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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The image above is a near 15 year old pair of Adidas Response TR X, they only ever ran one race – the Preston 10km in 2004 and for such a fine pair of running shoes this seems unfair. I came across them just a few short hours ago while grabbing some bits in preparation for the Snowdonia Marathon at the end of the month. I remembering buying them from a little shop in Blackpool while I was still a student and I wore them daily for years until about 2005 whenI finally decided they had done their duty, the problem was I suppose I love them enough to keep them and worse keep moving them around with me. Anyway, back to the story, I was in the loft collecting items for Snowdonia and there they were, calling to me. For the marathon I knew that I couldn’t wear them but then I remembered that I’m running the Xtreme Beach 18km Obstacle Course – I need to wear old trainers for this and I can think of no more a fitting tribute to these wonderful workhorse trainers than to hit the obstacle course at full pelt in them.

I looking forward to the Xtreme Beach but have no idea what to make of it but going out there is a pair of runners that I trust despite their age will be brilliant. Here’s to a great race.

‘My legs still ache’
‘From?’
‘Bournemouth Marathon, not sure why I does these races…’

And that got me thinking, ‘why do I race?’ Which then brought me back to the cost of racing, the value of racing, the merits of racing versus running and mainly my own personal ambitions in running terms. It was pretty clear to me from a young age that I was never going to emulate my original running hero Steve Cram. Nor will I ever run a sub 10 second 100 metres – my 11.47 is the fastest I will ever get. So I’m clearly not running because I think I’m a potential champion, perhaps I’m running simply for something to do, let’s not forget that running is my primary hobby and quick fix when things go wrong. After my epic failure at the TG100 I came home and actually was really rather upset, more upset than I had to be over a race perhaps but this is hindsight showcases to me just how valuable racing has become to my personal wellbeing. The day after the race my running mojo had left me and showed no signs of returning, I removed my plethora of medals from their normal home and hid them away in a drawer, I stopped looking at races to sign up for and I didn’t even think about visiting a running shop just incase I was recognised as a fraudulent ultra runner or just fraudulent runner. The TG100 broke my runners heart.

But a stern talking to by a friend who is not a runner reminded me that the reason I run and the reason I race isn’t for the bling, it isn’t to be a champion, it’s to stave off the inevitable heart attack or piling the weight on after binging on all the chocolate in the world and I was told to ‘shut the fuck up and just get out there’. With the help of my lovely physio, Joe Rodgers I get back out on the trail and started running again! only shortish distances but then races started coming and my desire has been working its way back into my life and perhaps just in time.

When I ran the Royal Parks Half just over a week ago I still wasn’t buzzing with enthusiasm, infact I was a little bit too emotionless about it on reflection. But in the last week I’ve been hitting good times across 5km and noticing a general increase in pace – although there have been bad days too. Therefore I come into my next event Xtreme Beach, not filled with confidence, but filled at least with the desire to perform and that I hope will set me up for a better performance at the Snowdonia Marathon.

So what’s your reason to race?

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