I would have won it, if it weren't for these pesky kids*

The parkrun started just like any other. A chap says go and 300 people shuffle into life as I am trying to figure out how I’ve got my neck caught in someone else’s headphones. A stunning diversity of masses bouncing around for position. The hydrogen and helium atoms ricocheting between the mis-placed lumps of lead and uranium. Not that I can complain just now. If I were to place myself on the periodic table of race weight and structural integrity I’d probably be something like Rubidium.

Gaining relative freedom and whizzing very slowly through space I started playing the next parkrun game, guessing how long until all these kids blow up.

They are so cute, running with their little legs thinking they can go on like that forever, little do they realise that are about to be dealt a crushing lesson in the limits of human physiology. And sometimes gravity.

Biding my time, not fit enough to run at my best but improving after a summer of ultra-chumping. My shoelace came undone! Schoolboy error but nothing to fear, I can still play the game.

Losing a few places I lost sight of the little people, always harder to gauge how far ahead they are. Are they 100 meters ahead and 3ft4 or 50 meters ahead and 4ft2?

The 2k marker was passed, these little blighters are plucky! Good on them, waiting till the second half to explode. 3k came and went, they were still ahead? WTF? I’ve got twins in gestation bigger than these buggers. Don’t tell me I am going to have to use another gear?

I did, but didn’t get any closer, 3k turned into 4k with little change except that now my breathing was scaring the children who were spectating. And some dogs.

There is a hill in the last kilometer. Gravity is more on their side than mine, clearly a conspiracy. I had one last shot at this, two options. First I could run my arse off up this hill and just hope that they’d trip over one of the dog walkers or I could use what remaining oxygen I had to yell “MARSHALL! MARSHALL!! THOSE LITTLE KIDS ARE CLEARLY UNDER 11 AND NOT ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT!!! BAN THEM!!! BAN THEM FOR LIFE!!!!”

Actually I had neither option, I was already spent. I just rued that fact that this was another thing I might have to quit doing because a 10** year old is much better than me. That said I think my life hasn’t got much worse since I gave up skateboarding, computer games and DIY.


* I was 19th, so this is a lie.
**actually, they were all over 11, which makes me feel a *bit* better.


The Last Vol State Race (intro) - This changes everything

I am responsible for all the life that ever has and ever will live upon earth but today I’ll take some time off just to screw up your race. It’s easy to take everything personally when you are tired and exhausted, even the motives of the sun.

Today though the Sun was not trying to destroy, it was trying to mock. For the first time we got some decent cloud cover. The Sun was saying “look, I’m making it easy for you and you still suck!”

I did, I really did. It had been another long slow night. My feet were burning, my thighs were bleeding and my eyes sore from rubbing. The usual ultra marathon trifles. These are much easier to handle when you have a sense of purpose with the race. Things start to unravel when this purpose is lost and the suffering becomes pointless. When you just want to be somewhere else.

Often the very things that drive us in these events become the things that hold us back. “I want to race well and get a good time” becomes “I should drop out and save myself so I can race well later and get a good time”. “I want to earn the respect of my peers” becomes “They won’t respect the kind of finish I will do so the brave thing is to pull out”. I’ve heard some people turn “I want my kids to see this and be proud” turn into “my kids would be embarrassed about the state I am in now. Perhaps I should just go home”.

I don’t have kids though, never had that problem.

We staggered into a small town called Pearson, I find it hard to distinguish between some towns and groups of houses at the side of a road. The roadbook said there was a cafe coming up, Jeremy and I were going to stop there and eat as much as we could.

Jeremy was suffering physically too, his itb and knee were hurting so that he has to stop and stretch every 10 minutes. From what I could gather he probably had worse physical damage than me but was not suffering from any of the “purpose” issues. If one of us were going to call the meat wagon from that cafe you’d bet your life it wouldn’t be him.

What the hell am I doing here?

Everything was a chore, stepping up a kerb or watching out for a car passing, a fly or branch in the road. I was having an extended stay in that odd place ultra running takes you. The place where you genuinely believe that no one on earth has suffered like you have. It is a dark and deluded place, when you stop to think about just how deluded and self centred it is you just feel much worse.

I don’t belong here.

I would like to think I am usually friendly to people but on entering the cafe all I could think of was “I hope the waitress doesn’t ask me any questions, I just want a fucking breakfast”.

The cafe was nice, it was a Monday morning, I think it was Monday morning. There were a few families and a group of bikers making a start to their day over breakfast, it all seemed so perfect.

We had a few looks, or it might have been smells. Both of us reeked of sulphur and ammonia. I guess that’s what happens when you run 260 miles in the same clothes in saturating humidity. And when you only discover after 250 miles that you should rinse the salt off your clothes as much as you can otherwise it eats into your skin. The salt had well and truly pac-manned into my groin.

I’ve done some tough races like this before, I know the drill. You start off in great spirits as yourself, racking up the miles. You hit a series of walls that at some point will force you to change your approach, your goals, your outlook. You might have to deal with this in a novel way, thinking on your feet in times of stress.

If you finish you can derive satisfaction from the trinket and the notch of “another ultra marathon finish”, but the most valuable part is knowing that you had to become something different in order to get to the end, that somehow you became an improved human and you can take that improvement forward in your life. Ultra marathons change you, but the changes usually happen near the end.

But what if that change happens before the race even starts? What if you have to approach the entire race as the “new” you? That’s what happened to me here, at first quite empowering, now it was just disorientating.

I felt the need to justify to Jeremy why I was so miserable, aside from the 250 miles I had just run.

Sat down at our table waiting for our food I waited for a buzz to be provided by the other patrons so not to draw attention to what I was about to say. I then said to Jeremy “The day before this race started my wife told me she was pregnant” and then barely audible through a shrieking sob I added; “and now I really don’t want to be here anymore”.

So much for not drawing attention to ourselves.

Jeremy was very good about it, congratulating me and reminding me that what I was doing was pretty epic and draining. He said the Vol State is “like we all just dive into hell and then it’s a race to get out”. I thought this description was perfect and Laz himself thought it was good too.

Just over 5 days ago 75 of us plunged ourselves into hell, a few have escaped already, Jeremy and I are almost there, many have a long time left.

The hell thing struck a chord though as I looked up at the long straight road ahead. The highway out of hell. I hoped that this time tomorrow I’d be out of it. I had been cursing myself for making such a meal of this race but hearing Jeremy’s comments made me realise that running 314 miles in this way is not a predictable sequence of linear steps, it is a journey in every sense of the word.

But right now I wanted to be somewhere else. I had not seen Gemma since she told me that in less than a year’s time we’d be a family. She'd told me 6 days ago from 10000 miles away and since then I've done nothing but shred my body along a road wishing I there. It seemed like the wrong time to be in hell. News like that changes a man in an instant. I wanted to be with my wife and my unborn twins more than anything. All that stood between me and them now were another 50 miles of this horrible road;

and trying to figure out who this new guy was.

Before you go and DNF - try defecting to communism.

I’ve learned quite a lot about psychology in recent years. It usually goes something like this. I run an ultra and get myself into a slump. I get myself out of this slump by thinking in a certain way or playing a mental game. If it works I try to remember what I did so that I can name the phenomena and earn bzillions going around and banging on about it.

I get quite excited about the prospect of speaking about Adams’ Narcoleptic Squirrel conjecture and the Badgers Bottom Ending method for fortune turning. Alas no, It seems that whenever I pick up a book about how the brain works I find that the discovery has already been made, and possibly more heart-breakingly given a different name.

One I like to call selling shit to a farmer has been in my mental bag of tricks for a while now. I read it the other day as being the “as if” principle. It has been used throughout history, including trying to get US prisoners of war to defect to Communism.

Here is a recent example;

I was running the Last Vol State Race in Tennessee, 500k of self supported plodding on humid roads. I was suffering the usual ultra marathon trifles;  the tiredness the sickness being too hot being too cold been too hungry not wanting to eat.

I was also suffering some bigger ones too, a skin rash that made my moving parts purple and a general desire to be elsewhere. Generally I was feeling like I was completely wasting my time here.

I'm sure you've been in similar places and will do in the future it's hard to drag yourself out of such a funk. When I am here I will play a game with myself, I will try to sell the race I am doing to someone else. Someone who I reckon might eventually go for it but might need some persuading.

So as I shuffled along a 500 kilometre sticky rolling road in Tennessee I picked a friend and started my pitch.

Humidity, heat, traffic, blisters, your own skin eating itself. It started out as a hard sell, the friend was not yet convinced.

I was enjoying it so much time and take my mind off the pain I thought how do I sell this race to others what can I say is great about what I'm doing right now I can finish them to sign up next year.

So if I pick features that are good about the race the complete ridiculousness of covering so much road on your own with no support was relying on gas stations in vending machines to stay hydrated and to keep field . The challenge of doing a multi-stage race where you're actually choosing this day yourself you choose when to sleep when to start the day when to stop.

Mostly I was selling a feature of this race that might be fairly specific to me and a few others. Having done some “epic” things in the past and having gone many years without repeating those I felt my soul being eaten away by lack of adventure. This race thus far had been so utterly unique and bizarre and hard that I felt that if I finished this I could have that glowy feeling of being “back”. I needed that. I think the friend I was convincing needed that too.

