How hard should you try to beat a child at parkrun?

parkrun wouldn’t be parkrun without 37 little kids underneath your feet at the start line ready to bounce off like coiled springs. Off into the distance they fly as all the grown ups settle into a pace they know they can sustain for 5k. Soon enough all of these uncoiled springs moving at high velocity will wither into dead slinkies, wheezing and heaving and trying to take a mental note that this time next week they should sit indoors and watch Paw-Patrol instead.

Here I was on that start line of a parkrun, I actually felt quite good. Not in PB shape but ready to give some beans. As close to 19 as possible was the target. I even did a warm up jog, it was that serious, though not quite as serious as doing the flappy leg arse kicking that I see people doing before the race. Run.

Off we went, along a nice straight that usually clears for me after about a minute as I settle into my place. There are a lot of fast people here today, more than usual. The first k is busy but I work my way though the dead slinkies. I can still see a few ahead of me. No bother. Slowly slowly catchy monkey.

I pass a young boy who is practically walking after 1.2k. Then onto the gravelly bit where I hope the relative size of the pebbles will hold up the smaller-footed runners. 2k in and I have a slight battle with group of three boys from a running club. Running club ones are harder. Their coaches have probably shared with them the parkrun secret.

“Don’t set out like a fucknugget”.

They seem to arrange themselves into formation, blocking my path. They appear to me as skittles and my momentum could easily plough through and make a spare of this but parkrun is not about wasting other competitors. I think. Maybe I’ll check the rules.

So I bide my time, waiting for the moment one falls out of position and then vrooooom! Right through the gap. Schoolboy error schoolboys!

And that was it, job done. Only grownups in front of me now. I pick out the next target, a woman about 100m ahead. I’d do well to catch her now, it’s quite a gap but I’ll give it a go. I press on and then OMFG! I am not chasing a woman 100m in front of me but in fact a little girl about 20m in front of me. I’m trying so hard my perspective has blown. She’s about half my height, a third of my weight and does not look out of breath at all.

Don’t panic. More than half way to go. She’s bound to blow. She’s so small. It’s a 2 lap course which means I pass all the volunteers and spectators as I’m trying to overtake a small child. I have to do that thing where I try really hard to make it look like I’m not trying. Quick wipe the sweat off my face before they can see me, lower my cadence, unclench my fists and chat to everyone I can “Lovely day for a little jog! Such nice weather, taking it nice and easy. Can’t wait for the cake! Joggity joggity”.

I am dying inside. And she increased the gap! Shit! This isn’t going to be easy. Back onto the tarmac, no one can see me now. Doesn’t matter if I cry/bleed/shit myself I can still do this.

But the gap stays just as wide. I’m starting to doubt myself here. I’m starting to think about what I’m going to call this run on Strava. Will have to mention cobwebs and some sort of virus and maybe a hangover and some #brutal wind. No one needs to know.

But 4k in and it’s back on! She’s slowed a bit. On the gravelly section. Maybe she’s tiring or maybe she’s not got the best shoes on but I don’t care, I can take her now!

And I do! I don’t care how loudly I’m grunting anymore, right now beating this child is all my life has ever been about. I pass her and keep my foot down to create a gap. I’m not having her drafting me. I feel pretty pleased now, about half a k to go and I think I’ve got this and then shit! she passes me back! How utterly disrespectful.

No passbacks. That’s a parkrun rule isn’t it? (Will check the rules)

So I push even harder, now starting to lap some of the runners on their first lap and paranoid about losing her in the crowd. I get past again and I think this is it. I could never hear her footsteps anyway but I’m sensing it’s done now. There is a slight incline towards the end (0.0001%) where I reckon I have the advantage. I was going for “as close to 19” as possible and it’s looking like I’m going to hit 19 on the nose. Looking over my should a lot to “make sure I don’t clatter into the other runners on their first lap” I run through the finish in 19.03. I delighted with that time, but not as delighted as beating a little girl. That was special. She crossed the line in 19.10. Behind me, 7 seconds after me, a place below me, cos I was in front of her.

I’d love to tell you that my celebration for beating her was more graceful than Martin Keown here.

I’d love to be able to tell you that.



The Autumn 100 - My ultra comeback

So, let me tell you what was supposed to happen....

Do you remember this guy?

nic t 1.jpg

Of course you do. This chap played "Nicky Platt" in Coronation Street in the 90s. He was a 15-year-old gawky teenage boy playing a 15-year-old gawky teenage boy. Seems sensible. However, the makers of Coronation Street were keen to get ahead in the ratings. East-Enders were killing people off fortnightly, Emmerdale Farm dropped the sheep-shearing for some post office robberies and in Brookside; well, Anna Friel started kissing other girls.

They had their work cut out, so they decided to "Send Nicky to France"; on a school trip or exchange programme or something. Well, all that riding a bike with a baguette in the basket and eating cheese in a beret must have done some good as he came back three months later looking like this.

nic 2.jpg

This was my plan. This last three years was essentially me "going to France" and when I returned I was going to be ripped like buggery, Salomon flasks bursting under the pressure of my substantial pecs, quads that would fell any trees that had the temerity to intervene on my path and a six-pack so rippled it would grate my emergency poncho into ribbons.

Well, I'm not writing this from high up a podium, am I? Instead, I am having to paper over the cracks of a run that didn't go like a dream with a garbled stream of shit jokes.

So yeah, essentially I'm just picking up where I left off.

OK, so divert your mind from Adam's bullet nipples let's get this thing started proper.

My name is (The) James Adams. You may remember me from such tales as " 50 states of brown" and "The Spartathlon - before it was cool". I used to be seen jogging about in the nights and often instead helping to clear surplus checkpoint food at races. One day before I was about to set out on a 500k run across Tennessee in the US my wife called me to tell me she was pregnant, with twins. I can't help but feel I was partially responsible for this.

I finished that race, almost losing my nuts in the process but since I didn't need them again, that wasn't a problem. That was in July 2015. I took a 3-year break from running ultra marathons to observe these little people increase in mass and learn the words that I pretend I don't ever say.

I managed to get some running done at that time though. I went back to basics. I trained for a half-marathon and then trained for a couple of marathons. I think my compressed time worked a treat here. No longer did I have 6 hours a day to go chump about in some fields, but every now and then I got an hour where I'd shoot out the door and run as many miles as I could.

I got PB's at everything. 5k, 18.43, 10k, 38.40, Half - 1.25.50 and marathon 3.06.58. For my second marathon earlier this year I genuinely believe I got myself into "3-hour marathon" shape. I loved the training, the tempo runs, intervals, Tuesday night twenties, recovery runs and all that jazz. All I needed to do was to get the three hours and then I could relax and go back to chumping about in the fields. Marathon day came, it was 30c. #brutal in ultra speak. Despite the sweltering conditions I only just missed my three-hour target. By 49 minutes.

But enough was enough. I had an itch that needed to be scratched. I was so inspired by those Instagram "trail porn" shots that I longed to do a run once more where I could run a bit, set up a camera, run back, run past it, run back, run past it, run back, run past it, run back, run almost up to it but then accidentally squint so have to run back, run past it again and then run back and take the camera. That's the running I love.

I signed up for the Autumn 100, part of Vivaldi's "four ultras" series. A route of 4 out and backs along the river Thames and ridgeway footpaths from Goring. Simple but ingenious. As Vivaldi, himself would say "If it ain't Baroque don't fix it."

Do we still say “smashing it”? - Stuart Marsh photo

Do we still say “smashing it”? - Stuart Marsh photo

It's been a while since I've done something called "kit check". I've been doing the "bag of essential things" drill quite regularly in the last 2 years though. Nappies, muslins, bottles, wipes, muslins, snacks, waterproof pants, muslins and then anything I've forgotten can be made up of muslins. I figured the same could be done here. I stuff things like lights, bottles, food and clothes into a bag and about 37 buffs. If I forget something like batteries or gloves, I can just make it up out of a combination of buffs.

I had my three items checked, light, fleece top and waterproof. Lucky my phone wasn't checked, requirements are for "fully charged" and it was only 97%. I had to Instagram myself catching a train.

I think the last time I did a Centurion race I missed the briefing because I was doing a parkrun. He updated on the weather which was that it was going to feel like summer when it was light and winter when it was dark.

We went for a long walk into some bushes and then off we went, a bit narrow at the start, so we all had a chance to chat.

I set out nice and easy like you do in these things, you don't set out like you are trying to twonk a parkrun. The first leg had actually felt hot and bothersome. It was only about 23C [not sure what the blog weather inflation rate is nowadays] - It was a #BRUTAL 37C, and my secondary light source evaporated.

I haven't missed checkpoint food. I don't mean that in a bad way, I literally have not missed it because the spread on a checkpoint is exactly the same as at a kids 1st or 2nd birthday party. The only difference is that they have GU gels instead of Pombear. The first one was 10k in, and I snaffled a few ham sandwiches and crisps before peeling away to look for my children.

Onwards and alongwards to the turnaround point, but before that, I got to see the leaders heading back the other way. It's a really great race for that. Saying "Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, How the F**K are you ahead of me? Hello" for a good few minutes.

I had a nice chat with Wendy Shaw/Whearity on the way. That's another thing, people changing their names doesn't help with me trying to remember everything. I went on ahead but knowing Wendy is an infinitely better pacer than me I guessed I'd see her again.

Leg 1 finish - 3.49 - 35th

Leg 2 -

I was a little concerned about the vert in this bit (are we still calling it "vert"?) I went up norf a while back and ran up a hill with some others. They were saying things like "my local fell is Shephards Atoll" and "My local fell is Ninky Nook". I live in Bedford, my local fell is an access ramp into Lidl.

Thanks Graham Carter for the photo!

Thanks Graham Carter for the photo!

