Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Two-Time Piece of String Finisher? I'm a Frayed Knot.

Blimey, what a day! Another year, another edition of the World's Most Pointless Race (TM) as 13 hardy souls (aka idiots) turned up on a Friday morning in Streatley to run the Piece of String Fun Run. Last year was the inaugural race and was brilliant despite a few teething problems (mostly due to the horrendous weather). But this year they were going all out!

After a brief race briefing ("please don't die") it was left to one of the runners to decide the fate of the group - an "honour" which I was bestowed with last year for paying my £1.47 donation to the RSPCA by internet transfer rather than by postal order (a far more embarrassing prospect, particularly when it costs £1.50 to get the order made up and you're holding up an entire room full of people waiting to cash in their giros). Ian Brazier was punished this year for forgetting to pay his entry fee, and picked one of the 5 pieces of string - which ended up being about 6 feet long. Did that mean anything?! Who the hell knew! But our fates had been sealed. With that, we were rather unceremoniously sent on our way out along the Thames Path, and were told that we would be intercepted somewhere along the way. And we were...
A bunch of stringers. Photo curtesy of Nici Griffin.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Halfway to a String Quartet

Well that came around fast! Tomorrow morning I embark once again to try and find the length of a Piece of String. The brain child of Messrs. Adams and Elson, the Piece of String Fun Run - The Most Pointless Race in the World (TM) - is an odd little race. There are 5 potential routes of differing length - anywhere from 1000 meters to 1000 miles. Nobody but the race organisers (and I guess some of the volunteers) know the exact route, and runners basically run until they either die, or are told they have finished.

The idea is to make it kind of a mind-fuck; if you don't know how far you've got to go, how do you pace it? How do you cope mentally when you can't say, "Only 50 miles left"? Depending on how you look at it, it may be the most fiendishly demonic race ever created (mwa ha ha etc), or the most pure form of racing imaginable.

Just run.

No pacing charts, no nutrition plans, no worrying about other competitors - just run.

Last year, I was one of only two people who successfully completed the inaugural event. The second person was Wouter Hamelinck, who I think everybody would agree was the winner - mainly due to his amazing navigational skills (mine; not so great!). Some people claimed it was clear proof of the benefit of ultra beards over ultra sideburns, but I will just point out that I believe our tally is currently 3-1 wins in my favour. Not that I'm counting of course...

Nobody is quite sure how far we ran last year. Not even the RDs. With heavy rain in the weeks preceding the event, the River Thames burst it's banks and much of the Thames Path became impassable. Well, if you're particularly precious about getting your feet wet. And knees. And thighs. And bollocks. It's health and safety gone mad I tell ya! But I was running for about 36 hours or so. Estimates of 120ish miles are probably not far off, although don't take into account all of the dicking about going the wrong way.

So having survived once, why in the name of Satan's gonads would I come back again?! Glutton for punishment?!

Honestly no. I thoroughly enjoyed the race last year. I have genuinely fond memories of the event, and I'm really looking forward to hopefully seeing some of the same trails again. It was just so simple. I stuck my headphones on, looked at the map, and was off. The psychology of it wasn't too bad because I was doing what I call "running stupid"; not thinking about goals, and not worrying about what was going on. Just enjoying a good audiobook (Game of Thrones) and seeing some new areas if the UK.

Okay, there were a couple of things that I didn't enjoy.

First of all I was absolutely shattered. I hadn't slept well the night before, and the race didn't start until midnight. I was knackered before we started. By the time I got towards my third sunrise in a row, I was a bit of a zombie. Luckily, a quick nap in a car on the middle of the Ridgeway at Paul Rowlinson and Luke Carmichael's checkpoint saw me to the end (which annoyingly was only about 10 miles later). This year though, the race starts at a nice leisurely 9:45am. With a baby that doesn't sleep and having not sleep more than a couple of hours at a time for the last 9 months, I plan on sleeping like a baby tonight!

Well, not my baby, but you get the idea.

The second thing that I didn't enjoy was the conditions. It rained a lot! I actually don't mind rain at all. Running in the rain is one of my favourite pastimes. What I don't love is when the mud is so thick and sloppy that you literally can't run. Trudging through the rain in November after 30 hours of running is far less fun than running through it at a snails pace, just getting colder and wetter. That was the closest I came to dropping last year, as my map had turned into papier mâché (I had one suggestion for James this year - buy a laminator!) and I couldn't move fast enough to get my core temperature up. But James gave me a good talking to and I stuck it out - and actually really enjoyed the next section.

This year, however, the weather appears to be far more conducive to running. I'm not sure what deal with the Devil James Elson has done to cause this new trend in perfect conditions at his races, but it should be a very different beast this year. Frankly I think this year's batch has it easy!

And then there's the distance. How far will it be? We won't know until later this weekend. I've either come woefully underprepared for a 300 miler, or this is going to be the most well-stocked 5K of my life! It may even be a completely different format to last year. I wouldn't be surprised to be bundled in the back of a van and driven out to the wilderness!

I'm just not thinking about it. I'm going to turn up, run and have fun. Of course this year hasn't been the best, training-wise, what with my gorgeous daughter being born, and various injuries along the way, so it will likely be a very different run to last year. So if you see me crying in a ditch somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, you have my permission to tell me "I told you so"!

So how long is a piece of string? I dunno - let's find out!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Too much running will kill you, just as sure as none at all (or so the Telegraph says anyway...)

Once again, we see another worrying study indicating that "running is bad for you". In this case, it is a story in the Telegraph with the title "Too much exercise as bad as too little". Ignoring for a moment the syntactic tautological verisimilitude of this statement, is there anything to this claim? Or is it a case of the media leaping on a piece of research and blowing it out of all proportions for a good byline?

The paper in question is this study in the journal Archive of Disease in Children, titled "Weekly sport practice and adolescent well-being". The study took a cohort of 1,245 adolescents (aged 16-20) and asked them to fill in an online survey asking them various questions about their exercise habits, socio-economic background, height, weight, and questions on their "well-being" (more on exactly what this means in a second). They split the individuals up into a number of groups based on whether they took part in:
  • A low amount of weekly sport (0-3.5 hours)

  • An average amount of weekly sport - the recommended 7 hours (3.6 - 10.5 hours)

  • A high amount of weekly sport - around double the recommended (10.6 - 17.5 hours)

  • A very high amount of weekly sport (> 17.5 hours)
They then show that, when compared against the recommended amount, doing a higher level of sport resulted in individuals being "healthier", whilst doing less resulted in individuals being "unhealthier" (as you might expect). However, when they did the same for those individuals who did a very high amount of weekly sport, they found that they were in fact "unhealthier". So not only are there diminishing returns to your health by increasing the amount of exercise that you do, but doing too much can actually result in a negative effect on your health. Hence the tag line of "too much exercise as bad as too little".

Saturday, 2 November 2013

"Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!" (to quote every ska band ever...)

