10 peaks challenge



It has been a long time since I have been in the lake district, more than a year which is longer than I'd normally like to leave it after discovering it's magnificence a few years back. Usually I am not here for an event (unless you count the Anniversary Waltz which I managed to come last in last year). The excuse to nip up there this time was to run the 10 peaks challenge, climbing the 10 biggest peaks in the lake district. 24 hour cut off and I'd have to finish in 16 hours to make it back to Keswick for the famous Cow Pie dinner. 45miles and 5600 meters of elevation. How hard can it be? We had our feet in the clouds. That give me an idea for a book..

We started at 4am at the base of Helvelyn, 951m, one of the bigger peaks. 200 odd runners plodded single file up a steep climb up some rock steps to the summit, it took nearly an hour and by the top by which time the sun had risen and the day looked glorious. one down, a nice down hill bit of running and we were well into this.

I was doing this as Ben Cope wanted to do something epic in his 30th year and what better than smashing your legs on some of Britains finest rock. It wasn't just rock though, there were bogs everywhere. It has pissed it down in England for a month and everywhere was soaked. Luckily the weather today was perfect, glorious sunshine and no rain. In the first running of this event no one finished due to the bad weather.

I was also with Mike Wilcox who was running like a dog who had never been out for a run before, jumping over and into things and generally being stupid. Two of his friends Tim and Oli were with us too, they knew the way along with Ben and so we were determined to stick with them.

We climbed another two significant peaks before being told that those don't count in the 10 peaks they are just smaller peaks that you have to climb to get up the the main peaks. So after 4 hours of climbing up and down and up and down we were still only on one peak. That Cow Pie might not happen now.

It was really hard even on the flat grassy bits as there was water everywhere and I made a very poor choice of shoe. Much as I love these shoes they were certainly not fell shoes and not good for kicking rocks which I was doing a lot. I lost my shoe once and spent much of the time on my arse, at some point sliding down a hill faster than I could ever hope to run down.

Finally we managed to get to the second peak Bowfell, 902m tall. It was frustrating that we had to climb up and down three others to get there.

The terrain here is brutal. It brought back wonderful memories of the Barkley race in April as to just how difficult it is to get any momentumn on here at all. There was some running down Helwelyn but from then on we were just hiking. Going down was hard, we were staggering around like Bambi. I don't think any of us were any good at it. I thought the Bob Graham Round might be doable by me but now I am certain it's not as I can't go down anything at any pace.

I thought about how this compares to Barkley. The climbs are as severe. The distance and total elevation is about a third of the Barkley so the time limit of 24 hours is quite tight. The only difference is that where there are rocks here in Tennesse there are dead trees. On the beautiful clear day you could see all around and it reminded me of Frozen Head Park. This is definitely good training.

We did the next few peaks in quick succession which was great. Great End, 910 m, Ill Crag, 935 m, Broad Crag, 934 m and Scafell Pike, 978 m all seemed to fall away quickly. I had never been up Englands highest mountain before and so getting up Scafell Pike was a novelty. There were a lot of tourists up there. We then headed straight off to climb Scarfel which was a bit lower but a harder climb and one with two options. One involved a rake and another a fox and a tarn. We took the foxes tarn and regretted it as it took a lot longer climbing up a waterfall and up a load of scree. It took ages to get up there. There was an option of not doing this climb and incuring a 1 hour penalty. We did this then had to go up scafell pike again to get back onto the course, taking about 2 and a half hours. At this point we lost Oli and Tim who had gone up the rake.

So, 7 peaks done in about 9 hours, seemed like we were doing well but we were hardly into it yet. The next peak was bloody miles away.

Great Gable, 899 m, was some climb. We could see it in the distance for ages before climbing it. It was here when the estimated finish time went from "guaranteed cow pie" to "no way are we going to get this done before midnight". That made me grumpy. I wanted a cow pie.

Going up Great Gable was hard enough, coming off it was stupid. There was a long line of us scrambling down the scree, trying to stay on our feet but slipping all over the place and kicking rocks down the hill. I though if enough people did this all the rocks would end up on the bottom which would make this a lot easier. I yelled at a rock and told it to fuck off, something I have not done since the Marathon Des Sables a few years back. I had a proper sense of humour failure coming down that hill, we were told at the top that the next checkpoint was only 1k away and it was downhill. Still took us half an hour and at the bottom we were told that after 8 peaks we were still only about half way through the race. Bugger.

The next stop was an epic journey to Pillar, I think the smallest of the peaks but by far the longest hike to get to. We could see it in the distance but it was still over a load of rocks. On the way here we saw Carla Denneny coming the other way who had already down Pillar. I thought she was just ahead but I was not quite prepared for just how far we had to go. We were warned about false peaks on this and we sure did get some of those.

After a load of walking on the flat but still tripping over rocks we headed for the peak in the distance. It drew near and up we went, I commented that at least we were half way up so didn't have to go up a whole peak. It did not seem to make it any easier though and later on their way down we saw Tim and Oli coming off the peak and they told us it's about another half an our to the top. I did not quite believe them as I was pretty sure we were near the top and sure enough about 5 minutes later we were at the top. Of a different peak. Scafel Waterfall

Pillar was way ahead, which meant going down and then back up again. FFS. I was quite grumpy now and my feet were sore from kicking rocks. Itdid indeed take another half an hour to get to the top of the other peak and then back down, back up then back down into the swamp and rocks. They really should have tarmaced this place for some sort of ultra skateboarding event in the Olympics. I think at some point I was resigned to not having anything to eat whenever I crawled back into Keswick later so I texted Gemma to tell her to get me lots of milkshake for the finish. On coming back from Pillar we had a nice section heading to Honiston Pass where we'd get some hot food which we were all looking forward to. Mike had already deicded to drop and I was tempted but the promise of a "nice flat run to Keswick and then only Skidaw left" seemed to keep me in the race.

We got the checkpoint and had a jacket potato and chilli which went down very nice except that we too were getting eaten by the midges. Ben and I waited for about 20 minutes but did not see him come in. He got lost apparently in a dehydrated daze. Ben and I pushed on, and what better way to start the nice flat run into Keswick than with a bloody great big muddy hill.

I think it was a combination of slipping and kicking a rock, really hurting my foot and getting a bounceback from the text message about the milkshake that made me quit. I was done. I fell in love with the idea of getting back to the B&B before midnight and having a normal nights sleep. I felt sorry for Ben who wanted to keep going and I was going to bail on him but I just could not be arsed with this anymore and justified it to myself by saying that I might injure myself on those rocks in the dark and that would make Spartathlon training hard. I really quit because I have become a quitter of late.

So I urged Ben to catch up with a couple of guys in front while I took the road to Keswick. I got back around 11pm and had a cold cow pie waiting for me. I didn't really deserve it but I ate it anyway. The shingle down Great Gable

Ben finished in 23.30, half an hour inside the cut-off having had a miserable time descending Skiddaw with blistered feet. Tim, Oli and Carla finished sometime before. It truely was an apic and difficult event and with perfect weather still a challenge completing inside the cut off. I need to cure my quitters disease before going back but I certainly recommend it.



Newry City Marathon

I decided to not run the GUCR this year, I didn't think I could give it as much as I should and pulled out so that someone else could have a go at the UK's best race. I have since signed up to the UTSW 100 miler which is in only two weeks now. Anyhoo, another reason I pulled out of the GUCR was to attend a friends wedding in Newcastle in Northern Ireland. I am at that age where my friends are selfishly pairing off meaning that I am often asked to attend an engagement part, a stag do then a wedding, all putting a huge strain on my ability to go running every weekend.

I'm only joking of course and the wedding was fantastic and it was great to see two friends getting hitched. There was a huge amount of cheese to eat instead of a cake and eating cheese and drinking through the night certainly caused some interesting nightmares. I still don't think I've mentioned to James Edgar what we were doing in a boat on some really icy water that night. I'm glad that none of it actually happened.

But it would be rude to go to wedding and not check out the local talent right? And so a few weeks before the big day I had a look on the interweb and found a marathon just 30 miles away. 26.2 through a nice city on a road, two days after the wedding. Perfect for burning off some of the excesses.

I was gluttonous this weekend and went into this marathon near my "LA weight". However I didn't have 3200 miles or diarrheoa to help me drop the pounds.

The weather was perfect, drizzle and cool, like NI should be. We climbed the biggest mountain the day before, the mighty 800m tall Slieve Donnard before having a curry. I was taking Ben through my usual pre-race routine. Amy managed to forget her Garmin which didn't panic her as much as I thought it might. I watched the end of Lord of the Rings the previous night and thought that Garmins are are bit like precious. At first they are a shiny new novelty, oh look you can go invisible. The you start to crave it all the time, need it with you constantly when you run and then the day comes when you are without it and you turn into a slimy, flemmy, balding, twisted blathering mentalist who will bite you to get the thing back. Not that Amy was like that at all but I imagine some are. Tolkien was way ahead of his time. My precious average pace

So Ben and I set out on the Marathon and Amy and Gemma were doing the half and starting 30 minutes later. We set out from the town with about 200 others out onto a river towpath then onto some very quiet and undulating roads.

I kept Ben in sight for about 5 miles but it was clear that he was going for sub 3 and it was clear that I was not going to do that, I was determined to run it quite fast though so was keeping up a good pace. Early on I was passed by Graham who I have not seen for a couple of years and it was great to chat to him for a bit.

The first half was nicely up and down. Nothing hurt too much from the previous day of walking though the groin tightened again and the achilles hurt. I have not been sticking myself too much. It was not long before I was alone, not many in sight. I got passed a few times around the half way mark and tried to stick with a group who were going a bit faster that I wanted to but I tried to keep up anyway. Then that made me need a poo so I had to stop and do what the Pope does in the woods. It was onyl with two miles to go that I asked one of the guys with a silly watch what the time was and he said just coming up to three hours. Awesome, I was on for 3.15, at LA weight. Not bad.

I finished in 3.13.56, Ben had done sub three, both of us had done our third fastest marathons ever and it was my fastest for 4 years. My last PB was after climbing three mountains the day before. Clearly my mistake this time was only climbing one.

Really nice race if you happen to be in Northern Ireland, not quite a PB course with the hills early on but they are great for stopping you running like an idiot in the first half. There is still possibly some speed in the fat dog yet.

And that capped off an awesome weekend. Oh and I got engaged. Now Gemma strokes this ring like precious, I have not seen her wear a Garmin since.

So that will mean an engagement party, a stag do and a wedding, ruining a lot of peoples running schedule. Sorry about that.

Portsmouth Marathon

For some reason I had in my head that this was a road marathon. Not sure why as the race info made no such suggestion. I guess I still had Luton on my mind which is never a great thing to happen. Luton (that I have entered 5 times and not even started yet) was cancelled for the second time in 3 years due to ice. Now I hear they are moving it 3 weeks forward into November so that this is less likely to happen. Trouble is that November has some quite cool events like the Druids Challenge, Pembroke Challenge, Cornwall Marathon and so forth and so it's unlikely I'll ever do Luton again if there is something more glamorous on that weekend. And on the subject of glamorous, Portsmouth.

Has I have known that this was mostly off road I would not have queued for the toilets so much. There were about 300 people shivering around the startline. I caught up with a few friends beforehand though I barely recognised Drew Sheffield is his slinky little purple dress. I later discovered that it was the running vest of the Wootton Runners. Whilst chatting to Jany and the Paynes at the start we seemed to miss the starting gun (or whistle or shout or bong or whatever it was). We saw the mass of people shift forward and figured that we should start running too. Lovely Sludge - Thanks Ruth Emma Benzira for the Photo

I stuck with Ian and Nick for the first few miles which were on the promenade and then into some mud. There was not too much of it and the weather had been kind again over the previous few days to not make it too muddy. We have been really lucky with dry races so far this winter, I can only imagine that this will change when the ultra races start proper again in Jan. I saw Cleo Oliver for the first time in well over a year and she welcomed me to her "local" marathon. I said she should come and run my local marathon in Leicester. I never tire of telling the story about how my Leicester marathon nearly ended after just 2 miles after slipping over on a kebab. It wasn't mine by the way.

I managed to keep up with Nick and Ian and Claire for most of the first half. Ian and Lucy had to be done quick so that they could get back to watch a Bournemouth football game. I remember Lucy's exact words last week when she said "I'm not f****g about, 4 hours then we are out of there". Claire, Gus, Jany and I also had to get a move on as it was our running club's Xmas party that night. Everyone was in such a rush that we forgot to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Portsmouth.

Ian informed me that we passed the 6 mile marker in exactly 45 minutes which according to my calculation was an average of 7.30 minute miles. Now, I make a general rule in reading race reports or listening to people that I stop reading/listening on the third mention of the phrase "minute mile", however I may break that horribly here as for the first time in ages I felt like I was in some sort of race. I had no phone for facebook, no camera, there were no sausage rolls or any other excuse to hang around at checkpoints and it was bloody freezing and I was in just shorts and a vest. Had no choice really.

It was quite a straighforward course with no real difficulty in direction. About 3 miles of promenade, a few miles of coastal path and a little shingle and then a long stretch to 13 miles of hard trail where you could see the runners coming back in the other direction. On the approach to half way I saw the leader and the 2nd placed guy quite a way ahead of third. Dave Ross was the first person I recognised on the way up to half way and I later discovered that he and his wife Mel have both just got places for the Western States 100. It would be great to see them next year as they plan on being in Vegas around the same time as I will for the LANY race.

I made the turn at halfway at about 1.38, still feeling like I could keep that pace up even though I have not run that fast for a year. I high-fived everyone as I ran back the other way, scoring 8 out of 8 perfectly I think. I decided not to do Claire as I was worried she would fall over. I started to wonder when to have an energy gel and then I started to wonder even more about when I last even wondered about when to have an energy gel. I used to panic about such things, do I take it after 15.7 miles or 16.2? How many should I have? 3? 5? This time I just had 2 in my pockets and took the first after about 16 when a water station arrived. Only 6 months out of date. F**k this is boring. Typical Trail - Thanks Ruth again

I didn't see the rest of the guys again. I think Claire stopped off for a date with Elliott Loohire. Is that even a real name? I can imagine young Elliott trying to find his way in life. The tanning salon didn't work out, the Fish & Chip shop probably didn't work out too. Just as he was about to give up on running hs own business he had an inspirational idea, perhaps people could hire things from me? But what?

Anyhoo, I assumed Claire would spring past me with a smile on her face as she so likes to do in these things, Drew did say at the end he tried to give her a chocolate flavoured Gu gel that he knows makes her sick. Ian I think was in need of several dates with Elliott and Nick had fallen back as he had not run too far recently. We joked at the start about the usual question "How far is a marathon?" I think he forgot.

My body behaved itself mostly and the runners knee came and went throughout but I managed to ignore it towards the end as I was distracted by my own heavy fat breathing. I was overtaking people pretty constantly over the second half and don't recall getting overtaken apart from a woman and her dog near the end. I was pleased as this meant that I was probably keeping a fairly constant pace or perhaps even running faster. I did feel a little wobbly during miles 18-24 which apparently is normal in a marathon. I'd normally respond to this by slowing down and having a sandwich but it did not feel right here so I just leaned forward a bit and made sure that if I did wobble then at least I'd go forwards.

Some Shingle -Thanks again Ruth :)It's a great marathon for a speedy finish. The last 2 miles being on the promenade again and allowing you to put your foot down. I did and ran through the finish funnel and was presented with a voucher for a free burger, awesome. I had no idea at that stage what time I had done and to be honest didn't really care. However since then I have thought about it a bit. It was not super fast, around 3.20 but that was the fastest I have sustained 26.2 miles for a long time and given that I am a bit out of shape (85.2kg is quite fat even for me) I was pleased. I grabbed the burger and wandered over to watch the others finish while sporting my foil blanket (feeling like a proper marathon runner).

Claire bounced in. I yelled at Drew and the guy he was running with that there was only 1 burger left which caused a sprint finish. It was strange watching all these people finish as usually they are the ones waiting for me. It was not much harder than a flat road marathon overall.

This was a great first showing of the Portsmouth Marathon and I imagine I'll be back next year to do it. I'd be lying if I said it was the prettiest of them all but it was well organised, lots of water stops and a burger van at the end. The weather was kind and I am told that the norm is for heavy wind and rain/mud. That would make it a lot harder.

Anyhoo, since then I am getting a load of sarcastic comments about being fast (yes the "s" is supposed to be in there). Hardly deserved really with 3.20 or whatever. I am actually quite curious as to what my exact time was to see whether it was less than 7.30 minute miles and

Oh shit. Boring. I just broke my own rule. You can stop reading now.



Woodford Cross Country - 8k

"GET HER! CATCH HER! DESTROY HER! KEEP RUNNING! FINISH HER! KILLLLL HERRRRRR!!!!!" These were the words shouted at a 10 year old girl by (I assume) her father as she sprinted up a hill to catch some other 10 year old girl who happened to be wearing different coloured stripes. I am not sure whether she caught her mortal rival. I don't know what her punishment would have been for failure. No cartoons for a week? No going out with friends for a month? No boyfriends until she is 27? I did see one girl crying her eyes out. I'm not too sure what I had gotten myself into here. Certainly felt more intimidating than my last race in Greece. At least there I could be sure that no one was going to try to kill me.

 I have been suffering a 2 week post race depression, more so than I had done before. For the whole year I have had the insane summer of madness to look forward to. During the summer I always had the next challenge to look forward to. Once Spartathlon was over and once the pain disappeared I felt quite low as there was nothing epic on the horizon. I am done with ultras for the year, I have a few marathons to keep me out of trouble. Still I was really looking forward to Cross Country. I had not done this for years. In fact the last time I ran a XC race I was chicked. It was a Man's race, she just said she was running with the guys to chat them up. I have no idea why she was talking to me, I couldn't breathe.

Cross Country is a really big deal for the Serpentine and I really wanted to get involved in some of the club events. My attendance in club races has been poor over the past years since I got into ultra running. I am determined to do as many XC races as I can fit in for the Serpies this year, not that I will be any use in the scoring stakes, only the top million score any points. I was ready to see how laughably bad I have become at trying to run fast.

The first fixture of the Metropolitan League (there are lots of leagues, I don't understand, I just turn up and run round till they tell me to stop) was in Woodford Green, the weather was great, sunny and dry, which was bad for cross country as it's supposed to be muddy and wet. People who know about these things were discussing how 3mm of metal might change their fortunes during the race. 9mm or 12mm? Or trail shoes? I had no idea. I wore my Walshs for the first time ever and did not want to get them dirty.

The course was 8k, in 3 loops (I thought it was 2) with at least 1 hill each lap and from memory 1 puddle. I started at the back and within 1k I was walking through a narrow section, just like the UTMB. I was confident of finishing before midnight though.

For loads of people I spoke to this was their first cross country since school. That brought back memories. I remember the stories before we went to "big" school about the miles and miles you have to run in the mud and if you did not finish in 35 minutes you had to do it again in your pants. It was not the most nasty rumour before going to that school. There were more, stuff that happens in the toilets between 8-9, don't ever sign up to the French exchange student program and don't get left alone with the woodwork teacher, he is fearsome with all those vices.

I had never ran any kind of distance before but cross country when I was 11 was the first time I realised that I actually liked running and I was (relatively) good at it. My approach was simple, on seeing the 100m stretch of road into the parks I thought "don't set out like you are running a 100m race, take it easier". I did this and I was fine. At least half the kids did just that, ran out like it was a race to the end of the road and then collapsed as soon as we hit the trail. Most of these kids were thick (I grew up in Leicester, it's a high proportion) and some of the fatter ones would try and hit the smaller kids as they went past. They were usually easy to avoid though, fat knackered kids pose little threat as they are imobile. On giving them a wide berth they may yell at you that they will get you after school bit for the next 20 minutes or so I was safe. Oh and by the way Ashley Wilson I don't recall you getting me back for that? How are you you fat twat? How is prison?

I was stuck behind a load of people in Woodford and was a bit apprehensive about making a move for it as I would probably blow up and look ridiculous. All the way round I got comments such as "only 100 miles to go" and "76 more laps". I actually thought it was over as I came in from the second lap, I had no idea what 8k was or how much 40ish minutes was, the sun was still in the same position in the sky for all of the race. How am I supposed to tell the time? Overtaking people is actually quite a tactical thing (as I imagine it is at the sharp end of races). There is more to it than just running faster than someone for a bit, you have to be in position and respond to any increase in pace they may show. It's more like formula 1 than running. At least that is how I imagine it is at the front, I was plodding along looking at some Highgate Harriers fat arse.

I really want to use these as fun speedwork. It's been a long time since I've gone out and tried to run fast for any length of time. The promise of cake at the end and a heaving pub full of Serpies is enough to get me out of bed for 8k. A bit less than Naomi Campbell.

This is whats known in the trade as "Defending the rear from enemy fire"The Serpies ended up smashing it all round. The Men's and Women's team won. They also each came 5th place too (like I said I don't really understand). I came 252nd out of at least 253 runners. My time was 36.06 and more importantly my shoes did not get a speck of mud on them.

I really enjoyed it in the end. The next one I can make is on the 23rd October and is for the Liddard Trophy (I don't understand). It really helped ease the post Spartathlon blues. I couldn't make a habit of it though, next week is a lovely and hard trail marathon. I just hope that no one shouts at me.

Spartathlon 2010

Best dressed?I thought about the streets of Sparta every day since I finished Badwater. I had made Badwater my 4 year obsession and finishing that was something that I had to do, however along the journey to Death Valley I came across a race that just blows everything else out of the water. I did not see this coming when I set out to complete Badwater all that time ago but I am very glad of the discovery. I don't want to say that Badwater didn't mean anything because it meant the world to me, but even while ascending those long passes and struggling through the heat I knew I was going to finish and hence the fear of failure was not there. Deep down I knew that this was another step on the way to the main event of the year.