I walked with some sandwiches down an alleyway and then onto the Ridgeway path. I have run all of these paths at some point but do not remember anything except for eery flashbacks, such as now when I recall getting a van stuck against a wall. This part of the trail was wonderful, and it was probably good that this was done in the daylight as it was a bit bobbly (or are we still calling it "technical"?)

I passed Jon F at this point, he was on the phone as we exchanged "well done"'s, but I saw the look in his face. It was that "I've just run a marathon and now I really can't be arsed" face. Maybe he just wasn't ready for this kind of vert after living in Chamonix for a year.

The first checkpoint was only 4 miles in and I met Graham Carter for the first time (thanks for this excellent photo!) I also remembered my cup which I forgot on the first leg (Hope the RD isn't reading this and DQs me). A quick chat to him and the team, a few ham sandwiches and then off to the turnaround.

Each leg is about 25 miles, two legs are broken down into 4 quarters, so about 6/6/6/6 or so. Two of the legs are broken down into 4/8/8/4. You'd think that mentally tough ultra runners would not break stride at this. You'd think.

I didn't see anyone else really until the leaders came back. Soon after they passed me I was on going up and up, up through the fields that Stuart March uses to take amazing photos.

Stuart Marsh Photo

Stuart Marsh Photo

I thought I made pretty good time getting to the turnaround point. Now I was pleased it was downhill all the way to Goring, except there still seemed to be loads of uphill.

I had a punchy target here. I wanted to qualify for the Spartathlon (16.40) which about 9 months ago I thought I'd be able to do here. But inevitably training didn't go perfectly but was still thinking something like 18 hours was possible.

I wanted to get to half-way in not much over 8 hours. My one and only long run in training was running 50 miles in 8 hours. I got to halfway in about 8.20.

I changed my shoes, I'd been wearing Sportiva Helios which are delightful for knocking out 7-minute miles on the trails around home but not so comfortable for shuffling along at lower speeds. I put on some Hokas. I may have said nasty things about these shoes in a previous life, but nowadays I'm all for throwing money at stuff to make it easier. I am actually writing this blog in Grammarly which lights up red every time I write something shit.

Leg 2 finish - 8.28 - 24th

Now it was getting dark. When I first decided to do this, I thought I'd get most of it done in the daylight. But I didn't realise that the start was 10am, and I forgot that October is closer to December than it is to June. As soon as I left Goring for the third time it was dark, I headed up the main road then off onto the Ridgeway again for another bit of up and down.

Here I got chatting to a chap called Alex, he was doing both the 100 and 50-mile grand slams this year.

There comes a particular sweet spot in a race where someone is going to have to suffer your whole life story. This was that time (sorry Alex!). I felt miles 50-60 really quite comfortable and made a few places. The past was really easy to follow, like a trail dual carriageway. The first CP was great to see and seem to come quite quickly.

That said it is always tricky to know whether the van up ahead was a checkpoint or people dogging. Would I get an eyeful or a ham sandwich? Or both?

The checkpoint on the top of chain hill was wonderfully lit up. I was now drinking coffee instead of coke at the cps. Now at each CP I was walking out and drinking coffee.

In my head, I thought the down would be much more comfortable than the up, and I should be back at the CP in great time. It didn't work out that way though. I started to feel a bit crap and then get annoyed that things weren't like they were "in my day", such as the non-existence of retina-burning 9 million lumin head torches. I found that uncomfortable. I thought everyone had those fancy ones you program into a computer that calm the fuck down when near some other light source? Anyhoo, I was probably just annoyed that I was slowing down now and it looked like I wasn't going to win.

Eventually, I got back down into Goring. It was just gone midnight. I faffed in the CP a bit, having some food and

Leg 3 - 14.41 - 28th (Didn't get legged)

So I headed out on the 4th bit, to Reading and back. This was the business end of the race, literally as you run to a business park and back. I was pleased that DNFing didn't cross my mind. Gemma had the kids on her own all weekend, so I felt like I got the easier part of the deal here. Despite pretty poor sleep in the run-up to this race I didn't feel additionally tired. So no sleep monsters or DNF demons rattling around. Perfect. Time to get out there and bash this out.

Ahhhh f**k my legs had stopped working.

It's OK, legs are a minor detail. Just walk a bit, visualise that scene from Forrest Gump where he runs off his braces and just get into it.

That wasn't before I had to cower under a bridge to put my rain jacket on. It was raining quite a bit (are we still calling that "biblical", or maybe "Quoranical"?) It was looking like a grim trip to Reading. And then Reading.

It isn't long before you get to a sign that says "Welcome to Reading". This is an in-joke, like London Stanstead airport. It's fucking miles away. The meadows part was quite fun, the paths were a bit slippy, but the sky looked like it was opening up and the rain abating.

After the sign to Reading, I was on the river path which was mostly familiar to me. Reading just goes on and on. This was a test of my mental resolve which has improved considerably since earlier in the year when I tripped over a pinecone and then told it to fuck off. I just wanted the turnaround to come and thinking it must be around the next corner. I got passed by someone who said it's at least 2 miles away. 2 miles! Shit. It's not the distance but more the realisation that your internal GPS has just gone all numberwang.

I didn't wear a GPS for the race, I asked for advice on a facebook group about what watch was best, and people kept saying Casio or tailwind. I had a tracker on me courtesy of racedirector so I could put it on my strava later. I did have my cheap Garmin FR35 (I think) which only lasts about 10 hours when you switch it on, but it does just guess your miles anyway. It told me at 75 miles I had done 95. Totally counts! Then I thought about all those 0.4 mile walks to the chip shop and wondered "is it really only 0.3 miles?" All those trips I've eaten a battered sausage too many because I thought I was walking longer. Perhaps that's why I look like Nicky 1 and not Nicky 2.

Anyway, yes I made it to the CP, which was upstairs and had a balcony. Would have been pretty romantic if it didn't point at Reading. By this point, in all honesty, I just lost arsed. Couldn't be arsed doing it anymore. I couldn't DNF because it was 4 in the morning and I was in Reading. I just lost the heart to try hard anymore.

So I started to walk and thought I should be able to keep a good walking pace going, and if people start streaming past me I'll start running again, unfortunately, no one overtook me for a few miles, and by then my maximal leg spread was on par with an arthritic nun and I just could not get going anymore.

It was a long old plod, and I did not enjoy those meadows again. Meadow after meadow (not like that beautiful one in the field, but muddy ones in the dark. In Reading). I thought I had done them, I thought they were over, but then over a little bridge and this.


pangbourne meadow.jpg

I was really hoping to get this race finished before the sun came up. Back into the Whitchurch CP 4 miles from the end, my back seized. This is actually a lovely bit of the course (if I could see it). Sharp hills and nice trail, like in leg 2. I wasn't having much fun on it, and now I was getting overtaken a lot. I lost all idea of a time now and was just hoping to get to the finish in time to faff a bit and get on a train out there.

The sun did catch me, but it wasn't making much of an effort. More people zoomed past with that "I can smell the finish" spur.

I finished, 21.50 or so, 41th place.

OK, I made that sound a bit more grumbly at the end. Despite a couple of sense of humour failures around Reading, I was in good spirits for the entire race. I lost my target but was really happy to be back. I didn't really know how much I missed this and was so glad I didn't postpone again.


I remember a few years back James Elson mooting the idea of putting on some 100-mile races. He spoke of his desire to bring a bit of the "big time trail racing" atmosphere from the US to the UK. I said, "Nah mate, go to New Mexico and shit yourself then write a book about it, that's what the people want".

Well anyway, he did his thing, and I did mine. Now I'm not going to humblebrag about how many books I've sold, even by rounding it down to the nearest million, but I think we can agree that James has done pretty well here.

These events are stunningly good. If you enter a 100-mile race, you will get a brilliantly organised and well catered 100-mile race. Hang around a bit more, and you get sucked into the most amazing of communities. It's infectious. There was a buzz like a school reunion, only this was with people you actually like.

So that's 3000 words for my first ultra blog in 3 years. I'll try harder next time!

There is a gender "gap" in ultra running, but that might be OK.

If you look around the startline at a 100 mile ultra marathon you'll probably notice more men than women. That is of course if you can tell the difference, they all look pretty much the same when wrapped up in compression gear and have bottles strapped to their chests. Beards seem to have gone out of fashion. 

It's probably best to look at the Ms and Fs on the start list if you want to gauge how many of each group there are in the race. If you do then in pretty much any ultra in the world there will be many more Ms than Fs. The split of Ms and Fs in the population at large is 50/50, why is it not the same at the start line of a 100 mile mountain race?

What is the explanation?

1 - This discrepancy part of a fiendish and deliberate plan to exclude women from competitive ultra events?

2 - Could it be explained by a more subtle process of social conditioning where women are gradually told over a lifetime that they do not belong on start lines like this?

3 - Or could it be explained by choice? Could Men and Women be inherently different in ways that ultimately less of them chose to be here?

Perhaps bits of all three?

What happens when you suggest one of these on facebook or twitter?

Say 1 - Race directors will take exception and defend themselves. This was a valid explanation a number of years ago.

Say 2 - Hearts and thumbs. So many hearts and thumbs.

Say 3 - Well...


I am a woman. I guess I should just give up then

I am a woman. I guess I should just give up then




I am going to try and put it on the table, with a blog, since it gets swiped off the table every time someone says it on a facebook discussion. I believe that the gender gap we see in ultras is partially driven by biology, I don't believe it will ever be a 50/50 participation rate and I don't think this is necessarily a "problem"

You may disagree. That's fine. I am open to the possibility that biology plays no part, but I don't think the evidence is there to say this with certainty, and so I don't believe people who suggest it should be lumped in with the flat-earthers in a torrent of virtue signalling online. The evidence to rule out biology completely is impossible to get, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I don't think it should be discarded as a possible explanation."

First things first. Let me start with a bit of n=1 virtue signalling of my own.