I really enjoyed my run at the Stort30 this past weekend. It is a beautiful route, and it was really nice to see so many people out enjoying the fine weather. The fishermen on the river were probably wondering what in the hell we were doing, spending our morning running along a muddy river bank. But frankly I think the same thing about their hobby. So, y'know, horses for courses and all that.

But one thing that disappointed me was the number if discarded gel wrappers I found on my return journey. Littering is one of my bugbears, and I like to try and do my part to help when I can. I once really annoyed my wife by picking up and carrying a bin bag full of beer cans that some bugger had dumped in a bush. Sure I looked like a massive alcoholic (the dishevelled beard didn't help matters), but for the sake of a few minutes searching for a bin I was happy to act the bum.

But it seriously annoys me when people just dump their rubbish while they run. Sure, sometimes it is an accident; things can fall out of your bag. It may also not be due to other runners at all, as other people use the route as well, including cyclists. However the packets weren't there on the way out, and mysteriously appeared on the return journey.

I wasn't too worried about my time, so I picked up all of the ones that I saw. One in particular was half full, which was lovely to deal with. But I just dumped then in a pocket and got on with it.

If you've got room to carry a gel, you've got room to carry the wrapper. It doesn't take any extra time really to shove a rolled up wrapper in a pocket on your pack. If you're worried about the mess, just carry a little sandwich bag or something with you. At UTMB, they gave everybody a little pouch which could be clipped on to your bag somewhere convenient. The same effect can be achieved with a little plastic bag. Hell, the checkpoints were so close together in this race (about 5 miles), it really wouldn't be difficult to just hold onto it until the end. There really is no excuse.

Some people have suggested that the problem comes from road runners who are used to races where rubbish is cleaned up afterwards. But come on people. We're all grown ups. It must surely occur to these people that it's not nice for others (particularly people just out for a Sunday stroll) to see this kind of mess. It gives us all a bad name.

And it can potentially be very bad for the future of running events, never mind the environment and local flora and fauna. Permission has to be obtained to hold races on these trails, so if people are complaining about the mess being made by the runners then they may simply not allow it to go ahead the next year. All for the sake of shaving 5 seconds off of your 100 km time.

I put a post (or more aptly a "rant") up on Facebook about this, and it was great to see that generally people were also saddened by it. Some people thought instant disqualification was even the way to go. Too harsh?Maybe not. I'm certainly not the first person to talk about this problem, and there are various initiatives to help promote conscientious trail use, such as the RunTidy initiative in Wales. Please take the time to show your support and help keep our trails beautiful. There was even an article in the Guardian where Jeremy Paxman asked why more people don't challenge litter bugs.

Many problems in this world could be solved by people just not being dicks, and thinking about others. Litter is also one of those things that builds - if one person litters then others will be more likely to do the same. So I'm going to try and make it my business to keep the trails clean and tidy, and try to pick up any rubbish that I see while out and about. I hope that you'll join me. Let's start small and build up to world peace, eh?!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Stort30 Race Report - 27th October 2013

Last weekend I was all set to run the Caesar's Camp 100 miler. Caesar's is somewhat of a UK ultra running institution, and is one of the tougher events on the calendar - largely due to the Race Director, Henk, who likes to make things difficult for his runners. I worked with Henk at the North Downs Way 100 last year, and we had slightly different perspectives on how to run an Aid Station; I felt that we should be aiding the runners, whereas he thought we should be calling them all c*nts and kicking them out. Both perfectly valid techniques! But as we approached the race I was shitting myself.

Unfortunately, I don't mean that figuratively.

About two days before the race, I came down with a pretty nasty gastro-enteritis bug. Very unpleasant, and very much not the ideal way to prepare for running 100 miles. In the end, I couldn't even leave the house to go and watch and cheer other people on. The timing was impeccable, so chalk that up as another one in the "man, this year has sucked running-wise" column. Sigh.
There's a river somewhere, honest. Photo care of Karen Webber.
Determined to actually run something, I signed up for the Stort30; a 30 mile Challenge Running event organised by Lindley Chambers not too far from my house. The race is a 15 mile out and back route following along the River Stort Navigation Channel in Hertfordshire. Navigation is pretty simple (if you're not in danger of falling in the water, you've probably gone wrong somewhere), but temporary arrows had been painted on the floor at any point where you needed to do something other than "keep going straight", so navigation certainly shouldn't be an issue - a dangerous claim for me.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Stand and Deliver

In many ways I am a man of extremes. If I'm not running for hours out in the middle of nowhere, I'm collapsed on our sofa, vegging in front of the XBox. In this day and age, I just don't understand how people live without a recline function on their sofa! But the one thing that always bugged me is that my chosen career (computer geek) leaves me slumped in a chair in front of a computer screen all day. Since my wife won't let me quit to become a tree surgeon (I like chainsaws), the next best thing was to have a go at this "standing desk" malarky. 

There have been various articles of late about how sitting down all day takes years off your life, and more and more office workers are making a switch to using a standing desk to limit time on their arse.  In fact, I was surprised to find out how many of my friends were already on this bandwagon. So I thought hey, why not give it a go. 

A quick word with my boss and I was good to go. I eschewed the "stick the monitor on a cardboard box" approach in favour of the more tech geeky "buy a giant monstrosity of a computer stand which has all sorts of bells and whistles" approach. Luckily this Ergotron (great name...) sit-stand workstation was available through my work's suppliers for a very reasonable price. It is incredibly versatile, and has the added benefit of easily moving up and down if I decide that I want to sit down and work for a bit.

Next step is to fit a treadmill underneath

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Stour Valley Path - September 2013

It's no secret that I've been struggling with injury for the last few months since Transvulcania. I have been rehabbing like crazy, and things have gradually been getting better, suggesting at least that it was nothing serious. But with two big DNFs under my belt at the SDW100 and NDW100, and being unable to run longer than 10k without things starting to ache, I was starting to go a bit crazy. But with some help from my physio Chelsea Harding, September proved to be a good month. I had a whole week of "proper running", including some exploring down on the Monarch's Way and SDW near my parents. My first 70+ mile week in a long time - and it felt great!

So the following week, I hit the start line of the Stour Valley Path 100 km race (SVP100) with not a single niggle. No spasming calves, no painful knee, no plantar fasciitis. I was finally starting a race without worrying about something going wrong.

Okay, that's not entirely true. James Adams and Gemma Greenwood were helping out at the race and had come to stay with us since the race starts not far from my house. Since they would be there throughout the day, I had stored a bag of clothes in their car "just in case". But despite this I was going in with a positive mental attitude, determined to get a good finish in before the end of the year.

My previous 100k time was 9:57:26 at the Norfolk Ultra last year, so I figured that somewhere between 9 and 9.5 hours was doable. But I wasn't going to worry about pace, instead focussing on running to feel. At the end of the day, my main focus for the day was finishing and having a good time.

Every photo of me at the start has me checking my watch. Turns out I needn't have worried about pacing!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Does Green Eggs and Ham represent a suitable nutrition strategy?