Without really knowing why I find I am in a much better place mentally, I can suffer more in the name of the challenge which makes bailing out less likely.

William James had a theory that emotions are set after behaviour, not before. So for example you don’t cry because you are sad but you are sad because you are crying. I think both ways work. As James put it, you don’t see a bear and get scared then run, you see a bear, run and then are scared because you are running away.

Essentially I am behaving "as if" I am doing something worthwhile. Because my actions (selling it out loud makes it even more effective) are consistent with the race being worth it I start to feel as it the race is worth it.

The Korean Army used this with US prisoners. They were not beaten or water-boarded but were made to participate in “discussion” groups where they had to verbally make arguments and cases in favour of communism. They had to behave “as if” communism was great and sell it to others. It worked in many cases, the returning prisoners were alarmingly sympathetic to communism and some even refused to return home.

So the reason why the sales game works for me is that despite my suffering, by “selling” the race I am behaving “as if” it is a brilliant and worthwhile thing to do.

So some advice to you, perhaps you are planning on an almighty slog around a mountain this weekend. Perhaps when you are on your hands and knees having been thrown by yet another false summit of Bovine and you scream at how utterly pointless this whole mess is, pick a friend, perhaps a road running one and tell him why he should sign up next year.

Make it interesting, start with his objections - You can barely run any of it, you get jabbed in the face by idiots with sticks for 30+ hours and there isn’t even a buckle.


Returning to where it all started - The GUCR 2015

Some sentimental and self indulgent claptrap

"Did you know I had a book out?" I said to Dick Kearn at the end of the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race on Sunday. He laughed, you don't need to have gone onto Facebook more than twice to know that I did.
But this was a bit different. I said that this book would have never been written if it weren't for him and his race. There was perhaps a little sun cream in our eyes as I gave him a copy. We had both been up for the best part of two days.

I feel that before I go into the "race report" I should really try to explain why this race means so much to me.

I signed up to this race in 2008. Back then I didn't know many ultra runners or much about ultra running. I signed up because I loved the ridiculous idea of running from Birmingham to London in one go. Without wanting to sound too wanky about it I think my life as I know it now began on the canal seven years ago.

I spent the months before the race laughing at the stupidity of it, I spent the weeks before the race in despair as I didn't know how or if I could do it. I then did it. Then I spend weeks in utter awe of myself for doing something that I still didn't really know how I'd done it. 

And then I wrote about it.

Now please forgive this detour into self congratulation, but I think I managed to put into words what this race does to a person better than most had done before. The race changed me and somehow I think I got that down into a word document. This word document was published in the trail running association magazine  later moved with the times and became a "blog" and later it was to become part of a book, moving old-school again. I do feel a bit awkward and embarrassed when someone comes up to me and says that this race report what what got them into ultra running or inspired them to try some of the big stuff. I have been made to feel awkward many times in the past seven years.

I'd like to think that people read that race report, read what a transforming experience the GUCR was for be and thought "I want that". 

And from then on I was to be known as the runner with that article, and then with that blog, and then with that book out. This eclipsed any actually running achievements I actually had, which was fine because I think the writing is much better than the running.

And right now I am in an extended lull in ultra running. I have not finished a big ultra in 26 months, the last time I ran 100 miles was a DNF in the Spartathlon nearly 2 years ago. I was looking to revive my love of these distances and going back to where it started seemed like the place to do it. And I was really itching to have something to blog about.

OK the race

The race started pretty much the same as any other, with a guy asking me "excuse me, do you mind if my little girl strokes your badger?" and then a chap shaking my hand and saying "Thank-you for the brain farts". 

We all crowded into the Gas Street tow path ready to be set off on a bombshell, that this would be the last GUCR that Dick Kearn would direct. I think this was a blow to everyone there. I find Dick and the GUCR hard to separate in my mind.

The horn sounded and we all shuftied towards the first low bridge. This is a funny time where you are not really sure who is in front of you and who is behind. In my head I had an idea of a few people I'd be running near and could chat to for a while. 

I spent the first few miles really needing the toilet. I hadn't quite nailed my coffee-poo routine. I got out of bed at 4.00, put the Premier Inn kettle on at 4.05, had boiling water by 4.37 and didn't quite manage to drink enough to do the loosening.

2 craps in the first 2 hours is not a great start to a 30+ hour race. At least if I continued until the end I might get down to race weight. I came here with 30 hours in mind if things went well. Though I didn't really consider it at the time I got a little virus right on the day of the race. Well actually Gemma had been telling me all week that I'd got bad breath, which is usually a sign of something brewing. Anyhow the early miles were just feeling a bit harder than they should and this could be having 10% knocked off me by a virus.

It's a bit soul destroying when you are 10 miles into a 145 mile race and you already know you are going to suffer more than you should. I felt I trained pretty well for this, I had a good peak month in April, knocking out 100 mile weeks at a reasonable pace. I did most of the training that I wanted to do, lost a bit of weight and got to the start line in decent form.

After a stop start first 15 miles I got into a bit of a rhythm but it always felt hard. Not just my breathing but my body felt a little more worn than usual. I had rested well in the last three weeks, done only a few miles though my  short runs in the week before felt harder. I don't want to wang on about excuses but if you are aiming to run this in 30 hours you really need to get to the 50 mile point in around 9 hours and still feeling pretty fresh. I wasn't even going to get to Hatton Locks (22 miles) feeling fresh.

However I think I quickly came to terms with the loss, I wasn't going to get what I came for but I sure as hell was going to get this done. Dick made an emotional announcement at the end of the race that this was to be his last GUCR. I find it hard to separate Dick and the GUCR in my mind. I still don't think i have got there yet. I think the GUCR is one of those races that I will only DNF if I have to.


I think that's quite fast running for balancing a glass on my head

In the first few hours I was running with Stephen McCallister and Natasha Farid, they were doing some sort of timed run walk and I was just running as much as I could and stopping every few miles to stretch the groin. The groin issue seems a recurring thing when I run for a long time at 9 minute miles but I've got used to it, it usually goes after a few hours of running and stretching. 

Paul Rowlinson was close by too, always looking cheerful, even after his DNF in the Bingo Run after running 55 miles. Frank was here too though looked like he was struggling early. 

Just before the 3rd Checkpoint in Weedon (36 miles) i was caught up by  Paul Ali and his wife Paul Stout. 

I was keen to get through Braunstone Locks as quickly as possible but then I saw Paul Ali and Stout sat there with ice-cream. Couldn't say no really. I stopped to buy one and walked on, enjoying what is actually a nice bit of the canal. I realised at this point I wasn't quite carrying as much water as I should, I only had a litre which was not quite getting me through the 18 mile sections. 

At Braunstone the mile markers start, I was getting too obsessed with them at this early stage. I got to the 53 mile point in about 9.30 hours, not too slow but not the "9 hours and coasting" I wanted. I was amazed by the selection of cakes for different allergies there, there were at least two that were gluten free. I remember the days when cake was cake, back before gluten intolerance was fashionable.

The next section was a rough one, the 17 miles up to Navigation Bridge. Along here is the diversion off the canal over the Blissworth tunnel and then through the very nice town of Stoke Bruerne. I keep advising people to not stop too much at Navigation Bridge, at 70 miles and often reached in the evening this is a place where many a GUCR has died. I had arranged to see Gemma sometime after Navigation Bridge as the canal spends 10 miles hugging onto Milton Keynes. She asked if I had any requests and for an ETA. This ETA kept getting revised upwards and eventually was 8.00. I stopped for some food at Navigation, chatted to a few people there and then headed off and immediately bumped into Stu Wilkie who I chatted to briefly. 2 miles on in Wolverton at around the half way mark I saw Gemma who had bought along my delicious cup of coffee. There were loads of people there, Noel Jones, Ian and Katie Williams (Mr and Mrs Fetcheveryone) and David Bayley. Gemma has cooked me some really nice sausage but I completely spoiled my appetite with the sausage roll and beans I had only 2 miles ago.

Gemma walked with me a bit, she said I sounded terrible and strongly suggested I take some paracetamol for my throat. I think the last time I took pain killers in a race was one day in the LANY race and before that the last time was my blood pissing incident in the Spartathlon 2009. However taking them seemed to relieve some of the discomfort in my throat and in my bones and I managed to get a bit of a jog on.

A while after I ran on I texted Gemma to ask where she was next meeting me and she said Peartree Bridge. I looked on the map and that was at 81 miles. I was still on 76 and said I'd take ages to get there. However I made a call to try and run the whole thing and I got there in not much time at all. It was dark before I arrived at that bridge where I got more coffee and sausages. 

The next 5 miles I actually got a decent pace going, I overtook a few people. The lady who ended up finishing second who was utterly incomprehensible and Andy Horsley. This happened the second year I did it, everything going crap for the first 75 miles and then BOOM. I was timing the miles, keeping them under 10 minutes mostly and the next checkpoint actually caught me by surprise. Glyn was there with cans of energy drink. I changed into warmer clothes and headed back out with 16 mile to Tring, the 100 mile point. I started calculating, if I can get this done in 3 hours then that's 21 hours for the 100. If I can get the next 45 done in 11 then that's 32 hours total. That's not bad. That gave me hope that I could get a half decent time.

