Thursday, 26 March 2015

I've Bingoing round in circles all day, and all I got was a saggy ball bag

The other day, one of my work colleagues asked me for an example of an innuendo. So I gave her one.

True story (hi Cicik!).

The Bingo Race is rife for naughty punnage. Race Director (and possible psycopath) James Adams and his wife spent the week before the race gently fondling the runners' balls, making sure that their ball bags were nigh on full to bursting. And so followed a week of testicularly-focussed Twitter posts from the man himself, and much giggling from all of the immature children present on the day (i.e. me).

Ball bags swinging in the breeze. C/O James Adams

Scrotums-aside (which incidentally is a good tip for endurance running...), the concept of the race was another psychological mind-fuck from the same deviant mind that brought us the Piece of String Fun Run. Billed as the World's Most Unfair Race (TM), the concept is to put your race finish into the hands of fate. Each runner was given a race bib with three numbers written on it, which were randomly selected from our own personal ball bags the night before. I was reliably informed that said three numbers had been replaced for the race itself, but I did wonder... 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Never tell me the odds!

Just a quicky. Being a bit of a stats geek, I was interested to see what the probabilities of finishing the Bingo Race looked like, and how we should expect tomorrow to pan out. As a quick primer, the plan is that we each have our own ball bag (giggle) with 30 numbered balls in. After each lap (about 2 miles each), we randomly select a ball. If it matches one of the 3 balls on our bib, it's ticked off (by which I mean a tick is physically placed over the number, not that the balls are somehow anthropomorphic and a bit miffed to be chosen). If not, we just run another lap and try again. Then we keep going until we have ticked off all three numbers. So we may be finished in 3 laps or it may be 30. Interesting stuff. 

Now to be clear - I really don't care about how many laps I will have to run from a racing point of view. Tomorrow is going to be fun, and in all honesty I would be perfectly happy running for the full 100 Km. I'm looking forward to a nice long run with some good friends, and I'll just run until I stop. Run Stupid (TM), and don't think about things as you go. However, it is quite an interesting question to answer - as you go along, what are your chances of the misery finally being over at the end of the current lap? 

So being a stats geek, I thought I'd have a quick play. I won't go into the details, but in a nutshell I treated this as a ball and urn problem - there are 30 balls in total, 3 of which I want to pick (green) and 27 of which I don't (red). I performed a random "race", where each lap I calculated my probability of pulling out the final green ball this time (using a hypergeometric probability distribution), then randomly chose a ball (using a pseudo-random number generator) and updated the numbers for the next "lap". I repeated this whole process a million times and averaged over all of them to get a good model for any given set of idiots runners. 

Simple. Got it? Good.

This figure shows the probability of completing your set of 3 numbers after the current lap. Obviously this is zero for the first couple of laps, and there is a vanishingly small chance of being done on the third. After each lap the odds improve, but really very few of us will be finished in fewer than 15 laps. In fact, if we look at this in a slightly different way and ask what percentage of finishers we should expect to see at each lap, we see that half of the runners will be running over 23 laps.

The odds don't look good for a quick finish I'm afraid, but honestly that's what I'm counting on! But to everybody else that's running and was hoping to be at the pub quickly - sorry guys! I'll be interested to see how tomorrow actually pans out, and how closely it correlates with these predictions. Obviously it doesn't account for people stopping for other reasons along the way, but I couldn't be arsed including a DNF coefficient in the model. 

Right. Let's play Bingo!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

New training partner

Phew! Well it's been a busy few weeks but it's starting to calm down a bit now. A couple of weeks ago, we finally moved into a new house after about 6 months of waiting, and it's been a bit hectic as you might imagine. But after a week and a half of decorating, ripping out bits of the kitchen, and "fixing" the electrics and plumbing, we're now just about sorted. This has slightly thrown off my training over the last few weeks, but now I can get back to preparing for the Grand Slam later this year. I have about 6 weeks now before the first race begins, the Thames Path 100 (the "easy" one), so should probably think about doing some training...

To be fair, my laziest week is still pretty active. Even on my laziest weeks I cycle about 35 miles a day for work and run 3 or 4 times a week. But it will be good to get back to being able to use my gym (once it isn't crammed with boxes) and not feeling like I can't get a good solid run in as I need to get another coat of paint on the doors. Is there any more thankless task than painting doors?! They replaced all of them which we thought was nice of them, until I realised I had 8 fucking doors to sand, prime and paint. Fun times. 

Anyway, it's all back to some semblance of normality now so hopefully I can get myself in some kind of shape for the race. Since we don't like to do things the easy way, we also got a new dog, Saphie, three days after moving. She has been rehomed from a family who were struggling to deal with her and 3 (soon to be 4) kids, which was perfect for us with our little girl. She is absolutely fantastic with Lottie, and seems perfectly happy to be hugged, cuddled, poked, prodded and ridden like a horse by her. She tends to get a resigned "sigh" look in her eyes that speaks to this being fairly standard for her, but at least she only has to deal with one little human now!