It's quite hard to say what it is about the Spartathlon that has me (and hundreds of hardcore ultra marathon veterans) flocking to Athens late September every year. Maybe it's the history? Or the international field. Or the welcoming nature of the organisers and helpers of the race. Or perhaps it's the severe cut-off times that eliminate more than half the field each year. Whatever it is the Spartathlon is a fixture in the calendar of so many runners, for most including myself it is the last "big" race of the year. I had unfinished business here, though I finished last year I did not feel like I beat the race. My body was so broken I could not run to the statue of Leonidas as I had dreamed of before. This time I was back to live that dream.

The Start - Getting to Corinth

Busy AthensThe race starts as soon as the sun starts to shine on the Acropolis of Athens, high up in the capital on a Friday morning. It really is an inspiring yet intimidating sight to see such a huge formation of rock that was present 2500 years ago when the pioneer of ultra-running Phiedippides ran the distance we were all about to start. I tried not to think too much about what was up ahead because I knew how hard it was.

It all felt very familiar as we descending the cobbles of the Acropolis and down into the city, as if I had never left this race. Perhaps I never had? I have been thinking about it so much. The concrete paths with random bollards sticking up, the police halting the rush hour traffic of Athens and then the long uphill road out of the city. I even found myself running with some of the same people as last year, a girl with a pink skort, a very large Norwegian guy with a very impressive moustache and a Korean guy who seemed to run with a load of pots and pans who jangled along like a brass band. After a couple of miles a tram crossing closed to allow a tram by but some runners just ignored and ran straight across. For the sake of 20 seconds is it worth getting hit by a tram? Well, actually sometimes those 20 seconds....

I had become seperated from the other Brits and was not too sure where everyone was. I figured Mark and Peter were up ahead. I was intending to take the first 50 miles slower than last year as I felt like I burnt out a bit doing the first 50 miles in 7.37. It was not as hot as last year (it was going to be about 28 rather than 33) but it was quite humid as it hade been raining quite a lot. That combined with the traffic and the oil refineries made breathing quite hard work for everyone. My achillies, calves and groin were already complaining just as they were this time last year. I stopped to stretch a few times but knew I didn't really have too much to worry about, just like last year I just need about 30 miles in the legs before things loosen up a bit.

The first marathon came in around 4.15, half an hour slower than last year. It was perfect in terms of time but I was worried that I didn't really feel any fresher for it, I was warm and uncomfortable and sweating hugely. I had made a decision (a good one I think) to carry a water bottle with me and the electrolyte solution which may help me avoid the kidney problems I had last year. The next 24 miles were tough too, it was getting warm and the sweat was blinding me. Miles 30-50 are along a road next to the Aegean sea, it is a beautiful blue colour and in the heat of the day the temptation to wander down and jump in is huge. There is a slight breeze sometimes but not enough to dry my face. I spend this section running close to Neil who is here despite a foot injury which has not yet caused any bother. We talk about how bloody tough the race is even though we know we are only a quarter of the way in. The sea looks so blue and there are moments when you are only a few feet away from it. The temptation to dive in is incredible.Scenic

Checkpoints become less and less busy, it becomes much easier to grab things and move on. I decided to take no personal food with me at all this year as last year I took lots and ate none of it. I was relying on the supplies on the tables which were very basic. Crisps, biscuits, fruit and drinks. There was plenty of coke which was diluted with water. I heard a girl rush up and ask for "just coke" from one of the helpers. They looked back a little concerned and said "you know it's not good for you don't you?" I nearly spat mine out.

The last few miles into Corinth are on a busy highway in the heat of the day. It goes up slightly and feels like more of an effort than it should be. I'm looking forward to the first major checkpoint of the race, 50 miles with a 9.30 cut-off, I get there in 8.35, almost exactly an hour slower than last time, which is fine as that was the intention, however I feel shattered and out of energy. I felt great at this point last year, and I was an hour ahead.

Why do people come back again and again to do this? It certainly is not for the views. I had just run through 50 miles of dirty city and industrial estates that reeked of oil and dead animals (and one human as discovered by an American on a toilet stop). If you were trying to pick an ugly 50 miles you'd do well to beat this.  And so many runners come here carrying some niggles or injuries that really should prevent them from starting. But once you get the place and start getting the information through the post it is hard to stay away. Runners will start and "see how it goes", some would describe this as not being sensible. Well I think that if were were sensible we'd not apply to enter the race in the first place.

No really, it's beautiful. So there I was, sat down at Corinth eating rice while contemplating what I was doing there. I was there to complete an event that was ugly, pointless and stupid. This made me chuckle and get off my chair. I only half finished the rice. I said goodbye to Stu and Bob who had unfortunately dropped from the race and headed into the quiet roads through the olive fields. I spent a lot less time in that CP than I did last year.

Getting to the mountain.

Now the route becomes quite nice. The roads are much quieter and most of the traffic is that of the support crews for the race who are only allowed to start supporting after the 50 mile point. I had broken this race down into 4 parts; getting to Corinth, getting to the mountain, getting over the mountain and then getting to the statue. I was 9 hours in, a quarter in absolute time and a third in absolute distance but these meant little. I remembered that later in the race every mile can feel like 5 and minutes feel like hours. I ran with Neil for a few more miles but decided to push on as I really started to feel much better.

A support car was driving slowly and asking everyone where they were from. I heard "Korea", "Italia" and "Brasil" behind me. The car caught up to me and without even asking they just pointed at me and yelled "GREEK". I would have protested but I was sporting a beard and a tan so could easily see the confusion. If you are going to run this race I have a little gem of advice, if you run near the Brasilian team you get followed by a car full of hotties, helps to distract. Most of the nationalities sported nice matching kits for the race. Brazil, Japan, Estonia, Italy all looked very smart and could easily be identified. I commented at the start that the British turn up looking like a bunch of tramps wearing all sorts of random crap that we have accumulated from races in the UK. I was wearing the twat hat again and it was doing it's job well.

Not long after I upped the pace I spotted Mark, he looked like he was struggling. Gemma had been texting me with updates on how the Brits were doing and told me that Mark had gone through Corinth nearly an hour before me along with Emily Gelder. I chatted to him for a few minutes and walked up a short hill. I said see you later and carried on, expecting him and Neil to catch up with me again at some stage. The tempting sea

Around 60 miles in I started chatting to an American who seemed in really good spirits except he told me that he was shitting blood and asked me for advice on what to do. I really didn't know what to say as I didn't know how serious that is. (It IS serious). I told him about my experience of pissing blood and suggested that if nothing was really hurting then it probably was not too bad. I could not tell him that everything was fine but nor could I tell him that he should pull out of the race. I said as much and headed off again.

Soon after I passed the villiage where the kids run up to you and ask for autographs. I signed a few and they seem to really go crazy for it. Martin told me after the race that he likes to sign "David Beckham" when he does them. It's quite nice though you can't do them all and I felt guilty when I ran past a child with a pad and pen held out. Still, not as guilty as I would feel if that American died.

100k came in around 11 hours and I was still feeling really good. The field was really spacing out now and sometimes I had no one in view, ahead or behind. The roads are permanently marked so well that it is almost impossible to get lost. Not long after I catch up with Kevin who I met the previous day. He looked to be going through a rough patch just as Mark had and I told him that it would pass. Such a huge race you are going to go through several low points and I had had some of mine in the first 50 miles, but now I was making good progress and had to run my own race and press on. I said bye again, fully expecting to bump into him later on.

I remember from last year that the big rolling hills start here, they are a bit steeper than the ones we have faced so far. The sun sets suddenly and I realise that I had stupidly left my night gear at CP35, I was only on 30. I had a good 10 miles to go in the dark with no lights. The clouds had covered the moon so natural light was minimal. I used the light on my phone when needed to keep on the road and followed any other light I could find.

This year I had gone really easy on drop bags, leaving only 4. Suncream at CP15, Night clothes and Torch at CP35, A change of shoes and socks at CP 49 just after the mountain and then daytime clothes at CP60A. I took absolutely no food and was going to rely on what was at the checkpoints. Last year I had 20 drop bags with food but ended up not touching most of them. I just kept it simple this time although I messed up the timing of the sunset.

Not long after I got my night gear, which was nothing more than a long sleeve top, a reflective gillet and a torch it started to rain. It just started with drizzle but slowly got worse until you could describe it as proper rain. On the plus side the water gushing down was acting like ice on my legs and easing the pain a little but worryingly I was starting to feel cold. It was no where near the coldest part of the night yet and I still had the mountain to climb, which is cool at the best of times. One of the guys in the checkpoint commented on my running attire. I was wearing a shirt with collars and a silly hat. He said he saw me at the start and just assumed I was a tourist following the race. He said I looked like the smartest runner out there which was funny as I was recently called the second scruffiest man in the Serpentine running club.

olive fieldsI worried a bit about the mountain. I didn't do a good job of it last year and if I am freezing and slipping about all over the place that will only make it worse. Almost on that thought the heavens really did open and turn the roads into streams and mud baths. I was amazed again how muddy it got as the rain coincided with the off-road section of the run at about 90 miles. It got so bad I cowered under the gazebo of the next checkpoint and stole a black bag to shelter from the pouring rain, it was horrendous. I stayed there for about 10 minutes waiting for the rain to abate as slowly more and more runners came and did the same. The cover was small and others complained of being cold.

We joked at the start about me being cursed in races and them ending up being cut short. It happened in the Marathon Des Sables and again in the UTMB. Ultrarunners (well the ones I know anyway) don't want anything to be cut short or even for other circumstances to make it easier. No one wants to do Badwater on a "cool" year or Rotherham on a dry year. I looked at the weather reports before the race and was actually a little disappointed to see that is was only about 28 degrees rather than the 30's we had last year (though the humidity more than compensated). Many of us have this perverse desire for the conditions to be really bad just to make it even tought, like 40 degrees or a tropical storm or hurricanes. The rain sure was making it hard and I was thinking about how difficult it would be to get up the mountain, but I was more concerned that they might not even let anyone try.Temple of Apollo. I completely missed this last year.

It finally calmed down and I started to run on again, faster for some reason as if I could outrun the next down pour. Runners covered their reflective tops with black bags and became ghosts on the road, you could not see them event while shining a light near them. It was a strange sensation not knowing whether it was a person in front of you or just a blip in your vision. I was getting tired, still a bit cold and some of the road turned into river. I was ankle deep running through some times and the darkness make me paranoid about twisting my ankles. Still the cold water on my legs was very welcome.

Before long I could see the point of the race that smashed my legs last year, the long switchbacks on the roads leading up to the rocky climb of Sangras Pass.

It looked a lot like the climbs I had seen in the UTMB last month, headlmaps heading off up into the stars except this one had a long stretch of highway building up to it. I was starting to feel sleepy and remembered that I had a Red Bull shot in my belt and was thinking of the opportune moment to take it. I managed to sleep quite well the previous night, I don't panic about not sleeping nowadays which helps and I tried to lay off the caffiene the week before. There is a CP just before the 2km climb up to "Base Camp" - CP47. I had a cup of coffee and leisurely walked up the road, the first time in the race I felt like I took it easy. I could see for miles behind me at the villages that I had been through and the small glowing lights making their way towards the mountain. It really is an astonishing sight and one that I'd like to keep on seeing every year.

Base Camp - I got there around 3am, a little behind last year but I was certainly catching up with my former self. There is a different feel to this checkpoint, there are a lot more people there and several places to lie down and have a massage. I took this opportunity and felt great afterwards. While drinking a coffee I took some time to chat to the mainly British staff. They commented on how young I was and what I was doing such races for at that age. I didn't know what to say really, what was the alternative. I've just spent 20 hours running and now I have to climb a mountain. Would I trade this for being caged up in a pen to run some road marathon somewhere?

Getting over the mountain

As soon as you walk out of the checkpoint you start the ascent, very steep, lose rocks and lit up with glow sticks and bike lights. It's sometimes hard to tell whether a light up ahead is one of the markers or another runner. Last year on my scramble up this seemed to take forever and I was passed by at least 15 people on the way up. This time no one passed me at all which must have meant I got up there a lot quicker. It certainly felt much easier and shorter this time. I had no way of knowing as I didn't time it last time and I was not wearing a watch now anyway, I decided against this as I remember how crazy it drove me last year. In what seemed like no time at all I was back at the checkpoint where last year I was bundled into a chair and wrapped in a blanket. No need for bundling this time, I just walked over and sat down.

checkpoint at nightThis time last year I was the first Brit to get to this point. This year I was the first British man, there were 2 female Brits who were having an amazing race. As soon as I was identified as British the marshalls there would tell me about Emily Gelder who was having an amazing race and leading the women and not far out of the top 10. She was doing amazingly well as was Heather Foundling-Hawker who was joint 2nd female. I was really pleased to see the Brit's having a good go at it this year and hoped that those just behind me, Mark, Neil, Kevin, Peter, Martin, Colin and all would be up here soon. A lot of people get the chop here. If you arrive just short of the cut-off you then have 40 minutes to get to the top of the mountain and then 35 to get back down. Fail that and you'll be picked up by the "Death Bus". I heard lots of stories about the Death Bus.

The Death Bus hangs back from the race and crawls along at the pace of the cut-offs. Though I had never been that close to the cut-offs I had visions of this thing snapping at your ankles and trying to run you over. Once you are on the bus you join all those who fell before you. In all likeliness they are going to be an unhealthy bunch. They may have had to pull out with sickness, stomach problems, dehydration, exhaustion or injury. Sat on this bus are living (just about) examples of some of the bad things that ultras do to you. If you happen to not be in such a state you soon will be on smelling and inhaling the terrible things that slosh around the place. You will be hoping the bus arrives in Sparta quickly, except it will only start the journey to Sparta when it is full. They joked about trying to knobble runners who were flagging just to fill the bus so everyone can get out of there. I don't want to get on that bus. I don't want to be anywhere near it.The rain

It did not rain at all on the mountain, I was amazed it was bone dry. The downpour that seemed to follow us for a few miles only got a few of the runners, some missed it entirely and wondered what the fuss was. I jogged carefully down the other side. It's not nearly as steep as the up and the path is generally good but I didn't want to put a foot wrong. I broke here last time and around 20 people passed me. Last year I felt so lame as everyone else seemed to trot down the other side with some new found energy. I was terrible at downs and I know now that I am a bit less terrible. Only 2 people passed me this time, I felt good about this, I'm not so lame anymore. I had one fall on my arse but got to the bottom without incident and went further down the roads into Siagas, checkpoint 49 where I had a fresh pair of shoes waiting.

Getting to the statue

I was glowing having got up and down the mountain without any bother at all. I continued to run and for the first time I didn't recognise any of the roads ahead, it was like I was running here for the first time. It's strange how a race with so many miles, so many twists and turns, checkpoints, signs, bridges and other furniture that you run with a constant sense of deja-vu but for the next 15 miles or so I did not remember any of this. I was running in a valley with some roads by my side and much higher up. There were lots of buildings, bridges and a nice uphill section, all quite memorable but for this bit I had amnesia. Why didn't I know any of this? Perhaps I was going the wrong way? Funny how my memory wiped this whole bit out.

I remembered the sun rising last year and it was while I was running through a park. I ran through this park in darkness this time which meant that I had overtaken my last year run. 40 miles to go.

I could still run, uphill and downhill. The aches and pains that started so early went away for a while but were back now including a soreness in the sole of my foot. This was a new injury and hence a little concerning and I thought about what could have brought this on. Not long after I remembered that I had just run about 120 miles, that'll be it.

I remembered the last 50 miles as been mostly downhill but I was wrong, it still rolls and rolls up and down. The roads are deceptive like in Badwater and I can't tell whether I am going up or down. The "50k to go" then the "only a marathon to go" points should have lifted me but I was having a low spell. I guess I should be thankful, I suffered in the first 50 but had a great 80 miles, it was time to feel bad again.

Gemma had texted me to say that Peter, Neil and Kevin were out which did not help matters. It would be a dream to finish this race and for everyone I know to do the same so that we can can sit down at the end and reflect on a job well done. I felt a bit awkward last year talking to those who didn't make it about my experience. I was still having a great race and it would have been great to clap the other guys in.

It was getting warm, it was still humid and every now and then it would rain a little but not much. The weather conditions were enough to make me feel really warm sometimes and cold at others. Hitherto I had done a good job of not sitting down too much but I was faltering now, sitting down far too easily with excuses that did not exist, "I have something in my shoe", "I need a coffee", "I need to check my phone". My momentum had gone. I had left the quiet roads and was on the highway that headed into Sparta and it was much harder than I remember. 

 A guy passed me while I was sat down at a checkpoint who was running like I was 2 hours ago and he climbed into the distance with great speed. He was the first person to pass me since the mountain 30 miles ago. I looked at him get smaller and smaller and felt bad because that is exactly what I was doing earlier. The roads are lethal, cars whizzing around blind corners and without much respect for the walking lane. I zig-zagged along to avoid death and would walk around corners to be safer. It was much lonlier this year, not many people around at all whereas last year there was a whole chain of us. |I thought this was possibly the most dangerous conditions I have run in. I've done deserts and mountains and they have their risks but this was something else. At any other time it would be stupid to run against this traffic. There I said it, this race is pretty stupid.

From now on I ignore the big number at the top and look only at the shrinking numberI got another text to say that Mark was out. This was a shock, he has not dnf'ed anything since this race in 2004. I had already been told that more than half of the starters had dropped out and this was normal. I didn't want to get complacent and say I was definitely going to finish but with a half marathon to do in 5 hours and still in good shape. I had no excuse to mope around really, I just had to get it done. I didn't have a finish time in mind, just a finish and a better finish than last time. I just wanted to run to the statue instead of crawling to it. A finish would still do but I really wanted to leave here loving this race, whether that was done slower than last time or faster I didn't care. I was currently ahead of where I was last year and looking strong. My legs still allowed me to run up hills and down hills, I just couldn't be arsed. I just don't remember the road being this busy or going up as much as it did. With about 20k to go there is one last big push up hill and then it's down, all the way to Sparta.

You can see Sparta from miles away. It looks busy and confusing as roads stick out everywhere and there seems to be 2 cities in the distance. I can't imagine what Phiedippidies must have seen when stood on top of this hill looking down. I guess it would have looked even more spectacular, a large warrior city surrounded by green. In fact it was on fire, there was smoke billowing out of somewhere. I can remember what all the next 4 checkpoints looked like, the one next to the petrol station, the one just before the small town, the one in the middle of a traffic island. A few people passed me again at great speed as if they had just started running, or "doing a Woolley" as I lke to call it. I was able to run again but was not going to try to pace these guys, there was still 10k to go. Something could still go wrong. In fact something did.

(You don't have to read this bit). I was have a few chaffing issues, nothing major and probably unavoidable completely when doing such a long race. It gets worse after going to the toilet though after wiping. I went one final time in some trees and obviously wiped what remained of the vasaline I had on. When I got back onto the road I felt like someone was scratching my arse with a rusty spanner, it was agony. I yelled a few times (no one was around) and almost wept as I comtemplated finsihing with a long walk again. Luckily I had some lube on me and while I would not normally use my hands in this way to avoid germs I had no choice. With complete disregard for hygene and a completely new use for my water bottle I sorted myself out. Mental note for next time - take some wet wipes and hand sanitiser. Mental note for the rest of the race - don't drink out of this bottle anymore.

Now I was ready to run, down down down until you hit a very busy road with a checkpoint at the start. Along this road I pass a couple of people finishing in the same way I did last year, with a slow limp. I shook hands with a Hungarian guy who was over a mile from the end but I know from experience he was a good hour from the end, the race had smashed him but he was going to make it, he had loads of time.

The last checkpoint, on that island in the middle of a busy intersection. It was a glorious sight. All I had to do now was head up into the main street in Sparta, turn right after about a mile, turn right again then I'll see the end. I had no idea where these right turns were but on the other side of the road was a kid on a bike and he was there to guide me to the end. "Are you here to get me to the finish?" I said. He did not speak English but it did not matter, I just followed him as he braved the busy traffic through the town.

The last mile is slightly uphill but I was getting faster. All the pain went away. After around a mile I did the right turn and my cyclist was replaced by a Policeman on a motorbike. He would stop traffic to let me run through, the cars stopping to clap and cheers as I ran past. Another right turn and that was it, the end.

I could see the end of the road but the statue was obscured by trees. The crowd of people got denser and denser and then I spotted Lawrence, the first person I recognised since I saw Kevin about a day ago. Then I saw Mark and Peter and high-fived everyone and started to run even faster. This was the dream finish, running. There was the statue and the steps, I lept up them and then onto the pedestal of Leonidas and let out a scream. It was done and done so much better than last time.

I stepped down and went through the ceremony. Wreath, water from the river, perpex thingy, handshake, photo. I Looked over to my friends at the left and at the bar they were drinking in. They reassured me that I had a beer waiting and I was just about to head over when the medics apprehended me, like they do with everyone. I sat down and had my one blister popped and treated and she asked me if anything hurt. I had to think about it for a while before responding that nothing hurt at all. All the soreness for a few moments had disappeared, until I stood up.Hard to get lost in this one

2-0 33.24

Emily had come 1st in the womens race with an amazing time of just over 30.17. Heather in 32.43. Martin came in 34.19 and Colin (who I did not get to see after the race so get in touch) finished in 35.10.

Why come back?

Miles and miles of choking through the hot and noxious industrial lands of Greece made me realise just how ugly this race is. Playing chicken with fast cars on a winding highway having run 5 marathons without sleep made me realise that this race is pretty stupid too. There has to be something that draws people back?

