do have something of a problem with chocolate, cake, sweeties, FOOD – I just love it and lots of it. The only reason I’m not the size of a double decker bus is the running, cycling and hiking that I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that I have a hugely unhealthy relationship with food but it also helps to power my desire to run further because I know that without the running I’d become my own worst physical nightmare.

P: Parkrun. I’ve run 16 times since it started, that’s not really a great deal and while I like Parkrun it’s never quite been important enough for me to make it a habit. Importantly though I believe that Parkrun is a great thing and when I have been I’ve loved it – especially Ashton Court and Tonbridge. The thing that it has been especially positive for is introducing UltraBaby to the running community. It’s a good mixture of people, ages and abilities – there’s a lovely level of co-operation and support that is all pervasive around a Parkrun and long may it (excuse the pun) run.

Q: Quest. Each year I set myself a series of targets – 2016 was the year of the ‘No DNF’ well I blew that with some epic bollock chaffing at the Ridgeway Challenge. However, I did complete the Skye Ultra Trail which was very much at the heart of 2016 and probably my most desired finish. But each year takes a different path – 2017 has been identified as the year I hope to crack the ‘associate’ or ‘wannabee’ member status – so about 13 marathons or ultras needed to reach my first 50. However, I turn 40 next year and I really want to find a race that matches my desires to go a further and harder – the GB Ultra 200 mile is one I’m seriously considering but there are logistical problems with that and there’s the KACR which I’ve been avoiding applying for because I’m not sure my glutes would appreciate canals anymore. So I just need to figure out what my quest is each year and how I go about achieving it. The important thing for me to remember is that it is the route I take and the adventures I have that are more important than the quest itself.

R: Racing. I’ve never run for fitness, to look dynamic or even for glory – I’ve always put my running shoes on so I would have the capacity to race. It’s true that I’ve sometimes turned up to a race injured just to see what might happen (W100, TG100) or it’s not always gone to plan (Ridgeway Challenge, CCC) but despite this some of my favourite moments running have been when I’ve raced. I’d always advocate having a target, such as a race, as I believe it offers a truly wonderful incentive and there is no feeling like crossing the finishing line to rapturous applause. I’ve been very lucky to have raced more than 130 times now and I never get tired of the starting line, I always get start line nerves and I always dream of that little piece of metal that I can hang around my neck. Give it a go.

S: SainteLyon. On the subject of racing I wanted to add in my favourite race and mention what a truly special experience this was and remains (you can read my incredibly long winded review here). The SainteLyon provided me with renewed vigour for foreign races after a rather unpleasant time in Chamonix at the CCC. While the race is a mere 72km it has everything you’d ever want and I’d urge anyone who loves ultra running to check it out. I could quite easily say that I often fall in love with the races I do but it’s an extra special bond between the SainteLyon and I.

T: Twitter. Ah Twitter you little mine field, home to good information, great communication with like minded runners and occasionally a platform for abuse and being abused.

Twitter gave me access to runners I would never normally have met, it allowed me to get to know some of them and vice versa.

It allowed me to grow an audience for my general written running rambles and it offered new avenues for my running in kit and race options.

Twitter was probably one of the greatest influences on my running outside of the activity itself and while it can be a huge waste of time, if used wisely than it can be a very fun tool to improve the overall running experience. 

U: UltraBaby. I’m writing this as UltraBaby turns 2 years old and if truth be told it’s been a manic and exciting time. I recall the first run we did on the day she returned home from hospital, the first time I unleashed the power of the Mountain Buggy Terrain!

Two weeks later we were in our first race, the Dartford Bridge Fun Run and how within 7 weeks of birth she attended her first ultra.

We’ve carried on in this tradition and covered hundreds and hundreds of miles together both on the bike and running together. Though it did take us nearly a year to get to a Parkrun together but now we enjoy nothing more than overtaking people in the buggy shouting ‘Dad go fast!’

In the two years we’ve been father and daughter she’s earned 6 medals and not all of them parent powered. Its going to be a really sad day when she decides that she no longer wants to do it, or more importantly she no longer wants to do it with me. So for the time being I’m just enjoying it. 

V: Vest. I’ve listed this as ‘V’ but covers two very different topics – the first is ‘club running’ and the second is ‘body image’. Many of you, probably most of you will have joined a running club, they’re excellent support networks and offer a real world version of Twitter but I’ve never quite been able to shake the ‘lone wolf’ thing. Now for someone who doesn’t like labels this doesn’t sit well and I have tried many times the more social and perhaps cultured approach to running but it’s just never worked out. Each year I promise myself I’ll try again but each year I don’t bother or I find an excuse not to go. Perhaps 2017 will be my year of the club vest? Or maybe the only vest I’m actually interested in is the 100 marathon club vest and that’s why I’m holding back. Hmmm.

As for body image that’s pretty easy – I stopped wearing vests because I felt fat in them and having low self esteem regarding my physical appearance has meant I tend to dress for discretion. Stupid I know but a reality and it’s not something I think I’ll ever get beyond.

W: White Cliffs 50. Somewhere on an old blog is my record of the White Cliffs 50, but somewhere inside me that ultra will always live. It was my first ultra with only a single paltry road marathon under my belt as comfort – I’d only been doing runs over 20 miles for about the three months prior to the race and yet I rocked up convinced I could do it.

And I did – on a broken foot for most of it. I pushed through genuine agony and I delivered a genuine astonishing result that didn’t look likely to happen. I earned my first utmb points, finished my first ultra and felt like I had died. But that day I knew I would always want to ultra and that desire just doesn’t fade.

X: Exhale. One of the finest things I learnt to do during my early days in running was how to breathe deeply and consistently. This simple act as a run progresses is something many of us forget how to do. I can hear my fellow runners huffing and puffing sometimes as they go past me or vice versa, I use that as a reminder to check my own breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth, big deep breathes and then shallower breathing for a few moments and then repeat. I’ve found this wonderful for keeping me going and stopping me gasping for breathe and it does allow me to chat as much as I want during a run (possibly not a good side effect).


Y: Yes. 
Never say no. There is nothing that can’t be achieved, believe in yourself and that starts by being positive. I try wherever possible to say ‘Yes’ because it’s a way forward and sometimes you’ll fail, sometimes you’ll stumble but if you don’t try then you can never achieve. I believe it was Ian Shelley who introduced me to the phrase ‘relentless forward progress’ and I do my best to put this into practice.

