Friday, 25 September 2015

North Downs Way 100 Race Report - Putting the "end" back in NDW

Well, I have to be honest - I had almost forgotten what the finish line of a Centurion race looked like. I seem to have a habit of DNFing these particular races, despite the fact that they are some of my favourite races to run in the UK. Previously this has been due to injuries or not wanting to ruin myself for other A races for the year. This year, I decided to have a crack at the 100 mile Grand Slam (Thames Path, South Downs Way, North Downs Way and Autumn 100) to polish them all off in one go, but as you may have noticed that didn't quite go to plan. Dysentery on the TP100 (Sophie Ellis Bextor's follow up hit) and a sense of humour failure on the SDW100 quickly buggered up any chances of that Grand Slam buckle.

There wasn't much I could do about the TP100, but I sacked the SDW100 with only 8 miles to go. I could have walked in for a sub 24 hour finish, but I was just taking things too seriously and trying too hard for a PB. I got so annoyed with how whingey I was being, especially given how hard everybody else was working out there (not just phoning in their attempts like me), that I decided to pull out until I got my head back on straight.

So I hit the NDW start line with two aims in mind - to have fun and to reach the Centurion Running finishing arch in Wye. Well, I say hit the start line, but I actually managed to miss the start due to an urgent call of nature that I figured would be best taken care of sooner rather than later. I wasn't too bothered though, as I was in no hurry - a very different approach for me. I was chatting to Dan Park and Bryan Webster (who were both on race 3 of the Grand Slam) when I heard the horn go, and said good luck before heading off through the field.

I skipped past a lot of the field over the next few miles, being careful not to undo this whole plan by sprinting past everybody. I bumped into Richard Felton from Profeet, who helped me out before Spartathlon last year with my plantar fasciitis. It was great to catch up for a bit, and the chatting made us keep things comfortable. After a few miles together, I headed off to push a little up the field. I didn't realise, but my wife was actually a little concerned following along at home, as my position further back in the field made her worry that something might be wrong!

As it happens, I really wasn't too far back from most of the front runners. Ed Catmur (the current course record holder) was out ahead in record pace. Craig Holgate had set out ahead of everybody else to run the first 50 miles at some ridiculous pace to check the markings out, and I think Ed may actually have been trying to race him! Sometimes this works for him, sometimes it doesn't, but you have to truly admire his grit and determination whichever way it goes.

The weather had been very kind to us, with a similar day to that seen at the SDW100. There had been some heavy rain the night before, but now the skies were clear and the path was nicely softened without becoming muddy. I would go so far as to say that the weather was perfect running weather, although as it turned out it was maybe a little on the warm side. As the sun rose, so did the temperature and it was pretty clear that it was making it tough going. If nothing else, it meant more drinking which was filling my stomach faster.

Unlike the SDW which is characterised by wide open spaces, the NDW is much more secluded with much of the route stretching through woods and forests. In addition, unlike the SDW where almost the entire route consists of runnable rolling hills, the NDW is very much punctuated by sharp climbs. In some ways, this is actually preferable to me as it means that there is rarely any question of whether or not you should walk up the hill, whereas on the SDW100 I often felt like I was wimping out by walking up the relatively gentle inclines.

The first big climb comes at Box hill, after about 25 miles, and is quickly followed by Reigate hill for a nice double hitter. The Box hill checkpoint actually comes into site directly across a busy road after a fun downhill run, but runners need to head off along the road to cut underneath through the underpass so it's a bit of a tease. I remember this bit very vividly from running the Pilgrim's Challenge a few years ago, where I cut across the road and got penalised for it. In my defence I had been told by the RD Neil that the GPS route was "perfect" and it was following this that took me over the road. This time however I knew the score, and runners had been advised that running across the road (which was a bloody deathtrap this morning anyway) was a DQ offence. Russ was there anyway to point people in the right direction.

The last section had been quite long, so I was pretty thirsty by the time I got there. I got topped up, drank a lot of juice, and headed out with a handful of fruit. I was trying to be relatively healthy today and was going for fruit over chocolate and sweets, and had a plan to avoid Coke entirely to see if that helped my stomach. I wasn't suffering any stomach issues yet which was good, although the heat meant that I was pouring a lot of water in there so I was conscious of avoiding getting too bloated. But ultimately this plan seemed to work and, other than later in the race when the hot food became available, I survived on gels, fruit and water.