Also, being a husky cross, she is a big fan of running, so has become my training partner in the mornings. We start most days with a nice fast 5 Km run, and tried out a 10 Km run at the weekend which damn near killed the poor thing. She definitely needs to work on her endurance, but we'll soon sort that out! She's still only a puppy, so just needs to work on her pacing. My only worry is that it's a little like running with a weight bench or pulling a tyre, except the complete opposite; instead of it feeling easier when I take off the harness like with my tyre pull, I suddenly realise that it wasn't me that was pushing the 5 min/mile mark!

Anyway, I will be at the Bingo Race this weekend (The World's Most Unfair Race) which should be an interesting experience. It will probably not surprise you to learn that this idea comes from the same mind that brought us the Piece of String race. The concept is that you have three numbers on your race bib, and after every 2 mile lap you draw a new bingo ball. You finish when you pull out all three of your numbers from your ball bag (tee hee). You could be done in 6 miles, or you could be running for the full 10 hours. Knowing my luck though, I'll be finished in an hour! And where's the fun in that? If that happens, I think I'll carry on, or else go off for a long run nearby. It'll be good to see how my endurance is at the moment and what I need to work on over the next few weeks.

Last up, I am hoping to actually race these Grand Slam races and try for some decent times this year. The record for all 4 races is about 70 hours, which I feel like I should be able to beat if all goes well. I'm looking for a bit of help with crewing for some of these races, so will be hitting up some friends to see who fancies spending about 17 hours following me and forcing gels down my throat. I wonder if I'll have any takers...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

2014 Review: Out with the old, in with the new

Right, well we're over a twelfth of the way through 2015, so I should probably do the obligatory look back over the previous year and see how things went. Looking from the running side of things, it's been an okay year I guess. I'm certainly happy with the performances I put in along the way, but there have been some things which could have been better. But on the personal side, it was absolutely incredible. My little girl is growing up so fast, and I just love the time we all spend together as a family. She runs around like a mad thing now, and her favourite things are running (complete with  crouching in the starting position and shouting "on marks, get set, gooooooo!"), eating, drumming and Batman. No idea where she gets it from. And now she sleeps! Huzzah! So much so that she actually told us off for having the TV on too loud, and slammed her bedroom door on us. Didn't think we'd be at this stage for another 12 years or so...

Anyway, the year started with a fantastic opportunity to run the Spine Challenger - the "easy" version of the Spine Race. The full Spine Race follows the entire Pennine Way route for about 268 miles in the middle of winter. The Spine Challenger only covers the first 108 miles, so is obviously much easier to finish. Ahem. I had a fantastic time out there, and it was an incredible experience. I decided to pull up short a few miles shy of the finish after injuring my foot on the way down one of the mountain passes in the rain and ice, since I didn't want a repeat of 2013 where an injury at Transvulcania early in the year threw off a lot of my racing calendar.

I always say that, when it comes to DNFs, I always try and think what "future me" will think when he looks back on it, and try to use this to decide whether or not to drop. I really don't care about having DNFs on my CV (as if anybody cares) as long as it wasn't just because I was being a pussy. Well now I am future me, and I'm still happy with this call. I had a great time out there, was able to have a sleep and clean up before a 14 hour train journey home, and was able to get back to training pretty quickly afterwards. If I had pushed on, I would have had to go straight to my journey home after about 40 hours running, and would probably have been limping for weeks afterwards. But I would have got a medal to put under my bed and never look at again. It wasn't a tough call.

Next up was the Centurion Running South Downs Way 50 in April. I originally hadn't planned any other races between the Spine and Grand Union Canal Race since I half expected to be a broken mess. But since I managed to avoid any serious issues, I decided to head off for a little jolly with a bunch of great people, and was able to catch up with lots of friends I have made along the way. It didn't go fantastically well, as some stomach issues cropped up making it a bit of a slog. And I lost a Buff. But let's not go into that. But hey, I had great fun out there and got to catch up with a lot of friends who I only see intermittently through the year.

The Grand Union Canal Race was next up, and was one of my main races for the year. I had hoped to come into it strong and ready to actually race, having felt like I hadn't really raced for a while. Largely this was down to focussing my energies on my new family (so much more fun!), not helped by having a little girl who was not a fan of sleep. But leading up to the GUCR, things were getting much better, and I had had a few good podium results at local 10Ks that were a good boost to my confidence. My speed wasn't too bad, but my endurance was a little bit of an unknown quantity. 