What about the history? Well, having read so many different versions of the heroic tale of Phiedippidies the one that sounds the most likely is that he ran to Sparta to summon an army. He ran the 246km in 36 hours, a deed that would have been unthinkable at the time and even unthinkable until recently when this race was born. On arriving into Sparta Phiedippides pleaded with the Spartans to send an army to save Athens.

SpartaThey said no.

By the time He got back to Athens the Athenian army had won the battle anyway. Epic though the run was is was in fact pointless. I can't imagine what he must have felt like in Sparta on hearing that he was not going to get any help or how much that played on his mind on his return journey. What reaction did he get on his return to Athens when the battle was already run?

I can imagine them all in the pub that evening celebrating the victory over the barbarians and laughing at some guy who ran 300 miles for nothing and then missed everything. "How many savages did you kill Phiedippides? oh no wait I remember you were scrambling over some mountain in the dark and even then God told you to turn bacvk as it was pointless, Ha ha ha ha ha". I suspect that to protect the man's dignity they made up the story of him running 26.2 miles and telling of victory and then dying. "Even though it's a lie at least you won't go down in history as some pointless ultra-running idiot". I'm sure he did not care about the mocking though. Whatever message he was delivering at least he had his dream job. I reckon he did not even care for the messages he had to deliver, he just wanted to run from place to place and probably ran all over Greece. It's the journey and all that. I doubt he would think people 2500 years from now would be re-creating one of his many runs every year but he would surely know that people will be doing exactly the same thing, in different places and different times. Even after cars had been invented.

So, to summarise the Spartathlon is ugly, stupid and ultimately pointless. See you next year.

The Ultra Tour De Mont Blanc



I didn't really mean to enter this. I applied hoping that I would not get in so that I could do it next year and leave a sensible gap between Badwater and the Spartathlon. However I put my name in anyway as it's harder and harder to get into these things. The qualifying for next year is even harder and it was 40% over-subscribed this time. I'm running out of time to get the big races done before they become lotteries even harder than the national lottery. I reckon I'll win the national lottery before I win the Western States one.

I had not really done any "training" for this. This is not unusual as I tend to just bounce between different events. Only the ONER and a hungover Davos race really counted as hill work before this. The latter was going to be more useful than I thought.

The Ultra Tour De Mont Blanc despite only being in it's 8th year is already considered one of the "classic" ultramarathons and appears on the "must do" lists of most ultrarunners I have come across, from the plodders to the worlds best. 166km, over 9000m of elevation and 46 hours to complete. It is held in high regard across the world and is considered one of the toughest off road events there is. The stats are impressive, here are some more; 1700 volunteers, 33 refreshment posts, 48 control points, 20000 cereal bars, 7500 bananas, 8000 route markers, 180 medics, 400KG of salami, 2600kg of cheese, 10000 litres of coke and 4800 cans of beer. I was going to have my work cut out making the most of this.

On friday morning around 8 hours before the race was due to start (6pm) I was woken up by what sounded like a car crash right outside my bedroom window. I looked to assess the wreck and saw that it was raining heavily and that it was thunder that I heard. This was going to make it hard going later and I hoped it would stop in time for the race. I wasn't too worried about the ground, mountains are made of rock, right?

first pass with Chamonix in the backgroundIt did stop raining while we lined up at the start. Conquest of Paradise was played constantly for an hour as the masses squeezed together and watched the large screen of the front of the pack. There were quite a few elites here which shows how important this race is. Kilian Jornet was here to win for the 3rd time in a row. Scott Jurek was back in action having not been around for a while. Geoff Roes had won the Western States 100 a few months back and perhaps was looking to do the same here? The UK's best chance was Jez Bragg, who had been injured for much of the year but was back in form and here to race.

I started near the back and had no plan as such but was going for somewhere in the region of 40 hours, perhaps with a sleep. Soon after the 27th (and loudest) rendition of the Vangelis classic were were on our way, stop-starting through the town as we enjoyed the massive crowds and around 8k of fairly flat road. Not long later we were heading along the trails into the sunset. It was beautiful, till it pissed it down.

The rain came down heavy again as runners dived to the sides to get their rain clothes out. There is a lot of compulsary clothing to carry in this race and with good reason, we were still low down and everyone was getting cold. I bumped into Drew Sheffield who like me was not changing out of our original kit yet. We ran in hope of the rain stopping and not long later it did, just as we started the ascent of the first peak. It was not quite dark and the path was gravel so getting up was not too difficult. On reaching the top I bumped into James Elson who I had not seen since our semi-conscious conversation at the end of Badwater.

The downhill was very difficult and very muddy. I did not think I would be contesting with mud in the alps but the path was like a flume. People were falling over left and right and it was hard to see where it was slippy. I was not using my head torch, instead I had a little hand held thing. I've become more acustomed to not using light at night though with a cloudy sky and tree cover there was no natural light to draw on. Drew, sulking about the cancellation

After more than 3 hours we descended down a very steep road into St Gervais where the first major checkpoint was. I was really looking forward to this, eating cheese and meat in a race, it's all I thought about for weeks. It's what kept my mind of the mountains. Shortly before arriving at the CP there was a rather subdued applause as we came down some steps and then headed into town. We saw some runners heading back the other way? Then another runner just shouted at us "Don't bother, race is over". I assumed he was joking and did not want to believe it though when we arrived at the checkpoint there was no movement, just a mass of runners and organisers stood about. The race had indeed been cancelled.

I did not really have a reaction or an opinion on the whole thing. I sensed within myself more disappointment than when the Luton Marathon was called off while we were all at the start line. The reason we'd been given was mudslides up ahead. We headed over to a sports centre and considered our options (over some cheese). We could run back or wait for the transport out of there. We started to run back but were called back so we ran to the nearest train station and made it back to Chamonix pretty soon.

One of the first things that hit me as we walked back to the apartment 35 hours before I thought I would was that I'd eaten so much food over the past few days I'd need to do some running over the weekend to burn it off. I also thought about all the cheese I was missing out on, nowI'd have to pay for it in Chamonix. Then, at about midnight and no word from the event organisers about whether the race would be restarted and wide awake we did the only thing we could to get to sleep, we got smashed.

Oli, Jany and I headed to a bar and started to drink along with others who had been disappointed by the cancellation. The gloom lifted as our alcohol intake increased. The runners were strewn over the pubs/bars and even kebab houses of Chamonix, drowning our sorrows and replacing the few calories that we managed to burn. The air of disappointment was very noticable, particularly those who had trained all year to do this or those here for the first time.

Sure it was disappointing but I understood why it happened and that these things are inevitable when doing such extreme events. I looked forward to a weekend of shorter runs with friends instead. I was braced for staying awake for 48 hours, the only way to get to sleep was to paralyse myself with drink. That is what we did. Until we got a text message.

"Be at the sportshall in Chamonix at 6.30 for a re-start in Courmayeux". As this wasa read the bottle of beer that was touching my lips was put down on the table. We have 4 hours to sober up, sleep and get ready to start running again.

Fucking PolesI was not too sure why my alarm was set to 5.30 on saturday morning and I struggled to find the button to switch it off. Then I remembered the mountain climb last night, the train ride home and the Jaegerbombs. Then I looked at the pile of wet clothes in the corner that I had to put on. So with a hangover, wet and stinky clothes, tired and a bit confused we left the apartment to get to the coach.

We were treated to a similar start to that of the previous night. The people of Coumayeux seemed to know there was a race on this morning, which is more than can be said for half of the runners. Even as we started there were coaches of people dropping off half dressed runners at the back of the pack. Some had not found out about the re-start at all. In fact if I was not with Oli and Rob I would not have found out either as the phone number I gave them was no longer in use. The funny thing was that the people who went out and got pissed were the first to find out. Those who went to bed to get some rest woke up too late for the news. There is a lesson there....

The sun was blazing as we set off through the town and up a hill a lot sooner than we did yesterday. The walking poles were clattering on the tarmac and the path got much more narrow before turning into a very narrow trail. The whole field stopped and queued to get onto it and for about an hour we climbed a hill stopping and starting and generally going very slowly. Drew and I made no subtletey of our comments about poles. They were really getting in the way.

5 reasons why walking poles spoil it for the others;

1 - Pole users use twice the width of a normal runner. When the path is narrow it's obviously single file all the way, but then when the path widens the pole users stupidly widen their pole placing making it impossible to pass

2 - Pole users use thrice the length of normal runners. It was crowded on that trail, it does not help that it could only fit one third of the usual number of people on it because of people being stupid with their poles

3- When the poles are not in use the pole users stupidly hold them such that you get poked in the eye if you are behind them and beneath them

4 - When a pole user looks at his/her watch they slow down then stupidly thrust the pole out to the side. If you are passing them at the time you get your eye poked out

5 - Pole users can easliy overtake you, they just selfishly and stupidly stab at your heels with the poles. I would stand aside and let someone quicker pass. Do they reciprocate when you want to pass them? Do they fuck.

It was very frustrating getting up the first pass but the views at the top were spectacular. There was a coke stop near the top and then a few miles of gorgeous running in full view of Mont Blanc (so I'm told, they all look the same). There was more space to overtake the pole using spoilers. Drew commented that we should not really consider ourselves in the same race as these people. Anyway there was some really enjoyable running in this part and into the first major checkpoint. With cheese.

I was only wearing a vest here and was told by the marshal to put something warmer on as the top of the next pass was very cold and windy. I took their advice and changed and lost Drew at this stage. After some cheese I started ascending La Grand Ferret which is the highest point of the whole UTMB.

There was some really good running hereThe top was in the clouds and the clouds were grey. I struggle up hills at the best of times and recently I had another chest cough and was still more wheezy than normal. I had my inhaler with me and I used it to death. The mountain was muddier than anything I have ever climbed before. The rain started again, the visibility was awful. I really struggled to breath and even stay on my feet as I slipped and fell all over the place. The air was full of water and I'd stop every couple of minutes to sit down and puff on the inhaler. The others plodding up the hill would look at me concerned and make sure I was alright. I knew I was going to be fine as soon as I got to the top La Grand Col Ferret.

The Misty MountainIt rained and rained and I struggled even to move forwards even when I wasn't coughing. Often I'd slide back down or onto my hands and knees. Several times I'd just say under my breath (what breath I had) "for fuck sake". I wanted for someone to be to blame for all this but there was obviously no one. Eventually I made it to the top, the visibility was practically zero and it was very cold. My jellied legs spluttered back into life and I ran down the muddy slide of a path. I fell over a few times but managed to gain some ground and felt much better about finishing the race.

Though I always knew I was going to get to the top of that hill I did spend a lot of time wondering whether certain events are out of my reach. I really want to do Leadville one day and figure if I struggle to breathe at 2500m up I may as well not bother going to 4000m. I need to sort my lungs out.

The rain eased a bit but it had done it's work on the path and the mud was making people slide about all over the place. I saw a man in front of me slip comically onto his arse, then I did the same thing in the same spot and then the guy behind me did the same again. It was as if it was a candid camera show, whoever had a camera on that was going to make a fortune out of Harry Hill.

The net 20k or so were almost all downhill though the offroad was hard work with all the sliding. I felt at home here, rolling around in the mud. There was a long section through some town on road which was quite welcome as it was really easy running. Here I bumped into Rhodri Darch who I met 2 years ago at the Moose ultra and I don't think I have seen him since. We chatted briefly about what we'd been up to in the past 2 years, he didn't need to ask me as all the details on my life are on facebook.

I get the piss taken out of me quite a lot for living my life on facebook, but it has it's advantages. Whenever I talk to people in races I don't really have to talk much because everything has already been said. I get a chance to listen to others about what they have been doing. Rhodri told me he got into triathlon recently and did an Ironman but realised it's not for him. Apparently its full of anti-social competitive types who are more concerned with split times and gadgets than fun and socialising. I'd never have guessed. Down the Misty Mountain

I got to the checkpoint in La Fouly in about 6 hours and got a text from Gemma to say that everyone else was going really fast. Rob had got there in around 4.40, Dan and Oli were not far behind and Drew was about 30 mins ahead of me. The big misty muddy hill had slowed me down somewhat but I was not too worried, I had some more cheese.

Soon after while contining into the town I saw Jany and Cyril who seemed releived to see me. They had been waiting long enough. I was about 7 hours into the run and was pretty sure I had not done more than a marathon yet. I had no watch, no gps and did not even know how long the race was or what country I was in. It was brilliant.

Campex is just over half way and I have no idea when I got there but I recall being about 6 hours ahead of the cut offs. I looked at a map on the wall and saw that I had 3 large hills to come, starting with Bovine.

It was getting darker and I was keen to get up this one before the sun set. Bovine is another tough climb and is really rocky, the rocks just too big to comfortably step over. I was struggling again and having to stop and breathe. I really did hope that this was a hangover from my illness rather than my vertical limit. I started to get cold as I was laying down in the wet grass. I was frustrated at the prospect of not getting over this before the sun was out as I new the rocks on the other side were going to be hard.

The down was hard and steep and made harder by the darkness. I was pleased that my downhill running was not as lame as it usually is. It's still lame but not as lame. This pleased me and enabled me to run further over a section that was quite plesant running, apart from the pole walkers getting in the way. and reach the next checkpoint at Trient. 2 more hills to go.

Each checkpoint would look the same, a spread of tables and chairs with people surving coke, soup, cheese, ham, bread, cake and all sorts. There were drums in the middle for filling up water bladders and medics on hand. As the race progressed these looked more like refuges that picnics, people hunched over or even asleep on benches. Sometimes it was hard to get space on the seats and it was even harder to sit down on them.

There was also a picture of the profile ahead, with total ascent and decent. The next climb was not as bad as the previous one and unlike most the next checkpoint was fairly high up. It only really occured to me how far I was running. It was only about 90k in the end, short of the 98k I thought I was going to do. An initial loop of the CCC had been left out.

It was now pitch black and with no lights around it was hard to see how far I had to go up. I just made sure I did tiny little steps so I could try to keep moving but not get out of breath. It seemed to work better up Catogne than on all previous hills. I was moving slowly but still moving forward. There were not a lot of people around now. In the dark you never really know whether you are on top of the pass, especially in the woods. Sometimes the ground flattens out and you start running, releived that you have knocked off another one but then it shoots up again.

There was a lot more to run on here than I expected or was told. I was expecting nothing but sharp and tortuous uphills and bone breaking downs. There were plenty of each of these but there was also a lot of nice shallow downhill running. There was no more rain after dark which made it much more pleasant. I was amazing that my knee was not hurting at all and my quads were not too sore. I thought about being able to do Sangra's Pass in the Spartathlon.

The last major checkpoint seemed to come in no time and I was suprised to see Cyril there helping out. It was great to see him and he leapt around fetching food while I sat down and ate. This was the last opportunity for cheese so I was making the most of it. There was some more nice downhill to run and then a tricky uphill, the last one.

There are a few miles of road from which in the distance you can see the intimidating sight of what you have to climb to finish of the UTMB. On my right was a mountain with switchbacks and a stream of little lights zigzaging right up into the sky. The night was now clear and it was hard to seperate the lights from the stars. I could not tell how far into the sky I had to go. At this point I was feeling really good again and ready to attack it.

Because it was the last one I chose not to think about the top too much. In fact I didn't really want it to come. I was comparing how I was feeling now to how I felt struggling up Bovine and near the start of the day struggling in the mud up La Grand Ferret and really wanted to make the most of this. The pass was really hard and never ending but when you don't want it to end that's not a problem. My asthma had gone and though I was on my hands and knees a lot scrambling over some of the rocks that were bigger than cars I was really enjoying it.

The top never came and the people around me were cursing as I was 10 hours ago in the mud and rain but I was laughing as after each switchback there was more to go up. It was amazing. It did eventually flatten out but the terrain was harsh, it was still rocky with the occasional invisible mud pool. I fell into a couple and was only really concerned about breaking my phone. After a bit of flat scrambling there was yet more up. I loved it, I could see a town down below and assumed it to be Chamonix. Surrounded by tired runners falling about all over the place I staggered into one of the minor checkpoints, just 7km from the end.Bovine as night fell

It was around 5am, still dark and I sat down to have a cup of tea. Running into sun-rise is an amazing thing and I was not sure that I'd get a chance to here, I was hoping to do it twice this weekend but the mudslides took that away from me. However the sun came up quicker than expected and while descending the shallow path into Chamonix the sun came up. There were not that many people out in the town to cheer me in but that was fine. I cantered into the finish, overtaking someone who was walking and who grumbled at me a bit. Not sure why but I wasn't going to walk over the line. The finish was very muted, I didn't really expect much, I think half the town decided not to participate just as half the runners decided not to restart. My time was 20 something hours (like I said I didn't have a watch so don't know).

I collected my "finishers" gillet which claims I have done the UTMB. I know this is not true and I am going to have to come back and do this again. I finished what I was given and I really enjoyed doing it but I know I need to finish a full UTMB. I still felt good at the finish. If I had to do another 20 hours of that I could of, assuming there was more cheese. There was none at the finish and hence there was no reason for me to stay, I headed back to the appartment and had a beer. 6.30am isn't too early is it?

Luckily this was not one of my "A" races for the year. They are Badwater and Spartathlon. I loved running 66% of the UTMB and would definitely come back to do the whole lot, but I can't see this being the race I come back to again and again. But certainly I'll clock up a few finishes before my legs retire, the views and cheese are spectacular. Who knows, one day they might just ban those f*****g poles.

Badwater Race Report , July 2010 from Debbra of my support crew

I could not have done this without such a kind and supportive band of strangers that I found online. Laurie, Debbra, Debra and Dave were amazing. So long as there are people like that out there then ultra-running will always be an amazing scene to be in.

Badwater Race Report , July 2010 from Debbra of my support crew

(Yes, we’re now doing Race Reports on races we did not run; next, it’ll be Reports on races we watched on TV.)

Like many marathoners, we knew there were deeply strange people on the fringe of our little community: people who run farther. It seems innocent enough: a 50K somewhere or even a 50 miler. A few people we know have tried 12 or 24 hour runs or even 100 milers, but it’s something we don’t talk about willingly; something akin to “I tried it once in college, but I was really drunk and I don’t remember a thing.”

The Badwater Race is similar to admitting “I tried it once in college…” if you add “…and I kept at it for up to 60 hours.  In 120 degree heat.  And did three killer climbs. And didn’t sleep for two nights. And got to experience the thrill of feeling every single muscle in my body suffer in a way that I probably won’t know again until I spend eternity in hell. And paid an $800 entrance fee.”

For those unaware of this masterpiece of masochism, the BW starts at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley on July 12th. The victims traverse an endless stretch across the valley floor, before the blessed relief of a 5,000 foot climb. Temperatures have been known to plummet during the climb to as low as a hundred. After this, they descend about 2,000 feet as they cross a second valley, then up again to another 5,000 peak, then down to 3,500 feet before the final grueling traverse and the climb to 8,400 feet up Mt. Whitney.

We, of course, did none of this. We merely got suckered into crewing for a 30-year-old British runner named James Adams whom Laurie Woodrow had met on the Internet. (We knew Laurie was on the Internet a lot, but we figured it was just for the porn.)  James had excellent credentials to qualify for the race and a winsome, aw-shucks manner. We thought: He’s young and strong and mentally tough… how long can this take?

It turns out that time is relative: For example, contemplating the challenges of the race from home or while shopping for jerky treats and Gatorade is a brief and pleasant activity; watching “our” runner puke along the side of the road in broiling heat and being unable to do much about it, is slightly less pleasant and seems to stretch time out somewhat. Hearing our runner say that he thinks he may have lost consciousness while running is substantially less pleasant, especially when our ability to provide him with a cool, shady place to recover is almost nil.

Fortunately, James is one of those British “I’m alright, Jack” types who soldiers on, conscious, or not. And we, in our minivan, soldiered on as well, although, by comparison, we were “soldiering” along Rodeo Boulevard with frappuccinos in our hands and toy poodles on our laps. Our hearty band consisted of MSgt Laurie W, the abusive, whip-cracking Crew Chief, Deb JR, Dave JR and Debra H, a runner from Monterey who could not get over how “beautiful” the desert was.  Deb H grew up in northern New Mexico, so rocks and sand looked pretty good to her.

While James was pounding along the blazing asphalt, we traveled in a Chrysler minivan filled to the brim with rancid clothing, coolers full of ice, water and ice-water, implements we could never locate when we wanted them, snacks, more water and ice, more coolers and, let’s see, more water. Oh, and more ice. The constant question was: Will the ice last? It did, thanks to the addition of many, many bags at any location where ice could be bought.  We also started out with 18 gallons of water in jugs, plus Gatorade, Cokes, Red Bull, and various protein drinks. If this seems excessive, consider that, while James drank about a pint a mile, his crew was drinking constantly as well.

James was even-tempered and had few demands. The closest he got to upset was an on-going disappointment that the end was not coming as soon as he’d hoped. Not uncommon here what with the runners doing the equivalent of five consecutive marathons plus tough hill climbs. He took a couple of 20 minute breaks by the side of the road and sat for a moment a few dozen times. The low point for him – aside from being unconscious – was when we would dunk his shirt in ice water and have him put it back on. The expression on his face then was not one of cool comfort, but of intense pain.