Oh and squash. Well for the first few sections anyway. I started out with one bottle of electrolytes and one of water, and gradually diluted the electrolytes down until I managed to fill up with squash at one of the earlier checkpoints. This was a nice combination, alternating between refreshing water and sweet squash. But not a single bloody checkpoint had squash after that. Normally I'm not particularly bothered about what I get at checkpoints - I'll take what I can get - but I started to get a real hankering for squash in the heat of the sun, and I'll be damned if I just couldn't get any! So my one complaint/suggestion for future Centurion Running races - more squash!

I set off across the stepping stones at the bottom of Box Hill, then made the climb up the loose sandy path towards the wooden steps that would become a staple of the route. I still can't decide if I found the steps any easier than just hiking up the hill, but I made pretty good progress regardless. The heat was building, and I approached what I first thought was an air traffic controller waving planes in to land (but turned out to be a cheerleader) wondering if the heat was getting to me... She asked if I had had a dunk in the water by the stones, and I almost considered going back down as I regretted missing out. But no; onwards and upwards!

About this time, I found myself running backwards and forwards with a few other runners, and in particular with James Brouner who I started chatting with. He had pulled out the previous year from this race at about 65 miles with a busted ankle, so had a score to settle today. We ran backwards and forwards a bit, but when he came into the Botley Hill checkpoint just as I was about to head out we decided to stick it out together.

It was a nice refreshing change to run with somebody else, as I am usually a bit of a loner when it comes to running. Usually I am not in a state to converse, but the pace today was great - nice and comfortable, making good time, but enough that we could easily hold a conversation. When we came into the halfway stage at Knockholt Pound, we were hot but in great spirits. I saw Gary here, who gave me a raised eyebrow expression which I think said "why are you so late", and he very kindly pointed me towards the vats of iced water and even swabbed my brow with a cold cloth to col me down. He's a keeper!

Ordinarily I try not to take too long at aid stations, but we weren't in any hurry. I had some pasta, and even changed my socks figuring that I may as well spend a bit of time making sure that the next half was as comfortable as the first half. In hindsight it was my chilled out reaction to the aid stations that cost us the most time, but since we weren't planning on winning the thing I don't regret that. It was nice to actually take a bit of time to soak in the atmosphere and get my money's worth from the food on offer!

We set off out and up a rather unpleasant climb involving a lot of road. Whilst the SDW is a very definitive route through the rolling hills of the South Downs, the NDW is much more of a hodge podge of randomly connected trails with plenty of alternative routes to distract the unwary runner. Not that we had any navigational issues though - I don't think that we really ran anything more than we set out to do which made a nice change! Unfortunately, I started to suffer from a pretty bad stitch which was making it tough to get things moving. The heat and constant climbing were not helping, and it was feeling like we weren't making much progress. James was taking it all in his stride however, but stuck it out with me which I'm grateful for. This was the section that he had injured himself on last year, and as we reached the bottom of a pretty gnarly hill he gave a little fist pump and muttered "yes" under his breath, telling me that he had made it past the hill that had prevented his finish last year. He was in uncharted territory now!

For me however, it was becoming quite familiar. I had run the first 30 miles or so on the Pilgrim's Challenge a few years previously, but the middle section was very much new to me. However, I have run several sections towards the end when I helped out James a few years ago by crewing and marking some sections. We came into Wrotham, which was the checkpoint where I had spent most of the night a few years previously, feeling a little better and on more familiar ground now. Again, we stopped for longer than we should, but hot tea was really helping my stomach and I wanted to let the food that I was eating settle before heading off again. I was starting to eat fewer gels now, and was eating more at the aid stations to make up for it. But other than a stitch which was getting better now, everything was going really well and we were feeling happy. I was definitely enjoying the experience!

