Stupid Question Number 1

All runners get the same questions. Nowadays I just give the same one word answer as I'm bored of the explanation. Along with "Don't you ever get bored?" and "Have you run "THE MARATHON"?" this is one in a series of questions that just make me wish I didn't know people who don't run.

The offending idiot usually believes he has won the argument by saying something like "Well, my mate Dave used to do running and now his knees are knackered, so therefore running is bad for you". You'll not normally here about all the football Dave played, his weight and his tendancy to run with injuries on roads.

Studies cited here suggest that runners do not suffer athritis more than average and that running can help protect the knee rather than destroy the cartilage.

The studies are here. I don't really care, I just wished people would stop asking..



Badwater and the 5 year plan

3 years ago I heard about this race. I can't remember how exactly but it's name seemed to stick. I'd google "Badwater" just to read the details again, to make sure this race still existed. I wanted to do this ever since I first laid eyes on it.

More details were to reveal themselves as I read into it. Reading the training tips, watching videos and of course, reading Dean's book. 2 years ago I did a charity bike ride through most of the course and can actually recognise parts of the videos. The bike ride was one of the most disappointingly easy things I have ever done in my life. cycle for 1 hour, wait an hour for the fat people to catch up and then cycle on. I spend most of the week stood about thinking about running this, in the summer. It was March then and only about 28 degrees. The temperature of the valley can exceed 50 in the summer which is when the race is held for that reason. 

 The Death Valley Bike Ride happened just after I realised that I was going to be a long distance runner and nothing else. I'd just run my first ultra and was planning more. I had just registered for the Marathon Des Sables (back in my naive running days where I thought that was a "must do" and a tough challenge and worth the money). The MDS was another race in a "5 year plan" I made to get myself to Badwater. Along the way were the MDS, GUCR, Spartathlon and some other desert races. I've since ditched the desert races and added more non-stop stuff like UTMB. 

Anyway, the details of this race if you are not already familiar are..


  • 135 miles
  • From the lowest point in continental USA to almost the highest
  • In the hottest place on Earth
  • In the summer
  • On a tar mac road
  • Which melts your shoes
  • 60 hour cut off
  • a special buckle for those who do it in 48
  • Finishes in a place that looks like paradise


The 5 year plan was supposed to take me to the finish of the hardest race in the world. In 2 years I will try to do that. However while getting to that point I've discovered that no matter how hard a race seems, someone will always think of something harder. I've found several of these. Might call for a 10 year plan...

5 years I'll be back here, and smiling less.

Pyrrhic Victory

The past few weeks I've been getting all excited again about the canal. It is a very different feeling from last time, this is more expectation than anticipation. I don't for a second believe that it will be any easier next time round but I do feel I'll be better prepared for it. Still, with these races anything can happen.

I put the Thames Ring out of my mind for 2 reasons. One I thought it would be silly to attempt to run 260 miles at this stage of my life as it could finish me and two I didn't think it would actually happen. It most certainly is happening and DK has 59 "interested".

So the first reason should make it a no go anyway. The problem is that I will feel rotten knowing that this is going ahead and I am not there. It starts on a wednesday and could not imagine being at work and knowing some people are out there doing this. Entering this race will probably cause harm, not entering surely will. I have a lot to lose even if victorious, I have more to lose if I stay at home.

That it how it feels at the moment anyway.


Thames Meander RIP

I got a sad email today that another one of the great UK ultras has gone extinct. The organisers of the Thames Meander have announced that this event has become to big to be run as a family event and are calling it a day.

The Thames Meander was the best of the river races on offer. It took a 54 mile route along the river from Reading to Walton-on-Thames via Henley, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Staines and Shepperton. It was originally set up as an opportunity for those headed off to the Marathon Des Sables 6 weeks later to get a long run done. 10 years on it remained the number one event for those going to the Sahara. It was a simple but very well organised race and will be missed by myself and at least 200 others in the UK.

It seems paradoxical that the demand for ultra marathons and extreme events are rising yet some of the superior and more established events seem to disappear. The explaination I think is quite simple.