His feet held up pretty well although he commented a time or two that he’d just have to accept blistering.  Laurie did her Clara Barton bit, but his feet did get steadily larger. Thinking about injuries leads one to ponder the question of whether it’s better to have a crew made up of chums or family or one made up of strangers. I think James was lucky to have strangers: although we didn’t know him well enough to  always ask the right questions, he was also able to keep us at a bit of a distance in a way that a runner couldn’t if the crew was made up of friends – and especially running friends. One runner had his 15 year-old daughter on his crew. When he got sick, the girl was, of course, deeply concerned about her dad, not about how to help him get back on the road quickly. Note: This runner lost six hours due to inability to absorb water, but got back on the road and finished well under the 48-hour time limit to “buckle” i.e., win a belt buckle emblematic of finishing in under 48.

A crew made up of running buddies might have more skills and would certainly be more likely to goad a struggling runner back onto the tarmac, but there is something to be said for having privacy. The worst, I would think, would be to have a family crew. This would seem like the group most likely to suggest quitting. (“Honey, we’re all melting out here and Tiffy’s missing soccer for this and your sister’s coming to visit next week – with her brats – so let’s be reasonable: you tried very, very hard and we’re all very proud of you, but it’s time to go home. It was a cute idea, but be serious.”)

The race rhythm is to meet the runner at one mile intervals. Since a car goes much faster – even a Chrysler – the crew can get “set up” with the right drink, snack, ice-filled bandana, etc.  At first, we would leap out of the van and get the things ready quickly…then wait another five to seven minutes for James to run up to us. Later on, we realized that we had more time. Since the heat was slightly less brutal in shade, we’d sit inside for a few minutes before doing our chores.  A certain casualness creeps in, especially as crew get weary. More than once we had to bolt out of the van late as James neared.  We worked in two rotating teams taking five to ten mile turns, the “on” team working out of the van while the “off” team hung out in Debra H’s Honda CRV.  We stuck with this approach despite the basic flaw that there was nowhere for the “off” team to go to rest. Towns are non-existent; there is no shade, and the nearest store might be twenty miles away. Since James ran all night, the crews kept ahead of him all night and no one slept more than a few minutes at a time.

There was one exception: Laurie and Deb H crewed the first seven miles up Mt. Whitney while we took showers and had a nap in Lone Pine 13 miles from the finish. The plan was for us to take over crewing for the last few miles. Laurie and Deb H would go on ahead to the finish. We’d all do the last few yards with James as he finished. Good plan. We showered, set our alarm for a one hour nap and fell into dueling comas and slept right through the alarm. Fortunately we got a “wake up” call from Laurie. Better still, Laurie and Deb H were too tired to be upset; after all, James was about to finish!

He crossed the tape in 39 hours and change, well before midnight on the second day. As we had hoped, he was strong and tough-minded to the end, even cranking out 20 minute miles on the way up Mt. Whitney (a leisurely pace in Santa Monica, but try it up a killer slope on no sleep and after 130+ miles).

We hugged and shook hands all around, took photos and said the usual things. James settled down to nap at the finish line and wait for chums who’d come in later. Deb H hopped in her CRV and started the drive back to Monterey. On no sleep! She eventually had to stop for a nap, but made it home okay. We drove back to Lone Pine and pleasant dreams – and slept through the alarm again.  Fortunately, Laurie was there on the floor – as she is at many sporting events – and woke us up.

The funniest – actually the only funny – episode occurred a mile or so from the finish. James, pounding out his last miles on raw determination, saw what he thought was our van and asked the crew to pull out a cooler for him to sit on. “Water,” he said. The crew did as he asked and he was off again in a moment, but only after realizing that this was not his crew: It was the crew for the runner ahead of him. The crew took care of the runner even though he wasn’t “their” runner. And had a laugh about it – as did James – later. That’s the Badwater way and emblematic of most of the people involved: humble, soft-spoken, and full of good cheer. A brotherhood of suffering whose members understood that Badwater could “get” any runner at any time and it was only with a measure of good luck that even the best-trained of the batch made it to the finish.

There is no way one can crew at Badwater and claim to have gained a true perspective. Sure, you can see the competitors beaten down by the challenge, but struggling on nonetheless, but crewing is a million miles from participating. No one can understand the depth of fatigue, bone, and muscle pain that the athletes endure without actually going through it. No one should even think about doing this event without knowing how far deep down inside themselves they can reach for stores of strength and perseverance and courage. Trust us, it ain’t about having enough water.

Serpies Do Davos

just about over the hangoverSo, Dave booked a double with Suzy. But after she dumped him for deleting all the threshold settings on her Garmin he now has to sleep in the dorms with Gary and Carl. But Carl is still pissed at Dave for boffing Sharon at the penultimate cheese day of the month last week. Sharon was due to share with Emma and Stacey but now Stacey wants to share the double with Suzy as she is very upset since her boyfriend Jim left her for Brian, (the fact that he downgraded from the K78 to the lake swim really should have been an early warning). Now, Emma is still holding out for getting back together with Kevin who has just had a massive row with Judith about forgetting to bring a towel. But, wait, oh no.... what's this? Kevin's life has just got a lot more complicated with the unexpected arrival of Amanda and her son Leroy.

"Yes Kevin, I'm back and I have news for you, he's YOURS".

"But we split up 3 years ago, I only met a year before that. This kid is at least 17 years old?"

"Well, what am I? A mathematician? Go book us another room, one that no one has puked in".



There must be something in the air in Switzerland that prevents anyone from sucessfully invading it. We were all over the place and no actual running had even started yet. In total about 70 Serpies invaded the neutral country and occupied it's bars. On saturday there was some running to be done,

The Davos K78 seems to have become an annual event for me. 2 years ago 4 friends and I headed out here, last year there were about 25 people from the club here doing one of the many races Davos has to offer. This time there were about 70 out there to cover over 2500k of alpine trail and around 1000 litres of alcohol.

I arrived late on the first thursday due to being too fat for a plane and ended up missing the thursday night drinking. I decided to make up for it on the Friday, the night before the race. I got a bit carried away and it only realy dawned on me when I was woken up by someone from the hostel offering to clean up the sick. That reminded me that I was sick. I felt pretty rough at the start line but always was going to take this very easy. Only 17 days after finishing Badwater I probably should not be doing this but I needed a medical certificate to get out of it. I could not go and ask a doctor to sign me out of a 50 mile race, particularly as I'd just asked them to permit me to run a 100 mile one 4 weeks after.

The first 20k were pretty grim, I had to stop a few times and felt a bit sick. After a while I felt a little less pissed and was looking forward to the hangover. The mountain should sort that out. I stopped for a minute to empty my shoe and saw a Serpie pass me who I didn't recognise. Inagine that? There was no way I was letting this one go so I ran fast to investigate.

I caught up and it was Laura Beckwith. She was running the C42 and then complained that I was going too fast. Apparently I was doing sub 8 minute miles. I had not done one of those since 2007. I slowed down and eased towards the mountains.

I remember the long road up to the mountains and was confident of finishing it before sunset, unlike the last incline I tackled. There were some spectacular views as we approached the marathon stage and then up to the climbing. I was way behind where I was last year, I recall getting overtaken by most of the people running the K42 whereas now I was in the back end of them. I didn't care at all, I had no idea what the time was as I didn't take a watch, I was just enjoying the day, the new found soberness and the most scenic run I have ever done.

While ascending the mountain I was caught up by Mark Bell. "Feeling a little peaky"? he said as I sat down on a rock (he didn't). "Wanna make summit of it?" I replied (I didn't). "That response is steeped with frustration so I shall press on, but Alpine for you at the finish line". (He did).

The top of the mountain seemed to come more quickly that usual. This pleased be as in the UTMB I have to do this 12 times. I got caught behind a load of walkers on the ridge which was a little frustrating as I felt like I could run and was still suprised that my legs had not fallen apart. Still, can't complain, I took lots of photos and considered making a snowman.

I really did just canter through the whole thing amazed that I could even still walk after Badwater. I cruised through the last 9 miles though I got really bad sunburn (oh the ironicallness). This was the first race in ages where I didn't want to see the finish. Afterall, it was still the same day as when I started. That doesn't really count as a race does it?

Then I got pissed again.

I survive Badwater and then this happens in the mountains?Now, I threatened this in the pub on the Saturday night. This blog allows me to see what has been googled that leads to people arriving on this site. It means I can write silly things about people and they may be seen in the google search screen. Lets see how this goes..

Claire Shelley was high on coke as she bounced her way down into the valley. Luckily she finished before 8, otherwise there would have been trouble.

Nick Copas was bullied off the course by some large pebbles towards the end though still managed to finish sub 8.01.

Jen Bradley stacked it in the mountains, possibly while thinking she was cycling along a canal. Despite needing hospital treatment later she finished in an amazing pb.

While not high on coke Gemma Greenwood hallucinated a familiy of weasels in the mountain.

Natalie Kolodziej smashed the K21, chicking Andrew J Taylor as she did so. Andrew J Taylor didn't just get chicked. Andrew J Taylor got dicked a lot too. In fact Andrew J Taylor probably got chick-with-dicked.

Katy Levy made it to the start line despite flying to the wrong airport.

Helen James finally decided on a pair of shoes (or 2) and ran the K78 brilliantly. When asked if she would do it again she said yes definitely, but will bring more shoes.

Lars Menken promised to run the K78 next year, otherwise we are allowed to melt his bike.

On smashing the K78 and winning the Serpentine Ultra Championship Oliver Sinclair rewarded himself with a potato.

Alex Elferink; a bit confused when he reach the checkpoints and was told he didn't have to take any clothes off kept his heart rate in zone 3 as he walked the K42.

Allan Rumbles, so excited to even be let in a race set off hard and still finished respectably.

2 Serpies who smashed it proper were Wes Harrison and James Edgar. Wes Harrison was apparently grinning like a child as he allowed the mountains to shred his calves. A year ago I met James Edgar and he was baning on about age grading or something. Now he's so into the mountains I bet he does not know what age he even is.

Rob Westaway provided several great shots for the next edition of Westawimes as he cruised through 78K in good time. He did screw up his finish photo by trying to change his garmin settings on the line.

Everyone was amazed to see Sam Ludlow finish something with a clean face.

Cyril Morrin gate crashed the podium for the K78, a little confused as he entered the K21.

I've already google-fucked Jonathan Hoo, but thought just saying that might make the search results more interesting.

Despite being strip searched for contraband sandwiches at breakfast Brent Plump and Marianna Ivantsoff managed to have great races.

As did Facebook facebook Jany Tsai Facebook Facebook. Jany managed to avoid ripping off my clothes as she finished comfortably.

Happiest man in the world Alex Pearson praised the heavens for such wonderful calf smashing mountains.

Mike "Mr Slow" Wilcox was not that slow. World he was awesome.

Gemma Hagen was so excited by the whole thing she couldn't talk the next day.

And without having much else to say about everyone else I thought I'd list the rest involved in the great weekend. There were K78 finishes for Martin Cooper and Lisa Wray. A great K42 win for Huw Lobb in an amazing 3.16. K42 finsihes also for Gavin Edmonds, Poppy Lenton, Charles Lescott, Pam Rutherford, Christian Schroeder, Tim Renshaw, Claire Levermore (google her), Rob Crangle, Siobhan Reddy, Tanya Shaw (who proposed to on the mountain top. She said yes), Val Metcalf, Alistair Gear, John Cullinane, Katy Levy (I have already mentioned her but she is quite loud) and Natalie Vendette. There was a great K31 win for Teresa Gailliard De Laubenque (that took ages to write) and good runs too from Simon Bamfylde, Darren Over, Donna Clinker, Huw Keene (doing actual running but I didn't see it), Catherine Sowerby, Angharad Lescott, Lula Russo, Grianne Devery, Fiona Alexander and Angela Green. As always with Davos it was great to see people come out anyway even if they didn't run. Our cheerleaders this time were Gus Searcy (ill), Richard Jones (injured), Paula Redmond (injured) and Amy Whiddett (lazy). Worth a mention was our pom pom waver in spirit Nicole Brown, who was updating the folks at home with our progress and telling me off for facebooking too much in the race. Thanks Mum.

The weekend certainly had it's ups and downs (STOP IT). This time last year I said that I thought 100 Serpies go to Davos. We only managed 70 this year but who knows? Next year. Assuming the hostel has forgotten about the sick.


Highland Fling

"Listen to your body" is a well worn phrase that is supposed to stop you doing something stupid. It's hard to explain exactly what it means, perhaps impossible. The only sounds my body tends to make are farting noises while plodding up a hill and a churning fluid sound when I am staggering drunk along the Uxbridge Road. My body is hardly the conversationalist, I don't really know what to say to the first one, the second normally leads to me stumbling into Ealing Kebab for a large plastic bag full of saturated fat. Not sure whether that's what it was asking for.

But I ended up having to do this on Saturday in a race I was really looking forward to. After a couple of busy road marathons I was ready to get back to the long off road wilderness. To spend some time plodding along with just myself to amuse and enjoy a part of the world I had yet to explore. 

I had one main objective for this, to finish in good time to make the last train back down to Glasgow so I could get a night bus down to the Midlands and run the Shakespeare marathon the next day. It was going to be a stupid weekend of lots of running and sleep deprivation and the promise of 2 spanking hot days (for the UK anyway). Then after plodding around Stratford I was heading back down to London to get stupidly drunk with all the London Marathoners. It was going to be such a great weekend.

The Highland Fling is a much bigger race than it's low key website and low awareness would suggest. In Scotland this race is huge. The course takes you up 53 miles of the West Highland Way and is a warm up to the race that takes in the full 95 miles of the path. This one is routinely won by Jez Bragg though he was not competing this year. There were a lot of good runners here, 250 or more.

It started in Millgavie (pronounced "Mill-Guy) just north of Glasgow, Scotland (pronounced "Scort-land") at a train station behind a Tesco. I have no doubt that 8 hours before this would have been the scene of a young boy discovering the 3 dimensional contours of a girls upper body for the first time. Now it was being used for something a lot more exciting, 53 miles of hilly running on a lovely summers day. The Fling has 3 starts for the 3 categories of runners, Ladies first at 6, old men next at 7 and then young men at 8. Seems a strange way to do it given that very fast people could come from any one of those 3 groups. 

I went to the start with Rob and Drew. Rob should have been in the earlier start but wanted more of a lie in. They explained that the clock was ticking for him and he should get going if he cared about his time, however Rob was happy to hang around until 8. I joked that as the clock was ticking I was beating him in the race while still sat in a bus shelter. The car park was a mess of vans for us to deposit drop bags for the race, there was nothing on offer other than water for the run. I left some cans of coke and pretzels at the half way stage. Then I lined up under a bridge ready to start the race with 100 or so other young men. And Rob of course. More toilets than Paris

I was told to expect a double Three Forts marathon for this, Three Forts being a great off road marathon on the North Downs Way. It's hard and the thought of doing it twice was really exciting. After about 300 meters of town centre we were on a wooded trail and then out in the open bearing down on some mountains that we were about to run through. I settled into a brisk pace with Rob, Drew and Brian along what is the easiest quarter of the run. Not a great deal of hills or hard terrain, that was promised for later on. I was looking forward to it.

Rob disappeared into the distance around 10 miles in and I was happy to hang back with Drew who was suffering a little. My knees had been sore for the past few weeks and caused me to hobble towards the end of the Paris Marathon but seemed to be behaving themselves now. Both of us thought we had not given enough respect to the ONER that was only 4 weeks before, that had taken it's toll on us more than we'd like to admit. The first 13 miles seemed to pass in no time at all. I was happily chatting away and enjoying the scenery and it's so easy to forget that I'm wearing a watch. 13 miles in comfortably under 2 hours meant we were well on our way for a good finish.

The time was important for me in this race. Anything more than 11 hours would leave me stranded at the finish and missing my train/coach to the marathon the next day. Anything under 10 would give me time to have a few beers and eat in the famous "Real Food Cafe" at the end famed for legendary stodge. The promise of a large pie was enough to stop me pissing about (too much) and try to get to the end reasonably swiftly.

16 miles there was a proper climb up some hill with a Scottish name that I am never in a million years going to remember. We slowly plodded up as people came up past us, saving something for tomorrows road marathon. At the top there was a breathtaking site of Loch Lomond, the biggest (by area) lake in the UK. It stretched for miles and was going to be there with us for the rest of the run. Then followed a steep downhill section and I don't know how but in the last few years I have got worse at running down hills. I was never any good at it but I wasn't so bad that I'd get overtaken by wading birds. I was terrible, stumbling down the rocks and falling to the side and stopping occasionally to let someone past me. My knees started to hurt quite a lot and I was worried but sure that the pain would wear off with some lesser hills.

On completing the hill there was some nice shaded running through woods and across streams into the second checkpoint at around 19 miles. Drew had got ahead of me a little by then but waited at the CP as I was now able to run properly again. We were told that the hill we just ran was the biggest and I was relieved as I didn't think my knees would take another descent like that which does not bode well for the UTMB later this year. My knees felt no better with the easing of the ground and a few miles later both of them were tightening. The normal fluid motion of my joints was being replaced by a stickiness and drying feeling. After 21 miles I ruled out the Shakespeare marathon tomorrow, After 22 I ruled out the 10 hour finish, after 23 I ruled out the finish.

The last time I was here was in Rotherham in 2007. 2 and a half years ago was the last time I bailed out of a race that I really bothered about finishing. Last time it was my own fault for having food poisoning and the 4 mile struggle to the next checkpoint in the pissing rain in December was well deserved. This time it felt unjust, though it was at least sunny and not in Rotherham. I knew it was the right thing to do but it does not stop you looking enviously at the runners who jog past you, or thinking about your friends having a good race, or thinking about what you are missing in the goody bag.

As I walked on I became more efficient at telling people I was ok. The first few asked if I was ok and I replied "Yeah, I hurt my knees coming down that hill so I'm going to bail at the next check point but I'll live, there's always next week", later I was just saying "yeah fine, well done, see you later". I lost the desire to justify why I was dropping out to everyone who passed. 

I amused myself my chatting to others who might pass, playing around on Facebook and enjoying the magnificent scenery of Scotland. It had just entered some wilderness (though I could still get Facebook so we couldn't have been that far out) and was getting more beautiful. Walking didn't stop the aching in my knees and I had to stop a few times and the relay runners were starting to sprint past me. Each person who came past forced me to consider running again, the thought of not doing such a great event justice was eating me up but I know I risked not finishing even greater things by carrying on.

I reached the mid-way checkpoint after just over 5 hours and took my chip off to make it clear I was calling it a day. I hated the thought of being a burden on the organisers so sat out of the way and enjoyed the can of coke that should have been spurring me on to a second marathon. I had eaten a lot in the last 2 days in anticipation of a lot of running, now I felt quite fat.

I managed to secure a lift to the next stop and to the end from a kind chap called Andrew who had just finished his leg of the relay. The relay consists of 4 13ish mile runs and he looked quite tired after his stint and struggled into his car. We drove up to the next checkpoint where he introduced me to their next runner as "Steve". I tried to correct him but it fell on deaf ears. I then spent the next few hours being called "Stevie" and "Stevo" as I helped one of his team members push her car out of a muddy field. It was good to feel useful. As I stood at the checkpoint in blazing sunshine I bumped into Peter Foxall who I had not seen since the Spartathlon. He had dropped out for falling down a hill and hurting his ribs. It was really good to catch up with him. Drew came through just after around 8 hours on the clock and was looking tight for the 11 hours he needed to get the train back to Glasgow. He was determined to dig in though and soon after he left I got a ride to the finish.

The finish in Tyndrum (pronounced "Fin-ish") is a small down on the end on nowhere. There was a huge finish arch stuck on the end of a field that lead the battered runners into the town and to all the goodies. I got there just in time to watch Jany finish and was told that Claire Shelley had already finished long ago in an amazing time despite getting quite lost. I waited for Rob, Paula and Drew and some others I knew and then out of nowhere Santa staggered home sobbing her eyes out. This was her biggest race so far and she smashed it in 11 hours and was so visibly pleased with herself I was glad I was there to see it.

The goodies for the end of this are amazing. A bottle of champagne, a beer, a t shirt, hat, medal and a "Stovie". A stovie is a potato stew of leftovers from the night before but I was told by a despondent Scot that nowadays they have ruined them with "proper" ingredients. A while later Rob came in with a great time of 9.40 something (though officially that will be 10.40 something). Jany had a flight to catch which meant she had to shoot off and more importantly it meant she had to leave her champagne with me to her peril. For some reason I didn't feel guilty about drinking someone else's finish prize.

In the end Drew had to stop at 47 miles and get a train further down the line to make the connection. It must be gutting to get that far and not make it. Instead of getting a nightbus to the start of a road marathon I was actually looking forward to a night of eating and drinking and then travelling down to London the next day to watch The Marathon. Instead of moping around I found it great to surround myself with others who were pleased with their own efforts and achievements on the weekend. 

So, a DNF, no big deal. Unless of course there is something wrong with the knee. Listening to your body is the right thing to do sometimes. Just don't ever tell me to listen to my bank manager, that would quickly put an end to all this silliness. 



Carlsberg don't organise marathons, but if they do can they please start with Paris?

4 years is a long time. I can barely even imagine what I was like back then. Back then I was a young Serpie in Paris and a bit nervous about the start of a marathon. The pressure of having to "perform" in the next 3 and so hours was making me feel a little sick. I didn't tell anyone at the time because there was no such thing as Facebook (imagine that?). It was 5 months since my last marathon and I had forgotten what it felt like to start. I hoped that all those boring nights running around a track doing something or other with my lactate threshold would manifest itself in a finish time that would then be plotted on a bouncy red graph on the clubs website to demonstrate to those that were slower that I was "better" than them and to those that are faster that I was coming to get them. There I was, about to start the ultimate race, 26.2 miles of road. No human has ever run further than that. I'd love to go back and visit that boy, and slap him.