I was however starting to suffer with fatigue, as my lack of sleep the previous night began to catch up with me. We had driven to my parents house during the day on the Friday, hoping to get there in plenty of time for a chilled out evening and an early night. Unfortunately, various incidents along the way resulted in our 2.5 hour journey turning into a 6 hour journey, my daughter had an unsettled night so I didn't fall asleep until gone midnight, and then the overspill of a nearby garden party woke me up several times before my alarm went off at 4am. Not a great start, and I was feeling it.

The sun was still up, and all I wanted to do was collapse and sleep. James could tell I was struggling a bit, and when I got into the Holly Hill aid station I just had to sleep. I told him to head off, and asked the checkpoint staff to poke me in 20 minutes. I stuck my headphones in to drown out the noise, and slunk down in the chair. I'm sure that everybody thought that was it for me, but this ain't my first rodeo! I was woken as requested, and jumped straight up feeling instantly energised. It's amazing how much benefit a small cat nap can have. I set off, and quickly found my rhythm again. In fact, I was now running faster than I had for a long time, and quickly caught up to everybody that had overtaken me during my nap.

I arrived at Bluebell Hill just after James, and found him just about to start a cup of tea. I think he was a bit surprised to see me, but hopefully it was a nice surprise! I also found Mark Perkins here waiting for me, who had agreed to pace me for the final marathon. Mark is incredibly fast, and recently attempted to run 100 miles in a 12 hour track race. That is world class stuff, and he was so close it was unbearable! He'll definitely crack it next time. He recently ran an amazing race at the Grand Union Canal, where he beat the previous course record by several hours (although was unbelievably not the winner in the end), but this had left his body slightly broken. This was going to be his first run back in a while, but as I pointed out - we weren't planning on pushing him too hard!

The three of us set off in fantastic spirits, and really enjoyed the next few sections. The three of us all have children, so that was a main focus of conversation, along with aspects of training, upcoming races and the usual fair. We were actually going a pretty good lick, and it was only the time spent at the aid stations that slowed us down (my fault - I was hungry). But since we weren't in any hurry I didn't care too much about that.

I was still feeling pretty tired, and the fatigue was starting to creep back in again as the adrenaline that was fuelling me began to wear off. We came into Lenham at mile 90, and I managed to actually fall asleep mid ham sandwich to the amusement of everybody there. But after another little cat nap, I was back on form again and just hoping that it would carry me through to the end. Next time I should really run faster so that I can get to bed earlier...

As the miles flew by, we eventually arrived at Dunn Street at mile 98. There were about 5 miles left to the finish, but we were assured that all of the hills were done (heh heh, Dunn) now and it was a pretty easy ride to the end. After eating so much food that I got comments from the other runners, we headed out for the final push.

And we really were pushing now, alternating running at a pretty good pace (well, y'know, pretty good for 95 miles into a race) with short walking breaks to stop us from burning out. We managed to pick up more runners along the way, and ended up in a little train of runners, dragging ourselves to Wye with the finish line in sight. When we were a few miles out, James announced that he wasn't feeling great and was going to slow down, so told us to head off. But there was no way that we weren't going to cross the line together after the day that we had had.

Sub-24 hours was pretty much guaranteed barring some catastrophe (famous last words...), but we could just make out the sun starting to peak over the hills. The race was now on to get into Wye before the sun rose. We plodded on, and soon made our way into the town. It was a fairly low key finish as we came through the finish line in 22:41:01, but I was perfectly happy with the lack of ceremony. We snapped a couple of quick finish line photos (It's been a while!), and wondered into the hall to get our true prize - a bacon sandwich! Totally worth it.

The race had been won by Ed Catmur in 18:02:00, and we found him lamenting how on earth he was going to fit another Centurion trophy on his book case at home (#fastguyproblems). He had struggled a lot out there and lost the huge lead that he built up in the early stages of the race, with second place Ally Watson only 9 minutes behind in 18:11:15. Third was Jeremy Isaac in 18:56:54. The women's race was won once again by Sally Ford in 19:20:40 for 6th overall, making her currently 3 for 3 in wins in the 100 mile grand slam. If she wins at the Autumn 100, she will have a clean sweep! Second was Maryann Devally in 21:17:56, and third was Mari Mauland in 21:24:37.