So say ‘yes’ and be the best of you!

Z: Zippy. I used to be quick, really quick – maybe it was this that made me really fall in love with running. I remember being aged 9 and in the starting blocks for county at the 100 metres – I came second and was distraught. However, in those days I knew nothing about running, even less than. I do now but I had enthusiasm and that translated to pretty damn quick running across track and field. I miss being fast, I miss sub 40 minute 10km times and sub 20 minute 5km times but I wouldn’t trade in the tougher routes I now run for a faster time. For me being zippy is second to the adventure. 


If you find talk of poo, blisters, injury or ripped off toenails a problem then this blog post isn’t for you and might I suggest you try a different Saltmarsh tale. 

‘Twas the night before Saltmarsh
My journey to Essex was a little fraught the night before the Saltmarsh 75, my 90 litre duffel bag weighed the same as a small hippopotamus and I was carrying half a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the other hand, on my back was an untested two man pop up tent and worse I’d eaten a hearty curry lunch and strangely pre-race a curried dinner. All of this should have been a warning sign but I was in a jovial if tired mood when I rocked up to see the awesome Ian awaiting me at the train station. Ian is the kind of runner you aspire to be – committed but fun and fast as lightning in a pair of sandals!

We said goodnight early enough to get a good nights sleep but I struggled as my calves and ITB had been playing up since my fall at the CCC. I struggled to sleep and it wasn’t until nearly 2am that I finally drifted off. However, it felt like good quality sleep and when I woke up about 5.30am I felt fresh, had a delicious coffee made by my delightful host and chatted with both Ian and his young daughter – herself a runner and I suspect soon to overtake her fathers place as the family ‘speedgoat’.

A Fiesta for the eyes
Ian said we were being picked up by the brilliant and funny Simon, Claire and the beautiful hound (who I think was called Annie – apologies Ian’s delightful hound is Annie, Simon and Claire’s is Luna). So four people, three race vests, two tents, one dog and multiple bags fitted cosily inside the Ford Fiesta. A work of genius on the part of Simon and Claire who were not 100% aware that they were transporting me, the interloper.

The journey wasn’t long but it was significant enough for me to realise I was in the company of brilliant people and I couldn’t have been happier as we rocked up to the Marsh Farm and joined the queue to collect our numbers.


Bring forth the Saltmarsh
We ambled around for a bit and found a place for our kit before we labelled it up. The queue we joined to collect our numbers wasn’t long and it was moving swiftly we chatted to lots of other runners – some previous Saltmarshers, others like me more inexperienced. However, it was clear that the Saltmarsh attracted the friendlier end of the running and walking community. Chat was easy, experiences shared and mirth ensued – time slipped by far too easily but we soon had our numbers from the well oiled administrative side of the event. I followed this up with a coffee and delicious bacon baguette from the outrageously delicious cafe and still with time to spare I meandered up to the toilets for the start of my race problems.

A final warning – if you can’t handle bodily fluids (not literally) please leave now.

Plop followed by flood, holy fuck my insides had died and I had no idea what had caused it. Double Wasabi perhaps? Hmmm. I concluded my gallop of the trots and got the rear end ready for racing but I could feel that hot stinging in the old rusty bullet hole and that was going to hurt on the way round. Regardless I rejoined the gaggle of runners and we continued to make merry – heading to the start line for race briefing and with a few short words we were off and in the hunt for the walkers.

The race
As usual I’m not going to give you a mile by mile account of the race as I doubt you want to hear it but it’s important (if you want to run this race) to understand what you’re signing up for. As I ambled out of the farm and onto the path that would eventually lead to the Essex coastline I suddenly felt a little like a Heathcliffe or Mr Rochester, I was surrounded by marshland, eerie silence, mud and mist. You could barely see a few hundred metres as the mist rolled around you and other runners on the course resembled ghosts or perhaps a ‘Potteresque’ Patronus. The dry weather made for a clarity of these conditions and it felt properly beautiful. Stood here you could really fall in love with Essex. I was running reasonably and overtaking most of the mid pack runners, taking a leap out of the ‘Traviss’ book of running – hit it hard first half and ease off at the end and grind it out. I knew that the mist would clear and temperatures would rise as the day wore on so it was better I commit to a faster start and try and get through as much as I could before trouble started.

Checkpoint 1 came and went in a bit of a blur and just a miles in and I was feeling rather jolly. I collected my next instructions, had some water and trundled on, the next section was longer – 8 miles and yet the weather was holding its nice ‘dry gloominess’ and conditions were ideal for running (and photography).

At this point I was chasing down the walkers and wishing them well it was a bright jovial atmosphere that greeted me. At around 14 miles in and about 2hrs 15 on the clock I was feeling pretty confident. Checkpoint 2 was a much more fulsome affair and here I had lots of juice, the first of the malt loaves I’d eat and grabbed lots of fruit pastilles. I really liked the nice touch of five or six fruit pastilles bagged for you to take – this was quality attention to detail. I thanked the volunteers, waved towards the well wishing crowd and drifted slowly out of the checkpoint – stopping only to take a photograph for a couple of my fellow competitors.

The third section would be the hardest – a 13 mile slog against what feels like an unending path – seeing competitors miles in the distance but never able to catch them and a camber that would effectively end Saltmarsh as a competitive event for me and turn it into a lovely long chat! It was here that I met Louise, Jo (from TP100), Rob, Gill and Sam (from Twilight Ultra and Dengies 100) and with each one I had a series of significant moments as we passed by each other on multiple occasions – willing each other on.

It was here that Rob started to suffer and on his first ultra he was having a bad time, it was around here that I ran with him for a bit, listened to him and offered some advice about how to get through this. The good news was he was actually a really good runner and with a renewed sense of belief and his family supporting him he pushed on and he pushed on hard.