Extrapolating a good time out of a purple patch sure does lift the spirits and makes the size of the task feel more manageable, just like extrapolating a rubbish time out of a difficult section will make the whole thing seem bigger and harder. I was in contact with Drew who was crewing for Mark Perkins who at this stage was at least 30 miles ahead of me and not even winning!

Something I often forget, until I'm there is that the 5 mile section into Tring is pretty miserable. There are a few locks to climb, which isn't the worst part. It's being in the middle of nowhere, trying to run along a path made of rubble and having to cross over a load of bridges. Luckily there are still signs from another race that's been dead for 3 years guiding the way through some of this. It always takes longer to get to Tring than you'd imagine. There is a building with two red lights that make it look like a huge robot head with eyes piercing into you. It's like a war of the worlds robot seeking out to destroy you, or waiting to give you soup.

Some point along here I saw Natasha getting into Henk's van. She looked really upset (probably more do do with getting into Henk's van rather than dropping from the race). She had been vomiting blood which doesn't sound nice, she had just run a hard 100k on road recently and that is going to take a lot out of you, I'd guess more so than 100 miles on a trail. I was gutted for her, she seemed to be enjoying it so much earlier on and helped me through a rough time.

I ended up in Tring at about 2130 hours, I was pretty pleased with that. It's not a bad 100 mile time in it's own right and way less than the 24 hours it took me to get here in the second time I did this (first was about 19). I spent half an hour getting as much food and drink in me as possible, the next stretch was 20 miles and with the sun about to come up this was going to be a long one.

I also sold a book! Did you know I had a book out? To Gavin. I even managed to scrawl some incomprehensible drivel in it.

The checkpoint had the usual mash feel to it, one guy (Thomas Garrod I think) lay down in the back asleep while the guys I'd been running near for the past 12 hours were all here, Paul A, Paul S, Andy, Paul R.

After a nice sit down toilet stop I headed out from Tring onto the path which I knew pretty well. It was now 4am, I knew the sun was coming up soon, that the path was going to improve and that I still had a fair bit of running in me. 10 hours to chump out this remaining 45 miles? Optimistic and perhaps unrealistic but it was enough of a lift to keep me going.

This part of the canal brings back vague memories of my first ultra in 2007 when I started in Tring and headed to Paddington. Having a series of memories that make you feel better about yourself really can help kick away some pain, at least for a while. It's like caffiene or sugar I guess, it helps but you can overuse it and it's returns are diminishing. But now it was working better than a morning cup of coffee. 8 years ago I was going to run 45 miles to London from here and that was a really big deal, I did it pretty well and never looked back. Then little more than a year later I was here again, about to run to London but just having run the 100 miles from Birmingham. I went on to do that kind of thing about 6 times and then a few years ago I ran my first ultra again, every day for more than two months.

And I wrote a book about it, did you know that? You can buy it here.

Now this additional diversion into self appreciation I think is significant. Like I said I feel like I've been out of it for the past two years. I've not really done anything significant, the most lasting memory for me is my lame DNF in the Spartathlon in 2013

I was banking on this race to bring me back. The great time I wanted wasn't going to happen but at the very least I just wanted to get something finished. It felt right to go back to the source, to where it all really started for me and hope that some of the magic re-ignites my ultra running flame which has cooled in the past few years. I think something must have lit again, I was 5 miles into this race when I realised I was going to suffer so much more than I deserved, yet the thought of dropping out didn't even occur to me. Coughing up at Milton Keynes where my wife and the car were just a 20 minute drive from home on a Saturday night it would have been dead easy to "put this down to experience" and save myself for something else. But I didn't. I was getting pulled along, slowly and splutteringly but getting to Paddington was never in doubt. I was more like the 2008 James and the 2011 James than the 2013 and 2014 James. 

It's almost like rehab. I've been in a malaise for a while and need 145 miles of canal to get my head straight. Gazza should have done this.

The sun rose before I could get out of Hemel, not ideal but then I realised I was running along a pub crawl route that some friends of mine have done a few times. At 6am the pubs were closed, even in Hemel. I managed to cover this distance in less time than the 10 mile 6 pub stretch normally takes.

It was at some point down here that I got a message on the Centurion Team group (did you know I'm on an elite ultra running team?) That Mark Perkins had finished in 22 hours something, 20 odd minutes behind Dan Lawson. Those were both astonishing times from very capable runners each who had big races still in their legs. It was only a matter of time before 24 hours was broken on this course, I never thought it would happen twice by such a big margin.

As the sun came up I really started to struggle with my breathing, the path was a bit dusty which was getting into my lungs and making my cough and sore throat worse. Running a mile would leave me a bit wheezy. The painkillers were helping but not enough. 

Sounds like making excuses, it sort of is. I've been here over the 100 point of a race 6 times before and always had a fair bit left to carry on with at least a bit of shuffling. I probably could have done more running if I had the inclination but I was just a lot more knackered than I normally would be here.

So I put together a series of arguments as to how I was going to tackle this race from here on in, always seem watertight when 26 hours into a race and often follow the line of least resistance. I am really knackered, running makes me cough, splutter and a bit miserable, it's a really nice day, 34 hours would be fine and with 8 hours to do 30 miles that should be easy, yeah lets just walk the rest of this.

So I really just braced myself for a grand day out, it was 8ish in the morning and the sun was shining and what better way to spend it than walking along a canal?

I was still close to a fair few runners. Paul Ali and Stout were nearby as were a few others who I didn't know. 

I was met at abour 115 miles by Tim and Laura who have become canal groupies in recent years. They gave me a wonderful McDonalds breakfast which went down really well. McDonalds gets a bad rap for serving filth to idiots but in all my years of running I have just never found a better way of shoving 500 calories inside me in less than 60 seconds. Show me how I can do that with an organic pan piped quinoa and spirula salad?

I left Berkhamsted and headed towards lovely Watford where Mark Studdart popped out and walked with me for a bit. It was nice to catch up (or get caught up) and chat to him about how drunk his wife got the night before and other things. 

I was convinced that Lindley had moved this checkpoint. I forgave him because he gave me a bacon roll. Here once more were the usual crew of the Pauls, Andy, Dan and some others. It was about 9am, less than a marathon to go. 

Off I walked with Paul Ali for the next 12 miles or so, via another ice-cream. He had 4 in the whole race. With 27 hours on our feet, the sun starting to get at us again and a tiredness taking over it seemed like a perfect time to play a game of ultra twat. We basically each take turns proposing an ultra twat and then discuss. This is a great way to pass a few miles, so and so is a wanker, whastisface is a dick.  It can be quite funny if one suggests someone who you thought was OK. I've never been so tired that the ultra twat I have proposed was the twat I was currently playing the game of ultra twat with.

Anyhoo, what happens in Uxbridge stays in Uxbridge.

Paul had a millimetre view of how far away the end and the left turning was, this was his 5th running of the GUCR. I started to get a bit frustrated with my slowing walking pace and the fact that people had the rudeness to come out here on a bike ride on a Sunday morning. The section towards Bulls Bridge is a bit awkward and narrow and most of the cyclists were very pleasant and accommodating but the energy cost of having to look up and make decisions interferes with the ability to move my arms and legs. At this stage you really just want to put your eyes down and shuffle.

Th left turn came at last, it is always a wonderful sight. Well, wonderful for what it means in the context of the race. If I can quote myself from 7 years ago "Ultra running gives you a strange sense of romance for places that are otherwise shit". What follows now is probably the worst couple of miles on the entire GUC. You are knee deep in discarded cans, needles, goose shit, fly tipping and shopping trolleys and then at the end of all that you get greeted by Nici Griffin.

This is the last checkpoint of the race, the last two years I spend 15 hours here. It's grim but is great fun when there are loads of people around. Most of the battle here is to stop the people who like to chuck bread all over the checkpoint so that the psychotic swans all swoop down and destroy.

Nici did her best Henk impression and told me to fuck off out of her checkpoint but she could not do it without a smile and a hug, like I imagine Henk did in his early years. Jen Bradley was there too and wanted to run with me towards Paddington. Hopefully it was clear to her that not much running as going to be done now though when she told me I had slowed to 2 miles an hour I put a bit of a run on, running about a mile but then spluttering to a halt again.

My body was really hurting now, I had a sore shin which was probably caused by walking too much. I felt I had a couple of tastly blisters too. 

A slight romantic detour..

7 years ago now I first did this race. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I managed to finish in quite a good time. I learned so much about myself and realised that I’d found where I belonged. My feet had pretty hideous blisters on them, I obviously took photos and put them on facebook. I will post them in a comment in case you are eating right now. The following year I met a girl on the steps of my running club. She seemed nice and she stopped me and asked
”Are you James Adams?”
I replied yes (back then I wasn’t “The” James Adams so didn’t need to correct her on that
She then said “Get those HIDEOUS feet off of facebook!!”
She was refering to my profile photo.
Anyhoo, I facebook friended this girl and now I have been married to her for the last 2 years. It would seen that those hideous blisters helped get me a wife.
So remember when you are out there hurting in the night with pains that you’ve never known before, just remember that chicks digs scars and blisters and broken bones and incoherent dribbling.