--start of virtue signal--

Between 2007 and 2015 I ran a bunch of ultras. Dunno how many. Probably more than 50. I've done some of the "classics" - Spartathlon 3 times, Badwater, UTMB, Grand Union Canal Race. Some of the lesser known like the Vol State Race and the Northburn 100. In 2011 I ran the Los Angeles to New York footrace.

It was the day before the start of the Vol State race that my wife called to tell me she was pregnant, with twins. I was in Tennessee preparing to run 500k unsupported across a state. She was in New Zealand. I wasn't going to see her for a week and in that week I'd be trying to shlep across a state in really uncomfortable humidity.

I changed that day. Ultra running no longer felt so important. All I could think about were those babies. Since their birth nearly two and a half years ago I have not run an ultra marathon. If you told me before that day in Tennessee that I would not run an ultra for 2.5 years after their birth I would have laughed, or perhaps been quite sad about the prospect. I'd have been shocked to have been told I'd not run another ultra in 2.5 years after but I am more shocked by the fact that I haven't wanted to run one either.

The kids have taken over my life. I have moved jobs to spend more time with them. All my weekends are with them. I get them up every morning and put them to bed every evening. The time I used to spend running I am now spending changing nappies, making food, reading stories, pretending to be a jellyfish, holding a crying child in the night and letting them jump on the bed when Mum's not looking. What was the time I'd be running 60+ mile weeks and running some event most weekends is now totally on them. And I love it. They have been alive for about 800 days now. Wracking my brain to think of how days have gone that I've not seen them. I think it's 3. 

I have in the past year managed to train for two marathons, getting up to about 50 mile weeks. These 50 miles are rarely done on the kids time. I leave the house at 4.30am to get 10 miles done before they are awake at 6. I did my long runs on Tuesday evenings, 20 miles from about 7.30-10pm, feeling pretty tired at the end as my bed time is 9 nowadays. I might occasionally get out for a weekend run while they nap but I put the kids and family first. I will cancel a run if there is any issue and have had to pull out of a few half marathons when the kids are sick. Sometimes I'm just too tired to run after being up all night. Sometimes I don't run if I think I need to be at 100% for the kids.

But I managed to get the training in. Every hour spent on facebook is a missed opportunity to go and jog. And now later in the year I plan on running a 100 miler. Preparation for this is different. I reckon I will be fit if I carry on with the 50 mile weeks. I often think ahead to the next race, mentally rehearsing what I am going to do, but this time it's different. The "what to do when I feel sleepy or have a sore leg or am thirsty" doesn't cross my mind anymore. Now it's "how am I going to feel 12 hours in when I'm sore and sleepy and all I can think about is putting the kids to bed?"

Like I said, my brain changed that day in Tennessee. As far as ultras are concerned I want them less, and now I am going to do one the mental barriers are different.

--end of virtue signal--

OK, a bit more

--start of more virtue signalling--

My twins are boy and girl (I said Boy first obviously because he came out first). I am well aware of the stereotyping that goes on. We want them both to wear nice bright clothes, they like bright colours, but most shops sell grimy looking greys and blues with diggers and dinosaurs for boys and the sparkly princess purple bubbles filly bright stuff for girls. We often put him in a dress, because he likes it, lets face it, wearing just a dress and a nappy in the summer sounds pretty comfortable to me. Haven't tried at work yet because of "society".

I'd love for my kids to share my interests. I'd love it if they got into running and statistics/data science (my job). These are two  male skewed activities, I have no desire to push the boy into one of them any more than the girl. I'd hate for either of them to get excited about cars. They already know "Mummy's car is blue and Daddy's car is red". That's the extent of my knowledge of cars. I have nothing else to teach them on that. 

--virtue signal ends--

Let's leave biology on the table

Studies are ten a penny demonstrating that "social conditioning" is associated with the social conditions we see.  Stories of women being marginalised when getting into sports (and other things) are rife too. I am sure every woman has a story of how she's been told she shouldn't be doing [insert manly activity].

We can observe the outcomes easily enough. Men get paid more, go to prison more, race motorbikes more and women are more concerned with their appearance, take caring and teaching jobs more and spend more time with their own kids.

How much of this is the conditioning? How much is the biology? Is this a case of identical brains been given two different treatments over a lifetime and ending up with the behaviours we see? Is at least some of it a case of those brains being slightly different to start off with, reflecting somehow the different physical biological roles men and women will later play in life to propagate the species?

Is that last sentence such an outrageous thing to believe?

Conditioning (and/or/not/via) biology is one of those things that is really hard to know. You could take thousands of new born babies (or better still newly pregnant couples) and stick them in a lab for 30 years, make sure that regardless of the gender of the child is treated to the same upbringing. They get the same amount of diggers and tiaras. The girls get pushed into racing bikes and wrestling just as much as the boys. The boys get told they look pretty (my boy loves to wear a dress and prance around saying "I'm beautiful") and obsess about their appearance just as much as the girls do.

Then at the end of the 30 years we'll see. In terms of hobbies is there an equal gender split on boxing, football, crafts, cooking, writing and other pursuits. If there are then we can safely say that 100% of the differences we see in these gaps today is caused by that conditioning and 0% caused by biology.

But we can't do this type of study. It's impossible to separate. It may well be the case that all of the gap is caused by conditioning but at this point we don't have the evidence (nor are we able to get the evidence) to confirm it. Or rather we can not reject the hypothesis that the biological component of this difference is 0. I think it's reasonable to believe it's greater than zero. 

So my prediction is - "Some of the gender gap in ultra marathon participation is due to biology"

OK, you may not agree. But if you are open to the potential nonzeroness of biology's impact on a persons desire to run 100 miles in the mountains then please go ahead and suffer my ability to explain some stats stuff.

Mind the gap

When people talk about a "gap" they imagine a distribution like this. That when we say "men are more thingy than women" we are talking about two completely separate groups of people who to not overlap at all. This is the "gap instinct" I recommend reading Factfullness to get a really good view of how stats are abused.

big gap.PNG


In actual fact when we say that men are more "thingy" than women we are really saying "the distribution between the thingyness of men is skewed slighly higher than for women". Doesn't roll off the tongue. Isn't so easy to express as a single digit and isn't as convenient for blaming someone or something. 

So here is what a couple of normal distributions of thingyness, where men have an average of 51 and women have an average of 50. (variance 10).

distributon of thingyness.PNG


You can only just tell them apart! You could go through your life not knowing that men and women differ at all in thingyness. Most of the people you meet will have thingyness in the range of 25-75, you'll know some women who score 70 and say they are very very thingy, you may meet some men who score 30 and say "I don't like him cos he's not very thingy". There is practically no difference between these two groups, none that you'll really notice in your every day life.


extreme thingyness.PNG


When you zoom into the extreme, to the numbers of people who score 90 or higher for thingyness, what do you see here? Way more men than women. About 0.04% of the female population score above 90 whereas about 0.06% of the men get there. So (assuming there are the same number of men and women to start with) the ratio of men to women in the 90+ score the split is 60% and 40%. That's a massive "gender gap" on what is only a slight and almost unnoticeable skew in normal life.

If we allowed for men to have an average thingyness of 52, so still only 4% higher on average and still pretty much unnoticeable in normal life this gap at the 90+ fringe extends to 69/31. 

See where I'm going with this?

If "Thingyness" was some sort of amalgamation of attributes that are required for running 100 miles in the mountains. Risk taking, narcisim, desire for kudos, confidence, over-confidence, lack of empathy or connection to others, response to dopamine and adrenaline etc and that only those who score 90+ will have any desire to run 100 miles in the mountains then you get this gender gap without much of of a difference between normal people. An almost unnoticeable difference between men and women manifests itself as a much bigger difference at the extremes.

So my overall point, you could still observe massive gender gaps in the extreme ends of sports without their being much underlying differences between the two sexes. Averages are easy to calculate and put in articles but they mask so much information. Think about what you are doing when you calculate an "average" of 10000 people. You are creating one figure and then discarding 10000 bits of information. An average is not a great descriptor of how different some things are.

OK. Second thing, let's take a diversion via some bullet ridden planes

Abraham Wald was a statistician employed in the second world war to help with the design of planes. They needed armour, but armour is heavy so not too much. He looked at a sample of planes that had been in action and looked at the distribution of bullet holes. Most were in the wings and fusilage, very few bullet holes were around the engine. Where should we put more armour? Where the bullet holes are of course.


Wald had a great insight, he asked "what about the planes that don't come back?" Any decision using this sample was going to be prone to survival bias, the tendancy to only look at the things that have already passed some "test", in this case, not getting shot down in battle. Wald decided to put the armour around the engine, since there would have been plenty of planes with holes in the engine, it's just that we can not see them because they are on the floor behind enemy lines.

And so, back to ultras. Here we are asking "why are less women not running ultras" and who are we asking? People who run ultras! We are not asking the most important group of people, those who don't run ultras. I think there is little to be gained in asking only those who have "survived" in this way what the barriers are to survival. 

wald pie.PNG


We should be asking the 99.8% of men and 99.9% of women out there who are not at the start-line of a 100 mile mountain race why they are not. There is little to be gained in sharing articles to the blue people.

Ultimately what I find most difficult about talks of "gaps" is that it's often an individual saying "this percentage is wrong, I want it to be this other percentage" and then offers "society" as the explanation to the difference, a faceless villain against whom we can thrash our virtue signalling clubs against on social media. It might be the result of free will, and it might be the case that the free will of those 99.9% of people who don't do a thing might just be a bit different from the 0.1% of people who do. "I want people to be more like me, the fact they aren't is because of "society," I am going to fix it via top-down compulsion".

So here I am arguing that there may not be a problem at all, and so am nervous about top-down "fixes" to this problem. I am going to do my bit in my own interactions though. I will keep on putting my kids first and my running way down. I will spend as much time with both of them, try to inspire them into sport and activities but ultimately taking a lead from them as to what they want to do. I will do the occasional ultra, I will talk all day to anyone about ultras if they want to. I'm not going to stress about who hasn't made the same choices as me. 