I caught up to Louise at this point and we headed with all forward motion to St. Peter’s Church. This would be the last point that I knew roughly were I was and I sneaked through the wood and race up to the checkpoint where Claire was waiting with a camera pointed in my direction

‘Ian?’ I asked
‘Well ahead’ she replied unsurprisingly
‘Simon?’
‘Between 2 and 3, hopefully here soon’

Claire was an awesome surprise and it was lovely to see a fresh face you recognised. It provided the bit of a lift I needed. I stayed a little too long in the checkpoint but I was keen to be powered by cake and replace all the energy I was shitting out during my regular stops on route.

I once again caught up to Rob and his brother – who was walking this section with him. We had introductions and a bit of a laugh and then I waved them goodbye – but the Saltmarsh never allows you to get that far ahead! My problem was that my hamstring, glutes and ITB were all firing and I had some decisions to make. I could walk the last 10 or so of day 1 and save myself or I could run until the burning became too intense…

Slowly, slowly, catchy runners
‘Raise your knees UltraBoy’
‘Sod off mind’ I replied

One, two, three, increase my stride, go faster – I was running – slowly – but I was running. I was catching people. BOOM. This was a big mental lift and with each runner I caught I felt better and better and the euphoria from this was off-setting the destruction of my legs under the weight of their long standing injuries. I started passing through checkpoints too and with renewed energy I finally reached checkpoint 5 and there was Louise and Rob with his young (we’ll say 7 year old) pacer. Genius idea. CP5 and my problem bottom brought itself to bear on the toilet block available to us and I was incredibly grateful for a comfy shitter I’ll be honest and after my (what I believed was a) complete evacuation the three of us departed with OUR pacer.

The final push of day one
Despite everyone feeling pretty broken we continued to run most of the final section and we’re delighted to see the little entrance tunnel with its fairy lights – the whole thing was lovely. A few hundred metres from the finish I bade Louise farewell answer into my customary ‘sprint’ finish and crossing the line with a large dirty growl and a welcome from some of my fellow competitors and their crews. Louise followed swiftly behind me just as Rob had finished swiftly in front of me and it was lovely to enter the warmth of the hall to find both of them in good spirits, as everyone was. I utilised the hall for grabbing some delicious tea and toast and soon headed over to the pub to collect my tent and other kit – I wanted a hot shower, clean clothes and to go to the pub.

I’d purchased a pop-up tent rather sensibly for the event and with the all energy I could muster I unfurled her in the field. As promised by Decathlon it was spacious, quick to erect and properly waterproof. A shower followed shortly after and more chitty chat with runners I hadn’t yet come across and everything bounced along just brilliantly. I was warm, clean and hungry – off to the pub? Not quite.

More shit?
I felt another urgency and this time it was more serious, I doubled over in pain and ran at full pelt to the loo – both cubicles were locked – shit. I ran to the pub, into the gents – cubicle in use – I dipped into the ladies, cubicles all in use. I waved hello to Ian, Simon and Colin – got some drinks in, made a food order and all the time clenching my arse together tighter than an ill fitting pair of Skins compression tights! I handed over the drinks and apologised as I darted away to await a free space in the toilet block. Thankfully upon arrival I was able to take a seat, though not before checking the supply of loo roll, and I relieved myself of almost all my excess body weight. I felt ill in so many ways but I also felt so much better and soon returned to the delightful pub and delicious meat lasagne dinner I had ordered.

I left my companions to the rugby and went to get some rest but sleep was tough to come by, not for any lack of comfort, but the day had played on my mind. The heat had gotten to me in the afternoon, blisters on the end of my toes had caused me trouble after mile 20, my hamstring and ITB were in absolute agony despite my stretching and there was tomorrow to come. I did think about pulling out of the second day.

What saved me? As these dark thoughts swirled around my noggin I heard the voices of Ian, Damian, Simon and Colin – I heard the banter and it made me feel like I’d be letting real people down if I didn’t at least have a crack at it and with that I fell asleep.

1.38am, 3.45am then 5.06am
I woke up regularly – partly because of injury pain and partly because I was thinking about the next day of racing. At 5.06am I gave up and decided to wake up – I visited the little boys room again and tried to eat a few bits to keep me going until breakfast in the pub. I decided I’d get kit ready and dismantle the camping equipment amd chuck it in the back of the van and then joined my companions for a hearty meal of jam on toast and coco pops. I wasn’t nearly as jolly today but I’d stretched and massaged my way to being race ready and I promised myself I’d stop if I thought I was going to injure myself.

And so we all registered for day 2 – 60 people had decided not to return for day 2 apparently, which was understandable given that it had been much tougher than I think anyone had imagined. I once again ran into some of the excellent runners and walkers I had spent so much of the previous day chatting with. Paul and Rob I saw first followed by Gill and Sam – we all ambled to the start and when the runners started I darted forward and gave section 1 some serious welly but that was pretty much the only time in the whole second day I had any energy in me.

By 5 miles in runners were overtaking me and I slowly meandered my way towards the back of the running pack, then I stopped – I needed to examine my shin which had been burning for a little while and was more sore than it should have been. I looked down and the size of my shin was about twice what it should have been but the pain was running through my ankle and I couldn’t tell which was the cause of the issue. I could see a runner I recognised ahead of me and headed out hoping that I could catch them as they weren’t moving very quickly. After about an hour I managed to catch Gill and we chatted for a while and walked together discussing our various ills and we agreed that at least for a while we would walk/run our way through a few miles.

Gill was awesome and we spent several miles just laughing and joking about day one, learning a bit about each others lives and what we might do if we ever finished the bloody course. Given that we would be lucky to finish we both decided that we would simply enjoy the experience and we made merry with the various volunteers and people out on the course. It wasn’t that we weren’t taking it seriously but you have to know your limitations, Gill had a foot that was bleeding through her shoe and both my legs had what felt like quite serious issues. Despite this we made reasonable time through the various checkpoints and stayed together for the entire time – we even managed to pick up another member for the team – Karen, formerly of Northern Ireland and now of Essex.

As we crossed the final couple of hundred metres I turned to my two companions and asked, ‘ would you like to cross the line hand in hand’ – the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ and as the final couple of hundred metres approached we gathered some pace and starting running, each of of us in absolute agony, injured, tired, destroyed but finished. The Saltmarsh was over.