So why would I line up here again with 35000 other runners who will heave through a city on some tarmac? I'm not entirely sure, but I had entered the race for some reason and didn't want to waste the place. There might be a nice medal.

The first part of such an endurance event takes place at a vile exhibition called an "Expo". This typically takes place way out of town and no where near the start and is at the insistence of the race sponsors. It would be much easier just to post peoples race numbers out but the opportunity to have 30000 mostly men 35-45 AB demographic with too much disposable income exposed to a load of needless crap in an oversized basketball court was just too lucrative. 

Upon exiting the station I am immediately pushed back by young people in branded tops while they thrust flyers in my face. It was as if they were flown in from Tottenham Court Road to taunt me. However they are not peddling anything useful like some Subway vouchers or a cereal bar. Instead it's a flyer for some gadget that if I attach it to my foot it will tell me how many times I bang it on the floor.

Having spent ages in a long queue choking on the cigarette smoke of other runners I am prodded wheezing to a desk where I am asked to produce a medical certificate which tells the organisers in no uncertain terms that I maybe will perhaps probably not die whilst doing things with my feet. I irony of getting this certificate is hilarious. You have to expose yourself to all manner of diseases from the great unwashed in a waiting room of a doctors surgery and wait for a person who you have never met before to tell you (for £15) that you definitely probably wont die too much while running in a race with your feet. You go into such a place in the shape of your life, you leave with a piece of paper that you could have produced yourself and swine flu.

I then pick up my number and am then directed to the point in the hall which is furthest away from the exit in order to maximise my opportunities to buy shit I don't need. It is a tactic employed to great effect by IKEA and leaves me wading though a sea of energy gels that will make me 5.7% faster, running tops that go really well with my shoes and invitations to repeat this awful experience at other cities around the world. I think I fared quite well, emerging only with a Raidlight bottle belt and a Billy bookcase. I could have got more but someone gouged my eye out with a flyer.

I have spent 3 hours on my feet so far, mooching in queues and bottlenecks. The "How to run marathons" textbook tells me I should be resting at home, revising my split times and laying out my kit. Luckily those textbooks are full of shit.

The morning of the marathon sees many experienced runners following the same ritual. Wake up 3 hours before the start, have a shit, eat some food, have a cup of coffee, have another shit, take some imodium, drink lots of water and if you are lucky have another shit. This ritual was ruined in Paris though by 2 things, first that nowhere opens before noon and you can't even get a coffee and second the organisers decided that 12 toilets for 35000 runners was adequate. There was actually a couple of places open where you could sit around and watch waitresses ignore you and serve other people coffee. Luckily there was a McDonalds nearby where you could just go up to a counter and say "I would like a coffee, here is some money" and then you get a coffee. Why has globalisation not even reached France yet?

Being an ultrarunner I have become very tolerant of the need to go to the toilet in public. In bushes or at the side of streets is fine. It is not fine to practically do it on other peoples feet, or shit in urinals. It was a a ghastly site watching a great city get violated worse than when the Third Reich marched here in 1940. 

The start was equally horrific. I was quite near the front in the 3.15 pen. The idea is that the faster people go at the front so that everyone ends up getting off quite quickly. In reality those who can push in the hardest are the ones who get to the front and they tend to be fatter. About a minute after I squeezed into the cage the entranced closed and people would have to climb over a 6 foot fence to be able to start the race. I felt like a battery hen and was not too worried about anyone laying an egg on me, more about shitting on me.

I heard a countdown from 10 in French (I remember that at least from school, I forgot what the French was for "please can you refrain from urinating on me") and then a loud horn sounded, and then..... Nothing. Unless you are at the front you are not going to start until several minutes after the actual start. The first mile is down the very famous Avenue De Champs-Elysees which the French like to call "The most beautiful avenue in the world". Today the most beautiful avenue in the world has been transformed into a latrine. Runners are heading off in all directions to empty their bladders, a job made more difficult by the presence of spectators with kids and prams. It's a shame the Mona Lisa isn't here somewhere, that would be perfect to wipe my arse on.

Nowadays with road marathons I know at least that passing the start line means I'm near the end. In less than 4 hours I'll be in a pub somewhere, there will be no running into sunset, or sunrise or from city to city. Pretty boring really. 

I settled into a 3.15 pace and was feeling quite comfortable. I had been suffering with a cough for the previous week and was not able to give my lungs a proper workout but was not struggling to breathe as much as I feared. My legs felt a little achy as always but that usually goes away after 30 miles. 

I was quickly exposed to more of the things I hate about road marathons. The beeping heart rate monitors of the runners who have not only followed a spreadsheet for 6 months getting to the start line but are going to follow an annoying beep for their whole race. They must get as much pleasure from finishing as a dog does from fetching a stick. I am also being subjected to the rabid screams and taunts from a heaving crowd telling me to "Go go go" as opposed to "Yeah just stop and piss off". This year the race numbers included our names. 4 years ago it would have been really welcome to have people shouting out my name, now I was just feeling really claustrophobic as a sea of strangers engulfed the course screaming at me and standing on the blue line. The blue line represents the "racing line" of the marathon and is what the front runners follow to ensure that they do not step a stride over 26.195 miles. This route is now unavailable to me as I weave around the course created by the swelling of people waiting for the coffee shops to open and the random people crossing the road. 

The Paris Marathon is actually a really nice route and the city is perfect for sight seeing. I think there are much better ways of doing this that following a line of people drowning in the smell of their own sweat and faeces. You do get to pass a lot of the parks and buildings of the historic city. I remembered from the last time how great it was running along the Seign and under the bridges just after half way. It was around then that my knee started to trouble me, I've never had any bother with my knee before. I subscribe to the view that running slowly over trails for 24 hours is not damaging to your body at all whereas trying to nail yourself for 3 hours or more on tarmac wearing large pieces of foam. 

The temperature hit a tropical 15 degrees and I am starting to choke on other peoples body odour. The long tunnels offer some shelter from the sun and many people slow to a walk since the crowd can't see their humiliation now. I am determined to carry on running as the crowd I am in will be worse further back. I made better progress through the long tunnel than Diana did many years ago and emerge to be blown back by the screaming rabid masses. The knee continues to hurt but I just want to get it over with as soon as possible, not normally a feeling I get less than 3 hours into a race.

At least I saw the Eiffel tower and to my knowledge no one had shat on it yet. Just 3 weeks ago I was doing a race where I would end running inside that and up the steps to the finish line. The thought of doing that again was quite thrilling and I even considered doing it. However I had factored into my clothes packing that I was going to gain an extra T-shirt this weekend and had to finish this bloody race to do so. Damn it.

The last few miles are though a park with very narrow paths that reduces us to a very slow stutter again. I feel bad because I am holding people up with my slow hobbling. I hate to think I prolonged this ordeal for others. Soon enough the finish line came but I was unable to run across it because there was a queue. The pile up of people was caused by everyone stopping their watches and swerving to the side as they did so. Their cherished finish photo (40 euros) would forever capture the moment where they looked down and panicked about their watches showing a few more seconds than they actually ran it in. I put the watch in my pocket after around 10 miles, I felt the need to look at it every kilometre and it was further sapping what little enjoyment I was going to get from this race.

But the marathon wasn't over..... There was then a massive bottleneck to actually get out of the pen that they force you in to get your bags. It took 45 minutes of been made to stand and not being clear as to why. Eventually we escaped and Dan and I found a pub to drink a well earned pint of Guinness (9 euros). 

OK- I admit that was a bit more moany than was necessary and Paris does represent perfectly what I hate about these events. It still is a pretty poorly organised farce, London is far better organised in comparison without the start mess and finish travesties. I still am not sure why I went for such a marahton, perhaps it was the company, it was great being in the pub afterwards seeing a couple of Serpies fly past me during the run. 

The whole experience confirmed to me that road marathons are not my thing. I have no desire to train or hurt myself on tarmac to achieve a time to post against others. 4 years ago that was very different but then I guess so was I. I had not experienced just how fun running for the sake of it can be. I don't need people watching me or people all around me to enjoy a run. But who knows? I am sure as I approach my 40's and start to suffer the mid-life crisis I may feel that the only way to show that I've done anything with my life is to try and smash myself over the streets of Paris. Hopefully they will have more Starbucks by then.


Eco Trail De Paris

This had the sorry smell of deja vu. Just over 2 years ago in the days before my first 50 mile race I got food poisoning from some nasty chicken place in London after a night out. Thursday and Friday I battled to rid my body of whatever evil that passes as chicken in West London had entered it but to no avail. I started the Rotherham 50 on the Saturday and on swallowing my 12th immodium of the day I decided it would be a good idea to pull out at 17 miles.

Crowded Start

The same thing happened again. I had not learned from the past and on Thursday I was lying in bed with what felt like really bad stitch. I had been sent home from work for vomiting and could not hold in any fluid. I lay in bed all day and only got up to get rid of the water I had just drank. I was determined to make it to the start line regardless.

The Eco Trail De Paris promised to be a great race and I would have been very disappointed to miss it. It was certainly one of the biggest ultras I had never heard of, with 1500 starters for the 80k and 1200 for the 50k. The route ambles through some lovely countryside point to point from way out west and finishing in the Eiffel Tower. Not a huge number of international competitors, it was a very French race. I only knew Ian and Helen from the UK.

A short and confusing train ride then a coach transported us quite quickly to the start in St Quentin. We got there a bit early which left me with some time to try and eat more food. I had 2 meals in 2 days and was mindful of the task of running 50 miles empty. Still, I know a lot of ultra-runners who swear by not eating the day before so maybe I was about to learn something new. Ian went off to the front and I deliberately stayed near the back, happy to follow a slow pace that was just going to see me to the end of the race.

The first few miles for me were stop-start is some parks. 1500 runners crowding through some narrow paths meant there was a lot of stopping early on. After a few miles the congestion eased (as I hoped my own would increase) and we could all settle into a jog. It was still very slow going and it was quite warm (16 degrees) and I was thankful of the many parts of the route that were under the trees. biggish hill

This would be described as a "hilly" course. Certainly not mountainous but with probably 20 odd short sharp inclines (think parliament hill but twice as steep). They would be walked by most and on another day I would have made more effort to run up them but did not feel the energy to today. In fact after the very first one I was feeling a bit giddy and wondered how I will cope with the others that were going to come. I put these thoughts out of my mind quite well by recalling some parts of "survival of the Fittest" that I had recently read. It is a must read for any endurance runner. In it there are tales of how the human body and do extraordinary things in dim circumstances such as extreme heat, cold or starvation. I decided to stop being such a pussy about the whole throwing up thing and not eating and just get on and do the race. It was only 50 miles ffs.

The checkpoints near the start are quite sparse. The first at 13 miles then the second at 33. Those 20 miles can be tricky without enough water and we were warned as such in the briefing. There was a lot of kit to carry in the race which seemed excessive but in the end seemed sensible. 2 litres of fluid, food, coat, trousers (or corset?), TWO headtorches, reflective armband and some other stuff. I was struggling to ration my drink for the warm 20 miles to the second checkpoint and was looking around for a shop to buy something. Luckily at an observatory 25 miles in there was a water pump with a crowd of runners drinking and hosing themselves. I stuck my mug in a few times to neck some cold water and then no longer worried about having enough, the checkpoints were all closer together after that.25 miles to go

It was in the observatory that we first got a look at the Eiffel Tower. I can't think of another race I have done where I can see the finish from 25 miles away. It was a really nice sight and there were lots of planet displays that I would normally have spent time looking at. However I had to press on, I didn't want to leave Mr Sharman waiting too long, particularly as he had the key to the hotel room.

The second checkpoint came finally and was a brilliant display of Frenchness as all of them were. Cheese, meat and bread and lots of cake bars. All I craved for the entire race was a few cups of coke which I took. I would have loved to have stuffed my face with all of it but resisted in case my body rejected it. In fact the sickness had all but gone. I felt a bit weak but my stomach was fine. Could it be that stuffing your face with meaty food is bad for you in these things? Perhaps.

I tried not to stay in the checkpoints too much but some degree of faffing was required to fill up my bladder and empty my shoes. There was a funny sight of people sat down taking a significant break, lying down or getting medical attention. All felt a bit much for 50 country miles but was an amazing scene. 

Having done 53k the checkpoints were all only 9k apart now and I was looking forward to more coke. I was so pleased that I had gotten out of bed to do this and that it wasn't hurting much, or at all. My legs were in great shape. I had got twice as far as the 17 miserable miles I managed in Rotherham 2 years ago and I was going to finish. I started to do some good running, overtaking quite a few people as I did.

After not many more miles I was confused to see what looked like a checkpoint. I knew I had not just run 9k in 30 minutes. It was in fact an equipment check, and I failed. The one thing I didn't have was the one thing they asked for, the reflective armband. I did not put up much of a protest as they asked for it. I tried to say "umm, it fell off" but they did not buy it. A lady just took a note of my number and allowed me to go on. It made me laugh a little and I thought of what might happen. I hear of people getting pulled from the London Marathon right at the end for cheating, when they can see the finish line. I thought it would be a bit harsh to drag me from under the Eiffel Tower in this manner but the thought crossed my mind.A Checkpoint

I was still in the woods when darkness fell. I have run in the dark many times before and always try to leave it till very last light before turning on my torch. When I did it was amazing, the trees had little yellow reflective strips on and all the other runners were dutifully wearing their armbands and reflective strips. I felt bad for not doing the same. It can be quite tricky running in the dark, you want to shine your torch on the floor so you can avoid things but then you can't see where you are going and risk taking a wrong turn. I think it's best to just let your instinct guide you and not worry about the floor too much. I had run 40 miles now without falling over so I was due a tumble anyway.

The last checkpoint was a beautiful sight. Set at some racecourse we ran across fields to get to it. Then on leaving we were treated to a spectacular view of Paris by night with the finish line glowing like a beacon across the whole city. I wish I took more photos during the race and didn't as my camera was low on battery but I did manage to get one last photo of how it looked 10k from the end of the race. It was pretty special.

10k to go...

There were a few more miles of woods as we descended into the city and then onto the river path. This is when the sky opened and unleashed some of the heaviest rain I have run in. It just came out of nowhere and soaked the path we ran on. All of a sudden I was ankle deep in water and absolutely loving it. I saw a few ahead of me trying to step over the puddles but there really was no point. I took charge and led everyone thought the middle of everything and laughing to myself as I did. I loved it, only 3 miles to the end and dwarfed by the now intimidating presence of the tower shining it's light over the streets searching out the runners to finish the race. It felt like a scene from War of the Worlds (except the tower was welcoming rather than trying to kill us).

I passed the Statue of Liberty (or whatever it is called here) and thought about how free I was feeling. Soaking wet and shivering I was running towards one of the worlds most iconic monuments with some other wet Frenchmen while others ran for cover under bridges. This is proper freedom.

The last mile involves some road crossings and all are very well marshalled by the police. I was amazed by the patience of the people and traffic of Paris for this race. By now the runners are very thinly spread and I had no one ahead of me to follow. The four enormous feet of the Eiffel Tower finally came into view and I was led across the road and into the expo marquee where everyone cheered as I ran behind the podium, a very odd feeling to be outside and in the rain to be all of a sudden indoors with a load of screaming people. I ran back out the other side then into the south entrance to the tower. The finish line was only 50m away, and I was right underneath it.

I didn't really appreciate before the race how great it would be to actually finishing INSIDE the Eiffel Tower. I was given a ticket at the bottom of the steps and then tried to haul myself up. There were a few tourists climbing the steps and not quite knowing why I seemed in such a rush. I saw a runner ahead and made no effort to catch him, even though I grew up in Leicester I have been taught that it's rude to overtake people on stairs. I was not sure at this point how many I would have to climb, it only goes to the first level and on getting there I displayed my ticket to the guards (it was a little sweaty by then) and then turned into the finish. 9 hours and 20ish. 

There was not a lot in the tower other than beer and coke (I still went for the coke) and a group of us waited for the lift back down and into the marquee that I had just run through to be treated to yet more food. Again it was cheese and meat and normally I would have destroyed it but was still lacking in appetite. 


This was a truly magnificent race and one I am so glad at making the effort to start. Getting to the start line was difficult (via a coach journey from London) but once I has started the finishing was easy. Seeing the finish line from 25 miles out, then again at night with 10k to go and then running to the tower and letting it swallow you is indescribable. One for next year definitely, with about 30 of you guys. Just don't let me go near a Chico-land in the week before the race, or indeed ever.




Glasgow to Edinburgh Double Marathon

The Serpie Army at the startThe Glasgow to Edinburgh ultra was yet another event that has popped up in the past few years to meet the growing demand for long distance running in the UK. Around 100 were registered for 55 miles of canal that joins Scotland two biggest cities. There was a huge Serpentine contingent present, 9 to run, 4 to cycle and later and later on about another 10 to come and sing Happy Birthday to me at the finish. I turned 30 the previous day and was looking forward to celebrate becoming an old man by doing what I love most, running along canals.

I was really pleased just to make it to the start line. 4 weeks ago I stubbed my toe at the Pilgrims Challenge and the whole thing inflamed and was very painful. I could not tell whether it was just badly bruised and inflamed or whether it was broken. Dr Google suggested icing and that even if it was broken there is nothing to be done apart from resting for 6 weeks. I was very worried about my birthday race not even starting but in the last week I could at least run (though I still could not walk properly on it). I had taken a day off work to go to A&E to get it checked out but that was the morning I found out I got into Badwater. I was too excited that I forgot. On Wednesday the toenail fell off and my foot has felt perfect ever since. It was such a relief, my plan was to hobble as much as possible until the pain got too much, now I could run the whole thing. Perfect.

The usual Ultra running pre race shenanigans were taking place. Jumping up and down, doing a few hill strints, strapping feet, queuing for the one toilet and taking "before" photos. Mark Braley was still in his corduroys. Jen Bradley decided to test some 12 hour lipstick and sported the shiniest red lips I have ever seen at the start of a 50 odd mile race. I wonder if running an ultramarathon is covered in the "reasonable use" caveat on the 12 hour guarantee? 

Two things are odd here. Firstly I am ahead of Claire and secondly, she appears to be smiling.I started out too fast, which is inevitable when you try to keep up with Claire Imrie and Nick Copas. Setting quite a fast pace for the first few miles and getting very warm. It was about 10 degrees C and I felt really warm, this does not bode well for when I have to run much further in 55 degrees. My body felt a bit creaky from not doing much running in the past month. I was gutted to have missed a few more races in Feb and a lot of commuting running but was just happy to be out there. I had suffered shin splits and sore ankles like a new runner for the past few runs as I tried to get back into it, none of that was a problem though I suspected that this one was going to hurt more than a 55 miler normally does.

There is often a silly debate as to how far an ultra should be before it can be called an ultra. The point is moot to me since the "marathon" distance itself is based on a combination of fiction and the laziness of our King to stand and watch the finish of a 25 mile race. 50 miles is often regarded as where ultras start proper, they become very different from 26.2 mile races at that point. Claire, Nick and Jen were running further than they had done before today. All were making pretty easy work of it.

The first checkpoint was at 13 miles which we covered in around 1.40. 4 years ago on my birthday I ran the Berkhamstead half marathon in about 1.45 which was a pb at that time. I love remembering these times when I was even slower than I am now. That was before I had even heard about ultras. I feel like such an idiot, wasting a Birthday on a half marathon. I was however feeling a bit hungry and sick. I needed food but there was none at the checkpoints. It was later pointed out to me that this was made clear in the instructions, I really should start reading those some time. With only energy drink I was in for a struggle as I usually do these things on solid food. 

The TunnelI have been reading a lot more of the sciency stuff about eating and hydration recently. Articles that kind of suck the fun our of running my saying nasty things like you shouldn't stuff your face full of pizza and chips the day before the race. I normally give such articles a miss and head to the chip shop. Since reading more about Badwater, hydration and renal failure I have decided that I need to be a bit more textbook about eating and drinking if I am to get through the tough summer I have planned. That didn't stop my huge consumption of pizza and chips the night before though, making the 10th biggest mistake here, and now I was feeling both sick, hungry and very sleepy. I would have killed a red bull.

After about 18 miles I let Claire and Nick steam on ahead. I was already starting to crash a bit and the prospect of finishing this in daylight seemed distant. I strolled into checkpoint 2 which was 24ish miles and briefly chatted to Graeme who was wearing a Fetch top. I didn't even ask his name, I just knew it because he said he was running the Western States 100 this year and I knew the name of the only Irish person on that roster. I said my name and he immediately shouted "Spartathlon". Funny how we all know each other through our races.

This checkpoint was next to Falkirk Wheel. There is a visitors centre next to this weird looking metal thing that cartwheels boats vertically for 30 meters. I had not seen many locks on the canal up until now and it seems here they just make do with one big massive lock rather than lots of small ones. I stopped for quite a while at this point and stretched as my groin was very tight. This is a recurring problem that I need to deal with and will do through yoga in the coming months. I was suprised to see Nick jump out of the visitors centre after I had stopped for so long but he looked like he was slowing down a bit too. I was happy to run with him for a bit while I took some photos of some interesting parts of the canal.

Soon after that checkpoint there was a long tunnel which made quite an eery running experience. It was very dark and the floor didn't appear to be all there. It was cobbled and wet all along as water would come gushing down from the ceiling but sometimes I'd think I was about to step into the canal. It lasted about half a mile as was oddly pleasant. 

The path was really good to run on and there were only a few puddled sections, road shoes were a good choice. I was a little disappointed by the lack of activity on the canal. There were very few boats and I only saw one actually moving. The Grand Union Canal "back home" is usually more alive with people on barges and pubs located on the waterfront. There weren't even any ducks or geese, not that I care about the latter. Maybe it's the recession, when times are hard the duck feeding is always the first to go.