Further Reading.

I haven't scattered links to "peer reviewed" papers supporting my points. It's more an attempt at a logical flow of possibility. It is shaped by a lot of books I have read and a few are here.


Yes! He is the cousin of Ali G, but also has written a lot about empathy and how brains relate to others. Including a view then Men are (slightly hgiher skewed) towards "systemising"


The brilliant late Hans Rosling talks about why wleap to the wrong conclusions about statistics, particularly when we talk about "gaps"


Great chapter on the Wald story


Running and Stuff
By James Adams

Story about a big girl who just shits himself and cries









BARIM!!!!!!! - Milton Keynes Marathon 2018

At my school there was this kid, he must have been about 2 foot nine. He just seemed to want to get into fights. With minimal of provocation, he would just leap onto someone twice the size of him (most people) and start trying to scrape and gouge, like a demented honey badger. We called him "Barim" as that was what he would yell as he leapt to his ascent of the victim.  (I think he meant to say "batter him!") 

But it was only ever a matter of time. Weighing all of about 40 pounds his flailing and scratching was never going to succeed. The inevitable victory of physics will see a well-struck punch or kick send the little bastard sprawling across the playground, maybe inviting an extra kick in the head if he rolled into the girls playing hopscotch. 

He didn't seem too dejected though. He'd just stand up, dust himself off and run off onto another misadventure, presumably with zero chance of success.

I think Barim was the inspiration behind my race this weekend. In short, I had trained to run a 3-hour marathon. I think I was there, at least in cool conditions. Unfortunately, it was hot, 27 degrees. I'd need to be capable of running a 2.45 cool marathon to get sub three today. The typical advice is to "adjust your goals" and go for a more conservative time, maybe 3.20 or something. A target my own size.

But I didn't want to do that, I wanted to be like Barim. I thought "fuck it, I'm going to jump on this beast and try to scratch its face off until it boots me across the tarmac". No chance of success and every chance of a good beating. 

So anyway, yeah I wanted to run a three-hour marathon. I thought if I told enough people about it then it might help it happen. Today there was no chance of it happening and if I did try I'd pay heavily. Two weeks before I watched all those trying the same in the London marathon have their big day spoiled by some uncharacteristic good weather in the UK in April.  It was sad to see so many friends miss their targets, but my understanding of probability gave me hope. Well that's summer done with, a nice overcast 10C for my marathon guaranteed.

The day before I stood outside at 10am. I thought "this feels ok, a bit warm but I can get on with this". It was due to be the same tomorrow. Tomorrow came, after the lubing and the queuing for the toilets and deliberately getting the L and R on my socks correct I stood at the start line shortly before 10. It was uncomfortable. I was hot and not even started running yet.

There was the usual pre-race talk about the greatest day of our lives and then straight into the countdown. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 - BARIM!!!!

The first mile is always hard to gauge. You feel like you are not running fast enough as you try to wind past flappy arms Steve, grunting Pete and "started way too near the front still twiddling with your iPhone" Malcolm. I recall the first mile is uphill, so don't bother too much if the pace is a bit sedate, say 6.50. 

I am still subscribing to the slowdown approach for marathons, a realistic view that you WILL slow down in 26 mile, whatever the pace so I was aiming to be running the first half in about 1.28 and then the second in 1.32. My first miles need to be around the 6.40 mark. The first was 6.31, so far so good. I saw a couple of Serpies pass me at this point, they were much faster than me and would normally be going under 3 themselves. I didn't try to stay with them.

I held it pretty well for the first few miles, they are exposed on the boulevards of Milton Keynes. Water was every 5k and I was going to drink and splash myself at every one. Any chance I could take to get cooler. 

I felt like I was within myself for the first half an hour. Knocking off some nice miles 6.49, 6.47, 6.32, 6.42, 6.31. This is what I would normally do. At 5 miles I got caught by the 3 hour pacer, I carried on as normal and seemed to drop him again. That felt good. Those miles from 6-9 I wondered whether this might happen after all.

STAY AHEAD OF THE BALLOONS! - Credit (Photos taken by official photographer Tony Sargent at mile 11 near the Peace Pagoda, Willen Lake)

STAY AHEAD OF THE BALLOONS! - Credit (Photos taken by official photographer Tony Sargent at mile 11 near the Peace Pagoda, Willen Lake)

I was wearing my fetcheveryone running top. It seemed to be a good bet for pbs over the last couple of years, plus I can only fit into it when I am in shape. I don't think the black makes a difference. Check out this link for 101 colourful graphs of how my race went to shit. 

Gemma and my 2 year old twins were waiting for me at around mile 11. Mile 10 was my first mile over 7, 7.04 but then I got it back under at 6.59 for 11. I knew now things were going to unravel but I at least wanted to stay ahead of the balloons until I saw the kids. I didn't want them to see me chasing balloons. 

I made it, just. It was nice to see them and at that stage looking "on target", but I knew as soon as they were out of sight my grip on the bigger boy was about to falter and the kick across the playground was imminent. Mile 12 - 7.19, mile 13 - 7.20, Half Marathon - 1.29.50. The balloons passed me without much of a fight. 14 - 7.34 15 - 8.11! 16 - 8.03, then the punch. Finally the race had had enough with me and dispatched me across the floor 

It's a shame this wasn't a half-marathon. In the conditions I would have been happy to just run under 1.30, keep it looking tidy and write it off as a hot day. I felt like I had just raced a half marathon and now had another half to do. I felt a bit sick, my legs were jelly and I felt quite hot and bothered. At this stage whether I got 3.15 or 3.50 wasn't a concern. I felt quite binary about it. Sub 3 or whatevs.

I started to walk, something I've not done in a road marathon for sometime. I debated dropping out. I had no reason to. I was fine, just spent. I've felt much worse in races with much more than 10 miles to go. 

I think I may have forgotten how to suffer. I could have run more. I seemed to be happy to stay in the "plod when you can" mode that I might usually be if I was near the end of a much longer race. I enjoyed the spectacle though. City road marathons are fun! People lining outside their houses giving out ice-pops and spraying me with water. Sometimes I just wasn't looking and got shot right in the face.

Textbook pacing

Textbook pacing

I felt pretty comfortable once I started to walk though I didn't fancy spending all afternoon on it. Walking about 14 minutes a mile (I was quite pleased with that pace) I did at least run some towards the end. Every time I did run I passed many more walking. One chap who said he was "taking it easy as he has a 100 miler in a few weeks" - bloody smug ultra-runners.

I need to up my whinging game when I get back into ultras. Here I am talking about feeling a bit sick, a bit hot and bothered and my legs being a bit knackered. In ultra speak that's SEVERE GI DISTRESS, BORDERLINE HEATSTROKE and CATASTROPHIC LEGGULAR DISTROPHY. I need more practice at blogging.

I finished in 3.49, (SO CLOSE!) The finish in the stadium is pretty cool. Milton Keynes you should take a bow as this is an incredible event, well recommended.

I don't regret what I did. I wasn't really interested in adding another 3.1x marathon to my results. Even after I'd blown it I had a lot of fun. I am going to give myself a couple more shots at the marathon distance in the next couple of months but I won't be clearing much space for tapering. I want to get going on training for the Autumn 100 in October. The actual "training" is going to be similar to marathon training anyway, just adding a bit more slow plod to my usual tempos and shorter runs. I really enjoyed the process. The Tuesday night 20s and leaving the house at 4.30am on Sunday morning to have the country roads of Bedfordshire to myself while I tried to run fast. That was nice. I'm going to try to keep on doing that.

I can't race that much, it's hard on Gemma having to look after the kids while I'm running. My lack of races could be a blessing though. I think I am willing to burn more now.

I do wonder what became of Barim. I wonder if he grew taller? I'd like to think he's now an accomplished rodeo rider. Who knows, I wish I knew his real name. Hopefully he may recognise himself from this and feel that warm and fuzzy feeling that the 1001 fights he lost in school were not in vain but 30 years later they would inspire a man to an epic positive split in a marathon.

MK Marathon 2018







I'm going to say it

I'm going to run a sub 3 hour marathon next Monday.

I'm hoping that just by saying it that might give me a 1% lift during the hard times that might see me over the line.

Who knows.

This is as ready as I've ever felt to do it.

Let me indulge myself by pretending you are interested in my marathon history...

I ran my first marathon in London 2000 and got 4.35. I did a few long runs beforehand but wouldn't say I followed much of a "training plan"

Three years later I ran London again in a more respectable 3.55. I did more running but wouldn't call it a "plan"

I did a few more marathons over the next few years having joined a running club, making incremental progress and running around the 3.35-3.50 range. 

Then in 2006 I did some proper training, with a running track and "yassos" and "fartleks" and "20 milers" and "tempo runs" and "hills" and all that kind of jazz. I was hoping to make some inroads into my 3.35 pb. And whaddyaknow? The training worked. Marathon done in 3.12. 23 minute pb. Almost a minute a mile faster than before. That is huge. 

But then I fell in love with ultras. I wasn't going to do a marathon fast again. I was fine with this. I was running "marathons as training" - feeling pretty smug and sanctimonious about it while I went into the world of running 50 milers.

Then in 2008 a curious thing happened. On a "double" weekend I ran the three peaks fell race (24 miles of fairly gnarly hills in yorkshire) on Saturday and then headed down for the Shakespeare marathon on Sunday, 26.2 miles to make the weekend up to a 50. It felt quite nice, easy in fact. I didn't want to hang about as (The) Ian Sharman was waiting for me at the end to give me a lift home and so I pushed it a bit and finished.

In 3.07.55

Looking back I wished I hadn't of done that. It poisoned me with a feeling that a 3 hours marathon as just going to fall out of my arse at some point while jogging the longer stuff. I was probably "3 hour fit" at that point but never sought to prove it. Like many ultra runners I developed a bit of snobbishness about "just a marathon". The thing that needed to fall out of my arse was my own head. Any distance is hard if you try to do it faster than ever. One marathon at 100% is worth more than a dozen at 95%. 