I was disappointed to see Dan in the hall, as this could only mean that he had had to pull out of the race. He had turned his ankle on one of the descents and was struggling to keep up with cutoffs, so had pulled out to avoid damaging himself further. He seemed in relatively good spirits considering the situation, and was pretty Zen about it despite this meaning the end of his Grand Slam goal for the year. The important thing was that he was not seriously hurt, and seemed to bounce back quite quickly in the weeks after. Bryan was still out there, and managed to finish putting him in for a shot for the Grand Slam with only one more race to go.

So all in all not my fastest 100 miler by a long shot, but I enjoyed it and that's the main thing. I was a bit worried that I was losing my love for the long runs, but I had a blast out there, and running with James and Mark was a lot of fun and made the miles fly by. My main issues this race were tiredness, which seems to be a general issue in my day to day life (I can barely make it through an episode of Great British Bakeoff without falling asleep - I'm so old), and a stitch which might be related to the amount I was drinking due to the heat. But otherwise I was pretty happy, and finished with nothing to show for my efforts; I was running after a 2 year old with no issues the following day. 

I'm a bit late posting this report - I actually wrote it ages ago but have only just realised I never hit publish - and we're now only a few weeks away from the Autumn 100. I'm going to predict now that it will be another slower race, as I haven't really been doing any hard training recently with one thing after another taking precedence. I need to shift a bit of holiday weight after a trip away to Menorca with my family, followed by several alcohol fuelled conferences with work (scientists sure know how to partay!), but it should be a fun day out as ever. Then I will be having a crack at Mark Cockbain's suffer-fest The Hill in December, hoping to hit that in a good fit state and have a crack at the course record. But we'll see. The important thing is that the issues on the SDW seem to have just been a blip, and now I can get back to just running and switching off my stupid brain!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Oxfam Trailwalker 100K Race Report

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from one of my Facebook friends, Bryce Alford, who was looking to find somebody to join Team Jersey for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100 Km. There was only about a week until the race, so it was very short notice, but one of his team members had pulled out at the last minute to go and run 363 miles without sleep. The race follows the South Downs Way from Queen Elizabeth Country Park (right round the corner from my parents), and finishes at the race track in Brighton. I know this route very well, particularly having run most of it only a few weeks previously. Given my poor (non-) finish at the SDW100, I thought this would be a good way to put a few demons to bed, so I decided to go for it with an aim to just enjoy myself! That is, after all, why I do this. 

This wasn't just a little jolly however, as we had a mission. The team put together by Bryce was aiming to beat the current course record of about 9 hours 50 minutes. This is about the same pace that I ran the first 100 Km of the SDW100, and that was a race that didn't go particularly well - so I figured that it was eminently doable under the right conditions. All we needed to do was hold a relatively steady pace of about 8 minutes a mile when we could, hike the uphills, and try and avoid spending a lot of time at the checkpoints. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Running Stupid

The following is an article that I wrote last year for the rather splendid running magazine Like the Wind. If you don't already subscribe, and you have even a passing interest in any type of running (if not, what on earth are you doing here?!), I thoroughly recommend giving it a look. It's not all idiots like me writing - some people know what they're talking about!

Running 100 miles in one go is a really stupid thing to do. I know this because people tell me so on a regular basis:

"I wouldn't even drive that far!" 

"Pheidippides died after running only a marathon y'know!" 

"Isn't it bad for your knees?" 

You know the drill. Everybody knows these things. Nobody could possibly run 100 miles. Except that they do. All the time.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

South Downs Way Race Report 2015

Eurgh. Okay, I wasn't really planning on writing anything about this race, but decided to use this post to get my thoughts in order and to record it for posterity. This blog is predominantly for me to look back on after all, and I don't want to introduce a publication bias in my own work! I'll try and keep it short, but I think that we all know that ain't going to happen!