Course
The course was flat but slow, the camber in the 13 mile third section on day one destroyed my hamstring and my ITB, but the views in the mist were spectacular and the views in general while not traditionally beautiful I found to be fabulous. Essex is so much more than places like Chelmsford and Basildon, Essex is a really beautiful part of our country and we should all go and explore it a little bit more. The course was also not 75 miles but closer to 77 miles and if like me you went wrong a few times then you would add extra anyway. The course markings were zero but the course directions that were handed to us at each checkpoint were very good, everything was well thought out for the course. I would highly recommend the course as a runner or walker despite it taking a big chunk out of me.

Checkpoints
The checkpoints were pretty simple but with a good selection of sweets, very little in the way of savoury which was a disappointment as one thing ultra runners want is some variety in flavour. I loaded up on things like malt loaf but also used my own supplies as suggested by the Saltmarsh organisers. The other thing missing were hot drinks – you could buy them at later checkpoints if you wanted them but this should in my opinion be replaced by hot drinks on general offer at the checkpoints. Special mention should go to the unofficial checkpoint run by the Dengies 100 running club for whom many of us were very, very grateful. The other outstanding checkpoint was the pub at Steeple, not only was it welcoming and warm but it had excellent food options and really great staff both in the evening when we arrived and for breakfast as we left.

Support and Volunteers
The support was brilliant, checkpoint 2 on Day 1 was pretty special, as was the arrival into Maldon on Day 2 and throughout the event there was a general air of pleasantness towards the runners. It was lovely to see the people of Essex getting behind the runners and the volunteers were all brilliant, especially the young red haired lady at about the third checkpoint on Day 2 – who should have had a hat on instead of that very inviting smile! I have nothing negative to say about either the volunteers or the supporters, both were magnificent

Organisation
On the whole the organisation was excellent, pre-race information, social media mentions – all good, collecting your number was swift and efficient, the locations of checkpoints was sensible and the route was well watched by volunteers in vehicles ensuring our safety. My only gripe was that the communication between the teams wasn’t perhaps as coherent as it could have been and questions couldn’t always be answered with absolute certainty, however, on the whole the checkpoint staff were informative and helpful and this was reflected I think in the efficiency getting us in and out of check. I’m sure the Saltmarsh organisers are constantly on the lookout for improvements and will continue to tweak the organisation as the event grows ever more popular.

Fellow Runners
I’ve already said I met lots of amazingly friendly runners and walkers but its fair to say that in all the ultra distance events I have taken part in this had the friendliest group of participants. I was taken aback by the huge amount of internal support that the runners gave each other and more over how much the loved ones and crew of runners helped out other runners. I will forever be grateful to Robs sister (possibly in-law) Hannah who gave me updates as to how Rob was faring also checking on me. I was very grateful to everyone I came across but without a shadow of doubt it was Gill that pulled me through the last few miles of the second day and I will always be grateful to her for that

Goody Bag
No goody bag as such but there was a beanie hat and also a nice pin bag and a reasonable medal. The added bonus was the hot toast and tea at the end of day one and the baked potato at the end of day 2. So although no T-shirt or other crap actually the team at Saltmarsh invested in things that people might actually want or get use out of.

Conclusion
A great race, incredibly challenging and much underrated if you think flat is easy. There were issues but they were few and far between and relatively minor and I would say that this is a event that everyone can train for and everyone can do. In poor weather conditions I think that this might actually be a pretty horrible experience – think about trying to put tents up when the wind and rain is coming down on you or its blowing a gale coming in from the coast and believe me I did the St Peters Way when this was a reality and its harsh. I enjoyed my experience but think I would have enjoyed it a lot more had it not been a thirty mile march to the end. But if you are looking for something really challenging in the early autumn and without any hills then this is the bad boy for you.

What have I taken from the Saltmarsh 75
Sadly the thing I have taken from doing this event is not to do multi-day events anymore, it was my first one and my instinct was correct – I prefer the single day ultras – they’re easier. Was there a positive to take away from my Saltmarsh experience? Oh yes and it was the people of this event, runners, organisers, supporters and volunteers they were amazing and deserve every plaudit they get.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

  ‘I’ll DNF at mile 58 and just party down with the awesome volunteers there’ I said this to several people and I meant it.

I knew before the TP100 kicked off that I was not ready for it, I knew that it was likely to give me a bloody good kicking and I knew that this would be me final Centurion event for a year or two while I explore other event providers and therefore potentially my final opportunity to nab one of those buckles that I have been coveting for the last year or so.

I prepared much of my kit on Monday as I was off work waiting to start my new job on the Tuesday and this afforded me the luxury of a bit of time, new shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0) also arrived in the post – but too late for any significant testing. I’d learned lots of lessons over the last few ultras, finally got my food strategy roughly right and trusted most of my kit.

   

  

  

 Oxsitis Hydragon 17 litre was my first choice vest, my favourite old Ronhill vizion long sleeved top, Salomon compression shorts (teamed with OMM Flash 0.5 tights) and Runderwear thundercrackers  covered my legs and my Snowdonia Marathon tech T-shirt was in play as my awesome base layer. I opted for Altra running shoes as I felt the width of the fit would play well with the constant pounding I believed my feet were about to take. Optional kit like compression calf sleeves and hiking poles were also added because I felt I needed to go into this race as secure as possible to ensure I finished.

So with kit sorted and nutrition done (mainly pulled pork pastries, chocolate milk and beef jerky) I felt in control.

Then the week started to unravel a little, the new job was excellent but exhausting and the 10hr days were a rough introduction to the company but I’d expected it to be a little bit like that, what really caught m off guard was the test run of my Altra LP2.0 – on the Wednesday (on a 3.5km run) I was thundering through Soho and while throwing fairing glances toward my reflection (to check out the Altra) I punched a street sign for a shop – and I really hit it. The sign lurched backwards, hitting and cracking the shop window and I in my cowardly way just carried on. In my defence the sign was taking up most of the pavement and it was an accident, however, the sign had the last laugh as it broke my finger! The worst thing though was the return of constant pain in my glutes – this was the most worrying because I’d never tested running above 50 miles … If it came back then this could be the W100 all over again …

Basically it looked like my good prep work would be unfurled by my own stupidity, however, I managed to get some sleep in the run up, UltraBaby managed to get some through the night sleeping, injury calmed down with extensive battering by my rumble roller and I was even sensible in my food choices up to race day.