I have run this last bit of canal a million times, or maybe a few dozen. It was my old commuting route to work. Every now and then I'd say "oooh a new dog shit bin!" The canal here is pretty grim, London has mostly abandoned this waterway. 

Claire and Drew popped out to see me into the last few miles. They had time to get home from Mark's finish, tackle an ant invasion of their house, have a few hours sleep and the drive back to London to see me. 

Without wanting to bore you all too much further I finished. It was about 35 and a half, I would have said at the start that was a pretty poor show but I am quite pleased with it. I was hoping to have a great race like I did the first time or at least something I could write an entertaining and epic race report like I did the second time but this was really a case of just carrying on knocking out miles while feeling shit. Something I've not been able to do for the past couple of years, something that was able to do in spades years ago.

It was nice to see it come back. I'm going to need it again next month.


One piece of advice before you run 100 miles

If I had one bit of advice for this kind of thing, based on doing it a few times and failing sometimes; it would be this;

Prepare for your conversation with Hypnos.


Hypnos is the creature that will make himself known to you as night falls. He is the God of sleep. He makes himself known when you are at your most vulnerable. You'd have just run 50-70 miles, a pretty hard effort so far.

When your heart beats slower, your breathing shallower and your temperature falls he'll come along with clever arguments as to why you should stop what you are doing and join him in his cave. He's got me twice before, he is probably responsible for more 100 mile DNFs than anything else.

Its good to go into the race with something already prepared for this guy, like when Percius chained his men to the boat and waxed his ears to save him from the Sirens song. It might be worth rehearsing your answers now. The more answers you have the more committed you'll be, the better you'll be able to beat him.

Here are some that I just thought of. You might all have your own.

Q - You've done enough for today, 70 miles is more than most people will do ever. You are still in the top 0.1%!
A - I didn't come here to be a statistic. I came here for a life experience. Now fuck off and let me have it.

Q - If you quit now you can get a good night's rest and spend tomorrow relaxing with your family.
A - Yeah, I'm really going to enjoy sitting on the sofa and hearing my little girl ask "Daddy, where's your buckle?"

Q - Merville and Rupard are beating you and they are shit! You don't want to be beaten by shit runners do you?
A - Comparing yourself to others is the quickest path to unhappiness. I will not go there.

Q - Your leg is hurting 7.6/10. It's only a matter of time before you will collapse in TOTAL PAIN!
A - Well you make the mistake of assuming that my pain is linear in time. That 7.6 may well go down. Also you forget that just by wanting that buckle more I also have the power to increase that denominator.

Q - You told everyone and blogged that you are going to do XX time, you are way off! Quit now and save some face
A - Anyone who I gain "face" with for quitting is not worth knowing. I'll defriend them just as soon as I've finished this

Q - But what are you going to tell people about your terrible time?
A - I will have a tale less boring to tell, not about how I got exactly what I expected but how I went through a shitstorm but came out clean on the other side. These kinds of stories tend to get more pints purchased for me.

Q - You are going to miss the cut offs.
A - "Going to" miss the cut-offs is not a reason for dropping. Missing the cut offs is. Let's cross that bridge if we come to it

Q - You are clearly having a shit time, why prolong it? End the suffering now!
A - Well in my experience it is suffering like this that beings about the most joy. Those prolonged times when you feel like you can't even move, that the world is conspiring against you, that you are a pathetic and useless waste of human flesh that has no right being out here with such great people. However you hold it together just enough to get through it, just enough to stagger out a finish, it might not be pretty but it will be done, and then that finish is yours forever, it becomes a lasting point of reference on which you can and will draw on forever. Persevering through adversity and coming out the other side is the greatest of gifts, because it is yours, uniquely so and can not be taken away or damaged. Life is about collecting these experiences. I feel rich because my head is full of these memories.

Some things I'm looking forward to this weekend

Some might call these "pre-race musings", others would call them "brain farts". Whatever they are here are some things that I am looking forward to this weekend.

The Greeting Desk

You'll be greeted at the Travelodge reception by a lovely smiling face who will ask "are you here for the big long walk?"

You frown and feel compelled to correct her and say "its actually a run".

She shrugs and says "suit yourself then, but be careful on those stairs - its on the 17th floor and the lifts are broke"

The Gas Street Goodbye

Gas Street at 5am in the morning kind of looks like a reverse university goodbye scene. Men and Women in their 40s and 50s are getting told by guys in their 20s "good luck" and "keep in touch" and "keep an eye on your drinking and try not to wake up in random places"

They do worry too much, it's time for those old people to go into the big wide world and try and stand on their own two feet. For days.

Mile markers

The mile markers start at 44 miles. So all you need to do is add 44 to the mile marker you are on. Easy. Apart from when it goes over 100, then its impossible. You celebrate the 100 and then a mile on you add 44 to 57 and get 91! Shit! I've just run 9 miles backwards. CALL RACE HQ!! I'VE GONE HORRIBLY WRONG!

Overtaking a boat

Yeah! Look at me, booming along at more than 4 miles per hour. 

Optimising my pitch

You'll pass a lot of people on the canal who would like to know what you are doing.

Early on you are full of beans and happy to bang on but only have a 3 second window to explain. You say really fast "Yeah We're all running from Birmingham to London along the canal, hope to finish tomorrow sometime, no I won't sleep, nope not for charity, about 100 people, no I'm not a pro. Yeah crazy LOL"

later on when you've slowed a bit you have less to say but more time to say in. Now you want to bring others into your world of pain by saying something like "Been running for 14 hours, still got 80 miles left. Will probably drown".

And then towards the end you are lying down in the grass while someone disturbs you on their Sunday stroll. You have all the time in the world but all you can muster to break the silence is "Doing....running......fuck" 

The Bridge

There are two types of people who run the GUCR, those who thinks it's a good idea to stop for a picnic at Navigation Bridge and those that finish. forgive me please super marshals if I politely decline your kind offer of tea and a biscuit as I know form experience that is comes with an added side of coma.

Buddy amnesia

This situation happens to me a lot. You chat to a guy for ages. You know all about his job, his wife, his running history, his dental appointments. You separate for some reason and during that time you put on a jacket and he puts on a hat. Then you cross each other again and start the chatting from scratch. "Hi, how are you? What do you do? Have you done this race before? When's your next scrape and polish?"

You both know it but neither of you want to deal with the elephant in the room that you've already been talking to each other for two hours and that it was boring the first time.

Speaking of Elephants...


Many hallucinations have been recorded in this race. Elephants and football teams. I have seen the canal turn into a canyon at night as the light reflects off the water and makes the drop look infinite. I've seen plants turn to gnomes and I've seen industrial buildings turn into those spaceships from war of the worlds. I swear one time I heard a guy tell me to fuck off out of his checkpoint.

Wearing my number on my front at ALL times


Thinking I've got really bad breath

But  then realising that people keep turning their heads because I am blinding them with my headlamp

Springwell Surprises

More of an event for the supporters, spring well locks has a car park, full of cars, at 3am.

You can play games guessing which cars are playing what roles. I bet the guy in the Audi is a wanker. I bet the guy in the fiesta is a wanker too.

And its funny when they drive away, they had no idea you were there as they quickly scuttle off. Not so quick is the guy on a bike, with a pump in his hand.

The Left turn

This is the most singular moment in any race I have ever done. After 132 miles you turn left and you are pointing at London.

At this point your brain will just float out of your body and head to little Venice, its work is done. The body will follow, like a zombie.

Mont Ladbroke Grove

143 miles there is a MASSIVE hill, at least 3 meters of vert. It is literally the HARDEST EVER HILL IN A RACE EVER

Kicking a gooses face off

I really hope it won't come to this, but I am now on series four of Breaking Bad and if its me or it then I won't hesitate

Having contempt for the Sunday joggers

Oh look at me! Smiling and jogging along at more than 4 miles an hour. Might have a latte when I'm done and then go meet Sophie for brunch. LA la la la da da la la la.

Its little wonder so many dead bodies end up on the canal.

Getting overtaken by a boat

Bastards. I wish I had a harpoon

Seeing the BT tower and thinking "I don't have to run that far"

Still a bloody long way though

Having my head pulled sharply towards the ground by a pretty massive huge medal.

The trick is to try and drink a whole pint of Guinness before falling asleep. Not managed that yet.

10 secrets to becoming a modern ultra runner.

People often ask me to write more. And when I say "people" I mean "one guy" and when I say "often" I mean "once". 

It was Gary Kiernan.

Anyhoo, being a modern ultra runner is a complicated business nowadays. No longer is it just a case of going for a bit of a run quite a lot. Oh no. Anyway here are some tips to help cuddle you through the complexities of one foot in front of the other.

1 - Ask social media to wipe your bum for you

If i had to guess, statistically speaking you are probably a 40 year old male who has 2 kids, has managed to hold down some sort of job and home for the last two decades and probably knows his way around a Black & Decker workbench. However, signing up to an ultra has done the strangest thing. Now you just can't fathom how to fucking feed and dress yourself.