There are broadly 2 ways a race comes into existence in the UK (and perhaps abroad)

  • A small group of individuals or a club who organise 1 or 2 events per year in a particular area
  • A small company who have a portfolio of events throughout the year

There are many examples of the first type such as London to Brighton (gone), Thames Meander (gone), Grand Union Canal Run (still here), Dartmoor Discovery (still here) that exist purely because of the enthusiasm of a few individuals who really want to see an event happen. There is usually some history behind each one (Dartmoor was born out of someone going out on a long training run and getting lost, GUCR was Dick Kearn just seeing if it was possible to run the whole canal in one go, the Thames Meander was an effort to give the British MDS competitors something to train with).

The second type of events are again run by enthusiasts however it is by individuals who intend to make a living out of it. This is great as it means there is more stuff to do in the UK and they are usually very well organised. The portfolio of events that each company has tends to keep a few dozen employees in a job that they really enjoy and brings great races to the likes of me who are willing to pay for the privilege of doing them.

I do believe there is a difference in atmosphere between these two types of events but do not believe this is driven by how commercial they are. I've run good and bad events of both types and have my favourites like everyone else does. The key difference here is how each of them handles their own success.

For any commercial event company (or indeed business) it is simple economics 101, supply and demand. If their events become oversubscribed they just make them bigger or put more on. For example the incredibly enjoyable endurancelife series of 5 coastal marathons last year has now become 7 marathons. This may involve employing more people or those organising doing a few hours less of their other jobs. Companies have the benefit of scalability.

On the other hand take a group of people who are arranging one event purely for the love of it. They tend to be employed in some other area and once a year organise an event purely for the love of it. They will charge a fee which would just about cover the monetary cost of putting it on but probably not their time. This is not so much a job for them, it is a hobby.

The problem here is that the enthusaism of a few individuals is not scaleable as with a company and when the event becomes really successful it can have a real impact on peoples time. There is not the option to just put on another event or to make it bigger. I suspect that the reason that the Thames Meander was ended was because the enquiries and admin involved in admitting 200 runners (and maybe rejecting 200 more) was too much work for a small group of people and hence it is no more. I also suspect that getting permissions to run events, the prevailance of health and saftey Nazis and possible litigation by unhappy runners has just added to the burden of putting a race on like this. A company could just employ people to do this whereas a family couldn't.

I am sad that the Meander is gone as it was the best event of it's kind. I am also worried by the trend and hope that the GUCR and Dartmoor are not next in line. I'm sure that as long as there is a market for river and canal runs there will be an organisation willing to do it. This is fine, but I'll miss the days when I was running a race that was someones "baby" rather than a catalogue item.

When I grow up I want to have a baby. From the source to the estuary of the Thames is 180 miles. That is a fat one.

I didn't look that bad..

I've just stumbled on this website while browsing through a huge number of posts for the GUCR 2009 on the runners world forum. It is from the TV company that were documenting the race. The photo of me with the headtorch was taken at Tring at 99 miles. I look quite good there (if I do say so myself) and was quite suprised to see it as I recalled feeling crap.

That was before my confusion as to where the 100 mile point was. I thought that was it but I was to later discover that it was a further mile down the canal. It was such a trivial thing but it sent me on a downward spiral that threatened to end my race.

I don't recall any photos or videos being taken at the 120 mile point but if there were they would make for an interesting comparison. Like those "before and after" photos you get of people addicted to heroin, you could have 2 photos and say "this is what running in the night through Hemel and Watford do to an otherwise healthy male".

Next time I'll remember, Tring is 99 miles. I'll write it down on my hand.

Where the silliness started

This weekend is the Athens Marathon. I'm not running it, it's not a great race in my opinion but I'll never forget some of the people I spoke to on the way.

I was doing this as a training run for the Tring2Town, my first ultra and 45 miles long. This race was 3 weeks after I ran a marathon pb of 3.12. I still felt it in my legs a bit.

The route runs from Marathon to Athens which is now a motorway. It finishes in the Parthanon stadium and is reasonably hilly. That is all there is to say about the course except that the organisers managed to get the route to loop onto itself, nearly taking out the lead runners.

Before the start I spoke to an American who said that this was his 50th and last marathon. I felt sad that he seemed do determined to call it a day but at the same time I was amazed at the thought of running 50 marathons. Athens was my 8th and I knew that some day I'd hit 50. That didn't sound too silly.

I started right at the back of the few thousand runners as I wanted to start this off slowly. I then got chatting to a couple of guys from the 100 marathon club. I had no idea that this club existed but the name descibed quite simply what was involved. 100 marathons? That did seem a bit crazy. He then went on to tell me that he had done 40 that year and was doing them every week. A marathon every week? That was silly.