So this year I decided to go two for two, and step up to the plate once more for another crack at the Piece of String Fun Run in November. Well, it was a lot of fun last year, so why the hell not. The 17 (un)lucky runners selected to run have just been announced, and I am in there. Huzzah! So here is a little poem that I wrote to describe this race. I think that perhaps I have been reading a little too much Dr. Seuss recently. Bloody kids! Anyway, enjoy!

I am Sam. 

Sam I am. 

I would like to run a race,
But I need to know what pace
To run it so I do not die
Or burn out early and start to cry. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ultramarathon Running Research Project - Thames Path 100 2013


This year, I have continued the project that I started last year with James Elson from Centurion Running, looking at various aspects of ultra running and how these relate to a runner's ability to complete the race. I still think that there is lots of interesting information to be mined from these data, and hopefully more people will take part in the surveys for the next few races. Anyway, below is the report that I produced for the 2013 Thames Path 100 mile race in its entirety. As ever, these are merely my own interpretations of the data, but I would love to hear from anyone that might have any alternative ideas. I hope that you find it interesting!

Introduction

Following on from last year's pilot project at the South Downs Way 100 mile race (SDW100) last year, we have now upgraded the analysis to look at all four of the Centurion Running 100 mile events in 2013. The current state of research into the factors that may affect a runner's ability to complete a 100 mile event is still very open, with several key studies beginning to delve into the key factors essential for all runners to consider.

The research of Martin Hoffman and the rest of the Western States Endurance Run Research Committee has produced several key papers, analysing both the effects of running 100 miles on the body, as well as the demographics of the runners who choose to run such events. Recently, the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) study from Stanford University (which I recommend everybody takes part in if they haven't already by going to https://stanfordmedicine.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_aY1e47DdzVRjHKI) has begun to track a wide range of information for ultrarunners, which will then be tracked over the coming years with the hope of monitoring training styles and observing how these relate to injury rates.

Recently, more and more researchers have aligned themselves with race directors in order to obtain data on ultrarunners in the field. For many races, this may allow the study not only of runners' preferences and training styles, but also the study of the changes in physiology brought about as a result of running 100 miles. These studies will undoubtedly direct our current understanding of "optimum" training methods in order to ensure that running styles are tailored to specific physiological needs. Whilst I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as "the right way to train" (it is likely highly dependent on individuals), there are certainly universal truths that we can all benefit from fully understanding.

Our own study was a fairly simple yet powerful approach. We asked runners of the SDW100 to complete a pre-race survey (focussing on information on the runners themselves and normal training strategies) and a post-race survey (focussing on their approach to the race and how the race itself went for them), and combined these data with split times throughout the race. There were several goals with these data, but the main goals were to understand what sort of people typically take part in such events, what sort of training strategies are typically used, and how these relate to race-day performance.

In 2013, we will be performing these analyses on all four of the Centurion Running 100 mile races; the Thames Path 100, the South Downs Way 100, the North Downs Way 100, and the Winter 100. At the end of the year, we will combine these data into a single analysis to get a view of how runners have approached the different races through the year. These analyses are only possible because of volunteers choosing to take part in the surveys. But the more people who take part, the more interesting the findings will be. I hope that these results will encourage people to take part in the future studies and that we will soon have a deep pool of data to mine for interesting results.

On a personal note, my time for performing these analyses has been drastically reduced due to the birth of my gorgeous little girl. She's strong on her feet already so I'm sure she'll be a runner like Daddy! But unfortunately she also seems to have my lung capacity and ability to cope with no sleep... But I hope that you find what I have managed to cobble together between feeds interesting! These are entire my own opinions, but if you have any thoughts or comments feel free to contact me through my blog at constantforwardmotion.blogspot.com. As ever, all the best to everybody with your running, and I'll see you out on the trails!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Guest Blog: Confessions of an Ultra Running Widow

Well bless her cottons! My lovely wife Jen has decided to write a little blog post about what it's like living with an insufferable idiot. Enjoy!

I am a runner. Correction; I was a runner, back in my teenage years. But I was a proper runner; a fast runner; a sprinter. My favoured distance was 200 meters. I was once encouraged to try my hand at long distance and step up to the 400 meters, but as my dad often likes to remind me and my husband I replied with "why would any one be stupid enough to run more than 200 meters?". How interesting that I now consider a 'short run' to be anything under 26 miles. Not for myself you must understand, that's when Sam does it. I got sore shins for 3 days when I 'jogged' 1/4 mile home to save Sam from our screaming child the other evening.

I have tried to find a piece of the enthusiasm that Sam so obviously has for running. I downloaded an app which proclaimed to be able to get anyone running 5k. I decided I would do the training and surprise Sam by entering us both in a 5k race. So I used to take our dog Max for a walk up to the field that is near our house. I would put on my iPod and listen to the little voice encouraging me along the path from fat to fit. I didn't make it. I got bored. Running just isn't my thing. If the race isn't over in less than 30 seconds I'm not interested in competing. (And I don't believe for a second that I could cover 200m in less than that now.)

I must admit I like the idea of being involved in a sport with the tight knit community that Ultra Running seems to have. Sam is forever on Twitter or Facebook chatting to some runner from somewhere that he knows through someone who he once chatted to at an aid station for 2 minutes. Otherwise he is crunching numbers and stats about races or running. Or compiling a blog post. How wonderful to enjoy something so much that you want to eat, breathe and sleep it?

What Sam sometimes fails to remember is that not everyone shares this all encompassing infatuation. You probably don't understand this concept either as you are currently reading a blog about Ultra Running. But if we didn't discuss running I'm not sure what we would talk about. My day at present is full of baby and to be honest she is only just starting to get interesting at six months of age. Even when I was at work our jobs are so different there is no common ground, except moaning about our bosses. Maybe that's a bit unfair - we do have other interests in common and things to discuss. But Sam's enthusiasm for running often means it's a primary topic of conversation.

I have learnt to love Ultra Running from afar. Sometimes I have the mad idea of getting more involved, coming to a race, making a weekend of it. I hear Sam talk of other WAGs that dutifully drive their partners to races and crew for them, finally cheering them on at the finish line. I have crewed for Sam before. When he 'ran home' after the 2011 London Marathon I was in the car meeting up with him every 8 miles, restocking his bag, giving him words of encouragement. It resulted in me throwing up at the side of the road in a little village in the early hours of the morning as the lack of sleep and the feelings of worry got to me. I won't be repeating that experience anytime soon thank you very much. 

I do think that I should really get involved in the scene more though. Now we have Lottie I think I should at least come to a finish line sometime so she can cheer her daddy through the line. The last time we tried that it resulted in us standing in the centre of Oakham on Easter Sunday evening for the best part of 6 hours waiting for Sam to come in for his first race win at the 2013 Viking Way. Unfortunately his 'Sam Nav' went wrong and he ended up coming in second, but at least we were there. Now Sam just has to actually finish another race and I might consider standing around a bit more


Harsh but fair I guess... For more amusing insults of her doting husband (*sniff*) you can follow Jen on Twitter 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

To D(NF) or not to D(NF); that is the question

To many people, DNF is a four letter word. Clearly those people need to work on their 'rithmetic, but still I understand the point. To get a DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race is seen by many people as the worst possible way to end their attempt, beaten only by never making the start line in the first place (DNS). But is it really something to get so worked up about?