Around 30 miles I had caught up with Nick who wanted to keep moving and left me behind to take photos. Mark Cockbain also jogged past me and also complained about the lack of food. It seems that the more ultras you do the less you read the instructions and sometimes it can be costly. I was still feeling quite weak and Nick told me that he was going to call it a day at the next checkpoint. It was sad to hear but had silver lining, he donated all of his food to me. He read the instructions and carried a load of cliff bars with him. I was more than happy to take them off him and stuffed one down like a fat man would who'd been stuck in a lift for 4 hours. The next checkpoint was at 34 miles. I was running for about a mile at a time and then stopping to stretch and empty my shoes. I had lots of stones in my shoes but could not get rid of the uncomfortable feeling on my feet. It turns out I was going to be visited by some old friends again.

Falkirk WheelAt the third checkpoint I sat down for a while again and stretched. It was here I met Phil Owen who was looking out for some runners behind me. It was nice to chat and talk about some other races coming up. I felt a bit better for having eaten something and was ready to get moving again. I carried on with the intention of running for a couple of miles or so and then stretching. Until this point I was being a slave to my garmin, or rather it was reminding me of just how much slower I was getting. I had the display set on average pace which crept up from 7.40 early on in the race and was now heading towards 9. I knew I was now going much slower than that and was getting a bit frustrated with it going up all the time so I solved the problem the easiest way, I just switched it off. I felt a weight off as now all that was displayed was distance and the time of day. I was now only determined to finish not long after 6 so that I can get in before dark. I'm going to stop bothering with the garmin, it just spoils a good run, and writing about it makes for fucking boring reading. 

I hit 40 miles feeling so much better than at 30. I felt in good form again and could run without feeling the need to stop much. There was no way I could fail to finish my Birthday race and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would feel better again. 20 miles is a long time to feel shit though. Still, I was just happy that I could even do the race and made quicker progress. Not long after the 4th checkpoint and a conversation with a random jogger about the highland fling which he and I are doing I was caught up by Jen Bradley. I was in two minds about whether to wait and run with her or carry on while I was on a roll. I decided to carry on, I had not stopped for about 8 miles and was hoping to keep it that way. I was curious about whether the lipstick was still working. Nice Canal

50 miles seemed to pass in no time and there were signs that I was heading into Edinburgh. I (think) I could see the castle and some buildings in the distance. I could also see more objects in the canal, such as a pink baby push cart thing. The people of Edinburgh obviously have too much and need to throw these things away. I also saw the start of the city's night life as the under age kids started assuming their drinking positions along the benches of the now tarmacked canal path. It was just before sunset and it was time to get the race finished.

I finished in 8.52, about an hour slower than I was hoping for but pleased for being able to run at all. 3 weeks off certainly makes you appreciate it more when your are running and the last 15 miles of today. Jen finished just behind me with lipstick and mascara in perfect condition. Diane was not far behind and managed to not even get lost once, amazing stuff. Ian, Claire, Oli and Mark C had been at the finish quite a while. Long enough to get stuck into the Guinness in the pub right at the end.

Overall I was pleased with how the race went. I had a rough patch in the middle third but managed to get through it and did much better than I feared at the beginning of the week when I was still not able to walk properly. I was really pleased to see so many people up there singing happy birthday as I finished. Thanks to all who showed up.




The Pilgrims Challenge


The signs were not always this easy to spot.After the huge success of the Druid Challenge last November I was really looking forward to the Pilgrims Challenge. The organisers XNRG popped up on the race organising scene a little while ago and have immediately won plaudits for great organisation and value for money. I think that it's great to have such a variety of things to chose from nowadays (I wish I could have also run the Thames Trot 50 miler but that was on the same day) and that there are guys out there willing to put themselves on the line to stage such events.

The format was simple. We start in Farnam and run 33 miles along the North Downs way until we get to Mertsam. Then on the second day we run back. 66 miles of hilly mud over 2 days, seems like a very British thing to do.

1st Claire - I had to run up a hill to get that photo, I was knackered.

I was pleased with how many Serpies turned out for this and are doing so in greater numbers for all events like this. We are starting to take over these things.

The start was from a farm just outside Farnham. There were 3 waves, walkers, runners and super super fast runners. I started with the latter only because I wanted an extra hour in bed.

The first few meters involved a section where we were up to our knees in water and mud. There was no real way of avoiding it so right from the start we had soaking wet feet. At least it wasn't as cold as the Country to Capital. 

I ran with a group of about 6 who were sort of "middle pack" of the fast runners. I felt good and the trails were great to run on. There was quite a bit of mud in places but most of it was the glorious trail that I love to run on in the UK. The first 20 miles or so were fairly easy, with a few hills bit nothing of note. There were a lot of downhill sections that we knew we'd have to come back up the next day. 

The great thing about staggered starts (aside from the extra sleep you get if you can go faster) is that you are always catching up with people along the way. Events such as this were designed and used for those who are training for the Marathon Des Sables later this year. I think it's great that all the Brits train for the MDS by running miles and miles in the mud in the cold. It works though, better than all the gimmicky things you can do like heat chamber training. What most people struggle with at the MDS is the distance, running this kind of thing certainly helps with that.

I had managed to avoid any schoolboy errors in races so far this year and was pleased with the effects of losing a little weight (around 4kg in Jan) as I felt the hills easier than 3 weeks ago. I did however forget to cut my toenails and only remember when I kicked a tree root and the nail went right in my foot. Fortunately most of the proper running had been done in the first 20 miles, then came the bastard hills.

I was surprised to see the Picnic steps in this race (I don't know why). I have run up and down these 8 times before in 2 races but somehow they feel harder each time. What follows are more hills and then a really long hill which I recognise but can't for the life of me remember from what. I started to struggle breathing up some of them and have only recently started to use my inhaler on hilly runs. It does help to expand my lungs when working hard but I always use it too late. The sun came out and I still was enjoying the run but was finding it hard work. After what seemed like endless uphills I arrived alone at the last checkpoint (having lost Claire and the group at the steps) and was told that it was all down hill from there and only about 4 miles. 

Oli and his clothes

The 4 miles went quite quickly via a conversation with a chap as to whether I was still on the North Downs way or not. I never really got lost but I did spend a lot of time stood still and scratching my head trying to decide which way was best. We were told as a rule of thumb to always go straight on and keep the hills on our left. Not so easy to decide when you are up them.

The finish was at an all Boys School in Mertsam. I was glad I didn't have to ask for directions to a boys school while looking quite worse for wear, the markings were very good. On finishing I met up with those who had finished before me (Oli, Claire I, Claire S, Allan) and had some coffee while I waited for the rest to come in. There is a nice warm atmosphere in between runs at these kind of events. Everyone makes their way into the sports hall and does their own thing. Many just sit down and drink tea, others head straight for the showers. Some take advantage of the massage services which I always try to do but didn't this time, some start contorting themselves into odd shapes to iron out all the damage from the day. Most of us were just keen to get into the pub, I was anyway. We faffed around a bit and headed over back through the streets we finished in and to a nice pub called "The Feathers". A few pints of Guinness are as good as any recovery drink.

The experience of sleeping in a sports hall is relative. If you are used to nice hotels and B&B's before and after each race then you are probably going to find it hard. If however you are a veteran of multi-day races then a flat surface indoors compares favourably to a tent or bivouac where you are sometimes freezing and sometimes roasting in your sleeping bag. Ear plugs are a must in these situations. There are people who snore like tractors and people will always get up all night to go to the toilet, and stomp like elephants as they do so. I was a bit worried about Claire Shelley, she had had 2 pints of coke and was bouncing off the walls. I zipped my sleeping bag up to my neck...

I slept quite well and was reminded in the morning that I snored (I am certain I don't). There were 3 starts again, the latest at 9 for those in the top 25 from yesterday of which I, Claire I, Claire S and Oli were part of. We ate breakfast as provided by the organisers and then messed around for a couple of hours while everyone else had started running. I demonstrated how bad I am at basketball while everyone had left the hall and then started to get ready. My toe was still hurting a lot and it was a struggle to put my shoes on. Everyone else was doing their own preparation. Oli was putting on his womens clothing and eating flapjack, Claire I was filing her nails and Claire S was putting on face cream. Apparently a girl has to look her best when wading through the mud. I couldn't imagine either of them pulling along the way, not at the bloody speed they go at anyway.

At the start only about 12 of the 25 were there, most had snuck into an earlier start. We all marched off and my legs felt quite good, it was just my feet that were hurting and I was not really looking forward to a day of running flat footed.

2nd Claire. I had to tell her to stop bouncing for a second while I took the photo.

The first 15 miles or so I ran with Claire S and Allan, the latter being a veteran of this kind of thing but the former making her first attempt at it. I have been amazed in the last couple of months how so many people have just dived right into the ultra scene. When I started 3 years ago I hesitantly stepped in and did one in January and then not another one till June. Now the approach seems to be "I'll do my first this week and then another next week, or better still - tomorrow". I have been really impressed with how at least half a dozen people I know have done this and it makes me feel a bit soft for being a bit cautious in my early days. Luckily I have outgrown such cautionary behaviour and these people have helped inspired me to think that doing Badwater, UTMB and Spartathlon within 10 weeks of each other could (and should) be done. 

Claire was bouncing like Tigger for the entire 33 miles, looking really happy but saying she was tired. She did not look it at all. The other Claire was long gone. It was slightly less muddy than the previous day, the long downhills didn't really seem as long as they were up hill. I managed not to fall over though. The checkpoints were in different places and were more welcome than yesterday, I really gorged on them, eating the sausages, sausage rolls and lumps of cheese. 

As I was running slower there was more time to chat to Claire and others in the race. There was a guy who from behind looked like Cyril and we yelled at him only to realise that it was not him but someone else training for the MDS. We chatted to him anyway and continued to call him Cyril. 

You have no idea how hard it was to get back up from that. I could have just slept.

The second half of the day felt quite hard as I just felt quite tired. Walking became too easy and it was Claire who was pulling me along, bouncing off into the distance. We got lost about 8 miles from the end and ran uphill into a village and then back down again and saw an obvious sign for the NDW that we missed. It didn't feel like too long till we were back running through the sludge next to the golf course that we started near. I don't normally look forward to sludge but it was quite welcome as it signalled the end. By the time I finished everyone I knew was already there drinking tea. There were great performances all round, Oli winning by miles, Claire I winning for the girls and Claire S coming second. Serpies are starting to take over this kind of thing in the results too. I am very pleased to see it, anything to prevent them obsessing about boring road races.

It proved to be another great success for Neil and the guys at XNRG. Everyone had a great run, Cyril put yet more miles into his legs for the MDS as looks a different man from the one I met 3 months earlier on the Druid Challenge. Jo Proudlove and Toby Melville had great performances (Toby running 54020 steps on Saturday and only 54010 on Sunday, maybe that was one less piss?). Dan De Belder also finished both days in good shape. 

I was looking forward to the pub afterwards but the offer of a lift home from Dan Ashfar (who was 2nd I think) was too good to turn down. I was looking forward to getting off my feet and eating a lot of meat. 


 Worlds sexiest man competition. Guess who won?

Ultra Race 90

I was really looking forward to this one. Another run along my favourite canal only this time I got to run further up it. From Northampton to Tring is about the middle third of the GUCR. This would be the first time I saw most of it in daylight.

The Ultra Race 90 was going to be tough. Only in non-stop runs have I done more than 90 in a weekend. Having felt a longer hangover from my 45 miles the previous week I was a little worried about how I'd cope on the second day, or even the first. Still, at least its all along a canal. What can go wrong on a canal?

Jon Hoo (one of many new recruits to the Serpie Ultra Running Team) and I got the train at stupid O'clock from Euston and headed for Northampton. Jono was clearly starting to lose his mind before he'd even started. "You wouldn't believe what I have gone and done?" he despaired.

Road over the Blissworth Tunnel

"What?" I replied.

"Look, I've gone and bought a return ticket to Northampton?" 

"Yeah? And....."

"But aren't we going to Tring?"

"Yes, but we are running there, FROM Northampton which is where we are going now".

"Oh - Phew that's a relief. I wondered why I bought tickets to Northampton".

With that kind of stupidity he may well become a great ultra-runner.

At Northampton station we had an interesting conversation with your typical Midlander. On asking where the Park Inn hotel was a girl pointed at a building and said, It's just there, you can see it, it's about half a mile away. Then, on our departure she looked confused. "You are not walking are you? Get a taxi". We walked there in 10 minutes and I was looking forward to a day of getting asked along the way "where are you running to? Where did you start". It's true that Ultra-Running does cause heart attacks, but only to those simpletons stood at the side asking the runner what they are doing.

The registration was well set up and I bumped into Rory for the first time since the MDS last year. I immediately asked him next time to put the start back in Brentford. I had been up nearly 4 hours already and was knackered. I was ready for lunch.

There were 2 starting waves, one at 8 which we just caught leaving and then one at 9. We were given clear instructions on how to get from the hotel to the canal just out of town but Jono managed to send everyone the wrong way within 50 meters. 

Luckily someone was listening to the instructions and we were on our way to the Canal, the Northampton arm of the Grand Union Canal.

View ULTRArace.45/90 in a larger mapI jogged along with Nick Copas who seems to be my ultra running buddy nowadays. Mark Cockbain and Jackson Griffith were close by too. We saw Jono running off ahead in pursuit of the lead guy who seemed to be building a huge gap. None of the rest of us were really in the mood to make a race of it, not that I would have been able to anyway. The Northants part of the canal is very muddy and the canal was almost empty. Soon we hit the "left turn" and headed towards London. I remember taking this as a right turn when coming from Birmingham and initially led people in the wrong direction and was accused of sending people up to Birmingham. 

With that embarrassing turn out of the way we headed in the right direction towards London. This is about the 55 mile point of the GUCR and there is a sign that says 77.5 miles to Brentford. Fortunately we were not going that far today. There are mile markers that signal the distance to Braunston Locks, a place where the GUC meets the Oxford canal. I worked out that we were 11 behind, so that when a marker said 20 it meant we had run 9 miles. This was very useful since my Garmin was about to run out of battery.

Nick and I ran all of it together while I bored him with tales of what these places look like in May when it is a bit darker and I am suffering from hallucinations. First off was the road section while the canal goes under a hill. Last time I was here I was suffering sun stroke and wanting to fall asleep in someone's garden, now it was quite damp and cold I had no such desire to do so. At the end of the road and at 9 miles was the first checkpoint. Here we caught up with Jackson and I exposed him as the bastard who told me about the Spartathlon 3 years ago. As we ran down the path to join the canal again I spoke about the time I ran down here then back up again because I thought I was lost and then I bumped into Pat Robbins (guy who keeps breaking the GUCR record) who assured me it was the right way. Jesus Nick must have been bored of all this banging on about the canal race, as I'm sure you are reading this. Fuck it, it's my blog anyway.

There were only about 60 or so in this race and they all space out pretty far. I don't normally like running with people but found Nick quite good company. Jackson was experimenting with a run/walk race which explained why he was overtaking me every 5 minutes. Soon he shot off and left Nick and I to plod on.

The third checkpoint seemed to take a long time coming and was after about 28 miles. There was soup, tea and coffee and malt loaf and cake.  We faffed in the checkpoints getting fed for longer than was necessary and stiffned up quite a bit, which happens much faster in the cold. Getting moving again was hard and Nick was keen to keep moving whereas I was happier to stroll along stuffing my face. In an attempt to catch up with him I did a comedy stumble, tripping then charging about 10 yards before rolling over like an arse and cutting my knee and hand. 

I was enjoying a real run of nostalgia and boring Nick with it all. I remembered vividly the Navigation Bridge at 70 miles (15 here) where I fell asleep, then the small station at about 84 miles (29 here) where I tried to fall asleep but Henk wouldn't let me and then the pub bench a few miles on where I did fall asleep for a few minutes before being woken up my Nick Morrison-Smith who thought I was a tramp. At this point I had to stop and take a photo of the very bench I committed this crime on and as we stopped Nick seized up and struggled to move on. 

There were only about 60 or so in this race and they all space out pretty far. I don't normally like running with people but found Nick quite good company. Jackson was experimenting with a run/walk race which explained why he was overtaking me every 5 minutes. Soon he shot off and left Nick and I to plod on. 

The third checkpoint seemed to take a long time coming and was after about 28 miles. There was soup, tea and coffee and malt loaf and cake.  We faffed in the checkpoints getting fed for longer than was necessary and stiffned up quite a bit, which happens much faster in the cold. Getting moving again was hard and Nick was keen to keep moving whereas I was happier to stroll along stuffing my face. In an attempt to catch up with him I did a comedy stumble, tripping then charging about 10 yards before rolling over like an arse and cutting my knee and hand. 

That Bench

The last miles felt quite tough as we were slowing down quite a lot. I was hoping to get it done in about 7 hours and still thought that was realistic at the last checkpoint but we ended up taking 7.32. In the last quarter we ran a bit with a Fetchie "Mile Muncher" who was looking in very good form. My Garmin had given up and hers reported the last checkpoint being 37.5 miles. 7.5 to go, excellent.

It was a bit longer than that though. I was still looking around at the views I had hitherto missed by running this section in the dark. I remember the pub after 99.5 miles and how I flipped when I realised it was not 100. With this in mind we carried on and eventually took the exit onto the road into Pendley Manor. 


We went inside to find Jono had already had a massage and got changed and was waiting around. He had come second and only a minute off the lead. Not bad, for a guy who nearly forgot he was going to Northampton. I decided to stay in the hotel and rest and looked forward to the next day. After a massage my legs felt rather good. A couple of beers (breaking my vow not to drink before my birthday) and pasta and I was feeling sleepy enough to go to bed.

Then the most annoying thing happened, I got a hideous headache. I had no pills to deal with it so I downed water and hoped it would go away but it wouldn't. I worried about not getting to sleep which made it worse, it wasn't even a bad headache it was just really badly timed and hard to get rid of without drugs. I went downstairs to reception and met a guy who was trying to be helpful but actually making things worse. Constrained by the H&S Nazi's and threats of litigation that stifle many economies nowadays he said he could not give me any pills. When I asked where I could get some he mentioned an "easy" 3 mile drive somewhere. I said I had no car which didn't seem to stop him confirming to me once more that if I did have a car then it would be an easy drive. 

I decided at about 2am that I was not going to run the next day. I could have done it and I reckon I would have finished faster on the Sunday but I could not afford to be wrecked for the Monday. That could be the first time that work has taken priority over running. A slippery slope indeed. 

I got up the next day in time to see the early start leave and then the later one. I took some well deserved digs from Mark and Drew about not starting but stood by it. Plenty more times in the year to smash myself. I watched the start I should have been in and saw the runners run off through the trees. It wasn't a pleasant site but I still had hours of sleep to catch up on. If I am going to do a race sleep deprived it will be because it's part of the race, not because of some stupid headache. 

one of many pointless lock crossings

Country to Capital

The beard only stayed while it was cold. That's what beards are for.It has been a long time since I did a long run. The last time I did a long run I was pissing blood at the end. Since then everything has felt a little harder, I feel much creakier and heavier (because I am). I had not run more than 13 miles in one go for over 2 months. This was a combination of that tiredness, illness and some laziness. I was really looking forward to getting back into it. A 20 odd mile wade through some mud followed by a long stretch of my lovely canal seemed a great way to blow out those cobwebs and get the ultra season started.

The Country to Capital is similar to the old Tring to Town which was my first ultra. It starts in Wendover (rather than Tring) and goes through trails until about half way (22 miles) where it joins the canal and then it's all the way to Little Venice.

I thought a lot about my first ultra 3 years ago. Nowadays where I am considered a "verteran" of such things people ask me for advice on such matters. I am probably not the best to ask about training or nutrition but think I am ok at talking about how to get through them. Some of the questions I get asked seem like worrying over nothing, such as the choice of shoes or the wind speed. Then I recall from 3 years ago I was asking exactly the same questions to those who had been running ultras for a few years. Then it does not sound silly at all.

Oli, Nick, DI, Claire, Trampy

With this being my first ultra in a while and while reminiscing on my first I think it spurred me into getting myself organised the day before. I have become quite slapdash about preparing for these things, often wearing whatever I find on the floor that morning and forgetting bits of kit. For the first time in ages I was intent on taking the right things. I remembered a head torch, remembered to drink water the day before, remembered to have a proper breakfast (scrambled egg on toast) and to drink coffee 2 hours before the start then take imodium. I even remembered to lubricate places that have been been slowly erroding due to my forgetfulness over the past 18 months. It was like running my first all over again.

I don't think I was preparing quite as well as the guy I saw in the queue for the toilets who was rolling a couple of cigarettes. I suspect he has probably been in the army.

We drove up in the morning to a pub in wendover that was teeming with 100+ runners in waterproofs. It was pissing it down and was due to be the same for the first half at least. Go Beyond certainly do put on a good spread at the start of a race, bacon butties and fresh coffee everywhere. Shame I had already eaten properly.

We started a little late as the race director was very accomodating for those who had just arrived on a train from London. It was refreshing to see that there was little sign of backing away from this event and many were even entering on the day including fellow Serpies Nick, Di and Oli. Up and down the country short cross country races were being cancelled (The Met League claiming that the car park would be dangerous for those driving there, typical southern softy excuse). I'm glad that the events in my sport things don't fall over because of the winter.

We all piled out of the car park and down the high street in Wendover and then all nearly missed the right turn into a narrow cycle path. We quickly got stuck into the fields and it became apparent how difficult it was going to be. The previous 2 days of rain had washed the snow away in London that had kept all it's residents indoors for a fortnight but there was still plenty of snow on the fields of Hertfordshire. It had barely been touched but was much slushier and cold than fresh snow. There were times when our feet would dip into ice cold water and freeze. It would have been perfect as an ice bath at the end of a race but not 2 miles in.