After a few miles of the race I was still feeling good and I caught up with some guys dressed in togas and carrying the British flag. I chatted to them and they revealed that they were training for the "Spartathon". What's that? I asked and they gladly explained that it was a 153 mile non-stop run from Athens to Sparta. Again I had no idea such things existed and dismissed it as really really silly.

Towards the end of the race I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I was still running strong and this was despite running a marathon only 3 weeks ago. I then caught up with a chap from Sutton Runners who must have been over 60. He was also looking quite strong and then he mentioned that the weekend before he had done "the triple", ie the 3 marathons of Snowdon, Beachy Head and Dublin in 3 days. I suddenly didn't feel so special about my running when I'd done 1 marathon 3 weeks ago when this guy had done 3 marathons 1 week ago. That was just ludacrous.

So despite it not being a very good marathon I had 4 encounters that were both humbling but awe inspiring. My own sense of achievement in marathon running was dwarved by the efforts of these people I met along the way. I am not sure as to whether I immediately wanted to follow them. At the time all I wanted to do was finish the marathon I was running. Marathons were a big deal back then.

Now, 2 years on

  • I have reached 50 marathons
  • I have pretty much run them weekly this year
  • I have run 145 miles non-stop
  • I have run "the triple" plus 2 other triples (and a Quintuple)

It is great to think back to times where you thought that what you are doing now is impossible. It makes you feel good about now. I often chat now in races and have the same conversations as I did in Athens, only now I'm the one talking silly. It is really great to hold peoples attention by explaining the running that I now do. I don't mean to be patronising at all when I say "you were much like I was 2 years ago". It can be strange when you are giving the "when I were a lad" speech to someone much older than you.

It seems like so much longer than 2 years. It just goes to show how far you can go in a short space of time. I wonder when I'll next meet a runner who tells me he's done something that I find silly?

A long Weekend

The clocks go back this Sunday and this year it makes more difference to me than it ever has. It means I get an extra hour in bed from when I return home from Snowdon on Saturday night to when I have to get up at the crack of dawn sunday morning to travel to Crawley. As I start the 104 lap track race I'll be laughing to myself about my housemates getting confused about the Hollyoaks omnibus not starting on time.

I am still feeling a bit sore from m first road marathon in 6 months and probably have not appreciated the size of the task I've set myself this weekend. The Snowdon Marathon is on road and hilly, Crawley on Sunday is on  track and Dublin on Monday is road too. If these were muddy off-road affairs then I wouldn't be worried, but I might get hurt doing this.

The weather prediction for Snowdon is pretty dire. Wind, rain and "hill fog". I am going to be spending 20 hour on planes and trains in the next 3 days. Thats a whole 4 weeks worth of commuting.


I feel like I have just performed my first piece of internet trickery. What you see on the right is a "widget" for my justgiving page for the MDS. It wasn't difficult, I just copied and pasted some garbage into a box, cocked it up so did it again and then that thing on the right appeared. Looks nice though.

I've decided to use the Marathon Des Sables to raise some money for Barnardos. Aside from my obvious disgust of children being mistreated I think that kids being abused or neglected represents the ultimate waste of human potential, since these may have another 100 years to live.

Anyway, enough about that. Back to the running which I feel much more comfortable banging on about.

Anyone who runs a lot is subjected to the same barrage of inane questions, Isn't it bad for your knees? Do you have to eat special food? Have you run "The Marathon"? Another one to add to this list is "Do you run for charity?" My usual response is "no - I run for me". Now for six months I get a reprieve. When anyone asks that question now I can respond "well, as you mention it I am running for a charity, please donate some money".

That'll teach em.

A sort of homecoming

Going back to Leicester is always a step back in time for me. Not so much because it reminds me of my childhood where I pass my old school, the pubs I used to illegally drink in and the roads I used to stagger home along. It is a step back in time because this place actually feels like it is 10 years behind the rest of the world.

Public transport is sparse and expensive, people still pay by cash which causes huge delays, the locals are suffering from skin conditions that I'm sure there are treatments for nowadays. I assume this is the main reason why so many of them choose to wear both a hat and a hoodie (or should that be "hoody"?)

Whenever I arrive at the new St Pancras International station I am in two minds about what ticket I buy. Leicester or Paris? Leicester or Paris? Having not brought my passport I decide on Leicester again. I spend the next hour near a couple of star reading, Carling drinking, indoor hat wearing loud tattooed ruffians who I assumed were on their way to the place I try to forget.