I went into the race feeling good, but not as good as I had hoped. For a few weeks before the race, I had the onset of plantar fasciitis, something that I had never had to deal with before. It may have been a result of trying to ramp up my miles in too short a time to get ready for the race. In hindsight, running 150 miles on it wasn't a great plan. I went out hard and things were going pretty well for a good chunk of the race. Unfortunately, after about 120 miles my knee went out, probably as a result of overcompensating for my PF. Normally that would be it for me, as I've got to the stage where I can't be bothered risking months of injury for the sake of finishing a race. However, I decided to push on for two reasons: 1) I wanted to remind myself that I could push through adversity and run through pain if I wanted to, and 2) I had the Spartathlon coming up in September which was my main focus race, and wanted to remind myself that I could run that far. I knew that it would probably cause problems, but I figured I had a few months to get fixed back up again. 

The last 30 miles of that race sucked pretty hard, but I got dragged through it by my awesome crew of Simon, Liz and Tim. When I decided to push through to the end, there was no doubt I would make it, but having friends there to keep my spirits up made things much more bearable! For me at least - for them it probably sucked having to deal with my whinging. I just managed to hold out for a top 10 finish, but it wasn't pretty. However, I was still very happy with the race. Pacing, nutrition, etc. all went to plan. Running with an injury - not so much. You live and learn. 

I had some other races planned, including the South Downs Way 100 and Lakeland 50, but these got put to the side as I aimed to get myself fit and healthy for the Spartathlon. I really wanted to hit the start line in good form, as the last thing I needed was a niggle or even a full on injury to make me doubt myself in Greece. The PF continued to be a problem, and nothing I was doing seemed to work. With only a few weeks left until the race, I was not feeling happy. I hadn't run much at all, was putting on weight (despite cycling a lot more), and was starting to wonder if I would ever see the start line. I ended up taking a trip to see the fine fellas and fellettes at Profeet in London, who helped me with a new rehab program to work on. After a few weeks, it was looking like things were improving and that I might just make it after all.

Then I twisted my ankle. Sigh.

Regardless, this was my main focus race of the year, and I had already paid for everything, so I stayed off it until race day and hoped that would be enough to be ready to run 150 hilly road miles. Not the best preparation for an A race, but the worst case scenario was that I would get a nice sunny all inclusive holiday in Greece. Luckily all was well, the race went really well, and I got the finish that I had looked forward to all year. Huzzah!

Lastly, there was a sub-optimal Piece of String race, which was great fun but which I had to cut short at the end of the first day. As it happens I would have been done by about 10pm if I had hung around, but for all I knew it could have gone on until Wednesday - and I had plans with my little girl on Sunday. Easy call!

And that was that. Not the best results all told, but I had some fantastic adventures! So what's on the cards for 2015? This year I haven't arranged any big adventures or trips abroad, and am instead focussing on some more local races. I have entered in for all 4 of the Centurion Running 100 milers, so assuming I get a place on the Thames Path (I'm currently on the waiting list) I will be having a crack at the Centurion Grand Slam. I would like to get at least line good 100 mile race out of these, as I haven't really raced a 100 miler as a focus race for a couple of years. I'd like to see what I can do.  Hopefully by concentrating on some "shorter" races I can focus on some good solid performances. I'm also having a go at James Adams most recent ridiculous event, the Bingo Race (the World's Most Unfairest Race TM) in March. Knowing my luck, I'll only get to run 10 miles before all of my numbers get drawn though. Add in a bunch of local 10Ks and half marathons, and hopefully I'll have a nice fast injury-free season this year. And some sleep. That's not going to hurt matters at all!

Saturday, 20 December 2014


How the hell do you avoid scaring the crap out of other people when you're running? I managed to scare some dude out walking his dog this morning - twice. Once on the way out, then again on the way back. You'd think he'd have had his wits about him the second time, but hey ho. I gave him a friendly shout of "morning" when I was about 10 meters away so that he wasn't suddenly confronted with a smelly, panting mess bearing down on him. But that just meant he was scared shitless a few seconds earlier.

So what can you do avoid the (perfectly reasonable) response of abject terror from people that you pass out on the trail? What warning methods can be used to announce your presence in a nice calming way that doesn't make you look like a psychopath heading for them at speed?

In the middle of the night, it's not so bad. There are very few people about, usually your headtorch is a good pre-emotive warning, and by that point in a race I'm usually coughing loudly enough to be heard from a long way off. In the mornings there are a lot more dog walkers about, but I feel like they are more likely to expect random idiots skipping past them. But the evening is my most worrying time, as it must be pretty terrifying to hear footsteps quickly approaching from behind. I try shouting, "Don't worry, I'm not a murderer!", but that just seems to make things worse for some reason.

You just can't win with some people.

Coughing doesn't work. Saying, "Approaching on your left/right" doesn't work. Shouting, "Don't be scared!" doesn't work. Singing Meatloaf songs at the top of my lungs doesn't work (well, it warns them, but they usually aren't happy about it). Maybe I should just install some kind of siren system in my running pack?

If there's a good way to avoid scaring the bejesus out of fellow trail users I am yet to find it. I guess I'll just have to get to used to people being upset when they see me. But hey, I've had 32 years to get used to that.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What the Hell is an Ultramarathon Anyway?!