Now don't get me wrong; I am a stubborn little bastard. I will (and have) push myself through a lot of shit to get to the finishing line of a race. But I have also DNF'd (yes, DNF is a verb) from a number of races in the short time that I have been running for. For lots of people, not having a single DNF to their name is a badge of honour. Do I care that I can no longer say, "I have finished every race that I have ever started?" No, not really.

My philosophy is that I think ahead to what Future Me would think of Present Me when he looks back. Would Future Me think I was a pussy? Would he be pissed off, and wonder why I didn't just grit my teeth and man the fuck up? Or would he be glad I was sensible and didn't wreck myself and stop him from getting his run in?

Here are my DNFs to date:
  1. Thames Path 100 2012: My first Centurion Running 100 miler, and I was really looking forward to it; only to fall off my bloody bike on some ice the week before. I hit the start line following some pretty aggressive emergency physiotherapy, but my hip went out about 75 miles into the race. I was in fifth, but dropped out to avoid making things worse.
  2. Lakeland 100 2012: I entered this race not expecting to get into UTMB. Just my luck, I got offered a place in both. I very nearly didn't even bother turning up, figuring that I didn't want to risk not making the start line for one of the biggest events in the ultra running calendar. In the end, I decided to use it as a training run, planning to just run the first half. I was so paranoid through the whole race, and twisted my ankle 30 miles in. Rather than risk making things work, only to pull out at halfway anyway, I wimped out early. This race is one of the toughest in the UK, and needs to be run with complete focus. I'll return, maybe next year, to see the rest of the course.
  3. South Downs Way 100 2013: I injured myself at Transvulcania earlier this year, and started the SDW with my fingers crossed that my knee would last me to the finish line. It didn't. To be honest I probably shouldn't have started, but this was supposed to be my focus race for the year and I was reluctant to miss out on an opportunity to race for the prize money that was up for grabs (babies ain't cheap after all).
  4. North Downs Way 100 2013: This was only a month after SDW, and again my knee wasn't quite right. I had been rehabbing it with only small runs and lots of cycling, and one 20 mile run the week before as a test. I started the race expecting to pull out at some point anyway (even going so far as to stash clothes at various points along the route just in case), and stopped before things got bad.
So quite a bumper crop really. Three of these were related to pre-existing injuries, and I probably should never have started in the first place. But as I say, I'm stubborn. In all three cases things felt okay and I was willing to see what happened, but as soon as it became clear that things weren't as they should be I pulled. I was disappointed, of course, but in all cases I was happy that I made the right call. I care more about running day to day than I do about racing, so it's important to me not to destroy myself. And for Lakeland, my eye was on UTMB the whole time.

Here's the thing; I have nothing to prove to anybody but myself. I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't some level of ego involved (blogging isn't exactly the most inconspicuous of pursuits), but honestly I prefer to do these things for my own benefit. Generally speaking I won't risk my health or my ability to run for any race, although there are certain things that might make it more likely for me to slog through to the end.

Firstly I am fine with pain, discomfort, misery, etc. (ordinarily this would necessitate an obligatory "I am married after all, narf narf" comment, but then most people aren't married to my awesome wife!). But there is a difference between the inevitable pain associated with long distance running and an acute injury. The best thing that I ever did to assuage my wife's fears of my crazy passion was to show her that I know the difference by pulling out of the Thames Path last year. She trusts that I will make the sensible decision.

Of course I would be more likely to push through things if I were running a particular race distance for the first time - I would have crawled to complete my first 100 mile finish if I had to. But would I feel the same for my fifth? Or if I was running a particularly high profile race that I am unlikely to get the opportunity to run again. I had a 10K death march at the end of UTMB due to some chaffing on the boys. As it happens, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk; chatting to various people, soaking in the atmosphere, and basking in the sunshine. The only thing that could have improved things was if my balls didn't feel like they were wrapped in sandpaper.

[Edit] Let me be clear - I am not advocating pulling out of a race because things have gotten "a bit hurty" (to paraphrase James Adams). Pain and discomfort are inevitable. A lot of ultra running is mental (in both senses of the word I guess), so being able to push through the bad times is a real skill, and one which I am typically very good at (being an idiot helps not to worry about things too much - I like to call it running stupid). This is how I have finished some of the toughest races in the UK, such as the Viking Way and the Piece of String. But what I am saying is that I don't go in for the "finish or die" mentality. I don't need to prove my resilience to anybody just for the sake of it. If there is a good reason to stop, I will. That way I can come back to play another day. My point is that I don't stress about it. If it was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do. And you'll know if it was the right thing to do a few weeks later when you look back on it all.

In general, I want to finish any race that I start. I moan a lot if I don't, so it's really for my wife's sanity that I do it. But if there is some reason that I feel like the best option is to pull out, I try not to let it get me down. I'm normally too focused on the next one anyway! I actually enjoy running after all - even the more horrific parts of races like the Piece of String. So when you're in a position where you have to make that decision whether to DNF or MTFU, give a thought to your future self and what they may have to say about the matter. My future self is a dick, so I have to be really sure that he won't be pissed at me...

How do you decide whether to push on or pull out? Answers on a postcards!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

North Downs Way Race Report (sort of...)

Wow! What a race!

Not from me; I pussied out after about 25 miles...

But the race itself was pretty much dominated by two runners; Ed Catmur and Anthony Forsyth. I have met Ed at several other Centurion events, and he always runs a great race. He led the 2012 NDW100 race to the halfway point, and finished in third in the end. I met Anthony through Facebook, and knew that he was out to push for the win. He had completed the NDW50 earlier this year, and had clocked up some really high mileage out on the course. But this would be his first 100 miler, and many of us know that a 100 mile race is a very different beast to a 50 miler. What would happen when they pushed each other?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The weeks leading up to the race had been pretty poor for me in terms of training. I was still suffering the effects of my injury from Transvulcania and hadn't been doing much in the way of running. But things were much better, and I had managed a good long run a couple of weeks before with no real issues. So I decided to give the race a shot, knowing that if things got bad I could pull straight out before any serious problems occurred.

As with the SDW100, the start of the NDW100 is close to my parents, so we decided to head down south for the weekend. I left Jen and Lottie in the capable hands of my parents and headed to meet Dan Park in Farnham. Dan attempted this race last year but unfortunately had to pull out early due to problems with his ankles. This year he had a score to settle.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

North Downs Way Preview

Just a quickie today. This weekend is the North Downs Way 100 miler, another Centurion Running event following along the North Downs Way from Farnham to Wye. I helped out James at this race last year, so got to see just how tough it actually is. Whilst the vertical ascent is less than the South Downs Way (9,930 ft vs 12,700 ft), most people that have done both agree that the NDW is the tougher of the two. It doesn't have as many rolling hills, but it does have lots of steep and punishing climbs and generally much tougher terrain.