But don't worry, that is what social media is for. Ask questions on everything. What shoes should I buy? What hat should I Buy? What watch should I buy, What gloves should I buy? What shades should I buy? What gels should I buy? What bag should I buy? What jacket should I buy? What bottles should I buy, What dog lead should I buy? 

And people are so helpful. They will tell you exactly what they bought and add the words "and I LOVE it!!".

For example. What Bog roll should I buy?

Andrex - Love it!
Charmin - Love it!
I LOVE Andrex!
Nouvelle - Every Time!
ASDAs Own all the way!
Andrex - Love it!
Charmin - All the WAY!!
Andrex super soft - great bit of shit

2. Master the dark art of ulterior transactions

Being an ultra runner you will collect lambs. They are fluffy and docile and will occasionally bleat with a like or a "good job!" With anything you do. However lambs will easily stray and to keep them close you need to give them the illusion that they are there to help.

The way to do this is to perform an ulterior transaction. For example "shocking day at the office today, just could not yet the legs going, was running as slow as 8 minute miles at some stage! Just about scraped 2nd male B52. Might just quit this".

Your words say "I'm a bit shit" but your delivered meaning will be "even at my worst I am still much better than you". The lambs will react, believing that their "wow, you are still waaaaaay better than me!" The lambs will stick around, giving you the occasional meal. 

3. Become an ambassador for something - then tweet the back doors off it

I'd like to tell you that being an ambassador is as glamorous as the Ferrero Roche ad makes out, but it really isn't. You won't get so much as a delicious little nutty wrapped turd.

However if you #persevere and #gohashorgohome then I guarantee you'd at least get one of those fake tattoo stickers in the post so you can really live the brand.

Oh - and if you do somehow manage to wangle some free kit, be sure to review it after less than 1% of it's expected life. That's how long it takes to know for sure. Like speed dating. I fully recommend Trudy for marriage and children as she gave it up for free on the first night.

4. Raise awareness of something.

Hear about that guy who entered races with his own money, paid for his own kit and air fare and wore his favourite top for the race?

What a shit!

No to make it in ultra running you need to at least pretend that you are mostly running because you give a fuck about something else other than the pleasure of running. It really doesn't matter what it is because no one actually even reads what you are raising awareness for, they just become very aware of you. HA HA HA Suckers.

5. Turn every form of discomfort into a disease

There is no such thing as being a bit hot and bothered. No, that's called Heat Stroke.

And there's no such things as been a bit chilly. Nope - That's Borderline Hypothermia.

And there definitely is no such things as a sore foot. Nope. That's now Morton's Neuroma.

I am sure there are 100s more, but I can't remember. I'm suffering from down hill running induced brain cell hemorrhaging. 



7. When it comes to the microscopic detail of your training, the world is your domain.

Don't be like those losers who just run without recording it, or perhaps uploading data onto strava and sharing with your own friends. No! If you can't inspire a bunch of 30000 strangers with the fact that you just ran 12.535 miles with vert of 353ft which takes you up to 56.225 miles for the month and you are "super happy excited LOL :) " then what's the fucking point?

8. If you think you are about to think a thought then for fucks sake make sure you write it in a pre thought thinking about thinking a thought blog post.

Shit I forgot to do that with these thoughts.



Remember the internet is there for you, not other people. If you are typing that automatically means that your time is infinitely more valuable than any chump who will end up reading your post. Why the hell should you scroll down? Let them write it all out all over again. What else would they be doing?

10. Pay £130 for some shoes in the same hour that you moaned about the price of a local trail race going up by a fiver.

You don't need a degree to organise a race and therefore it should not be paid. What the hell is the economic value of weeks of paperwork, planning, food buying, sleepless nights and financial risk? Its monkey work.

Rupert and Orlando used every ounce of their marketing degree learning to come up with the new name of that shoe. They honestly didn't just steal a name already used for a vacuum cleaner or a Hawaiian hooker. They totally deserve those mojitos.

11. Write a bloody book about it.

People will bu anything these days. You don't even need to be able to spell.



Bingo Race Report

In a rare break in the cloud on a cold day the sun briefly lit up the hillside across the lake to let in glow bright green against the grey sky. It was also a brief moment of quiet, with most other people off in the distance following a grassy slalom back down to the lake side. I embraced the break, the short moment of clarity punctuated only by the soothing rhythmic sound of my ball bags blowing in the breeze as I watched a clown chasing a dog over a hill. These are the moments that I like to quote when asked "why" I do such things. This is the kind of thing I will reference should someone ask me why I created the "World's most unfair race".

This idea has been rattling around my head for a few years now. I've made half arsed efforts to find venues and try to get it done but it never went anywhere, mostly due to my own lack of drive. It's funny, if someone capable of running a 50 miler said to me "I reckon I can do it but I am worried about this little thing and that little thing and I'm going to wait until those things are perfect in my own head before I try one" I'd tell them not to wait but to do it, that if you are waiting for that perfection it will never come. That the fog of uncertainty is an unavoidable but thrilling part of the experience and although your flash-light might only be able to see a few meters ahead you can still get to the end so long as you have a vague understanding of what the end looks like. And all that guff.

And so by procrastinating over putting this event on I was being a dick to myself and that is the worst person you can be a dick to.

So about two months ago I found a venue, I booked it, mapped a loop and told the internet that this was going to happen. It was all a bit short notice, a bit cobbled together, but I know what a good event looks like, I knew what I was aiming for. That would guide me through any detail that I had to plan.

The idea was simple, so simple I can't believe no one has done this before. There was a loop of just over 2 miles (2.3 to be exact), there is a time limit (of 10 hours) and you have a bag of balls (1 bag each with 30 numbered balls in). The runner has 3 unique numbers to get from this bag on their running bib. After each loop you pick one of the balls out of the bag and hope that it is one of the numbers on your bib. If it is you can scratch it off and continue, otherwise you just continue. You finish the race when you have picked out all your balls.

Though simple I think this creates some wonderful complications. You have runners of different paces doing the loops, some get way ahead of others just because they have been lucky in drawing the numbers. 

Here are some great photos of the race from Jamie Young

Someone will just get really lucky, finishing the race before most have even got warmed up. They can sit back and gloat for the rest of the day

Someone will just go for ages and ages without getting a single ball. They will start to think that there was a mistake in their bag and that their numbers are missing

Someone will get two numbers fairly quickly and think they are almost done. They will then spend hours and hours missing the one ball that remains in the bag and descend into an emotional mess


Someone will arrive at the race just before cut-off, with one shot to get the race finished. Only a fumble in a ball bag separates them from having something to show for 10 hours of hard labour and nothing.

Someone will nail the above.

Someone won't

I started the race with a warning that what they were about to do was very experimental. It hadn't been done before. It was really only then I thought about whether there was a reason it hadn't been done before. Was there a reason why something so simple had been avoided by the 1000s of race directors all over the world?

I was about to find out.

Incidentally I have another great idea that I can't believe no one has thought of before. Little bits of note paper that are sticky on the back so you can just stick them in places and write stuff on and remember it. They would be so useful. I have made them bright yellow and going to give them a snappy name like convenionotes. 

We set off the 30 solo runners and 5 teams on a 2.3 mile loop around the Box End Park. It consists of about half a mile of flat running on grass followed by a mileish of slaloming up and down a small hill followed by about half a mile coming back to the starting point. It was all very well marked and I wasn't too concerned about people getting lost. In fact I could actually see most of the runner most of the time from the HQ.

It really was a sight to behold, 35 runners heading off into the hills and weaving in and out of them.

The first big test of the race was the efficiency of the ball bagging area. Each runner was instructed to enter the ball bagging area, take a ball and announce whether they were successful or not. It got a bit busy first off and I did offer runners the advice "In my experience when someone has your balls in their hands it pays to be kind". 

The runners streamed in thick and fast after the first loop, it got a bit messy in the ball bagging area but fortunately no-one dropped a bollock and everyone got served. Dan Connors scored an early hit, pulling out his number from the bag, Amie Woodward also pulled one out. Most were unsuccessful, as expected. However they were fine with this. Amie had driven down from Hull in the morning, it would be a bit unfair if she was done in a couple of hours wouldn't it?

This race is a dream for maths geeks. I learned a new function in excel trying to figure out what the chances are of individuals finishing and also when I should expect my first finisher. With 35 runners and a 3 ball non-replace draw from a bag of 30 I was expecting the winner to be around 8 loops. Then maybe a finisher every other loop or so until the bitter end where there'd at least be half a dozen or so runners who will bust their balls until dark for nothing.

Just as the team of ball baggers were getting into the swing of things Amie, Dan and the team Dirty Gertie went and scored a second ball. The funny thing about this is that although they will think they are now "near" the end they are probably still miles away. With 26/27 balls left and only one to pick their chances were slim with each pick. It was going to be funny watching them suffer for the rest of the afternoon.

Piece of String Race veterans Stephen McCalister and Brian Robb each scored early balls too. Stephen drank a double whiskey for each correct ball he got and I think regretted getting one so early on. Sam Robson was enjoying not having any balls, Dan Park less so. Mimi Anderson who has more balls than most men I know in this case wasn't able to get her hands on the correct balls.