The phrase "ultramarathon" is gradually becoming a more ubiquitous term even amongst the non-initiated, as the sport gains more traction throughout the world. And yet, despite this, the term is still not particularly well understood, even by those seemingly in the know. So just what in the name of Satan's Hokas is an "ultramarathon" when it's at home?

You would think that it would be a pretty simple question to answer. Here's what has to say on the matter:

Ultra- [uhl-tra]
  1. a prefix occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, with the basic meaning “on the far side of, beyond.” In relation to the base to which it is prefixed, ultra-, has the senses “located beyond, on the far side of” ( ultramontane; ultraviolet), “carrying to the furthest degree possible, on the fringe of” ( ultraleft; ultramodern), “extremely” ( ultralight); nouns to which it is added denote, in general, objects, properties, phenomena, etc., that surpass customary norms, or instruments designed to produce or deal with such things ( ultramicroscope; ultrasound; ultrastructure).
Marathon [mar-uh-thun]
  1. a foot race over a course measuring 26 mi. 385 yards (42 km 195 meters).
  2. any long-distance race.
  3. any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance: e.g. a dance marathon; a sales marathon.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Piece of String a Race Report 2014 - No strings on me!

I've got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings
But now I'm free
There are no strings on me

The Piece of String Fun Run is a singular race, with a simple premise - nobody knows how far it is until they finish (possibly including the organisers). It is, to assign the required superlative necessary for any ultra race, the Most Pointless Race in the World (TM). It began 2 years ago as the fevered dream of James Adams, with a little help from James Elson who is a little more au fait with the logistical management skills necessary to arrange such an event. Now in its third incarnation, it has become something of an institution (albeit a stupid one) in the UK race calendar.

Pretty much sums up this race.
The first year's race was a lot of fun, despite being in just about the worst conditions I have ever run in. 120 miles (and about 36 hours) later and I was one of only 2 finishers of the inaugural race. The second year's race was much nicer in terms of conditions, but the ante was raised with a trip to the other side of the country thrown in to keep people guessing about where and how far we would be running. An injury at about 120 miles meant I had to stop - as it turns out only 10 miles from the finish. But what would they throw at us this year?!

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Wisdom of Pooh

If you've ever run for over 24 hours in the arse-end of nowhere, you know that Pooh is an inevitability. But I had never really fully appreciated the poignancy and philosophical leanings of the little yellow bear until I had a child. Now, reading through the many adventures of Pooh and his friends on practically a daily basis, I see many lessons that can help us all to become better runners.

With the third edition of the Piece of a String Fun Run due to kick off tomorrow, I have found myself taking advice wherever I can get it. For those who don't know, the concept of the race is that runners do not know in advance how far (or indeed where) they will be running - until they finally cross the finish line. How do you plan for a race like this? Therein lies the game.

Only 2 people have finished each year, making it one of the Toughest Races in the World (TM). I was one of them in the inaugural event, after surviving 130ish miles of floods, mud, wind and rain. Last year's conditions were much more pleasant, but I pulled up short only 10 miles from the finish after a day and a half of running with a knee injury. Tomorrow I will see if I can redress this balance and go 2 for 3 with the World's Most Pointless Race.

In last year's event, the stakes were raised considerably, with bluffs, double bluffs, and general evil conniving on the part of Race Director James Adams. What could he possibly have in store this year I wonder? I have my suspicions...

The beauty of this race is its simplicity; run until we say stop. It really is no more complicated than that. So for somebody whose running philosophy revolves around maintaining an air of general stupidity, who better to advise me than that silly ol' Pooh bear. Here are a few words of wisdom from the willy, nilly, silly old bear:

Teaching my little girl philosophy from a young age (yes that is hand painted)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

UltrAspire Quantum Waist Belt Review

Generally speaking, I'm not much of a gear junky and don't really go out of my way to buy all of the newest gear to add to my collection. Quite the opposite in fact and I would usually rather make do with whatever I already have lying around than shell out money on anything if I can help it. However, leading into the Spartathlon I decided to spend a little dough to ensure that I had the perfect kit for the race. I initially expected to be running in 40 degree heat, so figured that I wanted to run with as little kit as I could possibly get away with. As it happened it pissed down with rain all morning, but I still think I made the right call! 

For the Grand Union Canal Race I used my UltrAspire Impulse pack which is a very good lightweight pack when you need to take a couple of bottles with you, but for this race I wanted to go the handheld route since the heat would mean that I was likely to need to access my water more regularly. I decided to try something a little more lightweight. I tried the Salomon Skin S-Lab belt last year, but didn't really get in with it. I liked the idea of it, but I just couldn't get it to stay tight enough on me (a few extra pies might well solve that issue of course).