But the snobbishness continued for a while.  "I am an ultra runner! Better than all these marathon losers! I'm just going to run 3 hours one day when I feel like it!"

That was 2008

Then came 2017. Many things have fallen out of my arse in those 9 years but not a sub three hour marathon and not even anything approaching a PB.

Having twins certainly changed my running. But this could be advantageous. I can no longer just bugger off around the world for a week to do some cool looking race. I can't go to wednesday night runs in London and then drink my face off in the pub. I can't say on a Sunday morning "I'm off to chump about in some fields for 7 hours and when I get back I won't be able to walk". 

But I can do marathon training. I get lots of 90 minute windows in the morning and evening. I can do a decent tempo run or some intervals or a steady 10. Fitting in the long runs might be a bit harder but I can do it. I can train for a marathon.

So last year I did. I found it hard. I didn't do nearly enough of all the things I wanted to do but I did at least do some. I felt like I was returning back to basics with running. I had to figure out again what shoes I felt fastest in, how much to drink and eat before and during a long run as "stopping at a picnic table and yomping a few pork pies" was no longer feasible. I went into the Leicester marathon 5 months after a decent half marathon pb (1.25.50) and more recent 10k and 5k pbs (38.40 and 18.49). 

I went into the Leicester Marathon feeling like I wasn't quite there. I decided against running 24 miles the day before. 

I beat that 10 year old PB.

By 60 seconds.

Leicester Marathon Blog.

I knew sub three wasn't on from near the start. 10k in I was struggling with marathon pace. Nothing went wrong as such I just didn't have the legs to carry the target. I at least got a pb though. First in 10 years. That's a long time. 

And I regained full respect for the marathon distance. It's really hard to run it well. I think all ultra runners should spend 4 months a year trying to do a marathon.

Strava says I am fitter then ever....

Strava says I am fitter then ever....


If I'd gone under 3 I would have been back running ultras now. Chumping about in fields. I was then going to try to run 100k in 7.45 and qualify for the Spartathlon. Even a veteran sub 3 hour marathon runner would struggle to do that, no chance if you are over it. So I decided to go back to the marathon. Following a sketchy plan. 50-60 miles a week, some much faster, most slower, intervals, tempos and long runs. 

I can't/won't sign up to a rigid plan with the kids. They are more important. Viruses and sleepless nights and a freak rib injury while doing up my 2 year old son's seatbelt on a plane have taken bites out of the "ideal 16 week training plan". 

Running for 20 miles at 7.30mm (40s over marathon pace) is hard. I've been doing this on Tuesday nights. My bedtime arrives at about mile 15. Those last 5 miles are hard. I hope on race day I at least don't feel bedtime.

Running 6-10 miles at marathon pace (6.45) is hard. I can't imagine keeping that up for 26.2. Though I do start these runs before 5am and don't quite feel awake. Perhaps on the day I will feel awake and it will feel easier.

I tried to do 2 tempo/interval sessions a week. I've done OK. It's hard to do this in the dark though. I've done some. I got a 5k pb the other day, I feel like I've got a bigger engine how.

I've got one more "training run" left, 10 miles at marathon pace on Sunday and then 8 days of a few jogs until the big day. I reckon I can do it.

I've lost a couple of KG. 

The MK course is flatter than Leicester.

And I might feel some pressure after this post that people are watching me

Will all this give me those 7 minutes I need?

Hopefully yes, now that I've said it.


mk number.jpg




Leicester Marathon

So I had this idea at the start of the year. I'm going to get 6 pbs in the main distances. 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, 50 miles and 100 miles. It was ambitious. Too ambitious. It was clear half way through the year that I was not going to get time to do justice to a 50 miler or a 100. So I decided to give the distances up to a marathon a good go instead.

I struggled to think of the last time I deliberately trained for a marathon. It must have been the Prague marathon which was a few months after my first ultra. That was 10 YEARS AGO. My marathon PB actually came out of nowhere while I was in pretty good shape from running marathons most weeks as part of ultra training. 3.07.55 at the Shakespeare Marathon in 2007. TEN YEARS! Blimey.

So the plan was to do this like the good ol' days. Before I used to run further. I would run fast sometimes, do those slowey/fastey/slowey/fastey runs and the classic 20 mile long runs. It was going to be amazing, I was going to lose lots of weight, get the 5k and 10k pb along the way and then break through 3 hours in the marathon.

Well, I left it a bit late but I did break my 5k pb just 8 days before the marathon (from 18.57 to 18.49) and 2 days before that broke my 10k pb (39.27 to 38.40 albiet in a "training" run so probably doesn't "count". I'm counting it anyway as there are bugger all 10k races around)

In this respect I felt pretty good about the marathon, 3 out of the 4 pbs down, one to go. I wanted to do under three hours though, cos that's a thing isn't it? 

I planned on following roughly this pacing schedule. I don't believe a negative split or even pacing is realistic in a marathon. This felt right, 1.27 half way and then 1.33 for the next half. So running about 6.40 per mile for the first 13. 

It felt nice to be back on a marathon startline. Off we went, legging it down a long hill at the start passing many an icon of my youth. The underage drinking pubs on London road and then all the cheap shoe shops. 

I felt early on that 3 hours wasn't going to happen. It felt hard doing 6.40 after just 7 of them. The slowdown started well before half way. I don't regret the strategy or the training. I just needed to do more of it. 

I wanted to do 2 decent speed/tempo sessions of running per week and then a bit of jogging around the sides. I got ill a few times and found it hard to do these types of run a 5am or after dinner. I'm not complaining, I need to think more about fitting it around having twins. 


I got to half way in 1.28.30, so behind what I wanted and now slowing more than I wanted. I hoped a PB might still be on. If not that then at least a Leicester PB of about 3.15. The first half of the race should have been easier anyway as it is net downhill and with the wind in your back. I like the Leicester course though it is a tough one. Lots of twists and kerb jumps. 

I had forgotten how hard it is to race a marathon. Jogging them is easy, trying to push it all the time is draining. 

Nothing went wrong as such, I did everything as well as I could but really it was just a product of my training. I didn't do enough. I could have fit more in if I didn't get bugs or I could have taken another 3 months of doing the same stuff and got there. All of the usual marathon mistakes were not made. I didn't bonk on energy, no stomach issues, the weather was good, I had no injuries, I had comfortable new fast shoes, nipples maintained integrity. Nothing to complain about really.


Running with a permanent thumbs up. Thanks Clive Mason for the photo!

Running with a permanent thumbs up. Thanks Clive Mason for the photo!




The original plan for the next year, get sub 3 hour marathon, use fitness to try to run sub 8 100k to qualify for Spartathlon and then work my arse off to get to that statue in a year. Now it's changed. I am no way for enough to get that 100k time so am not going to attempt it. Instead I will take a virginal approach to ultras, try a 50 and then a 100, try to get good times. I've just rejoined the Bedford Harriers and am looking forward to their cross country season as well as the club championship ultra in July, 36 miles of the Greensands Ridge. The only ultra I know of in Bedfordshire.

But overall I am in a better place. I'm glad I took the time to train for a marathon, I didn't want to get back into ultras until I had given one a go and got a bit of speed back. I didn't want to return to ultra-plodding, I won't have huge opportunities to race anymore so want to be able to do it well when I can.

Future stuff.

Oct-Jan - Three Counties Cross Country

Dec - Bedford Half Marathon (another PB maybe)

Apr - Salcey Forest 6 hour race (on a TUESDAY!)

July - Greensands Ridge 36 miles club championships

First half of year - a 50 miler, aiming to go somewhere near 7 hours

Second half of year - a 100 miler. Somewhere near 16


Milton Keynes Half Marathon

Clearly I was taking this race seriously. As I put a sock on my right foot and saw the "L" on it I immediately took it off again and swapped feet. I had to give myself every chance.

I had an idea at the start of the year, to get 6 PBs at the 6 classic distances, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, 50 miles and 100 miles. I feel that all my PBs are a bit soft (and old). 

I need to give the kids something to beat.

Here is the current table.

Distance Time Year Set
5k 18.57 2015
10k 39.27 2009
Half Marathon 1.28.40 2015
Marathon 3.07.55 2008!!!
50 miles 7.37 2009
100 miles 19.30 2008


Yeah, some of those PB's were set when Leicester City were in the third tier of English Football. Who can even imagine Leicester being shit?

An unexpected by-product of having kids is that I seem to be getting faster and fitter. The running I do now is basically "You've got an hour to run that nice 8 mile loop you love before the kids wake up, GO GO GO!!!" rather than my life before which was more like "I've got the afternoon to spare, I might just chump around in a field for 5 hours".

The year started off with a whimper, illness then baby illness meant not much happened in Jan/Feb. But then having trained fairly consistently over the past couple of months and an unhealthy obsession with Strava wankery I seem to have made big improvements. My plan was to go from the lowest to the highest, getting myself 5k fit and then going on from there. However one day randomly I did a 13 mile run in not far off what my half PB is (#humblebrag) and thought that maybe a half PB was within reach. 

I did enjoy getting back into the race atmosphere, though there were a few things I'd forgotten, such as how long should you wait outside a toilet cubicle before knocking on the door and yelling "is everything OK in there?" 

Speed-shitting is a skill you can take from trail running into parenting. You have 17 seconds before the kids find out where you are and start pressing up against the bathroom door.

I dropped my bag in the bag drop thing and immediately felt a little anxious. Normally at this point before a race I still have my phone, money, food, medical cabinet, change of clothes, primary and secondary light sources and a cuddly badger still with me. Now I was just in a T shirt and shorts and asked to make my way to the start area. It was great catching up with Paul Rowlinson too, I miss bumping into people at races. He was gunning for 3 hours in the marathon and was looking pretty good for it on Strava.