I have unfortunately been suffering from injuries, essentially since Transvulcania in May. Since attempting the South Downs Way in June, I have been pretty much unable to run at all, so my training has not been - shall we say - ideal. The main problem has been my right knee, but this has thrown all sorts of things out of whack with my gait, leading to issues along my left tibialis anterior and also some plantar fasciitis which I haven't really been able to shift. When it rains it pours! But the main thing is that it doesn't appear to be anything serious, so I have just been sensible and stuck to running no more than a few miles at a time. Plenty of cycling should hopefully have kept my fitness levels up.

Whilst I'm not really feeling my most prepared, I am going to start the race but with no real expectations. I'm just going to run whatever I can, and if the injuries flair up I will just pull out and help out at some of the aid stations for the rest of the race. Hopefully that won't happen of course, and I'll still be able to get a great race in, but whatever happens I'm out to have a fun weekend! These events are always a bit of an ultra-party, so it's going to be great fun catching up with everybody.

See you out there - if you see the sideburns, say hi!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Critical thinking

I think that most of us are savvy enough to realise that we shouldn't take stories in the media at face value, but it occasionally strikes me that not enough people critically evaluate the things that they read. In the running world there are many areas where people hold quite fervent views on what is the "best" way to do something; be it relating to diet (e.g. high carb vs. high fat), running style (e.g. forefoot vs. heel striking), shoe choice (barefoot, minimalist, Hokas, et al.), training methods (speed work or not for ultras?), training aids (does compression gear work?), etc. But one of the big problems that I see cropping up time and again, particularly with social media like Facebook and Twitter, are cases of what is termed confirmation bias - the tendency for people to take more notice of evidence that supports a view that they already hold. How often have you seen an advocate of barefoot running Tweet about the latest paper showing that barefoot running is more efficient? But how often do they Tweet about the latest research showing that no difference was found, or even that heel striking was shown to be preferable?

Let me just be clear; I am in no way commenting on the views themselves. I have my own opinions on all of these facets of running that have been borne out of experience (which is limited in terms of time, but extensive in other ways), as well as reading the limited scientific literature that exists. But I in no way claim that these opinions are correct. If I see compelling evidence that convinces me otherwise, I try things out, use what works for me, and change my opinions (as everybody should). To be honest, my view on a lot of these questions in sports science is that there is no right answer. You do what works for you. 


No; what I am commenting on in this post is the use of dodgy evidence to support these views. 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Western States 2013 - Live

So, being the incredibly cool guy that I am, I am currently spending my Saturday night watching the Western States Endurance Run unfold live overnight with a cold cider. Because I'm just the coolest, I have been playing around with the times to see what the field looks like to get an idea of who might take the win. Yeah.

As it stands, 6 runners have gone through 70 miles (Peachstone), in the following order:

Timothy Olson 10:43
Rob Krar 10:56
Mike Morton 10:58
Dylan Bowman 11:09
Ian Sharman 11:10
Nick Clark 11:22

Timmy Olson has held the lead for most of the race, but Rob Krar has been hot on his heels, Mike Morton has been edging his way up the field, and the rest of the chasing pack are not far behind. The heat is immense in California at the moment, so the question is; who's going to blow first? Can Timmy hold on until the end, or will Mike's pacing win the day?

This is a figure showing the speed between each checkpoint up to Peachstone for each of the 6 runners in the lead pack. Hal Koerner was in there as well, but something seems to have happened to him since Foresthill. I hope everything's okay. Anyway, take a look and see what you think.
My interpretations are as follows:


  1. Timmy has been running incredibly strong so far and has built up a great lead. Of course now we need to see if he can hold this amazing pace.
  2. The pace of these 6 runners has been fairly consistent, but in the last 20 miles we have really seen the differences start to creep in
  3. Mike's pacing may well be the clincher here - he started off as the slower runner, but now his pace seems to be the fastest. He's slowly creeped up the field, and now is able to hold his pace whilst others are dropping theirs.
  4. Similarly, Rob is running at a fantastic pace and could hold this to the end now. 
  5. Top 5 for Brit Ian Sharman? Go Ian!

As we enter the final 30 miles, the real race begins. Now we see if people have set off too fast, or if the hot weather is going to affect things. My money is on Mike Morton coming through in the final hours as Timothy's pace slips. But I could be completely wrong, and we might see another epic finish from Olson! In particular, will he pick up the pace when Morton and Krar attack? Let's see!

It's looking like we will be seeing a podium of Timmy, Rob and Mike, but as to the order; I couldn't say. Whatever happens, I look forward to seeing the results. Maybe we'll see a sprint finish at the Placer High School track?!

Good luck guys!

Update:
Hal has now been updated as being in 7th through Peachstone. Not sure what happened, but his pace has dropped dramatically on the last section. Also, Olson, Krar and Morton are through the Rucky Chucky river crossing. Olson is still 10 minutes up.

Monday, 17 June 2013

South Downs Way 100 Miler 2013 Race Report

Aw bollocks (spoiler alert...).

Well okay, that didn't quite go to plan. The Centurion Running South Downs Way had always been my focus race for the year, as I had a target time to beat from last year that I felt was ripe for smashing (with a bit of focussed training). And if you had asked me 6 weeks ago how I felt, I would have been incredibly positive. My pace was increasing, my legs felt strong, the training was going well (despite the arrival of my little angel Lottie), and with several particularly long distance races under my belt I was confident in my endurance. In addition, my kit choice and nutrition were proving to be robust, and in particular a recurring stomach problem which slowed me down last year seemed to be under control. 
Beautiful weather for a run! Are you sure this a Centurion Running event?!
Then Transvulcania happened. I had a bit of an issue with cramping in my calves, something that I think may have been lying dormant for a while and only really showed up by running up a volcano. I really don't get any practice at that - there are very few volcanoes in Cambridge.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Putting it all on the line

In just over a week, I will be lining up at the start of the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 mile race, following the National Trail from Winchester through the South Downs down to Eastbourne. This race holds somewhat of a special place for me, as it was the first proper ultra race that I did way back in the distant summer of 2011. It went quite well and I managed to come 5th in 22:10. Not too shabby for my first 100 miler.

The following year, the race was absorbed into the race calendar of Centurion Running by James Elson, who made a few changes including switching the direction to run West to East (so we could get blown along by the Westerly wind for a nice easy run), avoiding the cliffs and the Seven Sisters at the Eastbourne end (hundreds of fatigued runners piling off a cliff like lemmings probably wouldn't be a great advert for future events), and adding in more aid stations along the way. I ran the updated race last year and smashed my PB, finishing 2nd in 17:23. This year, I will be lining up again to try and smash that time again, and maybe even improve on that position as well. 

Now I'm no statistician (oh wait), but based on the last two years it's looking good for a world record...

Stats don't lie. Statisticians on the other hand... Fox News would be proud.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Transvulcania de La Palma Race Report - May 2013



This weekend I was lucky enough to head over to the beautiful island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, to take part in one of the top races in the world ultra calendar; Transvulcania. Last year, this was very possibly the biggest Ultramarathon in terms of media coverage, with the combined forces of iRunFar, Ultra168 and Talk Ultra to allow us to follow along from home. But this year, I would actually get to be there.