So I decided to have a go with something similar - the UltrAspire Quantum waist belt. Here's what I thought:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Spartathlon Race Report 2014 - Highway to Hellas

The cheers surround me; envelope me; consume me. The drivers that cross my path show their support through blaring horns, enthusiastic shouts, and wild gesticulation. People from all sides shouting, cheering, willing me to finish. They know the journey I have made. They know the suffering. But all of that is a distant memory, washed aside in a torrent of elation at the journey's end. I look up to the sky, at the radiant sun that has shone its rays to both aid and hinder the crossing. As I squint in the dazzling glow all pain is seemingly washed away, leaving a a feeling of sheer elation. I come back to myself. Live in the moment. Soak in the atmosphere. Take in the experience. Make memories to last a lifetime. We turn the final corner, and there at the end of the road I see my goal. He stands aloft, in defiance of the world, daring me to approach. 

"Molon labe; come and get it". 

I will. 

I will...

Come and get it! Official Spartathlon photo.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The road is long

This time in a week I will be in Greece preparing to run one of the most iconic ultra races in the world - The Spartathlon. As we all know (hashtag sarcasm), the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran 26.2 miles, told everybody in Athens that the Greek's had won the battle of Marathon, then dropped down dead (hence how we know that 26.2 miles is the precise limit of human endurance). However, other historical accounts have him running a little further than this - about 500 Km from Athens to Sparta and back again. The Spartathlon aims to recreate this epic journey (well, half of it at least - only crazy people like Mimi Anderson would think of heading back again) by following the route as closely as possible. Runners therefore have to head from the Acropolis in Athens to the statue of King Leonidas (AKA Gerard Butler) in Sparta about 153 miles away.

After my run at the Grand Union Canal Race a few months ago, I was starting to get a little worried that I wouldn't even make the start line. I developed some issues with my foot that didn't seem to be responding to physio. My worry was that there could be something like a stress fracture underlying everything, but after 2 months of no improvement, a last minute post-work trip to Profeet proved to be very fruitful (except for the bit where my bike got nicked, but that's a story for another time). After a bit of jiggery-pokery, my fears were assuaged and they were pretty confident that with a bit more rehab I would be good to go. True to their word, after another week of strength exercises, I felt I could run again and have been steadily building back up over the past few weeks.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

10 Things Nobody Told Me About Being A Parent

So I know that this is a running blog, but I've been dealing with an injury from the GUCR for the last few months and haven't really done enough running to bang on about. So, if you'll forgive me, I'm going to use this forum to bang on about something else in my life which is incredibly important to me - parenthood. Feel free to switch over to something more running related now. I hear James Adams has a book out. I've been in the illustrious club of mini-human wranglers for 18 months now, and think I have a pretty good handle on things. Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert (who is?!), but I know which end to put food in (and know very well which end it comes out again). But some things about being a parent really took my surprise, largely because I watch far too much television - and it ain't nothing like you see in the movies! So here are 10 things that have surprised me about being a parent:

1: They'll let any idiot do it

Seriously. I can't believe that you're just allowed to create a human being with no real interjection whatsoever. There should at least be a test or something, right? I wouldn't let me have children if I were in charge, never mind some of the other mouth breathers out there procreating as we speak.

2: Giving birth is nothing like you see in the movies

Don't worry, I'm not going to go into the details (for everybody's benefit, not least my wife's), but suffice to say that giving birth is not a case of: 1) Your waters break; 2) You are desperately rushed to hospital before you have to pop it out in the car park; 3) "Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! Now push! Wow, it's a boy!". It's funny, because when I was younger I knew the concept of "waters breaking", but because of the way that TV and film is, I never really got that it was a potentially messy affair. I think the Friends episode where Phoebe gives birth was the first time it really clicked. We went to test a new car on our due date, and I made Jen sit on a bin bag the whole time. You break it cover it in mucus, you've bought it!

It was a very different experience than I expected, I have to say. I was woken up at a very reasonable time in the morning by Jen who had started having contractions a few hours earlier, but had let me sleep in so that I was in a position to help out later. We then spent 12 hours watching Criminal Minds on Netflix, intermittently pausing for a few minutes when Jen was having trouble paying attention. We finally went to hospital in the late evening, and it was a lot longer before Lottie was actually born. You want to talk about an ultra... There's no way I can ever pussy out of a piddly little run ever again; "Oh boo hoo. Your knee hurts? I pushed a human being out of me for 28 hours - man the fuck up!"

It's also a lot messier than I originally would have expected (although I was well prepared for this fact by the time of the actual event). It helps to have somebody willing to give you the warts and all description of what to expect, and our friends are nothing if not disturbingly honest.

Plus Aliens is my favourite film.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Ultra Raffle Results

Thank you so much to everybody that entered into the UltraRaffle. Thanks to your fantastic donations, we have raised £788.25 for the Epilepsy Society. The draw was conducted at my birthday barbecue, in between stuffing our faces with burgers and eating lava hot marshmallow s'mores (#paleo). Good times!