The route followed the Chiltern Link which consists of fields with fences, gates and stiles. We stuck to a group of about 20 and queued up at each gate. All of us were keen on not getting too lost in the first half, the weather was miserable and as some runners discovered only a few miles in the maps were not laminated.

The first checkpoint was in a small town who's name I can't remember, stocked with water (really cold water) and jelly babies. I felt I was over the tight achillies pain that I suffer in the first few miles of most runs that Roberto is currently having fun with.

A mile or so in the village and then we are back in the icy waters of the fields. I chat to a load of people on the way, some of whom have read the Sparta report and want to know more about it. It seems that those purple blisters from the GUCR 2008 are no longer how I get recognised. Now it's the pissing blood story.

I ran mostly with Oli Sinclair, Nick Copas (doing his first proper ultra) and Mark Cockbain. I was surprised to see the Geordie in a coat, it was at least 4 degrees. We were led my Lee Chamberlain (who we called at the time "that guy in the white who knows the way"). Lee was (until the end of the weekend) the record holder for the running 7 days on a treadmill, 468 miles. I did not appreciate any of this at the time, all I cared about was that he knew the way.

At 17 miles the second checkpoint was near the end of the "navigational" part of the run. Many of us were looking forward to getting on the canal and doing some blind running. It was tempting to stay at the checkpoint as there was plenty of food and a pub had just opened next to it. Oli, Nick, Mark and I hung around a bit and watched everyone else jog on. We then pursued the group and found them to be walking. We were not ready to walk yet and made a break for it following Mark. "Do you know the way?" we shouted. "NO" Mark replied. "Well, that's good enough for us". A little more wading through some ice cold water and then a visit to Roger Moore's house in Denham (about 5 Rolls Royces) and we suddenly hit the canal.


I expected the canal to feel a bit like the finish line. All there was to do was about 20 miles of easy running with no navigation. Instead I just felt my legs become sore as the grind along the hard flat surface started. This was the furthest I had run for months. My legs were feeling the distance after less than a marathon. I didn't feel this achy after 50 of Sparta and I was running that faster. I have a little way to go to get the fitness back I had 2 years ago, but it was a good enough start.

Oli ran off as soon as there was no navigation required and soon after he looked about the same size as Nick, a mile in the distance. We were in no mood to follow and just plodded on. I was amazed at Nick's pacing, normally he sets out for each run like it's a 10k and dies half way through. He was looking strong throughout. I just made sure I kept with him and reminisced about my lovely canal. 

This was the first time in ages I was able to make the left turn on the route. This was one of the best parts of the GUCR but last year part of the path had collapsed and there was a diversion which involved having to run/walk through hell on earth, otherwise known as Southall. The last time I was there I had a hard time convincing some scag-head that I did not have any money on me for him to get the bus. I was really glad to just make the left turn this time.

Once we were on the home straight I knew there were only 13 miles left. 

I love the end of this canal, there are a few really steep but short bridges that are near impossible to run up when your legs are shagged. I alerted Nick to the particular bridge where I got overtaken by an attractive girl in a cocktail dress at the end of the GUCR, another great photo moment. It wasn't to be this time though we still walked up and down it.

We cantered into the finish in 7.05 and bumped into everyone at the end. Drew, Mark and Oli were already at the finish as was Brian who I'd only met earlier that day. Soon after Phillip Lewis came in, another Serpie and then Claire Shelly finished in an amazing 8.15 for her first "proper" ultra even having done 30 miles the weekend before. She is properly addicted now, signing up for everything. We stayed on to wait for Di and Cyril. News broke that Di had got lost and also missed the left turning and ran halfway to Brentford before realising. She finished in around 11 hours and fellow Serpie Cyril who is training for the MDS did so soon after. 

Brits are a funny lot for MDS training. How would one prepare for running through hot sand and blazing sun for a week in the desert? By running for hours in the mud and pissing rain whilst freezing your toes of in puddles in the dark. It is a proper British way of doing things. Perhaps if you point and shout "Mud" at the sand long and loud enough it will eventually turn into it.

So, first race of the year done and not too shabby. Great organisation by GoBeyond and I shall like to do more of their events in the future. They seemed particularly appreciative of the key to the toilets I loaned them at the end. I ached a bit more than I thought I would but I guess I can't be surprised as I'd barely run for 2 months. A good enough start to the year, just need to do that twice over next weekend.

Nick is actually in front of me, even though he looks really far away.



The Serpentine Big Southern Softy Gatliff Debacle

Yesterday 25 or more Serpies tried their best to miss the start of a race that was unlike any other normally done by club members. No mile markers? No chip timing? No marked route? Mud? 50k??? Surely this is bad for the clubs reputation to be seen here doing this kind of madness? 

The event was the Gatliff 50k, a Long Distance Walkers event that runners are allowed to tag onto. Every year there is the promise of mud and cake, terrible rain and wobbly stiles. The small town of Edenbridge swelled with the arrival of so many Londoners. 24 made the 38 second connecting train at Redhill, one missed it and got a taxi instead. We arrived to a general look of suspicion. "Serpentine? What are you all doing here? Can't you see it's raining? – you should all be indoors, on a turbo trainer."

"How do you know we are from London"? we said. We were easy to spot, 80% of us were wearing running shoes in pristine condition. "Those things have never been off the treadmill" they said. "Where we come from if you turn up to a run with shoes like that you are made to drink beer out of them, but I can see you are clearly more of a mojito man".

It started well. Knee high puddles in muddy fields meant we had to meander around to try and keep dry. One thing a Londoner should not have to tolerate is wet feet. However any suggestion that we were going to stay dry quickly evaporated, unlike the water on the path.

Paths turned to streams and streams turned to rivers as we struggled up and down hills. The grass turned to mud and the regular mud turned to that horrible clay mud that sticks to your feet and forces you to snowball more mud. The water was icy and freezing our feet as we complained about the lack of tube coverage in the area. 

The reason (I think) why so many turned out for this was the promise of huge amounts of cake. Siobhan Reddy was quick to complain in capital style "Where is the cake? I've not even seen a Starbucks yet? How am I supposed to cope with this?" The first couple of checkpoints had little food, only juice and biscuits. 

Onwards into the rain and mud and more Serpies showed their true Southern Softy colours. Claire Levermore would let out a high pitched wail every time there was a puddle with true London spirit. This noise would often attract several Rottweilers and she and Marianna would freeze, huddle together and scream. Jany would then show her fellow city dwellers up by standing up to the canine aggressors and assertively shooing them away.

It took 4 hours to cover 24k, less than half of the distance. A quick calculation meant that to finish we'd be running in the dark for about 2 hours. There were several more ahead of us, doing the club a disservice by making such quick progress along a surface that wasn't tarmac. However the 15 Serpies, while gorging on soup and sausage rolls, quicker than you could say "skinny Latte" almost all decided that bailing was the best thing to do.

Jo Proudlove and Jany Tsai bucked the trend and brought more shame on the club by carrying on in the rain and mud. What were they thinking? We should not suffer rain and mud, we are from London dammit. Leave those horrid peasants to slide around in fields and trails instead.

The true heroes of the day and those that represent the club and city best were those who legged it for the taxies at half way. Gus Searcy was possibly the most heroic, upon seeing a TV crew chasing him to immortalise his DNF he sprinted for the first available lift home, covering his face with his rain battered route description. 

As this was happening there were 5 Serpies keen to give an false inpression of residents of the smoke and actually have a go at finishing the run. Nick Copas, Jon Hoo and Mark Braley were steaming through at a fast pace. Jono, to be fair tried to bring some credibility to the club by attempting to drown in a water filled ditch. Nick did the proper London thing of noticing but not helping (while laughing). Mark deviated from his zone 1 roots and cowardly pulled Jono from certain death.

Dan De Belder and Martin Cooper were also in poor form, having the audacity of preparing better and starting earlier. They both finished well under 8 hours. Jono was the quickest serpie in 6 hours, Nick managed 6.01 and Mark was a few minutes after. Jo and Jany struggled on into the dark and also brought shame to the female half of the club by finishing such a tough run. Serpie ladies exist to look nice, bake cakes for the boys and run the occasional 10k or half marathon. They certainly shouldn't be travelling outside the M25 and upstaging the men of the club when they really could make better use of their time by buying a nice dress for next week.

Alex Pearson was also intent on destroying our clubs road running credentials by completing the 50k mud slide. Rumour has it he did the entire thing grinning like a country simpleton. It's a disgrace.

So, hats off to the bailers, Mark Bell, Siobhan Reddy, Claire Levermore, Claire Imrie, Angus Searcy, Jen Bradley, Gemma Greenwood, Paula Redmond, Lula Rosso, Marianna Ivantsoff and Sam Ludlow. The southern softie award goes to Angus, his sprint for the taxi was the only proper running any of us saw all day. A special mention to Rob Westaway who got everyone into this in the first place then failed to make the start line, even though there was a birthday cake waiting for him. A wise move. The cake will instead be used for Andy Taylor's birthday on Tuesday (just don't tell him).

Commiserations (and derision) to Jon Hoo, Nick Copas, Mark Braley, Jany Tsai, Jo Proudlove, Dan De Belder, Martin Cooper and Alex Pearson for scandalously finishing such a pointless exercise. On leaving to catch our train back to civilisation we were greeted by some of the 50k finishers from the country. They all knew about the Serpentine capitulation and reassured us with some comforting words - "I hear there is a 5 mile run around some roads in Perivale next week, perhaps that is more your thing, I reckon more of you could finish that one". 

There were 10 Serpies who were trying to lose their ultra virginity today. All but Jono and Nick were left feeling high and dry (or should that be low and wet?) Finish or not everyone was left feeling pretty dirty.
The official Big Southern Softie Rematch will take place at the Tanners 30 on Jan 10th. For those of you who shamed yourself today there is a chance to redeem yourself and tear up your finishers certificate as you sobbingly crawl into a taxi. Otherwise, you could always do the unthinkable...

Spartathlon 2009 - Race Report


Apologies for how long this is. I don't really write this kind of stuff for anyone else but myself. I want to read this again in years to come and laugh at how stupid I was. I don't want to forget anything. Forgive the rambling, spelling and repeats. 


12 hours later

There are low points and high points to every big race I have done. They can come before, during or after the race. Last years GUCR I felt some crippling lows which were washed away by euphoric highs before the finish. I spent the days after just glowing whenever I thought about what I did. I was absolutely sure that this was the case in every big challenge that I'd put myself up against.
Last night I couldn't sleep. Despite being close to collapse on more than one occasion during the 35 hours I was plodding towards a statue I could not drift off. My body was broken, right foot swollen worse than I have ever seen, right shin felt splintered and broken. I could not lift my leg off the ground and the left was in no position to help out. Somehow I got a kidney infection which required me to get up very frequently and go to the toilet. When I did it felt like I was pissing razorblades and there was blood. The journey to the toilet was horrific. Several times I considered not getting up at all.

All the clothes I wore in the race are in the bin. 2 pairs of trainers, 3 tops (including 2 Serpie ones). I felt like I needed to burn them to cleanse myself of the race.

The pain was more than that though. I had spent 15 hours of Saturday battering my brain trying to calculate whether I was going fast enough to finish, working out worst case scenarios or "the point" where I could walk and still finish. Even after I had I still was going through all this in my head. What if I got the injury earlier? What if the sun came out on day 2? What if what if what if?

I've found that ultras have a way of breaking you into little bits and then the effort of finishing builds you back up into a greater person than when you started. This was certainly my experience in previous races, but right now I was still in pieces. I looked at my injuries and could not see how they were going to get better. I tried to think about some of the high points of the race but could not find any. The start line seemed to already be etched onto my long term memory even though I had barely slept since then, it seemed like an indeterminable time ago. 

I found it hard to accept all the congratulations I was getting from the people I was around because I still haven't come to terms with what has happened. I am feeling no joy or satisfaction from what I've done in the past 48 hours, only pain and a fear of not recovering. For the first time in my life I'm asking myself "why?" I have no answer, which leads me to think that this should be the end of it. 

The Race

Mark Cockbain, Me, Nick Lewis, Stuart Shipperly. Nick and I were the lambs to the slaughter.

We got a bus down to the Acropolis in Athens at 6am on Friday. The race was due to start at 7 from the historic centre of town. The sun was rising on what was going to be 2 hard days of running. I knew from the start that this was going to be the hardest thing I've ever attempted and that more would be between me and the finish line than in anything I have ever started before. 153 miles of non-stop running of rolling hills on Greek highways from Athens to Sparta. The temperature can get very high and there is little shade. This is unremarkable for some of the big hard ultras out there, others can boast better extremes. Badwater is run in a furnace, WS 100 and UTMB have their hills, The GUCR has Milton Keynes. However the Spartathlon is unique in enforcing a time limit which eliminates many of the field each year. 36 hours and strict cut-offs in between. In any other ultra you can go through a bad patch and slow down/stop and "take it easy", not in this one, you have to keep going, otherwise you are out.

I didn't let these things worry me from the start though. I was in good spirits. John T (4th Spartathlon) made a comment that I looked blissfully unaware of what was coming up. Like a happy dog being taken to the vets to be put asleep, stroked and fussed over like a "good boy" before being given an injection. I had an inkling of what was up ahead but little more than that. 

"Too much knowledge can hold you back. Ignorance on the other hand, that was something that could get you to the finishing line" - Mark Will-Weber

I spent the 2 days before the race feeling like "Junior". Everyone I met here is doing their umpteenth Spartathlon. Not only that but "Badwaters", "UTMBs", "Western States", "Hardrocks" and "Trans-US" were just being thrown into conversations without any hesitation or even much acknowledgement from others. It was typical for someone's running CV to read "5 Badwaters, 4 Western States, 8 Spartathlons, a Trans US and some other fun runs". My 2 canal runs felt a bit pedestrian. These were both shorter than the Sparathlon, flat and with all the time in the world to complete them. No pressure in the big scheme of things. Over the past 18 months I had got used to being one of the more "experienced" runners in events that I did, today I was a baby. John Price, an American I met had been running ultras since before I could walk. It was great to be in such good company though. 

The race started bang on 7am to a countdown of 10 and then off through the cobbled path of the park and into the city. The roads are all closed to traffic while 300 odd runners heave through the city. They all seemed much more patient than I thought they'd be. I chatted to John T about his previous attempts. This was his 4th go and was hoping for a 2nd finish. I mentioned that I'd only ever been to Athens before for the Athens Marathon in 2006. He said that he thinks he ran that one too. After some more chatting I said "I'm going to let my youthful exuberance take over" and ran on ahead wishing him luck. I went ahead and suddenly a thought popped into my head.

The Athens Marathon would normally be such an forgettable race except that it was a landmark in my own journey as a runner. It was the day when I realised that there is so much more to running than marathons. I spoke to many people along the way including a couple of British guys in fancy dress who mentioned a race they were training for called "The Sparathlon". I asked what it was and they explained and I dismissed this as idiocy. How on earth can someone run that? As soon as I looked it up it became something I had to do, but would need several years to get up to that level. I wondered whether it was John who I spoke to? Was he the person responsible for getting me into this?

Soon we were joined by traffic and headed out of Athens along a very busy road. The heat was starting to rise and the cars whizzing past would have made it worse. I was running close to Peter Leslie Foxall (14th Spartathlon) and Mark Cockbain (4 Spartathons, 4 Badwaters, 1 double Badwater, Trans 333 and more ultras that I've had hot dinners). We were running at a similar pace but spaced apart. It was nice to have some familiar faces around.
Quite early on I had some stiffness in my groin. I'd stop every few miles and sit down to try and stretch it out. I resisted the temptation to sit at a bus stop in case people thought I was giving up already. For 3 months before the race I suffered a bit from tight achillies which would go away after a few miles. I knew that these little niggles would go away with a little warm up, like 30 miles.
The heat was rising, I was wearing my stupid looking sun hat I got from the Picnic Marathon. I commented at the start of the race that I was wearing nothing that would identify me as being British, other than just looking like a dickhead. The other Brits agreed, I did look like a dickhead, and hence I did look British. The hat was actually very very useful, each checkpoint would have a bucket of water with sponges in. I would just dunk the hat in and put it back on. I remembered to plaster my body in sun cream which I had forgotten to my cost on the canal in May. I did get quite hot (34 degrees) but I was dealing with it well.

The first marathon was completed in about 3.47. 

About 30 miles in,

Exactly 4 years ago I ran the Berlin Marathon in exactly the same time, and that was a pb and I could not move any more after that. I've changed somewhat since that time when I nervously took to the streets in Berlin. I like thinking about things like this. I imagined going back to me 4 years ago and saying at the end of the Berlin Marathon that in a few years I'll carry on running, for nearly 5 more marathons, without stopping. Back then I would have choked on my Weissbeer, now I was doing it. And loving it.

The first marathon is pretty flat, soon after the hills begin. I had a "plan" to break this race down into 3 50's (ignoring the 3 at the end for now). My dream race would be to do the first 50 in 8, second in 10 and third in 12 hours. The third 50 had the mountain and would have taken a lot longer.

At around 28 miles there was the first significant incline that I could recall. A winding road through some industrial estate with rail tracks everywhere. The day was still young and everyone was still in the mood for running. I only saw one person walk up the hill. I was still near Mark and Peter as a camera van passed me and then started to record me running up the hill. I felt the urge to run faster and shout things. By the top of the hill I had a stitch but didn't want to stop as I'd look like (more) of an idiot. Mark caught up at a checkpoint and ran straight through it. I was stopping at each one only to drink water and dunk my hat. 

I chatted to Mark and he vented his frustration of the first 40 miles of the race. "They are really boring, I just want to get through the first 40 then it's OK". It was true, the first miles were not much to look at, it was all on roads though now we were on a quiet one. There was no cover from the sun though which was taking it's toll on some. I was right about giving the niggles 30 miles or so, after that my legs felt great. On about 35 miles I decided that I was feeling good enough to up the pace a bit as I'd slowed over the hills. 

In all long ultras I have done I've experienced "purple patches", pockets of time in a race where running just feels really easy. My last one was after 70 miles of the GUCR this year where I felt like I was flying through the miles. It happened before at 125 miles, there is no reason to it. When your body appears to be working in harmony though I think it's good to take advantage and I did this after 35 miles. I said goodbye to Mark and ran on ahead, keeping a good pace for the next 15 miles.

I could see what Mark was on about, after 40 miles there are no more industrial estates but a road along the coast. The heat still bearing down but with a slight cool breeze from the Med coming across the running was a bit easier. There was still no shade though, we were always exposed. There was a rare bridge or bunch of tall trees that I would slow down in to cool down a bit. I was still dealing with the weather quite well and the dickhead hat was doing it's job. I tried the best I could to not hang around at the checkpoints.
I'd been warned that many failures in this race are due to hanging around the checkpoints too much. I've been told many times in many races to try and minimise times at checkpoints as you end up stiffening up and finding it really hard to get going again. This can affect your ability to run and potentially endanger your race. However the single biggest reason not to stop at checkpoints in the Spartathlon is because you just don't have the time.
Each checkpoint is furnished with a big board with some numbers on. The checkpoint number, how far you have gone, how far to go, distance to the next CP (all in km) and the closing time of that CP. This number is the most important for many runners, it could almost be a bus timetable. At that time a bus will come and collect anyone who happens to still be there. This in non-negotiable, you can't say "It's OK, I'll wait for the next one". If you get caught by this bus it means your race is over.

The Twat Hat - Around 40 miles

CORINTH - 50 miles 7.37

The ancient city of Corinth sits on the 50 mile point of the race and is a massive landmark of the race. The cut-off time of 9.30h is quite challenging for many, this represents a decent 50 mile time in it's own right. It's as if the organisers want to really push people at the start to eliminate those who may intend of running a constant and steady pace for the whole race. I suspect it is to clear the busy roads of runners before evening rush hour really kicks in. I got there in around 7.37, well inside the cut-off and probably faster than I have ever run 50 miles before.
Corinth is the first major aid station, it looks like a finishing area. There are chairs everywhere, food and water, massages, cameras and medics. This is the first point where those who have a support crew are allowed access to them. I sat down for 10 minutes and ate some rice before standing up and walking on. I just have to do that twice more, plus a mountain.
After 50 the route takes a more sceninc turn and goes through vineyards, still on roads. The runners are spaced out now enough that sometimes I can't see anyone infront. The route markings though are incredible, sprayed on in permanent orange paint on the road. It just shows how important this race is where the markings are made permanent, there are even big lines and crosses on turnings that you are not supposed to take. It is very hard to go wrong, though I did once and had an Italian runner to thank for shouting me back in the right direction.
I think I made 100k in about 10.30. A 10.30 100k is a qualification time to make it to the starting line in Athens. At this point I was running with a French guy who had only run 100k before. He said there was no way he was coming back to do this next year, it's just too far. It does sound crazy, 100k into a race and you know you haven't even started yet.

I never ran alongside someone for an extended period. This is my preference, I can't imagine running for so long and listening to the same person, plus all those around me are foreign and it can be hard to understand exhausted English. I was however always within sight of others and we would shuffle past each other regularly, usually pausing to say a few words. I spent some time running near a Japanese and a Korean Lady as well as an older Italian man. I could not really think of much to say. I decided I was going to hold off on saying "well done" or "keep going" and similar comments until a certain point of the race. I thought about this a bit, when say during a marathon is it acceptable to say "well done" and "good job" etc? At least half way surely. It can get a bit patronising when you hear "you're doing well" at 6 miles into a marathon. I decided not to say such things until it got dark, which would be around 80 miles. After that it wouldn't sound patronising.