Thank You Sylvia Jones for the picture :) It wasn't a deliberate thumbs up, apparently I just run like that.

Thank You Sylvia Jones for the picture :) It wasn't a deliberate thumbs up, apparently I just run like that.

There were 4 start pens, I was in the fastest. I joked like a dick with the lady there that I may have put too fast a predicted time down She did then chase after me and say I could relegate myself if I was worried about it. Deserved that.

Oh I almost forgot - The Milton Keynes Half Marathon is a half marathon in Milton Keynes. It's called that because it's half the length of a full marathon which they also have in Milton Keynes and that's called the Milton Keynes Marathon.

I managed to start pretty neat the front though and it was very spacious from the off. The first 5 miles or so are on the wide dual carriageways of MK. I imagined it would be on the footpaths at the side of the road and going up and down in the underpasses. It wasn't though, even though the first 3 miles were uphill. The plan was to hold on to 6.30 minute miles for as long as possible. I managed this for 6 miles the other day in a training run and figured I could go twice as far if I didn't need the toilet.

I was thrown by the uphills, I felt like I was working too hard to keep the pace at 6.30 but after mile three when it all went downhill I bagged a bit more time. 

Are you still reading this? My word it's going to be boring. Seriously all I do is run at pretty much the same pace and then get a medal.

Still reading? Your loss.

After about 5 miles of the big roads it cuts into a housing area and then at about 10k it splits from the Marathon course and I head right into a park. It was really nice.By then the runners were spread out nicely, 

At 8 miles I saw Gemma and the babies, the first time I have seen them in a race 😃 That was nice and was impressed that I made it there bang on time, 10.52. 

Soon after though I started to wobble. It wasn't much. I knew 1.25 was now out of bounds but I was doing the calculations in my head (my watch isn't that fancy) as to what I need to do to at least get a pb. I was trying to count the 6.30s on my watch but after an hour it stops reporting in seconds so I had not idea whether a mile took me 6 minutes or 7. 

Although I was slowing, so was everyone else and I was still overtaking people. People who looked like actual runners too, in vest and shorts. I was as close to the sharp end as I ever have been in a big race, 20th out of 3000 (#humblebrag). My guess is all the good people ran London the week before.

All the time I was glad it was my legs that were the bottleneck, usually it's the lungs or heart. They are in pretty good shape right now and legs are easy to train. A few more months of Strava Wankery should do it.


The last mile is a long drag back up into the Stadium. I clocked all the places I was going to eat when I finished, McDonald's, KFC, Nandos. I got taken just before the finish, the only time I got overtaken since about mile 4. 

So, a 3 minute pb. I was pretty pleased with that, the closest I have got to a "dream race result" for a long time. 

And what's great is that the quest for 6 pbs is still on. I had planned on getting the 5k, 10k, and HM by now, I only have the half but 5k and 10k will fall out soon. In fact 5k nearly went two days before, I missed it by 10 seconds in a parkrun. Here I got 40 mins flat for the first 10k and know there is a minute or two to take off that somewhere.

So now I am optimistically planning a marathon in the summer with the view of smashing 3 hours. Should have done that a long time ago. I don't want to do an ultra again until I am a 2.xx marathon runner.

Then if I get the time I'll do something about the 50 and 100 miles. 

1 down, 5 to go.

By the way, this was the best organised half marathon I'd ever done. The route is perfect, the first 5 miles being on very wide closed roads which allow everyone to settle and then the rest on nice cyclepaths. Definitely recommended.

In case of emergency - How to name a Strava run

We've all done it. You go out for a run, you huff and you puff around thinking of all the people who are going rain kudos onto your Strava upload like fivers in a strippers knickers. You get back home and head straight to the sync. DISASTER! It's a bit slower than you expected! What will you fans think?

They will surely know something is amiss. All it would take is for your fans to compare your heart rate against the pace you were running, factor in the vert and overlay the topology of the area, cross referencing that against the weather conditions before and during, work the equation to come up with the answer you already know, you had a shitty run. Kudos will crash.

You know your followers will be desperately disappointed with your sudden mediocrity. You don't want to distress them. They NEED to give kudos. It hurts not to. You need to think of what the impact of your run will do to these poor souls. What do you do?

You only have a minute to act. But you can salvage something out of this before everyone starts thinking you've chumped out of the running game. Kudos will rain again.

It's all in the name.

The name you give your run will let people know of the mitigating circumstances of your shitness. Even if they are made up. Don't worry about "only cheating yourself", you can't give yourself Kudos anyway so what does it matter?

Here are some suggestions.

1 - Say you were chatting to someone.

Example Run Name - Lovely chatty pace chat run chatting with Paula. #runchat #easypace

You were jogging with someone else and they are the ones who are really slow! Of course! I was just doing a good deed by keeping an inferior runner company while chatting away. It was deliberately a no-effort jog along.

They don't even need to exist. Just make sure you don't namecheck anyone who is also on Strava. (some people aren't). 

2 - Post photos.

Run Name - Beautiful trails today. Love this route. Just had to slow down to take it all in.

Always have a stock of random photos stored so you can use as a "get out of shit run free" card. make sure you are wearing the same clothes in them and have about the same amount of beard (unless it's a really long run). 

And if you actually do take photos then Strava stops the clock while you do! It is like the world stands still while you pout. That's nice of it.

And NEVER let people see just the lovely trail you are on, this is a security issue. You don't want one of your followers actually following you. Always obscure most of it with your grinning (but relaxed, cos it's an easy run) face.

3 - Say it was a recovery run

Example Run Name - 17 mile recovery shakeout jogging plod. Legs don't feel too bad considering....

What's the number 1 reason for recovery runs? That's right! It's a way for you to demonstrate to your Strava following that even when you are deliberately jogging along slowly you are still going way faster than they would do when running fast. 

20% Extra kudos for mentioning "cobwebs"

4 - Accumulate to Speculate

Example Run Name - 5 miles, not to shabby after 12 miles yesterday, 36 for the week so far and 47 last week!

Why did you do such a shoddy run just now? Because of all the #EPIC runs you have done already this week. If you do this enough then your followers who try to trace your runs back to a time when you ran without doing #EPIC just before will never find anything. Like a running Ponzi scheme.

5 - Say there was wind. Say it was BRUTAL

Example Run Name - Really tough plod getting brutally blown off by Bertha

The word "BRUTAL" isn't used enough to describe the variable but mostly comfortable weather we get here in the UK. I think train companies should adopt this word instead of their usual "inclement" to explain why you are still stood on a platform an hour late.

But of course, who is to know whether it was still, breezy or a GALE FORCE HURRICANO was stalking your every move, blowing you off course and claiming a few seconds off your pace.

Also remember to follow the 10% rule when documenting high temperatures. If you read on the weather reports that it was going to get up to 30C today then obviously it was at least 33C when you ran.

6 - Make it look like a session

Example Run Name - 3.4 x 14 Flebs with intermediate fartlicks

There are a number of stock sessions people might run at variable paces. They might involve a "warm up" pace, and "effort", a "sprint" and so forth. 

If your pace chart looks like the meanderings of a moth in unnatural light then make up some random words to look like you are deliberately following some sort of twitter fad.

7 - Say you were fasted

Example Run Name - Felt queasy towards the end of this #keto #lchf #fasted run but need to adapt to being able to run on an empty tank #avocado

Of course! You are on a stupid diet! You only ate low GI Quinoa Porridge and a Kit-Kat for brunchfast and could not get the power to run really fast. Perfect. 

Do not under any circumstances forget to mention the #avocado. Otherwise you'll just sound like a dick.

8 - Overcompensate

Example Run Name - Shit run. I am shit. So Slow. I might just give up running and kill myself. Or take up cycling.

If kudos is your aim (if it's not why the hell are you on Strava?) then this is a bit of a nuclear option. It involves admitting that you've had a rubbish run but then taking it to the extreme. Works similar to the recovery run. "Your shit day is better than my good day!" will be the comment of choice, along with the Kudos of course. 

Remember, every time someone fails to give kudos to a run a Garmin fails to find a satellite.

Think of your fellow runner.

I hope these have been helpful. Can you think of any more? If you want to see how awesome I am, follow me here.




This will change the way you run...

As a massive fan of my blog, you'll know more than anyone that I am passionate and committed to bringing you the latest in leading edged break through innoveightional ultra running solutions.

So when a household brand approached me exclusively to check out their latest toy I almost Strava'd my pants. I had so many questions.

Are you going to pay me?


Are you going to give me free stuff?


Are you going to follow me on twitter?

Maybe, but only for the duration in which you hashtag your worship of our mission

There was only one answer here. I think I got a #FKT on saying "HELL YES!!!!"

Before I blow your mind with this let me paint you a picture. 

You are booming off a gnarly segment with 3.4% vert and 12a graded technicalised bogditch. You are ahead of time in gaining record time for the Teddybears Picnic. You need that extra push so you reach into your race vest for some gummy bears (oh the irony). However they slip from your hands as you pull them out. Round and round the garden they go, or straight onto the floor. Now you have no energy to make that final 10ft of climb. If only there was a way of keeping them dry.

Or you are racing along the river. The bouncing is playing havoc on your bowels. It's raining so there are not many people around and you duck behind a hedge and lose the intestinal ball and chain. But you reach into your pocket and pull out a sorry soggy mess of paper. It used to be Kleenex quilted, now wilted. You do the best you can but are now worried about the next checkpoint, worried you'll forget which hand you are not supposed to dip into the cocktail sausages.

Or you are 30 miles into a training run, it's hot, you find a shop and are overjoyed as you remembered to bring a tenner for such an occasion. Disaster! Upon slamming your 2 for £1.50 mountain dews and a couple of Ginsters pasties on the counter your money is greeted with the response "Seriously? I can't accept this. You've been rubbing your ballsack against the Queen's face so hard she now looks like Camilla".