So without further ado, here are the results. I will contact winners directly over the next few days to arrange getting your prizes to you. Congratulations to everybody that won, and thank you again to everybody that entered:

Julie Freeman - Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra vest signed by Scott Jurek
Gary Dalton - Signed running gear from Mike Wardian
David Barker - Signed Mountain Hardwear race vest from Ellie Greenwood
Jacqui Byrne - Signed vest and swag from Mike Morton
Nicky Wall - Signed Inov8 X-Talon 212 trail shoes and 1 month free coaching with Robbie Britton
Steve Monaghan - Julbo sunglasses
Spencer Lane and Paul Ali - Signed copy of Relentless Forward Motion from Bryon Powell
Louise Ayling and Gary Dalton - Signed copy of Running and Stuff from James Adams
Stuart Bennet and Nick Thompson - Signed copy of Everything Will Work Out In The Long Run by Dave Urwin
Andrew Jordan, James Adams and Matt Poulson - Copy of the next edition of Like The Wind
Stuart Bennet - Entry to the South Downs Way 50 or North Downs Way 50
Ira Rainey and Matt Bevan - Entry to the Stort 30
Emily Schmidt - Entry to the Inov8 Plague 100 Km Roseland August Trail series race
Amanda Crozier - Entry to the Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra
Steve Monaghan - Ultrarunning half day with Andy Mouncey
Julie Freeman - 1 hour heat chamber session at Kingston University
Andrew Cummings and Matt Poulson - Signed copy of Fat Man To Green Man: From Unifit to Ultramarathon by Ira Rainey
Gary Dalton - Hour long sports portrait photography session with Stuart March

Monday, 2 June 2014

Grand Union Canal Race Report 2014: GUC-king hell that's a long way!

"Put One Foot in Front of the Other One" by Fun

"You need to run more."

I love my wife! It's not that I hadn't been running much recently; my training had become more consistent since the start of the year as we finally recovered from a difficult year of no sleep, and I was finally getting back to my level of fitness from the previous year. I was back to commuting to work through running and getting plenty of speedy miles in, with a couple of podium places in local ~10K races indicating that I might be getting in good shape for the coming season. What I hadn't done recently was many long runs on the weekends. Well, long runs anyway. My short run is 10 miles, so my sense of scale is a little skewed. But with some long (long) races coming up, my wife was a little worried that whilst my speed was looking good, my endurance might not be up to scratch.

My first A race of the year was the upcoming Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) - 145 miles along the Grand Union Canal starting in Birmingham Gas Street and finishing in Little Venice, London the following day. The GUCR is something of an institution in the UK ultra running community, and if you've ever raced in this country then chances are you've bumped into Race Director Dick Kearn, who is a mainstay of support throughout these events. He's easy to spot these days with his rather spectacular beard. I actually met him in my first ever ultra way back in 2011. I chatted to him at the end and asked if he had ever done anything like this before. Little did I know...

Dick Kearn in all his beard glory. Photo C/O Ross Langton

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Using things as other things

I'm nothing if not resourceful, and particularly like to get my money's worth from things. I'm stingy to a fault so will use things until they break, and have to rely on my wife to tell me when the holes in my shorts are getting a little too indecent. I'm especially happy when I can squeeze out extra use from some of the bits and pieces that I have hanging around in my box of random running crap, particularly when it's far and away from the initial usage intended by the manufacturer. So here are 5 things that I find incredibly useful when I run, but whose use was never the intended purpose:

1: Golf balls are great for injuries
This one isn't a particularly novel one, and I'm sure that we all do this regularly. Golf balls are handy little buggers for getting into those hard to reach areas for a bit of self-massage (ooh er missus). In particular, they work well at getting stuck into the hard-to-reach plantar fascia inside your arch when it's tight, but can also serve as a surprisingly brutal alternative to foam rolling tough to reach tissue like your IT band. I haven't played golf in a while, but you can usually still find a couple of balls hanging around our house (although that might just mean that my shorts need replacing...).

2: Compeed makes a great nipple guard
If you're a runner, you've probably used Compeed before. It's like a puncture repair kit for runners, and can be slapped onto a hot spot or blister to offer a bit of protection when you've still got miles left to go. They're pretty darn sticky, and I've ended up with the damn things stuck to my foot for weeks after an event before (if you've stuck it over a popped blister, I recommended getting it off as soon as you're done, otherwise the smell when you finally do take it off can be a little pungent). I don't often get blisters these days (see number 3), but still keep them on standby for emergencies. Plus I have found an alternative use for them.