There was a team of three guys from the Kirkstall Harriers. They were pretty quick, treating the race like a weird interval session. They were bangong out the loops faster than any other, 4 per hour. However despite their speed and determination they were failing in the ball selection department. Three Northern Lads - No Balls. Sounds like a great idea for a sit com. 

Dan came back in. He was "winning" the race in the sense that probabilistically he was closest to the finish. But clearly that wasn't going to happen for a while as he reached into the bag and OMFG he went and picked it! He got the last ball. After 5 loops, about 11 miles of running and an hour and a half he's only gone and won the race! What are the chances? That was incredible. I had to reach for my stash of medals earlier than expected. As I was draping the medal around Dan's neck I thought it would be funny for Amie to see this as she was "so close" to finishing. 

But NO! She only went and finished too! And in only 4 loops! Just to recap - she drove all the way down from HULL that morning, to take on an EPIC CHALLENGE and then after 9 miles of running she's done. In my experience it's never a waste of time driving out of Hull but Amie went on a did a "victory" lap nonetheless just to make it worth the drive.

While she was doing that and Dan was enjoying a not-very-well-earned cup of tea Dirty Gertie came in and it HAPPENED AGAIN! 3 balls in 5 attempts. This was getting stupid now. Science where the hell are you you dick? This really wasn't supposed to happen. The chances of this happening are pretty astronomical, about a Bzillion to 1. I had used probability distributions to determine how many medal ribbons to buy, I bought more than enough, way out in 5 sigma territory and it was possible I was going to be shown up. I really should have put more faith in that fortune cookie instead of statistics, what did it say again? "You will reap what you sow".

So really I was contemplating the possibility that this was all going to be over my lunch time. I guess that would be in good time to go and watch Leicester City win 17-0. However it took a little while for the next person to finish.

5 hours actually.

AS plenty of runners picked up a second ball there were still loads without any. This was expected but it didn't make it any less funny. Barrie Williams ran a ridiculous number of laps before finally getting a ball. That'll teach him for running in a Motorhead T Shirt and Sandals.

Rich Cranswick and Chris Edmonds were trying to get their money's worth and trying their best to not pick the correct balls. They failed and managed to pull some out. Chris was running with his dog, poor thing had not idea what it was doing, just like it's owner. Incidentally seeing someone running an ultra with a dog was what gave me the idea of the Piece of String race.

Claire and Dan were running together. This is the kind of thing I wanted to see. A couple running together, one getting luckier than the other and then it all ending in divorce. 

Sam and Dan Park are good friends and Sam is a bit faster than Dan. Wouldn't it be lovely if Dan got the balls and finished in good time to mock his friend for still busting his balls?

The runners got into the groove, running into the ball bagging area and selecting their balls before celebrating or commiserating with a cup of tea. I think it takes a certain type of person to enter an event like this, someone who can handle lifes irregularities with a smile on their face though this was not always the case with Fiona or the Kirkstall Harriers. I think the Harriers were not entirely sure what they were getting themselves in for.

When the runners finished they were offered the memento of their ball bag, which seemed to excite them more than I thought it should. Some liked to count their balls at the end, just to make sure. I've done this at the end of some ultras too, it's prudent.

Special mention to those who slogged it out to the end. I had decided that anyone can start a loop before the cut off but that's it, that is the last loop. At around 7 there was a stream of 7 runners heading in with one shot left to make the race count (apart from Dan Park who still only had one ball. He was kind of like one of those football teams that get relegated in February.

And one by one the runners picked and missed. Some incredible distances were covered by the runners who had nothing to show for it. I think it was summed up well by Frank who later said "One person runs for an hour and wins, I run 100k and get nothing". It was true, Brian and Frank ran almost 100k, would have got a Spartathlon qualifier if they did one more lap except that it wouldn't count because it would still probably be a DNF.

Here is some great work by Sam Robson on the probabilities of the loops.

I'd like to thank my helpers on the day. James Elson for setting up the checkpoint and Drew and Claire for helping with that. Noel Jones for giving me the original idea for the location and being a great ball bagger as was Rob Westaway. Massive thanks to Lindley Chambers of Challenge Running who covered the First Aid for me. No one died and in my book that's a success. Did you know I had a book out?

The guys at Box End were brilliant, it is so much easier to put on events when you have people who want to see stuff like this happen.

There will be another Bingo Race on the 10th October. This will probably be 12 hours so slightly more evil. Details to follow. 

Number of loops completed on top. Finishing order below. Those names missing from the list are the fools who went all the way to the end without getting anything.

Number of loops completed on top. Finishing order below. Those names missing from the list are the fools who went all the way to the end without getting anything.


In the meantime  I am going to have prizes in the future for doing various things. These being;


The Luckiest Bastard Award - Dan Connors - For finishing the quickest

The Luckiest Bugger Award - Amie Wodward - For finishing in the shortest distance 

The Get Some Balls Award - Claire Turton - Who took the longest to get a ball

The Just Give Up and go Home Award - Dan Park - For going right through to the end but having the least balls

The So Close but So Far Award - Brian Robb - For spending the most time "nearly there" without actually getting "there"

The Most Pointless Award - The Kirkstall Harriers for running 26 pointless loops


Did you know I had a book out?

OK so you might have heard on the grapevine that I HAVE A BOOK OUT!

Not just one of those fake kindle books but a PROPER BOOK.

Basically the Kindle version sold well enough to fund a printing of the proper book. I decided to pay for the printing myself rather than go through a publisher.


If I can be so bold as to say that this book is much fatter than most other ultra running books. Honestly stroking my very own book for the first time was an experience unlike any other. I imagine this is how new parents feel.

I did my first book signing too - For the delivery man! He said he was giving it to his brother who does triathlons. I hope it can cure him.

Anyhoo, you can currently purchase this lovely specimen at the Centurion Running Shop. They will be dispatched w/c 23rd March. 

Needless to say I'll be banging on and on about this all over the internet and at races around the UK. Look out for the Running and Stuff WORLD TOUR - dates and venues BC.

PS I am always up for standing up and wanging on about running. If you would like me to wang on in front of your club or event then let me know :)


This is what 1000 books look like

This is what 1000 books look like

Country to Capital - 2015 (6th time)

I arrive at this race in the same way each year. A bit flabby from a Christmas spent boozing and a bit knackered from a 30 mile run the week before. 

This time I had the added drag of spending most of December ill so I am a bit out of practice at this running lark. But let's not make this one of those blogs where I rattle out a load of excuses for why I am slow. I am slow because I have done fuck all about it for 2 years. That's going to change this year. 2015 I am going to finish some epic shit again.

I start this race with 7 hours in mind. I know I should be capable of nearer 6 but 6 point something is always well received. 7 plus is a bit tardy. Funny how we get hung up on numbers.

This race always offers different weather and as we started it snowed. The race to the gate was ridiculous as usual, won by Tim Adams this year who had been training specifically for this. I actually wore Adidas racing flats though really because they are the best shoe I have ever worn for British mud running. 

Running as fast as you can for 400 metres down hill sure does loosen your bowels. 
My approach to this race is to always try hard for the first half and see what is left on the canal. The first 20ish miles are about half road and half mud. The freezing conditions technicalised the mud into level 4.7 sky running grade. It also covered some of the corners in black ice which I managed to take full advantage of.

I am trying REALLY HARD here to look like I am running. Oddly in having both of my feet off the floor I actually look like I am stood still.

I am trying REALLY HARD here to look like I am running. Oddly in having both of my feet off the floor I actually look like I am stood still.

I started too quick as people were passing me fairly constantly from the first checkpoint. At each and every checkpoint the staff would look at my knee and ask whether I wanted it cleaning. I said no, I look cool like this and chicks dig gashed legs. 

The scenery was lovely as usual and the snow made it even better. You can probably get an idea of how beautiful it looked from this picture which is only 93% my own stupid face.

We need more of this on blogs and facebook and in ultra running communities

We need more of this on blogs and facebook and in ultra running communities


This is now my 6th running of the event and you would have thought that I would know where I am going. I don't know "the way" as such but there are certain turns that I recognise and take. However I am not always sure whether I remembering the right way or the wrong way that I took the previous year. This was as I started running with a couple of girls (Sarah and friend who didn't recognise me from my arse) and I assured them that I probably knew where I was going.

I only actually took one wrong turning, going straight on down a trail when I should have gone right. I ended up seeing Sarah coming back. we decided to just carry on and re-join the course via a really busy road. One of those roads that goes from a 30 speed limit to a 60.

Half way and the trail turns into the canal. This is a welcome sight, it means that you are half way and it means you are on a canal. At this point I was close to Rob who said on facebook earlier that week that he might end up pushing someone into the canal with the week he's had. I let him pass. The sun came out. The geese are not yet psychotic as they will be in May when they think anyone running on the towpath is trying to eat one of their babies.

We had Goose for Christmas. Still have a fridge full of goose fat. They are really tasty. I am doing the GUCR without support in May so might need to eat them. I'll bring some parsnips.