But my friend all of these problems are about to go away. Here it is. 

Introducing the Ziplock Sandwich Bag. 100 years of precision engineering that fits right in your pocket.

Looks simple enough, but this baby is packed with features.

First is the unique "photo-flex" material used to produce this that allows you to see things inside it. So long we have struggled with bags where we have to guess what's inside like some awful game show. They have invented a way of allowing light atoms to pass through the membrane of the bag while dark atoms are destroyed on contact. Sorry to blind you a bit with the science there, I'll try to keep my language simple for you idiots.

The second great feature is this herma-squidge sealing device. It can be operated by any being with oppose-able thumbs which acts as a great security feature against farmyard animals and their pranks. 

Here is a picture of me placing an item into the bag.


And here is a picture of me removing an item from the bag.


So easy.

The third astonishment is it's ability to flex itself to wrap around any item you chose to place within. When you take it out of the box you might be alarmed that the most robust thing you can fit in there is a beer mat but look deeper and you can see that this beast is like a shape-shifting chameleon, on cocaine, making waves in the batmobile. Yeah it flexes to be whatever you want it to be. 

Here are just a few of suggestions. 







The handy rite-space gives you up to 157 characters to label the bag according to your needs. More that twitter!

So in summary this is an awesome bag. I know you will say that I got given this bag for free and so obviously I am going to say this is awesome. However if I merely say the words "unbiased" and "objective" and say just one thing I didn't like about it then that fully compensates for your doubts and you should believe whatever I say.

It didn't store the egg that well.

Here is a picture of my face with the bag. Just in case you want to put in on a billboard.

Here is a picture of my face with the bag. Just in case you want to put in on a billboard.



Q - Is it #Paleo?

A - Yes

Country to Capital - My Dream Race

The sun rose majestically over the Chiltern hills, lighting up the snow kissed ground with a warming sparkle. I looked up at the blue sky as the little fluffy quite clouds swooped into formation to reveal an inspiring meme. The letters were hard to make out as the clouds had assembled into a Helvetica font but I think it said;

"Only those who risk going too far will ever end up in Brentford"

Wise words.

The main event for the Country to Capital is the Race to the Gate. A 200m sprint to get onto the trail before the people with Hokas get there and clog it up. I've generally ranked quite high in this and even higher now that many previous podium finishers have had their results nulled due to steroid abuse.

I won the race to the gate easy but then stopped in Costa for a latte. Plue I had to run back and pick up my starting blocks. Loads of people passed me but I was not too bothered, I'd catch up when I'd had my caffeine. 

There are a couple of hills early on. I eat hills for breakfast (and double sausage McMuffins). I made light work of them until I spotted two enormous immovable objects in the distance blocking my path. At first I thought it was the the mighty pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth for Leicester City last season.

I got closer and realised it was not the defensive dreadnoughts but Drew Sheffield's calves.

I realised running past was not an option. The only way to overtake was to feign to the left and then deploy the safety whilstle with it's unusually long chord (often seen as a design error on the One Direction Harry S pack but I quite like it) and lassoo it onto a branch ahead and swing forward. I nailed it perfectly with a satisfying peep.

In the dark dark woods there is a beast. The Black Park Badger. With steel claws and shinny nose, razorback hair and snazzy clothes. It terrifies the residents with towering height and it's deafening roar. I heard the trees fall in the woods as the menacing beast approached to tuck into his favourite food - ultra runner roullade. 

I got past it easy enough though. Just kicked it's face off.

After a bit of traditional English tapas at one of the checkpoints there was an almighty blizzard. Proper apocalyptic sideways snow that showed the Daily Express weather reports to be right all along. The wind was so strong that it's force lifted a carrier bag off the ground and sent it hurtling towards my head. It was only the good fortune of stepping onto some spilled GU and momentarily being stuck to a complete halt that saved me from certain death.

It was not long before we were on the canal. I do love running on the canal but it can be frustrating tripping over the sun loungers. But this is the time to pick up the pace and I decided I wanted to win this time so I picked up the jogging speed.

I passed Jen Bradley and Gary Kiernan who were just messing about taking selfies, reading all the info boards and ticking off bridge numbers in their bridge-spotting books. They were loving the canal. I chatted for a bit but they were a bit weird, especially when Gary yelled "Let's cuddle a goose!"

Booming on down the canal further I saw a bloke stood by the turning who didn't know which way to go. He said "I have the map in my bag which will tell me whether I should turn left or go straight on but I can't be arsed with that so I posted the question on the URC instead. I'm waiting for a proper answer, the first three comments are all "Tailwind"".

I said "Well, I am turning left but we are all an experiment of 1 so that might not be the best thing for you. Just enjoy it and you'll be fine".

Keen to plod on, I knew I still had a couple of people to smash off.

It must have been Southall, that place where the bridge tells you to fuck off where I saw Jim Walmsley twonking out 6.10s on the canal. I jogged up beside him as he was watching a live feed of his own strava collecting record breaking kudos and smashing the "Denham doggers dash" segment CR by 34 seconds. 

Bollocks I forgot to strava this. Now it totally won't count as my 1000th ultra.

Anyway Jim was going a bit slow for my liking and I had a train to catch in 20 minutes so figured I should try and get these 12 miles done with a bit of gusto. I Said my goodbyes to Jim and that I'll probably see him again at Western States when I get a special celebrity place and jogged on.

I finished the 43 mile race in just under 3 hours, which I thought was pretty good given that I was wearing a puffer jacket all the way.  Kylie was there to present me my medal and give me a massage to help uncreak my legs a bit. I got undressed and lay on the couch as she left the room and said they will return with the oil.

 I must have dozed off a bit because suddenly I woke with a jolt and my wife nudging me and saying "can you not hear that screaming? It's your turn to settle him down."

"What time is it"?


"Blimey. It's hard to tell what's real nowadays."


I just want to be a regular failure

I don't want to be an epic failure - I just want to be a regular failure like everyone else - Me


It's hard to make a good movie out of ultra running. Let's face it, it's not that exciting to watch someone plodding around and eating rice pudding in a way that would make you want to smack them on a train. Until they figure out how to get the TV to bring the smells it's hard to imagine anyone pulling it off.

Fair to say that Anika and Tim have done a stunning job here, and not just because I am in it. I mean, it is mostly because of that but the other 99.8% is amazing too.

I am surprised, and at the same time pleased that Laz has allowed his race to be put out there like this. It has been a race shrouded in mystery bit now is probably one of the most famous events in the world. 

I'll let this short intro tell you what the race is about.


And this is my race report from my attempt in 2012.

It was weird being in a screening at the ultra fest watching this and getting a massive round of applause for dropping out.

The focus of the movie is quite rightly on those who do well but it does such a great job of capturing the unique atmosphere of the race.

The movie is now available in the UK on Appletunes here.


For some people, just to get back to camp alive is all they want in the world - Laz

The universe says no

Sometimes the universe tells you things. I have got great joy in finishing some ultra marathons in my time and so I guess it's telling me "that's great, carry on doing that".

I write and blog about running and people seem to like that so it must be telling me I should do more of that.

Then I organise a simple race, on my own, spend the entire 12 hours having breathing difficulties and then ending up that night in A&E having a stress induced asthma "incident".

I think here it might be telling me "nah, don't do that again".

It should be the easiest race in the world to organise. I need a table of snacks, a bag of balls and send people running around a loop.

I have just cancelled the third edition, it had only 10 signed up but in all honesty I breathed a huge and non-asthmatic sign of relief when I hit send on the email saying "sorry I have to cancel, full refunds on their way". I didn't want to go and waste the oxygen in Bedford Hospital.

It was something that stressed me every time I woke up, what about the race. Need more sign ups, book the toilets, order the ball bags, get the permit, do the risk assessment. To someone of a more project orientated disposition these would be wonderful tasks to stomp on one by one and give a feeling of satisfaction of progress. For me they were little monsters I was afraid to go near.

I've always had huge respect for race directors and have more so now. The financial and personal risks involved are huge.

When you are organising a race you really are putting yourself out there. It is such high risk and you need to be the sort of person who can fall back on the groundwork you have done. Unfortunately I dont have the care and attention to do that properly.

Oddly I think this is a strength in ultra running, not getting too hung up on worst case scenarios and just getting on with it. There is a duty of care to consider worst case scenarios when organising something for others. What happens if someone collapses, or the weather turns or the kettle breaks.

These things just stress me, enough to end up in hospital!

I doubt I will organise races again. I loved most of my experience of doing it and loved the people who all helped make it happen.  I have so many ideas I would love to see happen and would be willing to "help" on so long as I had no actual responsibility. 

Feel free to steal...


The piece of string

You've probably heard of this. The "World's most pointless race". It's been run 3 times before under the proper directorship of James Elson. It would be great to see this back. 

Race report of first edition

Race report of second edition





Have you ever felt that life is a little unfair? Some people seem to get handed life's pleasures on a plate when others labour and toil for little reward. Did you take up running as a way to escape is injustice? To be able to claim reward based on the effort you put in? Do you think that the world would be a better place if it was all just like a nice long run?

Well bollocks to that, here is a running event that is steeped in reality more than any other race you have ever done. Basically you might run your balls off, run harder and further than anyone else in the whole field and still get nothing to show for it. At the same time some lousy chumper, probably called Rupert, probably educated at Eton, probably been to a Regatta or two in his time will just waltz through (yes he does ballroom dancing too) and finish with little effort.

Makes you sick doesn't it?

Well, inspired by life I have created "Bingo - The World's most Unfair race"

At the start you will be issued with a Bingo card. This bingo card will have 3 numbers on it. Say it has the numbers 13,17,23 on. 

There is a loop of about 2.2 miles. You run a loop and then pick a number out of a bag in a Bingo style. If you pick one of your numbers, say 13, then you can cross that off and do another loop. If you pick another number then you just head back out onto another loop and repeat.