Their incredible stickiness lends themselves perfectly to covering my nipples on long runs. I've never had bleeding nipples from running (although I have come close before), but it certainly doesn't look like a barrel of laughs. The problem that I have is that under my running gear I am basically a slightly less groomed version of Chewbacca. Hairy nipples (if ever there was an argument against intelligent design, it was nipple hair...) do not lend themselves particularly well to the bonding of moderately adhesive things like plasters. However, the iron-like grip of Compeed can deal with even the most bouffant of chest wigs, and will easily last me over a 100 mile race. And the following week or so. I get funny looks at the swimming pool.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sigh. Is marathon running bad for your blah blah blah

I had originally decided that I couldn't be arsed posting this, but I saw a recent post in Outside magazine titled The Runner's Ticking Time: Why Runner's Need to Pay More Attention to Their Hearts which got my ire up again. Ignoring for a start the fact that one of the expert opinions that they quote is a registered dietician "who appears regularly on Good Morning America" (although at least dieticians are actually accredited, unlike nutritionists), the article is about the apparently high levels of heart attacks due to coronary artery disease that are seen in marathon runners. They even quote a paper from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology which says that "one in 50,000 will experience a heart attack from coronary artery disease during a marathon". Scary. Except that they miss out the kind of crucial (I think anyway) point that this is an incredibly small risk as compared to that of the general population. Here is the conclusion from the abstract in full:
Although highly trained athletes such as marathon runners may harbor underlying and potentially lethal cardiovascular disease, the risk for sudden cardiac death associated with such intense physical effort was exceedingly small (1 in 50,000) and as little as 1/100th of the annual overall risk associated with living, either with or without heart disease. The low risk for sudden death identified in long-distance runners from the general population suggests that routine screening for cardiovascular disease in such athletic populations may not be justifiable.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

It's GU to TORQ

Nutrition is a pretty important part of ultra-running. Whilst you can get used to running without eating too much by becoming a more efficient fat burner, for races and for optimum performance you really need to stoke the fire as you go. In my training I tend to rely on fat-burning, largely because gels are frigging expensive, and I'm too cheap to buy them if I can help it. So I very rarely eat anything on my runs, even on my long (25-30ish miles) ones.

But even the most efficient fat-burner still needs carbs to function - "fat burns in a carbohydrate fire" I believe is the cliché that is bandied around. For this reason, I tend to use gels when I race, and will often make my way through a 100 miler predominantly on these, with the odd bit of fruit thrown in at the aid stations. I don't go too nuts; for instance I probably had 5 gels in 8 hours at the recent SDW50 - so about 1 every hour and a half. This works out fine for me, and gives me the energy I need to keep going, without causing major stomach-related issues or borderline diabetes.

Below is a little review of the two main brand of gels that I use - TORQ and GU. I don't really know the ins and outs of physiology and metabolism (I believe that the head-bone is connected to the arm-bone?), so I won't go too much into the "sciencey" side of things. The main thing that I care about is how they taste and how easy they are to eat while running. It's simply a way of getting energy into my face at the end of the day. Beyond that, I don't notice a huge difference between them; I know what I like and what works for me after a few years of trying various things out and failing miserably every now and then. I'll pretty much eat anything I'm given, but these are the ones that I will go for if given the choice.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Keep it stupid, simple

I can't help but think sometimes that we have a habit of over-complicating things. Take for instance this natty little device - the SmartFork. For the low, low price of $100 (plus shipping, plus a $10 yearly protection plan), you can get hold of the latest innovation in food-mouth-interface devices. Have you ever looked at your fork and thought, "well, it does poke food and let me cram it into my gaping maw - but it doesn't have bluetooth"? Well then this is the device for you! Okay, so the idea is that it is used to aid in weight loss, and allows you to track what you eat and how fast you eat it. In particular, it encourages you to slow down to allow your body's natural "I'm full" message to actually reach your brain, before you pile in another pie.

I'm sure that conceptually it is a useful product. I just can't help but think that it's massively over-complicating a relatively simple (although obviously very important) issue. For $99 less you could just buy a smaller plate so that you don't overdo the serving sizes. Or just, y'know, slow down when you eat. Do you need a glowing fork to do that?

But this got me thinking about how we, as a species, like to over-complicate things. "There's an app for that" - there's a worrying verisimilitude to that statement these days. Despite what old people might tell you, kids these days probably aren't dumber than in the good 'ol days. A well-supported phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect (after it's main proponent James Flynn) suggests that our overall intelligence is actually increasing by about 3 points a decade. When people from different generations take older version of IQ tests (as well as tests in semantics, cognition, memory, etc), they always do better than previous generations. The most plausible reason for this effect is the increase in complexity in our lives since the dawn of the industrial age - kidz [sic] today need to be aware of much more stuff (even useless stuff like Twitter) than people from past generations. There's a good TED talk on the subject from James Flynn last year here.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

South Downs Way 50 Race Report

I hadn't planned any races between the Spine in January and the Grand Union Canal in May because I half expected to still be in traction. However, when I inexplicably managed to survive without going the wrong way and running off a cliff, I decided to take up one of the last few places in the Centurion Running South Downs Way 50. This was a chance to get a longer run in before the GUCR, and also was a good way to recce the last half of the SDW100 in June. But more importantly, Centurion events are also one hell of a party.