I woke up on Saturday worried only about the race and nothing else.

The UltraTeam packed up the car and we headed over to Richmond once our youngest team member was fed. I’d had Weetabix and chocolate milk which was the breakfast of champions in my opinion but I topped this up with a Cadburys Twirl and some diet coke.

Arriving in Richmond I jumped out the car and the GingaNinja went to find a parking space. I darted into the check in point and looking down to my left I saw the legend that was Sarah or @mia79gbr – we’d never met and she didn’t know what I looked like – so as I approached her with a ‘Sarah?’ she looked at me with a pleasant suspicion, ‘hi, I’m ultraboy, just thought I’d introduce myself’. The suspicion was replaced with recognition but unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop and chat and given she had companions this didn’t seem the right time, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed.

I ran up the stairs and joined the first queue of madness … Centurion had a great location but it was much too small for the runners never mind the bevy of volunteers, crew and family who had come along to help or hinder, but this was put from my mind by seeing the awesome Dan @ultrarunnerdan – both a gentleman and a bit of a legend in my eyes given his grand slam attempt. The queue moved swiftly and when James Elson joined in to move it along and thankfully my kit review was swift and problem free as ever.

With my ‘Permission to Race’ chip in hand I joined the queue for my number only to be joined by the awesome Louise @abradypus – another potential grand slammer and we chatted about stuff – mostly me apologising for being a dick at SDW50 – again. Finally I reached front of the queue and grabbed my magic number and darted out  to see the sunny streets of Richmond and of course deposit my vitally important drop bags.

Outside I caught up with @RozGlover who introduced me to (at long last) @no1blakester and I caught up with the awesome Traviss and Rachel as well as meeting my potential duet partners in a ‘Wicked’ tribute medley @toks and @jillydavidson – I had intended to terrify them by approaching them singing but I didn’t want to make them shit themselves. Instead the start was a rich of meeting people, being nervous, having a pre-race dump and kissing your girlfriend and the baby goodbye.

I turned at this point to the  GingaNinja and queried, ‘can I actually do this?’

To note, the ginger one is always honest about my race chances – for example she told me that Winter100 looked way to much for me given the way my training had gone and the way that my injury was, but today she simply said, ‘you got this’.

I stepped into the crowd and looked over the runners and thought, ‘maybe’.

We set off down the rather bright towpath and swiftly found our rhythm only for a small gate to prove our undoing. Hundreds of runners trying to squeeze through a tiny gate, many of the sensible ones drifted over to the side and either jumped the gate further down or went around. I was in no rush but in the midst of my moving  the awesome @naominf managed to clip my heel with gate – ouch. She shouted out an apology but I wondered if I’d cut it open, thankfully my brand spanky new Altra had enough on the heel that they had taken the impact – phew.

  The view along the towpath was actually really rather nice and as we passed through locks, weirs and little towns I could feel a really positive energy swelling inside of me. The positive feeling was enhanced at seeing ultra runner extraordinaire @cat_simpson_ on the course accompanied by what I assumed was her trusty Triban 3. The running was going well and I was running at a slightly too speedy 10kmph and so slowed down a little bit knowing that CP1 was still some miles away.

The speediness though had allowed me to make up a little bit of ground on other runners who hadn’t been quite so unlucky at gate one and feeling fresh I allowed myself to get involved in a conversation or two. What I realised pretty quickly was that the TP100 was going to lack variety in elevation and that it was going to be a slog rather than a test, you could feel that TP100 more than any other ultra I’ve taken part in, would be a test of mental mettle.

I came into CP1 feeling surprisingly tired, but the well stocked aid station was full of good cheer and laughter and I loaded up on Pepsi (5 cups) and reloaded the bladder (from which I had been sipping consistently) and also used the first of my quarter tablets of High 5 isotonic liquid using a 150ml Salomon soft pack. Pre-race I’d decided that on the whole I wouldn’t be eating the food that Centurion provide, I was trying to avoid sweet things as they make me feel sickly and the savoury selection is a little bit too tasteless. Therefore, I’d be reliant on my own supplies and as I left CP1 I allowed myself some beef jerky, a mini toad in the hole and a delicious cheese and bacon bite.

I was also looking at how much time I could build up, because I knew I might need it later in the race.

Aid 2 22m 16:10 Aid 3 – 30m 18:30 Aid 4 38m 20:40 Aid 5 44m 22:25 Aid 6 51m 00:15 Aid 7 58m 02:30 Aid 8 67m 04:45 Aid 9 71m 05:50 Aid 10 77.5m 07:45 Aid 11 85m 09:50 Aid 12 91m 11:30 Aid 13 95m 12:40 Finish 100m 14:00.

Between CP1 and CP2 there were two lovely things that happened, the first was that UltraBaby and the GingaNinja were on the course at the crew point. It was lovely to see them and it a nice viewing spot in Staines, I also got to meet several of the other crews (whose cheering and support through the night section was invaluable). At Staines I was able to refuel with chocolate milkshake (lifesaver) and Lucozade, which helped to lift my slightly flagging spirits. I also met for the first time Lynne, we only spoke briefly but it was cheery and lighthearted and I had no idea how influential this lady would be later in the race. Anyway I cantered off without her knowing that CP2 was nearby and so feeling energised I ploughed on. Arrival into CP2 was quick and leaving was equally swift with just a few words of flirting for the volunteers and then off to CP3.

  I was keen to ensure that I was making up time on the cut-offs and so with each checkpoint I reached I made sure I knew when the sweeper was due. I was building a commanding lead over being timed out and my resolve was strengthened further when the route to CP3 and Dorney looked rather pleasant, rowers, walkers, hikers and bikers adorned the route and everyone was interested in what the hell we were doing. I continued to come across runners from previous races and this provide a different dynamic to normal, one pairing remembered me from my misery at the SDW50 and were pleased to see that I was in a much better mood and infinitely better form.

As the checkpoints fell one by one so did the daylight and one my way to Henley and CP6 the light was finally lost. It was a long slow road to Henley, the path looked gloomy and as I was concerned about my timings I chose to run without my headtorch. On the other side of the river was a large mansion or hotel and in it music was blaring out and was audible for most of my journey down the river to Henley – seriously kids, mind your ears.