I got to my Mum's house and looked in the local paper to see that they have changed the route. I hear they have made it hillier than last year which I don't mind so much as I wasn't going for a fast time tomorrow. Unfortunately it does not go past my Mum's house and sticks to the north of Leicester, I think because the race is much bigger than it was and they needed the wider roads. I hope it does not take away some of the scenic parts of last years race which were quite nice. I also hope someone has cleaned the kebab that I almost slipped over on only 2 miles into the race last year.

As I sit here writing this I have discovered that the public transport in Leicester does not start till 10 which is not good for a 9.15 start. I reluctantly tried to book a taxi but none seem to be available. Looks like tomorrow will start with a 4 mile run to the start. Great.

If I owned a house I'd be remortgaging it right now

Apparently the hysterical mass media are going on about a phenomenon they call "the credit crunch". They say it is a contraction of the supply of credit which has an effect on individuals ability to borrow money and hence spend as well as businesses ability to borrow money and invest. All of this may result in reduced consumer spending leading to higher unemployment rates while inflation remains high due to higher fuel costs. People will have to tighten their belts as they may have to accept lower pay increases and higher costs of living.

As I yawned through yet more stories of how we are all going to be really poor pretty soon I spent my time more productively making a spreadsheet of my races for next year and their estimated costs. It comes to £11000. I have not even filled it yet.

Running isn't really that expensive, an obsesion with running is. £11k is a significant percentage of my disposable income but the time I spend doing the races is an even higher percentage of my disposable time. By some flawed logic I make that good value for money.

This is how it looks so far.

Date Race Distance Entered? Accomodation Travel Cost Others Notes Link
01/01/2009 Zurich NTD Marathon 26.2 Y N N £400 BC, SB

01/01/2009 Serpentine NYD 10k 6.22 N NA NA

04/01/2009 100 Club AGM 26.2 N N N £50

11/01/2009 Genk Marathon 26.2 Y Y Y £200 IS

17/01/2009 Thames Path Ultra 50 Y NA NA £75 IS
24/01/2009 Portland Marathon 26.2 N N N £100 IS
25/01/2009 Gloucester 50k 31 N N N £50
31/01/2008 Town2Tring 40 N Y NA £80 IS
01/02/2008 Tring2Town 40 N Y NA £80 IS
07/02/2009 GB Thames Trot 50 N NA N £75
08/02/2009 Devils Punchbowl 30 N NA N £50 RW
21/02/2008 Thames Meander 54 N NA NA £50
28/02/2009 Lanzarote

Training for MDS (via deliberate alcohol related dehydration)
08/03/2009 Duchy Marathon 26.2 N N N £100 IS

29/03/2009 Marathon De Sables 151 Y Y Y £3,000 NP
10/04/2009 N&D Marathon Night 26.2 N N N £50
Visit Home
11/04/2009 N&D Marathon Day 26.2 N N N £50

26/04/2009 London Marathon 26.2 Y NA NA £50 IS, MB, SB

03/05/2009 Three Forts Marathon 26.2 N NA N £50 IS
04/05/2009 Belfast Marathon 26.2 N N N £200 IS
09/05/2009 Exmoor Marathon 26.2 N N N £100
10/05/2009 Halstead & Essex Marathon 26.2 N N N £50

23/05/2009 Grand Union Canal Race 145 N N N £300 MB?

13/06/2009 South Downs Marathon 26.2 N NA N £50

20/06/2009 The Picnic 26.2 N NA NA £50 RW
27/06/2008 RAW Scandinavia 122 N N N £1,000
Probably won't happen but looks amazing

13/07/2009 Al Andalus Trail 150 N N N £1,000
19/07/2009 Fairlands Valley 26.2 N N N £50

25/07/2009 Davos 49 N N N £500 IS, OS Sub 8 easy
01/07/2009 ONER 78.6 N N N £200

09/08/2009 Salisbury Marathon 26.2 N N N £100

22/08/2009 Ridgeway Challenge 85 N N N
30/08/2009 Seaford Marathon 26.2 N N N
06/09/2009 Wolverhampton Marathon 26.2 N N N
GA Get Dad to run half

25/09/2009 Spartathlon 153 N N N £1,000
Sub 30

14/10/2009 Leicester Marathon 26.2 N N N £50 GA See Mum