After a fantastic week away in the Peak District (just as a sort of acclimatisation to hills between Cambridgeshire and La Palma) with my wife and daughter, I left to meet up with Chris Baynham-Hughes, Martin Wilcock and Richard Webster to begin the rather convoluted journey to the "Isla Bonita". A very early 4am start, a taxi to the airport, a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, a hire car to the airport on the other side of the island, another flight to La Palma, and another hire car for use on the island itself, and we were there!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Transvulcania Preview


Last year, a little race in the Canary Islands caught the attention of the entire ultra running community. Taking place on the stunning volcanic island of La Palma ("Isla Bonita", or "beautiful island"), Transvulcania offered both an inspiring backdrop and also an incredible field of the top runners from around the world. It was an amazing race to follow, with course records smashed by Anna Frost (8:11:30) and Dakota Jones (6:59:07).


And of course, everybody wanted a piece of it for 2013! So a small group of hardy individuals (I believe "idiots" is the colloquial term) signed up, including Martin Wilcock, Chris Baynham-Hughes, Richard Brown, and me. We head out on Friday to attempt the unbelievably complex task of making it to the island, before getting about an hours' sleep prior to the race start at 6 am on Saturday. Acclimatisation shmacclimatisation!

The race itself is 83.3 Km, with a rather frightening 8,525 m of elevation change (about 4,500 m of ascent). The course profile appears relatively simple - a very long very steep hill for the first 20 Km, a "relatively" flat section with a short but bloody steep hill in the middle, a similarly steep 15 Km descent, then a final hill in the last few Kms just to add a little sting in the tail. Simples.

This year, the list of starters is a veritable who's who of ultra running, with many of the top names from around the world confirmed. Ian Corless has a list of confirmed elites that make for an amazing field. This is certainly going to be one helluva race!

So where do I fit in? Frankly I have no idea. I figure if I can survive that first hill (not my greatest strength what with training in Cambridge) then I can put my foot down (then my other foot - ho ho ho) and push as hard as I can for the finish. This might work and I could get a good time (sub 10 hours maybe?), or it could fail miserably! Either way, I'm just going to have fun out there, being in those surroundings, and being a part of such an amazing event.

I will be flying the flag for Team X-Bionic as an "honorary member", having been sent a bunch of kit to try out by Simon Robinson (the UK rep). Seeing as I kept him waiting around for hours at the end of the Viking Way (where he came to see me finish) it only seemed fair! This will be my first real test of the kit, so full review afterwards. It's exciting to be part of a team like this, amongst stalwart runners like 2012 UK Ultra Runner Award winners Mimi Anderson (who has win more races than I have taken part in) and Terry Conway (holder of the rather astonishing Lakeland 100 course record, and just getting faster!), even if it is only temporary.

I haven't quite decided on the rest of my kit yet, but will probably use my Salomon Sense Mantras as my shoe of choice. For hydration I am still undecided between the trusty Salomon 5L vest (well tested but maybe a bit warm) or my UltrAspire Impulse belt (better for warmer conditions, but untested for racing). I probably won't make up my mind until we're about to leave for the start line!

I have set up my Twitter and Facebook accounts to update as I run, so you can see how far ahead of Kilian I am. If at any point it appears that he is hours ahead if me, rest assured that I am either biding my time to take him down at the end of the race (with flower at the ready...), or decided to do another lap and am close to lapping him.

Well a guy can dream...

Monday, 6 May 2013

Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt Set Review

Have I ever told you how much I love Salomon gear? The gear coming out of the S-Lab is a rather stunning example of function dictating design, as the formidable stable of Salomon athletes work closely with the designers to create exactly what they need. The first example of this was the Advanced Skin race vest originally designed for Kilian Jornet in the 2011 UTMB which revolutionised the way we think about running packs, but the innovations have since come thick and fast.

The latest potential game-changer are the new soft water bottles and associated hydration systems in the 2013 line. These include updated versions of the S Lab Advanced Skin race vests, a rather ingenious looking (if slightly whacky) set of glove-style handhelds (the Sense Hydro Set), and the new lightweight Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Hydration Belt.

This last one caught my eye as a potential way to cut down on bulk in my racing, being an incredibly lightweight waist pack relying on soft bottles rather than bulky plastic ones. If I could fit everything I need for a supported 100 miler like the upcoming South Downs Way, this could potentially be the perfect pack for me.

Last year, Salomon gear was like gold dust - travelling to Chamonix for UTMB last year was amazing as every other store seemed to stock it! But now we are spoiled for choice, with several suppliers in the UK taking delivery of the latest range (including the Ultra Marathon Running Store, Centurion Running Store, and Castleberg Outdoors). I contacted Keith Godden at the UMRS who sent me one to try out.

Unfortunately - shock horror - I wasn't overly impressed. Believe me, I wanted to love this pack. But sadly it wasn't to be. Unfortunately the very thing that made it so appealing (the lightweight nature) was also its greatest failing. I only used the pack for a short amount of time, so haven't put nearly as many hours into it as I normally would for a review, but this was enough time to identify problems which made it unsuitable for my needs.

But let's do this in a systematic way:

Sunday, 14 April 2013

TORQing About Running (it's a homonym, y'see...)

A few months ago, I happened to see a message on Facebook about an interesting sounding new initiative. TORQ are a fitness consultancy firm that also produce a range of nutritional supplements such as gels, bars and recovery drinks. They are highly regarded in the mountain biking community, and sponsor teams in cycling, MTB, triathlon etc. They are now interested in getting involved in the trail and ultra running scene, and were looking for runners to make up their new trail team. What was interesting about this was that they are not looking for the top runners in the country, but instead are interested in putting together a team of inspirational runners who are passionate about the sport regardless of whether they are elite athletes. So runners from all backgrounds were asked to submit a CV describing what running means to them, a little about their background, and any blogs or the like that they might have.

You may have noticed that I quite enjoy banging on about running (my poor wife sure knows it), so I figured I would put something in. To be honest I hadn't heard of TORQ before this, but a friend described them to me as the "Rolls Royce of gels" which was pretty high praise. Since I pretty much use gels exclusively when I run, I thought why not have a crack.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Viking Way Ultra Race Report - April 2013

Potential Vikings before their adventure
Strap yourself in, this could be a long one!

The Viking Way is a 147.8 mile route running from the Humber Bridge in North Lincolnshire to Oakham in Rutland. Quite what the Vikings thought was so important in Oakham to require such a long march from their landing point I have no idea, but I guess getting away from Hull is excuse enough. Although they might want to fire their navigator as it's not exactly a direct route. Regardless, the route is one of the longest marked trails in the country, and was the perfect location for a new race. Last year Mark Cockbain, an extremely accomplished ultra runner who has done pretty much everything you would care to mention, announced his plans to hold the race, with the caveat that all runners would have to meet a minimum requirement to be allowed in. Somehow my entry was accepted even though all I had done by that point was the South Downs Way and a few smaller races But unfortunately it was not to be, as falling off my bike in the ice and attempting to run the Thames Path 100 miler on what would later turn out to be a pretty dodgy ankle put me out of the running for a good few months last year. The race was a great success, and was won jointly by Neil Bryant and Pat Robbins in 29:22. Only seven people (out of about 30 starters) finished inside the 40 hour cutoff.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Feeling horny...