Anyhoo the canal part of the run was fairly standard. I slowed and slowed, hoping to be able to get there in under 7 hours but realising it was slipping out of my reach.

I did have the following conversation with a chap who was running his first ultra

Him - So have you run stuff like this before?

Me - Yeah I've been doing this for about 8 years now. This is actually the 6th time I'm doing this

Him - OH MY GOD!!! What other races have you done?

Me (since we are on a canal) - Have you heard of the Grand Union Canal Race? I've done that one

Him- OH MY GOD!!!! That 145 mile one along the canal. What's the hardest race you have ever done

Me- Erm, have you heard of a race called the Spartathlon?

Him - OH MY GOD!!!!

Me (thinking) - Don't mention LANY, don't mention LANY

Him - I just read this book about a guy who ran across the USA and he stopped all the time to eat big macs

Me - OH MY GOD!!!!

I had to go for a wee and he was running faster than me so I wished him all the best and soon caught up with Drew and Claire who had overtaken me 30 miles ago when I stopped to have a shit. It was good to see them again and good in a horrid schadenfraude sort of way to see that Drew was feeling f****d too even though this was his 7th time of running this event. I do believe he has the WORLD RECORD!!!! for fastest time to do 7 country to capital races. You'll probably see him in the book next year alongside the fastest person to run a marathon dressed as a character from Frozen.

The last miles of the canal were a bit of a slog, though this was the first time I have run along this canal since I left London over 6 months ago. I used to commute on this and lived just off it (near the last Sainsbury's). 

So the last few miles became a jog down memory lane. The bridge over the wonderful North Circular that is the boundary of London proper and smells of curry. The bridge I used to piss next to when I was running home from the pub, the Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's, where I'd try to sneakily eat a bag of pork scratchings before getting home. Trellic tower, the worlds ugliest building, the Grand Union Pub that sells beer from about 10 different London breweries. Basically I was just wanting to get to the pub as soon as possible and eventually I did, 7.17 after I started. Not terrible but not great either.

There were pork pies at the finish

There were pork pies at the finish

So until next year....

Ultra Marketing Men

Right they boys and girls, thanks for attending this meeting. Ultra co have paid us 4 grand to come up with a slogan for their next race - The Ultra Run. It's 2.15 on a Tuesday afternoon and I for one want this all done by 2.45 as Gino's wine bar has a happy hour from three.

Graduate Marketologist- yeah I read about this stuff in Norks magazine, people run through deserts and jungles carrying their stuff with them. Its like extreme back packing.

How about "the ultra run - the gap year you were afraid to take".

Nah, we don't want to scare people off. Plus most of the people who do this are on permanent gap years so that would not make any sense.

Analyst - I watched TV show on this. What struck me was the camaraderie between runners. They make great friendships. How about " the ultra run - toil to the finish then make friends for evermore".

Too wordy Poindexter.

Brand Chick - in my experience I find the lazy use of superlatives and alliteration will sell anything. For example, did you know that the word "ultimate" has many of the same letters as "ultra"?

Wow, that is genius! I had no idea. I should probably put you on the Speedo account cos I hear they are struggling right now. Anyway, please continue.

So I am thinking something like " the ultimate race" or "the toughest race" oooooh I can't really pick between the two.

Well that's what I'm here for, deciding from all your ideas and I think we can have both. So here is it "The Ultra Run - the worlds ultimate toughest race".

Well that's it, job done. Make sure we get the invoice out quickly, those Jammy Dodgers are not free you know. Now of to Gino's to talk about my next skiing trip. No wait a sec, I left my beret at my desk.

Winter Tanners 30

I used the last of my ink printing off the  5 pages of instructions for the tanners 30 challenge. I tried to estimate the time it would take by reading blogs I had done recently but I never even mentioned the time. Oh well, it was nice to go back reading all that.

The first bit of map reading was to get to the start. I was going to run with Noel who lives in nearby. The m25 was closed where we needed it and we had the choice between the easier but longer option of going around the m25 the other way or a more technical and gnarly route through Wembley and Brentford. We took the latter.

So much wonderful scenery but I missed all that to take photos of my fucking face instead

So much wonderful scenery but I missed all that to take photos of my fucking face instead

The start was quite eventful. About 580Y into the run, just before the FL we saw a guy running back to the start who had FHG. Another only 200Y later we looked on the floor to see the chap had actually DHG and so went back for him, adding about 0.5 BM right at the start.

The weather was perfect and because of the LD we figured it would be pointless to only come for the 20. We were definitely going to FBD though, we put our head torches in our packs though JFL.

There was plenty of mud, the HSM rather than the MTTIH. We slipped and slides more like BAB rather than T&D which slowed us down a bit. There were a few times where I SAOT but managed to hold it together.

Soon we caught up with some familiar faces, Claire and Dan and some others whose name I forgot. We all chatted about running and stuff and a book of the same name DYKIHABO?

It was soon time for the first CP and it was very welcome, I immediately STBDOAPORC. A bit of ultra faffing and we were back on our way. 

We ran ahead of Claire and co, determined to finish this before dark. Not long later we took a WT and ended up climbing a CUH before asking some walkers where we were and then getting back on track. Within a mile we did the same thing again, except going downhill. Great way to EURATGP.

Eventually we got back on the correct path with a little help from a man on a bike and is intimate knowledge of fingerposts. He sure was a COCK.

Some more mud and plenty more hills and while changing his shoes Noel was SBEF.  I used the time wisely and SAH before we tried to MUFLT. For the second time we overtook a couple of ladies who didn't mind us passing though I thought they were MILFs.

We passed the PONR, or rather the point were we committed to doing 30 miles instead of 20. I was really pleased that there was not too much QT. It took us 3 hours just to run a HM. Still, as we all know it's the TPTC.

A few hours later we caught up with Claire and her gang. It was nice having some other people to follow and it's always useful to have SIN. The miles seemed to get quicker towards the end. You can check the pace on my STRAVA feed.

Eventually we finished in about 7.30, just before dark. A handsome PW but a really good day out. My first ultra for about 6 months. I hope you have enjoyed this efficiently written RR. Until next time.


SAH - Stroked a Horse
LHG - Lost his Glasses
CRWGA - Crossed Road with Gay Abandon
SAOT - Slipped Arse over Tit
PIAB - Pissed in a Bush
SBEF - Shocked by electric fence
MTTIH - Mud that turns into hokas
LD - Long drive
BAB - Bambi at Birth
T&D - Torville and Dean
BM - Bonus Miles
COCK - Chap of Curious Knowledge
CUH - Completely Unnecessary Hill
STBDOAPORC - Smashed the back doors off a plate of ritz crackers
WT - Wrong Turn
EURATGP - Embarrassing Ultra Runners Among the General Public
MILF - Mildly Inconvenienced Laden Female
PONR - Point of No Return
QT - Quitters Talk
HM - Half Marathon
STRAVA – Cockwomble
RR - Race Report

Like the Wind issue 3 out now

This truly is a wonderful magazine and a wonderful idea from an old friend Simon. The idea of the magazine is to bring you stories and inspiration from the world of running, great photos, great writing and all round running gold. 

This really isn't like your regular running magazine. I think the paper might be recycled but the content certainly isn't. This is a magazine you will want to read cover to cover and then keep for later to read cover to cover again when in need of some inspiration.

I might be a bit biased as there is a piece by me in here but the bit by me in here is possibly the best writing I have ever done. it's the opening scene in my book (did you know I had a book out). 

But there are so many great stories in here, at the end of each chapter I find myself stalking and tweeting the contributors, thanking them for their great article.

This really is a unique magazine that I think the running world has been crying out for. If you are looking for Xmas gift ideas then this would be a great one. 


Have a look at what's inside here and you can purchase it on-line.



The terrible and wonderful reasons I run long distance - BUY THIS BOOK

One of the things I hate most about running is the upyourownarsedness disease that seems to have infected the scene. Perhaps it's just social media that has made this seem more rampant.

Go onto Facebook and see how many of your friends or groups have posted a meme about the fact that while running slowly that you are still slapping everyone on the couch or that you as a "runner" are different from the "others" and the reason for this is that the "others" are fat morons.

Yeah you know what I mean.

Why would someone ever NOT go for a run? Why? Whhhhyyyyyyyyy?

Why would someone ever NOT go for a run? Why? Whhhhyyyyyyyyy?


I get loads from running. It gives me pleasure and pain, makes me smile and cry, makes me feel like I belong as well as lonely.  It has given me some of the most thrilling moments of my life, and some shit ones. Sounds like a bad horoscope doesn't it?

But I am at peace with the fact that I am not running for any super noble cause, I am not running for world peace or to rid the world of cancer or to raise awareness of badgers with dyslexia by going on fancy holidays with a pair of running shoes.

And I think most people are the same.

And I like it when others are honest about that.

And this book is very honest about that.

It's also fucking hilarious.

If you have not seen the Oatmeal "reasons why I run long distances" then do, it will be the best 15 minutes of your day today. 

I also reckon this is one of the best books you could ever buy, and not just because reading it will make you laugh and laugh a lot.