You will each have your own unique ball bag and chosen balls are not replaced. This ball bag will contain 30 something balls. Anyone who makes rude jokes about ball bags will be given more balls.

The 24 hour version will involve a longer loop. And more balls!

You finish the race when you have all 3 of your numbers crossed off. Easy.

So in theory you could finish this race in 6 miles, if you are the luckiest person in the world.

You could run forever and just never pick your numbers out.

There will be a 12 hour cut off. You could run a 100k PB and still DNF. That would be hilariously unfair wouldn't it?

The predator

The predator   Somewhere in africa a gazelle knows he has to outrun the fastest lion to survive. The lion knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle to survive.   You've probably heard this quote before. Doesn't really apply to you does it? But how about you replace the word "africa" with  "hertfordshire" and the replace the word "gazelle"with "you".   Interested?   Could you do a race where you were constantly looking over your shoulder? Where one slip or short break could spell the end of your race? Where you could run till you lungs burn and your heart explodes but still get that tap on the shoulder that says you are not good enough to survive.   Or perhaps you are the lion, eager to pick off the gazelles one by one   Welcome to the Predator race -survival of the fastest.   So what is it?   You will be chasing and being chased. You will be set free into nature on a trail loop at regular intervals and your objective is simple, don't get caught. When you get caught your race is over.   Perhaps you fancy yourself as a lion, running others down and taking them out of the race. Be careful, there may be more than one lion.   So how does it work?   Simple, we mark a loop of about 10 miles, we 12 runners and set them off one by one at 5 minute intervals. If someone catches you then that's it. We just keep going round and around until only one man is standong.   In the unlikely case that more than 12 people want to run this race then we will have more races and call them "heats". One day will be for the heats, the next day will be the grand final.   So who should apply for this race?   A decent 100 mile runner would have a good chance at tiring everyone down, unless of course a super quick marathon runner took him out early. A decent marathon runner would do well, unless of course a super fast 10k runner decided to start out hard and kill him early. Someone may decide on a suicidal 5k sprint at the start just on the off chance of securing an early kill. All runners will benefit from having a good 50m sprint on them.   Will there be a seperate womens race?   Do you think a lion cares whether the carcass it devours has child bearing hips? Short answer, no they can compete in the same race


Tortoise and Hare

I tried organising this last year but due to lack of interest (and to be honest not much pushing on my side either, oooh errrrr missus) it never got off the ground.

What's so great about this race? Well, if you have the race of your life, run better than you ever have done before then you have a really good chance of winning! No matter what your current pace is. I think it will be an incredible experience, those who are often bringing up the rear will spend most of this race in the front pack! And those who are usually racing like whippets at the front will get to experience what it is like being at the back. getting to the checkpoints last and having to make do with horrible green jelly babies covered in sweat and who knows what.

You enter the race and as part of your entry you tell me your recent 12 months worth of marathon and ultra times.

I will then assign you a starting time with the goal of you finishing the race at 7pm for the 50 milers and 6pm for the 50k'ers. 

So whether you are a 12 hour 50 miler or a 6 hour boomer you should in theory be sprinting together at the end of the race.

How cool would that be?

Double or quitter

You are entering a 200 mile race. Some route somewhere, does not need to be too hard. Everyone starts together as in a “standard” 200 mile race – as standard as any 200 mile race could be.

It goes as normal except that at the 26.2 mile checkpoint there is a finish funnel. You now have to decide whether you double or quit. By quitting you go through the finish funnel, collect a marathon medal and an official marathon finish THAT COUNTS and can sit back having completed a (rather expensive) marathon.

Or you can go on, but take one step beyond the threshold and that’s it, you are committed. You can’t go back and claim that marathon finish. If you twist your ankle at 28 miles and pull out that’s it. You get nothing.

At 50 miles you have the same choice. Double or finish. An official 50 mile medal/time etc.

Can you imagine what would go through peoples minds at 99 miles? I can finish and get a buckle/finish and pretend that it was ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT DECISION or I can go on. But take a step beyond that 100 mile line and that’s it, you’ve just stepped into another 24+ hours of hurt.

You could get to 190 miles, drop or miss the cut off and leave with less than the guy who bailed at 26.2 who is probably at home now wearing a marathon finish t shirt and stroking a medal.

Map my run

Teams of two. One person is given a proper map that the other person is not allowed to look at. They then cover the route on the map and get to the end. However while doing so they need to create written instructions for person number 2 to follow. These can be made up of words, drawings etc but no photos and no proper professional maps or grid references.

I doubt many would finish this. I suspect person 2 might be a bit slower than person 1. Or maybe not.

Run until you drop

This was originally an idea from Paul Lewis and has become a fairly popular challenge in February, though I do wonder... How many days could you go for? I reckon I could get to 70. If I had nothing else to do.

The current social edition;

"Run Until You Drop" is an annual running challenge held in February each year where participants attempt to walk, jog or run a number of kilometres OR miles equal to the day of the month (i.e. 1km or 1m on the 1st Feb, 2kms or 2m on the 2nd Feb and so on all the way up to the 29th Feb).


Imagine a chemical explosion at a point. Say in the middle of London. It radiates a deadly gas at exactly 4mph outwards. Every runner starts off with a GPS and has to stay outside of this ever increasing circle from the start point.

The trick is obviously you have to maintain a distance of at least 4 miles each hour as the crow flies, and unless you know a perfectly straight road (I guess the A5 might be a good option) you are going to have to cover more distance than 4 miles in an hour. You’ll be tested on quick decision making about the length of roads as well as your pace.

You can go in any direction you please.

I would imagine some sort of online tracker with the runners spots and this ever increasing poisonous circle. No checkpoints or support or anything, just the trackers and the internet.

The 99 

A proper officially measured exact 99 mile race. Would anyone do that?

Might throw in an officially measured 26.1 mile race too.

The Ultra Tasting Menu

Kind of inspired by having to endure posh restaurants and their tasting menus.

Silly fun one. 100 miles, 48 hours, 10 checkpoints each with a national theme such that you can only have food from that country.

Probably need to think of the order, Italy and China would have to go near the beginning. Maybe leave India and Mexico towards the end.

The Karl Marx Classic

A looped race with a cut off of 30 hours. You are randomly split into two groups.

If you are in group 1 you just run as normal and get a buckle if you complete 100 miles.

If you are in group 2 then your group must average 100 miles and then everyone gets a buckle.

Would be a fun experiment. Would people try harder if other people were relying on them? Would the disconnect between their own performance and reward make them think "fuck it, I'm off home"?

From each according to their ability...

What makes the toughest ultra?

A while ago I was helping produce a "toughest ultras" book. It didn't work out in the end but I did draft a first chapter as to what I think makes the "toughest" ultra. Here it is.

The Hardest race, The Toughest Challenge, The Ultimate Ultra.

These words are thrown all over event websites with reckless abandon. It’s the easiest thing in the world to type them into a marketing slogan. Our world is saturated with superlatives. Every day we are in “crisis” or at a “tipping-point” or experiencing something on an “unprecedented” scale. Most of us have learned to glaze over this hyperbole.

Is there a “toughest” race out there? Which one is it? Can we even tell?

I think seeking the toughest race on paper misses the point of what attracts people to ultra running. Races are not hard when you are reading about them in a book or on a blog. They are hard when you are doing them.

I’ve completed a number of these so called “toughest” races, I could look back on all of them, crunch some numbers, finish rates, altitude, temperature, humidity, climbing, deserts, jungles, bears and distance and declare “yes, according to my algorithm the Smash Canyon 3000 race is the toughest”. Someone else with a different algorithm will give a different result. And none of these results are valid unless you have been there.

The human brain has a great ability to discount previous hardship and exaggerate the present. The consequence of this is that any moment in time can be the “toughest” of our lives. There comes a point in every challenge where moving forward becomes the toughest thing we have ever done, where you feel like what you have is not quite enough. You have to find something from somewhere, build it out of nothing

And that is the great appeal of this wide array of ultra marathon challenges, some are very high, some are very hot, some are very cold, some are just very very very long. Each one has the potential to take to you to that place where you say to yourself “I’ve never suffered anything like this”. You could run the numbers through the tough equation you may have created and say this races is 87% tough, or you could go there yourself and experience it.

Some people seem to prefer the cold, declaring that they could “never” run a desert race. Some only like the mountains and will claim that they could never run a road race. Some love the roads and despair at the thought of a rocky trail. We all have different strengths and fears and running ultra marathons help us to use our strengths and conquer our fears.

Ultra Marathons allow us to break through personal limits, be they physical or mental. Ultra Marathons can break you into small pieces, humiliate and destroy you. There will be times when you feel like the most pathetic person on earth, you are moving so slowly and hurting so badly you are unworthy of the human form. You will suffer paranoia and anxiety, as if everyone is laughing at how hopeless you are. All of this while you are hungry and tired, your bones are aching and your muscles are mutinous.

It is the pushing through these times that make these race worth doing, the memories of being at your worst but somehow holding on just enough. The times you can look back and say “I was reduced to nothing, I felt like I had nothing left to give, yet I somehow managed to hold onto myself just enough to take that step forward, and then another, and then another. I went from feeling sub-human to super-human and all it took was motion”.

Every race here has the potential to humiliate and destroy. But they also have the potential to elevate. That’s why I do them. That’s why a growing number of people from all walks of life do them. That’s why you should do them.


Chances of Things going wrong T Shirt

OK so I got quite a few requests to make this highly scientific graph of mine into a T Shirt. Here it is.

I have decided to print via teespring, who basically take a minimum order and then print when all the orders are in. It saves me from a) putting myself into the poorhouse by spending loads of money on T Shirts upfront and b) get me out of the dog house by not filling rooms of our house with stuff.

I still have a garage full of books..

Anyway, you can buy it here.



There are a few different colours.



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.