Just a quicky... *snigger*

In about an hour's time, I'll be making my way up to Hull to take part in the Viking Way 147.8 mile ultra, following the Viking Way from Barton Upon Humber to Oakham. The race is organised by Mark Cockbain, who likes things to be as tough as possible. So there will be none of this GPS malarkey; we're lucky we're allowed a map!

With a cutoff of 40 hours, and fairly minimal (although awesome) support throughout, the race is only open to runners with a pedigree that shows that they have a chance of seeing the finish at Oakham Library. Last year, 27 people started and only 7 finished. To Mark, I think that still may be too high...

I was supposed to run it last year, but fell off my bike and injured myself (made worse by running the Thames Path 100) and had to pull out before even making Hull. So this year is Round 2; I have unfinished business. Well, unstarted business really I guess.

This year is made more interesting by the arctic conditions we have been having recently. Last weekend, the Thames Path was once again held in pretty extreme conditions (making it a surprise contender for toughest UK 100 miler!). Will we be caught out in snow drifts this weekend? Currently the weather looks pretty favourable, with cloud and sun throughout the day all weekend. The only issue seems to be how cold it's going to get, particularly overnight. If all goes well it will be pretty perfect conditions - as long as I can keep moving! Hopefully the cold will have firmed up the ground a bit as well, which given the slog fest that greeted runners last year would be a real bonus.

So what's my plan? Well I thought I would sprint out from the line and just see how long I can hold on. Or just run at a nice comfortable race until someone tells me to stop - just like the Piece of String all over again!

I'm really looking forward to this race as it's my first time running properly since the Piece of String in November. Having a baby kind of put things on hold earlier this year... It's going to be really tough to leave Charlotte for so long for the first time, but it should be a good reason to run faster! That and chocolate of course. As if running away from Hull wasn't impetus enough.

Anyway, off to catch a train to Hull! Hopefully I'll next be posting as the owner of a swanky new Viking Way medal. You won't believe how big these bastards are.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Salomon XT-Advanced Skin S-Lab

Being the huge (accidental) Salomon fan boy that I am, I have recently been bigging up the Salomon Skin S-Lab pack to some of my friends who have been looking for new packs this year. With the release of the Signature Series from Ultimate Direction, it seems that the race vest style of running pack is becoming more and more popular. With ultras, it is often important to take a lot of gear out with us on the trails, particularly if doing something long and self-supported, or up a mountain, in a jungle, in a desert, etc. Broadly speaking there are 3 choices for carrying what we need; a handheld water bottle (if all we need is a bit of water and maybe a few gels), a waist pack (to carry a couple of bottles and a bit of essential gear like a jacket), or a backpack (if we need to carry a whole bunch of stuff). Over longer distances, backpacks can get quite uncomfortable given the way that they sit the weight on the shoulders, with maybe some lumbar support as well. The race vests are designed to distribute the weight over the chest so that you don't get so much of that pulling on your shoulders.


I have been using the Salomon XT-Advanced Skin S-Lab since I started running ultras in 2011, and for the time-being have no reason whatsoever to switch. I love this pack. It is a masterful feat of design, with everything perfectly placed for me, and so many useful little features that another pack would have to do something very special to get my attention. Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?

There are currently two flavours of the pack - the 5L and the 12L. I reviewed the 5L a long time ago before I ran my first 100 miler with it, but have now used it so much that I feel that a new review is required. I have both the 5L (2 in fact...) and the 12 L, so will review both simultaneously as they are pretty much identical in most regards. Spoiler alert: I like them!

As a warning, this review looks at the 2012 edition of the packs. There is a newer version available (with a new colour scheme: ooh, pretty red!) but I won't need to replace these any time soon. But there aren't too many additions or changes other than cosmetic so the the vast majority of the review still applies to the latest 2013 models.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Ultra Parenting

Taken from http://www.sugarjack.com/blog/the-baby-races-2012-with-tommys-sugarjack/baby-race-buggies-2/
As I sit here and type this, I have my beautiful baby girl Charlotte clamped onto my chest fast asleep (luckily the shear amount of hair there provides enough friction that she won't fall off). She is now a whole 8 days old, and is (without getting too mushy on you) absolutely perfect in every way. Thank goodness she gets most of her looks from her mother! 

Without getting into the gory details, the birth was a bit of an ultra in itself. Watching my wife go through 28 hours of labour kind of puts my piddly little races into perspective, that's for sure! Next time I start bitching about how tired I am at mile 80, I will look back on that experience and just man the f**k up. Actually, y'know what, scratch that; woman the f**k up!

And now here we are. I'm finally a father. It amazes me that they let any old idiot do this. Shouldn't there be like a test or something?! But having my baby girl is indeed the greatest thing that I have ever done with my life, narrowly beating finishing the Piece of String Fun Run last year (much to James Adams' disappointment). And now the fun begins!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Salomon Sense Mantra Review

Ah! Gotta love that new shoe smell! They won't stay looking that clean for long...
Salomon are the Apple of ultrarunning. Their stuff looks sexy, it's highly functional, everybody wants it, but my word is it expensive! Generally speaking my choice of running gear is primarily based on price, but I have found the Salomon S-Lab Skin hydration pack to be so amazing that I now own 3 despite the high price tag (a 5L, a 12L, and another 5L as I have burnt through the first one now with overuse). I have also used the Salomon Speedcross shoe since my first 100 miler in 2011, although these are actually very well priced (particularly if you look around online). So I have found myself accidentally becoming a bit of a Salomon fanboy without really meaning to. But when the kit works so well, what can you do? 

When the Salomon Sense came out last year, I wanted them. I wanted them bad! I'm pretty sure that they automatically make you run like Killian Jornet. Well I would hope so at least, given the 150 quid price tag! I've never really had a problem with my Speedcross and am of the opinion that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but the Sense appeared to be the Speedcross but with a lower heel-to-toe drop that would be more suitable for my more forefoot/midfoot running style. They looked like they would be worth a shot, but I just couldn't bring myself to break my bank account for them. Instead, I went for an even more minimalist (and much cheaper) shoe in the New Balance MT110

Jump forward to 2013, when Salomon released their updated versions of the Sense; the Sense Ultra and the Sense Mantra. The Sense Ultra is very similar to the original Sense (with a few minor tweaks), whilst the Sense Mantra is more of a gateway shoe with slightly more padding in the sole. "Lovely", I thought, "but still outside of my price range". But thanks to Craig Meredith at Fit2Function, I was able to get hold of a pair of Sense Mantras at the very reasonable price of £85. Well alright then, if you insist!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tag! You're it.