After spending 2 hours driving the half hour trip back home after work (grr), I had to head straight out to brave the wonders of the M25 on a Friday night. I made it to Worthing just in time to pick up Bryan Webster and Dan Park from the station and order food from the pub before they closed. We met up with Sue Albiston, her daughter Becky and everyone's ultra-mum Nici Griffin who were patiently waiting for our arrival. After eating and talking b*llocks for a while, we headed off for a surprisingly good night's sleep at the Travelodge. Well, I had a good night's sleep anyway. But then I had a double bed to myself, not a teeny tiny single bed in the corner of the room like the other two. God bless shotgun rules.

We turned up bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start line to be greeted by the usual slick Centurion machine. Nici had recently joined the crew and had brought along her trademark panache for efficiency, and despite everybody's best efforts kit check and registration went without a hitch. It was great to see so many friendly faces, and I spent the whole time before the start chatting away to anyone who would listen (surprisingly I wasn't left talking to myself). It always amazes me how close it's possible to get to people that you only actually see about 4 times a year!

And they're off! And I'm already chicked... Photo courtesy of Pete Aylward of

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Ultra Marathon Raffle to Raise Money for the Epilepsy Society

Last year I was hoping to arrange a weekend holiday event for ultra runners at CenterParcs toward the end of the year, but unfortunately it never really took off. One of the events that I had organised was a raffle of various ultra-related bits and pieces in order to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. I have been sitting on the prizes that were kindly donated and have been waiting for a good time to set it up again (but this time as a standalone online event). In the interim, Neil Bryant organised a similar raffle for the Facebook Ultrarunning Community page so I didn't want to step on his toes. But I think that enough time has passed that hopefully people will be interested in taking part.

Some of you may know that I suffer from epilepsy myself, although I am very lucky that it is kept completely under control through medication. Other people however are not so lucky, and the Epilepsy Society work tirelessly to help those for whom epilepsy can have a terrible effect on their way of life, as well as funding cutting-edge research to try and understand the disease. Whilst it is one of the most common neurological disorders in the UK, with around 1 in every 100 people suffering from the disease, we don't really understand much about it and a quite frightening number of people still think that it has something to do with demon possession! Very sad.

Anyway, it was actually raising money for the Epilepsy Society that got me into the world of ultra running in the first place, so I wanted to have another go at raising some money to help them in their work. I have been contacting as many people as possible to get as many awesome prizes lined up as possible, and have some pretty cool stuff including lots of signed gear from ultra elites like Mike Wardian, Ellie Greenwood, Mike Morton and Robbie Britton, as well as signed copies of some fantastic ultra-running books and free entries to some of the top races in the UK. There are more irons in the fire, so hopefully this prize list will only get bigger!

If you would like to enter the raffle, simply go to the Just Giving page above (or click on the Just Giving button on the top right of the blog page) and donate towards this amazing cause. For every £1 you donate we will put one ticket into the draw for you. Winners will be drawn on Saturday 21st June, and will be announced in the next edition of the free online ultra running magazine Ultra Tales (due out in July), as well as on this blog. 

There's a little bit of small print to be aware of, but it's nothing too concerning! Firstly, please be sure to leave your contact email address so that I can contact you after the draw to let you know that you have won. Also, please note that where applicable delivery of prizes is limited to the UK only (as it's all coming out of my pocket). But if you are from outside of the UK and would like to enter, I have no issues with sending things overseas if you are happy to put in a contribution for the delivery. Feel free to email me at if you have any questions.

The most important thing is that, if you would like to be included in the raffle, we will not be able to take Gift Aid on your donation, so please do not tick this option.

If you have any questions, or if you would like to donate a prize (the more the merrier!), then please email me at

Prizes currently up for grabs include (please note that more prizes may be added as we approach the draw): 
  • Signed men’s running gear from 4-time USATF Ultrarunner of the Year Mike Wardian 
  • Signed Mountain Hardwear Race Vest from 2012 Ultrarunner of the Year Ellie Greenwood
  • Signed goodies from 2012 Ultrarunner of the Year Mike Morton, including the singlet he wore in his 1997 win at Western States (it's been washed, honest!)
  • Signed running gear and one month’s free coaching from UK Ultrarunner of the Year Robbie Britton
  • Signed copies of ‘Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons’ by iRunFar creator Bryon Powell (one of the best intros to ultra running around)
  • Signed copies of ‘Running and Stuff’ by James Adams (an incredibly funny story of an ordinary guy competing in an extraordinary race)
  • Signed copies of Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run’ by Dave Urwin (an incredibly moving and funny story of Dave's battle with addiction through running)
  • Free entry to South Downs Way 50 or North Downs Way 50 miler from Centurion Running
  • Free entry to the Challenge Running Stort 30 miler 
  • Free entry to the Inov8 “Plague” 100 Km Roseland Trail Series Race from Mud Crew Events
  • Free entry to the Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra