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

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?

No.

Are you going to give me free stuff?

No.

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.

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

IMG_20170327_203434.jpg

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. 

#emergencyshitkit

#emergencyshitkit

#leavenothingbehind

#leavenothingbehind

#recycle

#recycle

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.

 

FAQ

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"?

"2.47".

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

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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.

Enjoy!

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

GET IN THE VAN!

GET IN THE VAN!

 

Bingo

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).

Anthrax

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.

GO…...



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.

GUCR-2015-8153.jpg

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things I'm looking forward to this weekend

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

The Greeting Desk

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

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

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

The Gas Street Goodbye

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

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

Mile markers

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

Overtaking a boat

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

Optimising my pitch

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

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

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

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

The Bridge

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

Buddy amnesia

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

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

Speaking of Elephants...

Hallucinations

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

Wearing my number on my front at ALL times

Obvs

Thinking I've got really bad breath

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

Springwell Surprises

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

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

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

The Left turn

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

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

Mont Ladbroke Grove

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

Kicking a gooses face off

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

Having contempt for the Sunday joggers

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

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

Getting overtaken by a boat

Bastards. I wish I had a harpoon

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

Still a bloody long way though

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

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





10 secrets to becoming a modern ultra runner.

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

It was Gary Kiernan.

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

1 - Ask social media to wipe your bum for you

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

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

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

For example. What Bog roll should I buy?

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

2. Master the dark art of ulterior transactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Raise awareness of something.

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

What a shit!

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

5. Turn every form of discomfort into a disease

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Shit I forgot to do that with these thoughts.

Bollocks.

9.  NEVER SCROLL DOWN

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

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

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

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

11. Write a bloody book about it.

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

 


Bingo Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some great photos of the race from Jamie Young

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

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

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

 

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

Someone will nail the above.

Someone won't

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

I was about to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 hours actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Did you know I had a book out?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is what 1000 books look like

This is what 1000 books look like

Country to Capital - 2015 (6th time)

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him - So have you run stuff like this before?

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

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

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

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

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

Him - OH MY GOD!!!!

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

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

Me - OH MY GOD!!!!

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

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

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

There were pork pies at the finish

There were pork pies at the finish

So until next year....




Ultra Marketing Men

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

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

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

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

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

Too wordy Poindexter.

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

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

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

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

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