I dipped on to the bridge crossing the river and was greeted by the drunken revellers of Henley at around 9.20pm and they offered a helpful suggestion that the route was ‘down der mate, keep going’ and I did as instructed finally pulling into the halfway point after 11hrs 31minutes – however, someone at Centurion must have been trying to predict my future because on the live timings somebody decided that I’d had enough and put me down as a DNF. Hmmm, naughty Centurions.

I was rather desperate for the hot food that had been promised but all that as available was vegetable chilli and I’ll be honest I’m an ultra runner that isn’t a friend of the vegetable and so despite being offered it by Batman, I had to turn it down.

Dejected I picked up my drop bag and looked for the chocolate milk and Lucozade. Swigging swiftly I began dreaming because I knew that if I could keep up this pace then I was looking at a sub 24 time. I looked at my food options and opted for some pulled pork pastries, beef jerky and dry roasted nuts – delicious, but not the hot tasty feast I was hoping for. Finally at Henley was checklist 1) are your feet fucked? 2) Are you wet? 3) do your socks need changing? 4) is your Suunto still charged? 5) is your phone still charged? 5) do you need to restock front pocket food supplies? I answered all my questions, threw out some general thanks and I was off – Lucozade in hand.

I’d plugged in my headphones for a bit to keep me amused in the dark – Smokey Robinson, Glee, Foo Fighters, Katzenjammer, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim, Blur, Michael Jackson, James Blunt, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley ABBA … Songs from every generation and all super upbeat. I pulled my headphones out only when I needed a jimmy riddle, lucky I did as I only just whipped my cock back into my awesome Runderwear when Joanna came around the corner.

‘Ladies first’ as I held the gate open.

Joanna or Jo as she introduced herself was a young lady on a mission, not only did she make me look sane by virtue of the amount of long distance ultra she ran but she also made me smile at a time in the night when that as kind of obligatory. We covered lots of topics on our way to mile 58 and CP7 but the thing that will stock wi me forever and a day is out open and frank conversations about ‘turd’. Oh Jo … and I apologise for sharing this, it only got mildly weird when I ended up hanging round for you as you went and deposited your solid state number two into the undergrowth. The journey from mile 51 to 58 was a speed walk, Jo wasn’t in any condition to run as she felt pretty sick and I needed some respite from the running to try and conserve some energy for a pop at the second half of the race. It made sense that we would buddy up and it was a truly awesome part of my race, I hope Jo can say the same. As we departed the wooded area we came back to the river bank and in the distance we could see the steps that Susie Chan had been threatening us with but I was feeling cheeky.

 
 I bounded up the steps in haste to see Shaun and Susie to offer my congratulations but also to offer my number up – 58miles was the furthest I’ve managed in a centurion race.

As I entered I slowly took in my surroundings – there were a lot of bruised and battered bodies and lots of sitting down, but I was feeling pretty okay, mainly buoyed by warm welcome from the volunteers, who to me appeared to be in slippers and PJs (deny it if you like Miss C). All of a sudden the crazy shit just happened, I started dancing with one of the lovely female runners, I was wiggling my bum in the air and I was leaving messages via Periscope to goddesses of running Susie Chan and Kate ( @borleyrose ). Between them Shaun and Susie were able to tell me that @UltraDHC and @naominf were running awesomely. @mia79gbr had pulled out early on due to illness and they hadn’t seen @ultrarunnerdan @toks or @jillydavidson.

  They also insisted I wasn’t allowed to DNF – certainly not yet.

So I left, it was a great CP, it was lively, it was fun and it was everything I could have wanted and seeing the worlds best MdS running couple only made it worth the journey.

I left 58 feeling like the following 42 would be a challenge but ultimately very achievable and that with about 15hrs left I should have nothing to fear. But I could feel the first blisters arriving on my feet and I could feel them underneath silicon gel caps – I decided that removal would be the worse of the two possible options and moved on. Just outside 58, having lost Joanna I picked up Lynne and I think James. I’d met both earlier in the day and we decided that this would also be an easy section with running happening between the further checkpoints.

James was a youngish chap, desperate to finish, being ruled by the timings on his watch and not the faith in his ability and you could see he was chomping at the bit to get us moving but also didn’t want to lose us as he wasn’t sure how long his battery would last and he was very unsure about following the very simple and effective Centurion markers. I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t be affected by other peoples running this time out and for a while I stuck to my guns but my new young companion had a way of making me feel uneasy and panicked.

Lynne was the polar opposite and when asked if she was too warm replied that ‘I’m of an age where I generate an inner warmth’. Lynne was laid back and pragmatic, her approach to ultras was brilliant and I very much enjoyed yomping through the grass and the trail with her. We discussed Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock and every kind of topic and it eased the tension I was feeling from my other companion. To be fair he was a lovely guy but I didn’t want to be racing someone else’s race.

However, we all hit the hall at Whitchurch with relative ease but James indicated that ‘according to my calculations if we don’t pick up the pace we won’t make it, we need to be running’. He was of course correct but I decided to give him some rather stern advice, ‘listen fella, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, run your race and your pace, not somebody else’s. If Lynne and I can’t keep up then you’ve got to leave us behind’.

Whitchurch allowed me to reacquaint myself with several runners including the awesome Matt (may have his name wrong but don’t think so) – his knee had gone and was covered in a warm blanket. ‘You’re looking great fella, keep going’ he said. I wished him well, offered a few dirty words of encouragement to the volunteers about the power of masturbation and then off.

Lynne, James and I had agreed that this being a short section we should try and pick up to a running pace in the approach to Streatley but the hills were making this more challenging. For the first time since the W100 I cracked out the Black Diamond Ultra poles and used this strategically to get ahead of the other two and act as pace setter. Lynne quickly dropped back but James for a while kept pace and with me a few metres ahead we thundered along the dark and narrow path. Here it became a little more daunting in the dark with upended roots and slippery rocks underfoot, but my Altra coped with this brilliantly, I felt sure footed in my steps and happy to have my Lenser at full beam.
In truth this was probably the most exciting stretch of trail on the whole route and it’s a shame it didn’t last longer but then I saw a sign of what happens when things go wrong and in the darkness I saw a runner covered in a foil blanket with his or her pacer by their side. I called out ‘do you need anything?’ But his reply was ‘fine thanks mate just waiting for the medical support’. I asked again to make sure he wasn’t being polite as this was a very isolated spot and it might take the medics some time to reach them but he was categoric and so I set off again at pace – James now nowhere in sight.