My friend Mike recently pointed me towards this quite amazing story about 10 friends who cement their friendship with an ongoing game of tag. For one month out of every year, the game is on and the person who is "it" can use whatever underhanded devious tactics they choose to tag one of the others. Whoever is "it" at the end of the month must carry with them the shame of being "it" for the rest of the year. Such dirty tricks include bribing family members and friends, hiding in bushes, breaking into houses in the middle of the night, and anything else that an aspiring stalker might have up their sleeve. Fantastic!

So I got to thinking; how could we adapt this into a country wide game of Ultra Tag? Essentially the game would be tag, but within the confines of an ultra race, and with elements of the old university game of Assassin thrown in for good measure. If you are "it", then you would have an opportunity to tag another player at the next race that you ran at, but for the tag to count you would also need to beat them to the finish line! Here is the game as I see it:
  1. The "tagger" is the player who was it at the start of the game. The "taggee" is the player whom the tagger has targeted.
  2. The tagger has from the moment the race starts until he crosses the line in which to make a tag of another player. 
  3. Players must download, print off, and wear a specially designed target on their back somewhere visible by people approaching from behind during the race.
  4. Only runners wearing this visible mark are eligible targets.
  5. Once the taggee has been tagged by the tagger, there are no tag-backs. But then the race is on!
  6. The taggee has two options to avoid being "it"; they can either tag another player (in which case they become the tagger in the above scenario), or can race and beat the original tagger to the finish.
  7. If the taggee succeeds in beating the tagger to the finish line, then the state of being "it" reverts to the original tagger once more. However, if the tagger crosses the line first, then the taggee is it. This will be updated on the website.
  8. If multiple tags have been made, then the outcome of the tags will be decided based on the order of finishing.
The last rule is just because there is kind of a branching structure to the tagging that might depend on who beats whom in the race. So if Player A is "it" and tags Player B, but then Player B tags Player C, and the finishing order is CAB, then Player B would be "it" at the end of the race. This is because whilst they tagged Player C, Player C beat them to the finish. So we go back one tagging, and find that Player A successfully tagged and beat Player B. So the result of the race is that being "it" goes from Player A to Player B.

It's not as difficult as I've made it sound, honest! It's just a bit of silly fun really! But the more players there are, the more fun it will be. If you fancy playing, then email me with the following information, which will be published on a separate page on this blog for all other players to see:
  • Your name
  • A recent photo (preferably of you running so that people can recognise you at races)
  • A list of all of your upcoming races for the year (where other players might be likely to find you)

This is only a rough idea for the rules - if anybody has any suggestions for ways in which they can be improved then please comment below. 

Who's in?!

Monday, 28 January 2013

New Balance MT110 Review


The New Balance (NB) Minimus Trail 110 (MT110s) have been around for a while now, having been released at the start of 2012 to general critical acclaim. The Minimus are a popular series of lightweight minimalist shoes from NB that have generally received rave reviews, and the trail series (the MT100 and the MT101) have been developed closely with Anton Krupicka and Erik and Kyle Skaggs, three of the top ultrarunners in the US. I really liked the sound of these when I first heard about them as the minimal drop from the heel to the toe plays to my forefoot running style, and when I finally found that they were available here in the UK for the low low price of £30, I just had to grab a pair.

I have been using these regularly for over 6 months now, and have probably run over 600 miles in them, usually on groomed trails but also with the occasional run through incredibly sloppy mud, knee deep in river water, or on rocky hilly terrain in Wales. Also, they work surprisingly well on road. 

It's probably a bit late in the day to be writing this review, but I have just purchased a pair of Salomon Sense Mantras which I am in the process of putting through their paces and they will inevitably get compared to these. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Is Marathon Running Bad For Your Heart - Redux

Okay, this has bugged me a little bit and I had to write a post as a comment on what I have seen. I have previously commented on some of the research that has come out over the last few years suggesting that - to coin a sensationalist media-friendly phrase - Marathon Running Is Bad For Your Heart. I recently saw this TED talk from Dr. James O'Keefe M.D., where he discusses many of the same ideas. As a cardiologist, he used to exercise regularly as the generally accepted standpoint is that exercise is good for your heart, and the more the better. But he and his colleagues have since found that over-intensive running may in fact be bad for your heart. Instead we should all be running not too fast and not too far.

Now, as an ultramarathon runner, I am obviously biased in my opinions. However, I do know a fair bit about data analysis and (more importantly) interpretation. And based on what I have seen in the literature, I have yet to see anything that makes me particularly worried.

So let's have a play-by-play of the content of the video. Granted, the point of TED talks is to make a complex subject understandable by non-experts so this isn't a scientific presentation as such, but in this presentation you can see issues with the argument. I apologise for how long this post is, but I want to be thorough in my assessment. I do not claim to be an expert in the area of cardiology, and I certainly haven't read all of the literature (I just do this in my spare time for fun after all), but nothing that I have seen in these studies has suggested anything more than one possible interpretation of the data.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

You're Only Cheating Yourself

This Thursday will see Oprah Winfrey interview Lance Armstrong regarding the part that he played in the doping scandal that has swept the professional cycling world since the release of the USADA's damning ream of evidence against Lance, the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, and indeed much of the pro-cycling community. I won't go into any details about it here, as people far more knowledgable than I have already dissected the report, and the conclusion seems to be pretty unanimous: the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team did indeed run "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen". 

Despite the evidence against him, Lance has always avidly denied cheating, decrying the USADA report as a "government funded witch hunt" (isn't that the same government that funds the USPS team?). But, lo and behold, news has leaked out that in the interview shot on Monday, Lance has finally admitted to cheating. Apparently witch-hunts aren't such a bad idea when there are witches abroad... 

(Hmm, that Terry Pratchett book was set in Lancre. Lancre... Lance... Coincidence?! I think not.)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

UltrAspire Impulse Waist Pack Review

The Christmas holidays were fantastic fun, with plenty of food, wonderful company, and general good cheer all round. To ensure that we remain jolly for as long as possible, a few friends and we celebrate our very own holiday ("Fakemas") on January 2nd. It's basically all of the best parts of Christmas all over again, with a big emphasis on awesome presents. This year for Fakemas, I was very happy to receive the UltrAspire Impulse waist pack which was on my letter to Santa this holiday season.

There are three main ways to carry fluid and equipment around with you during an ultramarathon. The first is to use a handheld bottle, which has the benefit of being very minimalist but does not allow you to carry too much additional equipment. The second is to use a pack, which has the benefit of giving you scope for carrying additional gear but does mean you have the additional weight and the inconvenience of carrying something on your back. The third option is to use a waist pack, which sits somewhere in the middle as it allows you to carry more equipment but leaves your back unencumbered, preventing overheating and reducing potential chafe points. 

Until now I have never found a waist pack that I liked the look of, since typically they seem quite bulky compared to the very well designed ergonomics of the Salomon S-Lab hydration vest that I normally use. The Impulse on the other hand is very minimal (at only 232 g), consisting essentially of two bottle pouches and a belt with a couple of pockets.

The waist belt is quite minimal, with two bottle pouches connected by a small belt, with a few additional pockets