Mostly buy this book and keep it on your coffee table (sorry, I forgot you were a virtuous runner - I mean your green tea table). That way when someone comes to visit (assuming you have friends, cos runners are obviously so motivated and intimidating that people choose not to hang around because they feel inferior) you can throw this at them and tell them really why you run.

If you are not familiar with the oatmeal and the "Blerch" it is basically a long fight with a little fat demon which constantly flies around telling you that you should not go for a run. We all recognise this and we all let it win sometimes, or even most times. It's not an evil thing it's just part of us that likes cake.

Basically the book is a lot of this...

Spot on - apart from the fast moving bit

Spot on - apart from the fast moving bit

with wonderful glossy pages that you will go through over and over again. I won't say too much about it other than you really should buy this, it will give you more talking points than any other running book you are likely to read. It just made me laugh a lot, and actually contains some pretty inspiring stuff. Perfect for Christmas.

PS Did you know I had a book out? Obviously I didn't just write this post to say that but while I am here I might as well mention it. It's not as funny as the Oatmeal one but it does contain more poo so I guess that makes it better. It's only £3.29 on Kindle right now. It WILL be on paper copy soon, I have just sent off the contracts to print it. I am self funding so what would help is if (obviously the kindle sold more) but also if it got reviewed more so if you have read it and not put the 1 star on Amazon yet please do :)

I'm not sexist but....

I do have some valuable advice about picking a crew for an ultra. As some of you might be thinking of this as you sign up for stuff.

There are two bits. First is that however many you have in your crew, one of them has to be made the leader. This is not a leader in a Democratic sense but they must be a dictator.There will be no time for voting and dilly dallying when your runners is puking and crying and crapping themselves. Make sure there is someone in charge and make sure everyone knows this.

The second bit of advice (speaking as a bloke which therefore gives me the authority to speak on behalf of every bloke in the entire world) is to make this leader a woman. (Or rather, select one who is a woman in the first place, don't "make" her into a woman unless that's something he want's). Anyhoo I digress.

Now I don't want to be sexist and say that I think you should chose a woman due to their better organisational and multi-tasking skills, or the fact that they might function better when sleep deprived or hungry or have a more natural lack of squeemishness around body fluids. 

No; none of that. 

The reason I suggest making this leader a woman is that there is something about hearing the phrase "Oh for f**ks sake just f****g grow a pair and get on with it" that just seems to hit home harder when coming out of the mouth of a female rather than a male friend.


HELP ME I am an ultra Troll

I have a confession to make. For some time now I have been in denial about this but friends and social media observers have made the comment and I just wouldn't believe it. 

I have become an ultra troll.

There is a forum on the internet where people talk about ultra running. It’s a much busier place than the forum I used when I first got into this game. I was frugal with my questions as I realised people have limited time and perhaps I wouldn’t get the answer to everything.

I asked some wacky questions, like how would the wind affect my run along a canal and what was the best brand of string to use to measure the distance I travelled in a run on a map afterwards.

I got some useful advice, I got some useless advice.

But now here I am on the other side of it all, having run a few races myself, covered a few miles and spent thousands of pounds on fabrics, electronics and colourful carbon molecules that were supposed to make me better. 

I should be in a position where I can give useful advice or at least some commentary on my experience. Instead I have recently just been a sarcastic dick.

For example, at least three times daily there is a post that fits into this exact template.

“I am considering buying a new [Bag/GPS Watch/Shoes] and am torn between the [Brand A current model/Brand B current model] or waiting for the [Brand A newer, slightly smaller in a different colour model]. Thoughts?

Now I have some experience of buying bags and gadgets, I really should respond from my experience which would be something like;

“I wouldn’t worry about the differences between them, they are all effectively the same. If the bag holds some flapjacks, if the watch measures your time, if the shoes fit your feet then there is really nothing else to consider. Be wary of the gush of comments about come some saying [I bought Brand X watch and I LOVE IT!] for they are being manipulated by the post-purchase rationalization bias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-purchase_rationalization  where they insist that the thing they spent money on is great, even though it’s no better than anything else. It’s not their fault, they can’t help it, it’s human nature. Just buy whichever one is easiest to buy for you, it doesn’t matter how good it is anyway as you too will start to suffer from the post-purchase rationalization bias and think and tell everyone it is great”

But instead of useful advice like that I’ve recently been giving pithy comments such as;

“buy all the watches, all of them. That’s what everyone else does”

“Yes you certainly need new shoes, the more shoes you have the better person you are, just look at Paris Hilton”

Not very helpful.

And then there are the posts along the lines of;

"I understand that the key to running success is through the physiological adaptations caused by smart training and a healthy lifestyle, at least that is what the elite runners say, however I recently was exposed to a conversation from someone who works in “marketing” and he said I could bypass this by throwing money at the problem and that instead of the hard work I should be investing in some colourful gaffer tape for my thighs, some constricting tubing for my calves or injecting my face with the essence of beetroot, can you tell me what brand of these will give me the biggest placebo effect”?

Now here my most helpful advice would be along the lines of;

“grow the fuck up, you can’t get something for nothing, no such thing as a free lunch, you get out what you put in etc etc. If something sounds too good to be true then it is, despite what the marketing Ruperts will tell you, leave the snake oil alone, don’t go buying Tarquill another fucking snowboard. Ultra running is quite simple, you put in the work and you get the performance improvements, it is agnostic of wealth, isn’t that what appealed to you? If not then can I suggest Horse dancing or Formula 1 or Politics?”

But no, instead of imparting this wisdom I will instead comment with something spurious that sometimes gets taken seriously such as;

“The red tape, yes the RED TAPE – that’s the fastest because it reflects the infra-red radiation which causes fast twitch fibres to convulse slightly and spasm your foot strike”


But the questions that alarm me the most, and the ones I would like to help the most but again I descend into stupidity, it’s the ones asking for the very specific;

“Hi, I have a 57 mile race coming up and the most I have ever done before is 43 miles and I wondered what should be my precise eating schedule to handle these additional 14 miles? Should I change the viscosity of my food or the GI load? When should be my first bite and then what algorithm should I employ with each additional bite?”

I want to tell these people that the best thing I have found about ultra running is the exploration of the unknown. It’s the fact that you do not know the answers before you start a run but somehow along the way you pick up what’s needed and it is this, not the finishing or the medals that makes it worthwhile. That the best thing of running a long long way is a feeling of being free to make your own choices, your own terrible choices sometimes but you still can fight back from those and feel the glow of satisfaction.

I want to tell them that there is no victory in being given the exact programme to execute like a robot, to be a dog fetching a stick, an input-output script on a computer screen, part of a human centipede. The victory is in filling the void of unknowing yourself with your own experiments, trial and error, more trials, more errors, spending the years slowly debugging your own programmes and feeling the lovely glow of satisfaction when a gremlin is slain.

I want to explain that some things will never be known, there are too many variables and too few running opportunities that the “how to run an ultra” question will never be “solved” as a system of equations but that all we can hope to do is light up some of our own personal black space ourselves, it’s the colouring of this space that makes it good, not the completion of it.

But no, more likely I will answer with something like;

“Eat 23 grammes of cheese and onion crisps at mile 12.5 and then a further 14 grammes every 4.7 miles. Make sure the crisps come from a blue packet, cos cheese and onion crisps from a green packet are stupid”.


Maybe it’s because I am grumpy in my old age, maybe it’s because I have not done anything good in ultras for 2 years, maybe it’s because I haven’t sold a million books.

Or maybe I am just a dick.




Run or Die - Killian Jornet

You may have heard of this guy. He is threatening to make ultra-running mainstream and for good reason. You know that look of disbelief you get when you tell someone who does not run at all about people who can run 100 miles? Well that's the same kind of look you get when you tell people who run 100 miles about Kilian Jornet.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this book and I had no reason to believe it would not be a great read but I actually found it a brilliant read.

The guy is only 26, he has done more than most runners would dream of in a lifetime but he writes about it in a way that  really exposes how he feels about running in the mountains. I know we all like to say stuff like "without running my life would be a void" but in reality our life wouldn't be a void, we'd have something else to occupy our time, cycling or guitar playing or something. With Kilian I worry that if he didn't have the mountains and running he might actually die.

Hence the title I guess.

He is clearly very competitive and writes in depth about what it is like to constantly be racing others, however much of the book is on some of his "FKT"s such as running across the Pyrenees, the Tahoe Lake circular and climbing Kilimanjaro. He also talks in depth about his first Western States 100 race which, by his standards didn't go very well (He didn't win or get a course record).

He is very creative with his words without being wanky. 

A great and inspirational read for anyone wanting to know what it is like to be in the mind of ultra running's most elite sportsman.

Run or Die
By Kilian Jornet

Vote for me to dress like a Penguin

I have been nominated for an award for my book. The nomination came from Ira Rainey who won an award last year for his excellent book "From Fat Man to Green Man".

If I win I'll have to go to a ceremony and dress up smart, which sounds beyond my capability.

However if you have read the book you may have recalled Alex Bellini saying to me

James you are from London, you should run like a penguin yet you run like a Kenyan
— Alex

So it would be really fitting if I dressed up like a penguin. So get voting :)

Click on the picture below.