The South Downs Way 100 was the first 100 miler that I ever ran, doing it way back in the heady days of 2011 before it became a Centurion Running event, and was run in the opposite direction. It was a bit longer back then (about 107 miles I think), and started up Beachy Head and along the Seven Sisters (which was a bit of a shock given my lack of hill experience). I did pretty well, and in particular I pushed right the way through despite feeling like crap, and despite having a dodgy knee from about 80 miles in. For about 10 miles over night, limping along, being taken the wrong way by my Dad who met me to pace me, I felt like there was no way that I could I finish. But I pushed on - "one leg in front of the other", "run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must". Pick your cliché. The point was that I bloody wanted it. I was hungry to feel what it would be like to push through the barrier and do something that many others couldn't (or wouldn't). And do you know what? As the sun came up, as I got back into the rhythm, and as I smelled the finish line for the first time (I think the drains had gone...), I suddenly found that I could run after all. In fact, the last 5 miles went bloody well. "It never always gets worse", and as anyone that has done these kinds of races before knows, if you just keep making relentless forward progress you'll likely get a second (or third, or fourth, or fiftieth) wind and suddenly feel great again.

I mean bloody hell, that's the name of this blog!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Thames Path 100 2015 Race Report

It was all going so well. Leading up to the race I had avoided any niggles from training, had managed not to horribly injure myself, and had even managed to avoid the stinking cold that had taken my wife out the week before. I was feeling pretty confident, so you can imagine my annoyance when I spent Thursday passed out in bed with some weird stomach bug. Shit. 

Pun intended.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Thames Path 100 Preview

It's not long to go now until my first race of the year, and I'm really looking forward to getting going! This Saturday I'll be running the first race in the Centurion Running Grand Slam - the Thames Path 100 miler. I ran this race back in 2012, but pulled up short about 70 miles in with a sore hip (having fallen off my bike on icy roads just days before).

For the past couple of years my focus races (most notably Spartathlon, GUCR, Transvulcania and UTMB) have taken precedence over the Centurion races, and with early season injuries I have had to DNF or DNS a couple. This year I aim to put all four to bed in one go. They're always a fantastic experience, and are probably the premiere ultra races in the UK at this time.

With 5 days to go until the start, I'm feeling... pretty good actually. My daughter now sleeps (for the most part), so I haven't got quite the level of fatigue that has plagued me for the past 2 years (although 5am starts 7 days a week probably aren't helping much). I have (so far) managed to avoid any horrific accidents or injuries (there's still time though). The plantar fasciitis that hit me before Spartathlon is now under control, so hopefully shouldn't be an issue. So yeah; all systems go!

The last few months have seen a house move and a few changes to my work schedule that have shaken my training plans up a bit, so I'm maybe not as fast as I would like. I also like cake a bit too much, so I'm not what you would call "race weight", although I find that I skirt the line between being svelte and stuffing my face with chocolate with impunity. But the important thing is that running feels effortless and (more importantly) fun at the moment as it should be! I am currently running (sprinting...) with our new dog, Saphie, everyday which is a ton of fun! So the speed work is there, I'm just not entirely sure how I'll cope without the benefit of a wolf to drag me along...

I ran a 10k a couple of weeks ago which, while a few minutes outside of my best time, was actually not as bad as I expected. So maybe there is a little bit of residual speed hanging around in the old legs. 

Anyway, I'm feeling good about the race and really looking forward to getting going. All being well I'll have a good day out there, and a PB should hopefully be on the cards. I'm not stressing about pacing, so I'll just run and see what happens. 

I even have a crew to help out on the day. Well, a Nick. But he's as good as a whole pit-crew (well, he probably eats as much anyway...) so we should have a cracking day! I think he's going to live-blog his experience of the race as well, so watch this space!

Now let's just hope the river doesn't flood again...

Thursday, 16 April 2015

If you want my body, and you think I'm sexy, it's probably because of my high 2D:4D digit ratio and ERR gamma levels

Well of course we already knew it, but now science has proven it - runners are smart and sexy. Well, according to a couple of stories in the Daily Mail at least, and as I always say; you should absolutely believe everything you read in the Daily Mail unequivocally. 

But what is the actual research leading to these completely believable and plainly evident facts? Other than, y'know, mirrors and common sense? Let's take a look shall we...

Running Makes You Sexy

I don't know about you, but I never feel more sexy than when I'm running. When I'm collapsed in a sweaty heap:

And coughing and spluttering:

With my toenails hanging off:

Having to deal with blisters:

And smearing vaseline around my crack:

I can't help but notice all of the ladies staring on with lust and desire on their faces. 

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