  The 5km and a bit into Streatley was a good run and I’d made up a bit of the time I had been eroding by walking. Crossing into the town itself was filled with slit lay distressing memories as this was where the W100 ground to a halt for me – however, I dropped into the CP and I was simply grateful for the opportunity to sit down and grab some more chocolate milk. As I sat there pondering the rest of the race I could see the procession of runners that I had been leading here – Lynne, James, Rob, Jo and more all came in with differing tales to tell but there was a look of determination on their faces – no drops here.

At this point I waved goodbye to Lynne, little did I know though that our story was far from over. James though – I couldn’t shake. He wanted to continue running and after my sterling efforts up to Streatley he’d picked me as his buddy. I did as I did before and set at the fastest pace I could manage. I was largely invigorated by two things here, the first was the knowledge that I still had good energy in the tank and my legs, nor my head felt fatigued at all. The second thing was that daylight was just around the corner and I’d be able to feel daylight breaking and that feeling is a good one. Despite being a night person when the dawn comes I know that I’m likely to make it. This was especially good news as there are a couple of points here were you had to take care because of the winding nature of the course, thankfully my W100 experience paid dividends and I was thundering along – even stopping for a few photographs along the way.

What was troubling me was that James was nowhere to be seen, I turned to look for him but I had clearly lost him further back at one of the turnings. What if he had missed a turn? I considered turning back a little to look for him but knew that time was against me and so continued forward.

Then something awesome happened: thick mud. Well yellow Altra here we go.

In seconds my beautiful Lone Peak 2.0 went from sparkling yellow to shitty black.

  Thunder, thunder, thunder, I raced through the trails as quickly as I could then I had a ‘fuck me’ moment. A runner who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are) was perched over a branch, naked from the waist down having a poo. Wow, I never want to see a milky white arse and cock perched again, in fairness I didn’t want to see it the first time. As I flew by I decided to leave a little comment to his pacer, ‘well at least we know he doesn’t suntan down there’.

Thunder, thunder, thunder, at the moment I was in good form and when I came across some runners who were DNFing I felt smug, the pacer who was waiting there with them told me to keep going as I as looking good.

   

But I was picking up problems with every step and was discovering now that the Altra where not built for thick mud and in the grip the mud was gathering up. By this point I could feel the variety of blisters that now adorned my feet, on my toes, between my toes and underfoot, I made the call once again not to risk taking my shoes and socks off (as my support crew was safely in sunny Wiltshire) and decided that with not much more than a marathon to go that I could probably just drift this one in.

How wrong I was.

A little earlier I had been hearing the pinging of my telephone and so now took the opportunity to see what was going on in the world. The GingaNinja was showing signs of worry and Twitter was too – I had been pretty silent through the night. I didn’t reply as my panic about not finishing in time was growing and I was desperate to get to the next CP. With a bit of a thrust I pulled into Wallingford with the early morning, the volunteers here were awesome despite the cramped conditions and they had something magic that no other checkpoint had contained – houmous! Eureka! Smell the houmous! Finally savoury food at a Centurion CP that I could actually stomach. I had a couple of big juicy dollops of houmous and wrap with a hot, sweet tea. This was the breakfast of the gods, this was ambrosia.

I stayed here for a few minutes, just long enough infact for a couple of my fellow runners to catch me and then with a cheery goodbye and a check on the distance I set off for mile 85 and the home straight.

I returned to trundling down the course and prepared an answer to earlier text messages when a ‘supporter’ told me to ‘get off the phone and get running’. Cheeky fucker. Despite the advice I finished my call and cried down the phone to the GingaNinja – big weepy tears but she told me to get my poles out, eat some paracetamol and hold on in there, I was going to make it.

I hung up, I unfurled my poles and I started tracking down the runners in front of me. Bang, lift, shift, bang, lift, shift – this was the process I went through as I used the poles as my point of impact and not my feet – trying to save them for the final 15 miles. But I was now going faster than I had for around an hour and I was gaining on the other runners.

I continued to make headway through the fields but the mud was taking its toll on my speed walking and the poles became as much a hinderance as a help. I was churning up the pathway like so many of my fellow ultra runners over the last few hours and I was finding it heavy going. Without the support of the poles I was reduced to painful, tiny steps and I knew that with each slow movement forward the sweeper was moving to time me out.

For several miles the ground remained much the same, wet, churned and with long wet grass and my feet were in agony and then the first disaster came. Inside my beloved Drymax sock I could feel the hot bloody liquid seep under my foot – one of the blisters below my feet had burst. Raging, blinding hot pain erupted around the base of my left foot and I stopped moving. I looked around the great green expanse, there were no runners either in front or behind that I could ask for help – I simply had to decide whether this was game over or not.
In the now heavier rain I could feel the droplets forming the letters DNF on my Montane Minimus, I was going to have to retire, I wasn’t going to make it to Clifton Hampden.

However, after a few minutes I took a few steps forward and gingerly moved on, worked with the poles – even in the dense mud. This was a tough section and it was made worse by the feeling that the record of the distance was wrong. The distance said about 6 but my Suunto and several other peoples GPS devices read this as significantly more than that, or at least significant enough to make it soul destroying when the CP is where you are most desperate for it to be.

As I came into the town I was probably a bit rude to the lady giving out directions when she called out ‘well done’ but it felt far from well done and I told her so, but that was a mistake and when I finally went past her again to rejoin the race I apologised profusely.

Prior to me getting to Clifton Hampden there was a surprise for me and parked just outside was the GingaNinja and UltraBaby – while they were a sight for sore eyes they immediately made me burst into tears. I whined, ‘I can’t stop, I’m not going to make it’ and ran past her and straight into the CP. I called out my number – loudly and then ran straight back out, no new supplies, no coke, no nothing – if I was going to make this I needed to push harder than I had been.

Down the hill, speedy turn to the towpath and off and even when blisters 2 and 3 burst (one between my toes and one on a toe end) I didn’t stop, I just kept moving forward. Runners were starting to amble past me as my speed eroded further and in my head I was working out the calculations for speed and distance I would need to achieve to finish within the 28hr cut off.

As with much of the Thames Path 100 very little happened on the route, the path thankfully dried out a little and I was able to gather up some pace using my poles but it was turning into something of a final slog. Only the turning up of the sun made  for a change and it was a burning sun, so the Minimus finally disappeared into the back of the Hydragon and there it would stay. I finally came into Abingdon with the GinjaNinja meeting me a few metres ahead of the checkpoint and she wished me luck, telling me I had ample time to do the remaining 9 miles. The problem was my head was a now a fucking mess and my feet were 100% fucked

I put on my best showing for running as I came into Abingdon and the crowd responded with the kind of cheers reserved for winners. Here as with the last checkpoint I called in my number and then ran straight back out again but my body was rebelling and once through the tunnel I stopped, started crying and then started hyper ventilating. Breathe UltraBoy. Breathe.

Managing to regain control of my breathing I set off and for the next 9 miles I prayed for the end to come, I looked long into the face of a DNF and contemplated it even as I passed through the final checkpoint. But I could now smell Oxford, I crossed a couple of small bridges, I admired the scholarly and middle classness of the people on the towpath and I cried slow super heroic tears as I realised I would finish.

Only one more thing happened that I need to mention and that’s my final on the course encounter with Lynne – it went like this.
‘I just won’t make it’ I said, ‘I’m done and in agony’
‘You’ll make it, we’ll make it’
I got the feeling Lynne was going to see me in and so I needed to push her on incase I didn’t make it.
‘You’ve come all this way … I will not carry the guilt of making you miss out on a buckle too. You need to go and go now, you need to tell the ginger haired one with a cute baby that I’m on my way’
‘Promise you’ll finish’ came her reply
‘I can’t promise that but I’ll do my best, now go and give them my message’

Lynne did give my message and her words to me, some of which are not transcribed here were the thing that would see me reach Oxford.

400metres before the end I was greeted by @abradypus – a lady with a magnificent track record at Centurion events and ultras in general and she calmed my desire to DNF at 99 – probably a Centurion first had I done it. She told me that the GingaNinja and UltraBaby were coming and in the distance I could see them, the pain drained away and was replaced with relief.

I smiled a little bit – though the photographs suggested I was grimacing and I asked if I could carry UltraBaby from the start of the home strait to the finish line. I passed my poles over for the final hurdle and replaced them with an inspirational bit of kit – my daughter.

  We strolled down the finish line having very smelly hugs and kisses and to huge cheers. In the distance I could see Traviss, Rachel, the GingaNinja, Nici, Stuart (armed with his camera) and lots of amazing runners. I crossed with a baby and I’d done it.

Thanks Centurion.

Course Tough, flat, unending and despite the overall pleasantness of the surroundings a little bit dull. Perhaps that’s part of the challenge – forcing yourself to complete this when your body is crying out for a hill. The course was well marked and well marshalled in the places that it needed to be and you would be head pressed to go wrong. For my liking there’s a little too much tarmac and I felt it would be easier on your feet if the trail was real trail but then I understand this is the Thames Path and not the middle of nowhere.

Checkpoints The checkpoints are pretty evenly spread and the quality of them is generally very high in terms of locations, venues, volunteers and facilities. The food is a little ‘meh’. When I first started Centurion ultras I was told I was in for a feast of kings – well it’s not quite like that and it does vary considerably between aid stations. I’d urge more dips at checkpoints as they were brilliant and perhaps a slightly higher quality selection of sandwich filling and savoury. My other food gripe was the lack of a meat option at Henley for those running at a slower pace. However, these are minor grips and the Centurion remain pretty damn good.

Support and Volunteers You can’t really fault the 90 or so volunteers and you can’t fault the countless supporters who lined the course for up to 28hrs supporting their runner and every runner that went past them. Special mention of course goes to Susie and Shaun and mile 58 for being awesome but the truth is that every single volunteer was awesome, they all went out of their way to make sure that we did something spectacular with our bank holiday weekend.

Fellow runners I loved my fellow runners, I loved the conversations I had with them, I loved the stupidity, the poo stories and the shared experience. Everyone from Lynne, Rob and Jo right through to James all provided me with memories that stay with me until I die. Centurion has a kind of big family vibe to it and I hope as they get bigger and even more successful they don’t become more faceless and anonymous – that would be a shame

Goody Bag The revisions to the buckle made it one to have and the T-shirts are always reasonable quality from Centurion Running, although that said whatever the process they u for the graphic transfers means that as far as I’m concerned these aren’t shirts you would want to run in – but I’ll be proudly wearing mine this summer alongside my SDW50 shirt. Aside from that there is nothing else (bowl of chilli at the end?) but I’m not convinced you need anything else. So while the goody bag isn’t exhaustive I’m not sure it hurts the reputation of the race.

Conclusion The TP100 is a good race, I think it’s one that people underestimate because they think a flat 100 is easy – let me assure that the monotony of the flat is draining both mentally and physically and takes a lot to simply keep going. The route is a little too tarmac for me but it would suit lots of people and I think this makes a great introduction to the hundred mile distance. Centurion make excellent hosts and are well oiled as a team and keep things going even when it isn’t as smooth as they would like, it is easy to understand whey they are often people’s first choice for an ultra. If you decide to enter the TP100 then prepare properly for it, don’t take it for granted and accept that you might not finish – drop out rate was reasonably high – as it is on every hundred but if you apply yourself and have the stomach for it then you’ll have a great time here. I have no problems at all recommending the TP100

What have I taken away from TP100? 1. I’m a very ordinary runner, but if I could get my feet right then I might be an ordinary runner who runs much better times 2. I’ve finally figured out my nutrition and what I need to do to stay in the race 3. A support crew and pacers are so useful, you really miss them if you don’t have them 4. My body wasn’t tired even after the full distance but my feet were wrecked 5. The most severe aspects of my long term injuries is being brought on by hills 6. I need to have more faith in myself 7. I was better for mainly running my own race this time out and trying not to worry too much about what other competitors where doing

And finally thanks to … every single person who turned up, in whatever capacity you came, in whatever capacity you saw.

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