The weather cooled and the route continued through small villages where the children were out in force. Kids would run up beside with pads and ask for autographs. I signed a few and they all seemed really grateful, there parents just sat in porches smoking and waiting for the sun to go down. Nice relaxing Mediterranean evening for them. Not for the rest of us.

There is a carnival atmosphere at the larger checkpoints which are positioned in bars or cafes in villages. There are lots of people (normal people) sat down eating and just watching the spectacle of runners coming in, throwing themselves into a chair and getting "mothered" by the helpers there. I was still trying to resist the mothering at the checkpoints but it is hard to refuse sometimes. I didn't want to offend those who have gone to the trouble of being there and making food. There is a lot of soup and other home made goodies that the residents provide and often massages too. I was asked at about mile 70 whether I wanted a massage and I said "no - that's cheating". 

A checkpoint by day

On arriving at one such checkpoint I asked for a toilet, only to be told that is was round the corner and downhill quite a bit. I was unlikely to last another 90 miles without a stop so down the slope I went. I started to realise that my quads were not going to cope very well with the downhill, something I'm never good at. I got to the toilet and in 3 gents and 3 ladies cubicles there was not paper. I then found a scrap of (I think clean) toilet paper and felt like I'd won the lottery. I didn't really need to include this bit in the race report I know, but little lifts like this can help you through.

The sun started to set. We are surrounded by mountains and the sun disappears very quickly. I left my headlamp at checkpoint 30 along with a long sleeved Serpie top and vest. The path starts to wind up a long hill which I am still able to run up. In fact I'm having another one of those purple patches where it all seems easy. For the first time the route goes off road onto a gravel track. I pass a few people along the way I try to make the most of the diminishing light.

There were several miles of roads with trees packed at either side. From the trees I could hear growling and barking, it was quite loud. It reminded me of a race report I read a while back about a runner being followed for 10 miles by a dog. I was warned that dogs "go a bit crazy" when it's dark. Greece has a lot of feral dogs which make a nuisance of themselves but don't cause too much trouble. When faced with a dog you realise how vulnerable you are, I wasn't in a position to fight back or run fast if the thing jumping and growling at my side decided to go for me. I was less worried about it hurting me and more worried about catching something. Did they have tetanus and rabies jabs at the checkpoints? This happened several times. I think with dogs you are just supposed to carry on as you are, don't run towards them or away, don't fear either cos they can smell it. Luckily I only smelled of sweat, piss and cheesy biscuits. 

It became pitch black quite quickly as I was still running on a gravel path with pot holes. I had a small hand torch as well as a head torch to light the dark path, there were lots of pot holes and a landing of just 1 extra inch really hurt. I started to get complaints from my right shin. This was going to be unlike the GUCR because there was a lot more night time, about 12 hours, from 7 till 7 rather than the 6 hours in England in May. It's hard to make much progress in the dark.

Comparing my time and conditions to the GUCR was a constant theme in this race. In May I staggered across the finish in 37 hours. I was really pleased to finish what was a really difficult race for me and took a lot of positive learning from it, however I realised that in that form I wasn't going to finish the Spartathlon. I had a lot of work to do. It became natural for me to compare my times to the canal race. After 40 miles in May I felt exhausted whereas after 50 miles here I felt fine. It took 24 hours to stagger to 100 in Tring whereas I was going to get this done comfortably under 20. All signs pointed to a good finish, I was a different runner than I was  4 months ago.

90 miles clocked up, a long decent towards the mountain. I had managed to run for most of the route so far but was now walking out of checkpoints and stopping sometimes to sit. I thought I'd built up a sufficient lead so far to take a rest every now and then. The long shallow downhill is where I realised that the day was going to be much longer than I'd have hoped. My quads would hurt as I went down and anything steeper would have to be walked. I had a short lift when the "KMs to go" number dropped into double digits. Less than a 100k to go? Almost there? Not at all, for 60 miles I ran towards a load of mountains and wondered which one I had to climb. Now I was nearly there I could not see the mountains tops any more, just walls of rock. There were quite a few sharp downs and ups into villages but it was pretty much all downhill to checkpoint 47 - 97 miles.

There is a small camp at the bottom of a road that hairpins up one of the mountains. It lasts about 2 miles and could be run if I weren't already knackered. I was starting to feel sleepy and needed my first coffee of the race at the CP. I left pretty soon and started a slow walk up the slope. I could see the distant light of other head torches in the distance and more behind. 

I left a drop bag with a change of shoes and socks just before the mountain. I sat down on a bed in the medical tent to change and there was a guy who looked out of it lying next to me. I asked someone if he was having a nap and carrying on or waiting for the bus. They didn't know and almost as they said that he just turned over and vomited, still sleeping. People rushed to clear him up and make sure he was ok. I didn't see him again.

350 runners started this with 350 strategies for how to get through it. Mine was the simple 8/10/12 split which was falling apart now as I struggled through the middle section. Others would try to reach the cut-offs just in time. Afterwards I spoke to someone who was getting to the checkpoints within minutes of the deadline, when getting to this one with minutes to spare he gulped some water and food and raced on, only to stop and be sick. That was the end of his race, not the vomiting but the time wasted doing so.

The path has no lights but there is a constant stream of support cars going up. It is comforting to have such a safety net, all the drivers are well aware of the condition some of the runners may be in and drive up very slowly, stopping occasionally to cheer. It was useful to have the headlights behind me for a few seconds, that was a few seconds I would not have to use the hand torch to light the path and look for pot holes. The lightening of this mental load was welcome, although it only lasted a few seconds.

A fucking long way

100 miles - 19.30 hours - Base Camp 

It takes a sadistic race director to decide to put a mountain climb in a race after 100 miles of rolling hills. 100 miles marks the end point of what many ultra runners will do, something about a big round number that seems so satisfying. It is a landmark for sure, but at the foot of a large climb I try to get out of my head that I'm sleepy, hurting and feeling sick and still have to run the Comrades ultra. 

On getting out of another chair at the checkpoint I was pointed towards a barely visible path that departed the road. The climb is about 3k of loose rock up to an altitude of 1200m. As soon as I was on the path I was taken aback by a sea of green and red light that lit the place up like a Christmas tree. I could always see which way to go but often not the path I was treading on. Mark mentioned before the race that the mountain was a hands and knees scramble. I didn't believe him until this moment. Some of the rocks needed intervention from the hands to get over.

At least this woke me up a bit, having to concentrate of every foot landing as I scrambled up the mountain energised me a little. I was still physically tired but had a brief adrenaline spike that made this task seem easier than I thought it would. I was still going slowly and getting overtaken frequently by the European mountain goats who get to play on this kind of stuff in their back gardens. 

According to the legend this is where Phidippides met the god Pan. He went over the mountain to avoid Argos who were hostile to Athens (and also because he had no need for a new toaster). I wondered how on earth he could scramble up this mountain 2500 years ago without the lighting that I was enjoying. If he carried a flame he would have had only one had to stop himself from falling, or maybe he just ran in the moonlight. Perhaps he fashioned a head torch somehow? That would be a health and safety hazard waiting to happen, particularly as he had long hair. Distractions like this meant I got to the top quicker (in my head at least) than I expected. 

I stopped and stepped aside a few times to let people who were much faster than me get up. The path was barely wide enough for one person and I'd often kick rocks as I scrambled up then look back to make sure it didn't hit anyone in the face. Some of the rocks would bounce off the side. I had no idea whether they would hit someone at the bottom.

At the top there is a CP where you are grabbed by a helper, sat down and then covered in blankets. I struggled to free an arm to drink a very sugary strong coffee and just spent 5 minutes looking back at what I'd just done. I could see for miles. I could see the long road path up to the mountain and some dim lights crawling up. I could see at least 3 villages in the distance that I'd run through and that would be alive still with the arrival and departure of others in the race. It was a breathtaking and humbling site to look back and see so much of the course that I'd just struggled over. Turning to my right I could then see the course on which I'd yet to struggle, including a treacherous downhill section.

"It used to freak me out when I threw up, now I don't even slow down" - Unknown

I'd spent a few hours now wanting to be sick. I wasn't sure whether it was going to happen, it never has done before. I tried to induce it sometimes by downing coke, coffee, soluble aspirin and all sorts. As I got out of the chair to start going down a guy scrambled up to the top of the mountain, went off to the side and puked everywhere before holding his hand up and yelling "OK" and then running on. I found it quite funny. Vomiting is a norm in this race, you have to eat salty and sugary crap constantly and it can take it's toll on the stomach. I didn't let my sick feeling stop me from eating, to stop eating would guarantee a DNF, to vomit would just be a minor inconvenience.

The downhill was tougher than the up, my quads screaming and my footing uneasy. I slipped a few times and had to stop quite a lot. I got overtaken by about 20 runners on this, I wasn't bothered by the positions but just the fact that my abysmal downhill was being exposed. I knew that only about 150 runners would finish this, so long as I was in the top 100 I felt like I was going to make it. If I'd dropped outside I'd start to worry. The fastest time I could expect to finish this in now fell from 30 to 32 hours.

One of the runners who overtook me was Peter who looked in good spirits. He was with Lisa Bliss who looked quite strong also given the circumstances. I can't remember what I said other than "Oh, Hi Peter". I don't think I let on that I was suffering a bit and I didn't want to either for 2 reasons. I didn't want to make myself feel any worse and I didn't want Peter or anyone else to feel bad for me.

"You can be out there having the worst day, but at the same time the person next to you is having their best day. So there's really no reason for crankiness in this sport" - Suzie Lister after '98 WS 100.

 Running in a race like this can feel a bit like being stuck in a lift. The feeling of being trapped and not knowing how long until freedom starts to grate on your mind. Everything becomes an invasion of your personal space, people in the street, cars, animals and even inanimate objects. By far the biggest of these invasions is the presence of other runners. 

When doing a race of such magnitude there is little worse than watching someone bound past you like it is no effort. Particularly if they want to chat to you about it. Only just worse than that is someone suffering more than you and complaining about it. It's hard to know what to say to people who look worse than you do.

But it works both ways. When Peter overtook me he looked fine and I felt rubbish. I didn't want to contaminate his race with my own suffering so put a brave face on it and didn't really say much. There would later be times in the race where I was on top and people around me were crawling. In these cases I would try my best not to rub it in, even feign suffering. 

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside your head that wants you to quit" - George Sheehan

I didn't want to make that voice any louder, me me or for others.

The bottom of the mountain seemed to take too long, the course went back onto the road and still carried on down. Eventually I arrived at another village and was again smothered by helpers giving me coffee and soup.

I got quite a lot of attention for being British at the CP's. Every one would have kids running around asking where I was from, I'd say London and they'd get all excited. For most of the race I was the first Brit through the checkpoints and always got into conversations about other family members who lived there. 

"Nobody should ever run a race where they are lapped by the sun"  

I was lapped as I ran on some very quiet roads surrounded by trees on all sides.  I managed to get back into a run (which from the outside looking in is a shuffle). I wasn't too concerned at this point about my pace so long as I felt like I was moving forward. I was trying to give myself as much time for the last marathon as possible. I'd feel comfortable knowing when I could just walk the rest of it. Right now It was looking like 10 hours. I could crawl a marathon in 10 hours surely?

As it got light it started to rain. I had left my sun hat behind at the checkpoint where I picked up my head torch. I had not left a replacement at any of the CP's and worried a bit about coping with the sun if it came out like it did the previous day. I had an idea to swap my head torch for a hat with some kid in one of the towns when it started to get hot. Fortunately it just pissed it down for 12 hours.

The sky was not the only thing that was pissing. I felt the constant need to go to the toilet and would stop every 5 minutes and mostly produce nothing. When it got lighter I discovered that I was pissing blood. The dehydration of my organs combined with the constant shocks of the impacts combined to shake them into bleeding. That's never happened before.

Back in daylight and in drizzle we were running on quiet roads cutting through farms. I had settled into a group of about 6 others who were shuffling at around the same pace I was. With 32 miles left I saw Peter again, I was surprised that I had caught him but he still seemed in good spirits. We had about 10 hours to make it the to end, Peter was setting off for a brisk walk and confident of making it the the end. 10 hours to do 32 miles? Should be fine.

With about a marathon to go I stopped at a CP near a house. By this time all of them are kitted with chairs and all have runners sat down and covered in blankets. I never could tell which ones were having a break and which ones were waiting for the bus. The bus was gaining on all of us. I saw a guy from Brazil with his head in his hands about to give up. He was convinced that the time we had left was not enough for him to get to the end. I then saw a German guy who I chatted to a bit kneel beside him (a manoeuvre that must have been hard in itself) and say to him "This time last year I was here and an hour behind where we are now and I walked to the finish. He said something else which I didn't hear as I was away in my own world trying to get straight how I was going to finish. The Brazilian got up and walked.

There are times when it is sensible to pull out of races. I'm not so stubborn that I'd finish any race whatever happened, risking months of inaction or worse. If I'd had been feeling like this much earlier on, say before the mountain I may have called it a day and waited for next year. However I was far enough into it now where I'd be devastated by not finishing. Watching the Brazilian guy get out of his chair and walk into the distance for a second brought the issue into sharp focus. There are only 2 ways out of this race, one is kissing a statue and the other is getting bundled onto a bus. A bus that was gaining all the time.

I overtook both the Brazilian and German and wished them luck as I did, now was the time to lavish each other in positive comments and pats on the back. I was constantly aware that the bus was catching up. I would run only to earn myself walking time. I had no idea how much more running I had in me but wanted to make some more gains on the cut-off before it got to the stage that I had to walk. The repeated argument in my head went as follows "The more you keep on running now, faster than 4mph the more you can walk near the end, but you are not going to walk because you can still run, so it's irrelevant. But just in case you need to walk, you have to run". Kind of made sense at the time, now it just sounds like a pile of shit.

The rain was welcome, at least for me as it reminded of home, however soon after my feet were blistered. I stopped on the highway to take my shoes off and put them back on again. This often works, like a placebo but didn't in this case, I had something on my left little toe that forced me to run on my left heel. I had a shin splint on the right side which meant I couldn't land on the heel. I'm not sure exactly how I managed to keep running. The toe blister would later take about half of my toe with it.

I also seemed to need to piss every 5 minutes. I was suffering a constant sensation of needing to stop to go to the loo. Most of the times I went I did not produce anything. There was a stinging sensation whenever I did and I realised that I must have picked up some sort of infection. The only positive was that as long as I was thinking about pissing I was not thinking about getting caught, for that was the most miserable and hardest part of the race.

It would go something like this. 

You see a checkpoint that tells you how far you've gone and how you've got to go. I'd then covert the kms into miles (with great difficulty, by this time I can't do division but I remember that 10k is 6.2 miles and a half marathon is 21k). I'd then try to work out what pace I'd have to run at to finish in 36 hours by only using the number of whole hours left (to make things seem worse than they are). After arriving at a number (usually around 3mph) I'd then try to work out how fast I was going but by then I'd have forgotten how far it was to the next checkpoint and could not measure this. There were km road signs which I'd try to use too but some of them were missing. Then when another checkpoint would arrive I'd look at how far it was to the next but then forget what time I'd left. 

This would spin around in my head like a sleepless night. I could not think about anything else, my mind was not allowed to wander into the usual silly things that get me through the hard times. I could not put this spinning calculation down but neither could I get it right. One time I would work out that I had hours to go and could probably start walking now, another time I'd think I was going so slow I was going to be caught my the cut-offs for sure. I'd sometimes just work it out wrong, sometimes I'd have stopped more and sometimes I just thought the checkpoints were further away than advertised. I suspect the latter was not true at all.

I didn't feel like I was going slower but I clearly was, the time between me and the closing times of the checkpoints was getting shorter. I knew it was only a matter of time before my leg would give way and not allow me to run any more. This happened with about 10k to go. 

Hobbling the last few steps

The last miles into Sparta are all downhill, really hard on my shin that felt broken. I was capable of a swift hobble which soon deteriorated into a limp. I could not lift my right leg off the floor and had to slide it along, like Kaiser Souze. I wasn't sure whether I was going to finish. I knew I was a couple of hours ahead of the closing times but now they were closing in on me. The rattling of my pace and time tore through my head worse than ever. 

Mark said to me after the race about feeling "trapped" once you have started. The difficulty of this race is forgotten over the course of the 12 months since the last time, then after about 80 miles it comes back, "oh yeah, now I remember, Now I'm stuck". If I was hurting this much before the mountain I would have given up since there was no way I would have been able to walk the rest.  I was still adamant that I'll only stop if I was stopped. Now this was looking more likely. I had a lot of time left of looking over my shoulder.

It got hotter as I slowed down, the rain disappeared and we came down back to sea level. I was still wearing 2 tops and becoming slightly more uncomfortable with the heat but not wanting to part with any clothes as I worried I might get cooler.

The last 30 miles are on a highway that gets busier and busier as the day progresses. I wouldn't ever dare to run on such a road normally, particularly against the traffic. There was a hard shoulder for most of it but there was the occasional blind corner and no shoulder which I'd have to cross the road for. I remember the green cross code as a child but now even getting to the other side of a road seemed like solving a riddle. Despite their speed most of the traffic saw the line of runners shuffling down the highway and would give plenty of space, and honk. Normally the honking would really annoy me but it was keeping me awake and alert.

CP 73 was next to a petrol station. It was supposed to be about 2.8km from the last one but it took over an hour to get there. I could not get up the kerb onto the pavement and had to look for the ramp. On getting to the table and having more coke and water I got the impression that the people there were quite concerned about me. On leaving the CP a lady took my arm and helped me down the step to get back onto the road and head for the last checkpoint. It was 1.4km to the next one then 2.5 to the end. 3.9km, well over 2 hours to do it. I can't fail now surely?

The highway went on but was now in town with buildings each side. I tried to visualise 1.4k in my head. It's about the distance from my house to Ealing Broadway station, a journey I have successfully completed many times, often when stupidly drunk. I was trying to figure out whether I was walking as slow as I would at my drunkest. Normally a 15 minute walk may take 20 if I am staggering from side to side. Can I really be going that slow? 

I looked down a straight bit of road and thought that it was at least 1.4km to the end of it. I stared into the distance and limped on. I was getting overtaken by lots of runners keen to get the race finished, every single one of them would shout something or slap my back as they passed me. Seeing them run so fast (relatively) made me feel like the end was really close. 

I'd look over my shoulder for the other Brits. I recognised a lot of people as they went past me, we'd shared lots of miles before and now they were in better shape than me and eager to finish. I too was eager to finish but my leg was not cooperating.

The first Brit to pass was Mark Wooley. He looked like he was absolutely flying, by far the fastest and most comfortable looking of all those who passed me. I said I was looking forward to kissing the statue and he said my time would very nearly come to do that. I didn't really know Mark beforehand but I found out this was his third attempt and was going to be his first finish. Despite overtaking me only 1.5 miles from the end he finished 30 minutes and 33 places ahead of me. Just shows how slow I was going.

I got to CP74, it was in the middle of an island of traffic. In 34 hours I had seen 74 identical tables of coke, water, figs, biscuits and chairs. This was the last one I was going to see and didn't make a big goodbye of it. I stayed as long as it took to cross the road.

I walked into a very busy street with people and cars. I was deafened by honking and cheering of cars and people. I was looking over my shoulder again to see if Mark and Nick were there, if they were going to finish they were cutting it fine. Then I saw Mark and the tall German guy coming up behind me with enormous smiles on their faces. Both were shuffling along slowly but twice as fast as I was. "Is this a race or is this a race?" said Mark as he hobbled alongside me. 

It felt really weird to think that I last saw Mark near the beginning of the race, yesterday. 

Mark said if we jogged then we were about 20 minutes from the end and able to finish before 35 hours. I explained that I could not jog and let them go ahead. I was glad there were people ahead, for the first time in the race I got worried about getting lost. The town was so full of screaming people and cars it would be easy to take a wrong turn. Fortunately I didn't, I took a turn and started on the home straight.

Up the slope I saw people, kids on bikes, runners and support crews all waving and cheering. I still could not see the statue but I knew that it was buried under a huge concentration of people. I watched Mark and the German guy head off and then disappear into the pile. I was there now, the threat of getting timed out was gone. It felt like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was still walking like I was dragging a ball and chain but at least the ball and chain in my head was gone.
For the first time in about 10 hours I could relax and start to think about what I was doing and why. Long races give you lots of time to reflect on things, usually about running but often not. Inevitably you spend a lot of time trying to justify why it is you are putting yourself through this, what are you getting out of it? If I were to remember one thing about this what would it be?
I had these moments before in races [link] . Alone they can make a race seem worth it and worth coming back to do it again. I was trying to think of what it was in the Spartathlon and could not come up with anything. I looked ahead towards the finish and knew that the end was going to merely be the end of my suffering rather than a moment of elation. I felt nothing except pain and tiredness. I was just looking forward to stopping and never having to go through this again.
About 20 hours earlier I made a decision about whether I'd do this race again. It would have been based on one of three scenarios. If I didn't finish I would return every year until I did. If I did finish and loved it then I would return just to experience it again. If I finished and didn't enjoy it I would come back and do it again just to make sure. Right now I was suffering the last scenario but had changed my mind. I wasn't going to come back.
It was a shame. I never thought there was a race out there that could do me over such that I would not want to do it again. This is how I felt now. Despite the cheering crowds and sight of the finish I was thinking only of lying down and sleeping. I thought about that a lot since before the mountain climb. Then, right before the end my mind was flipped again by the moment I will take away from this race and remember forever. It summed the whole event up perfectly.
As I limped up the slope towards the statue to roaring support and seeing some people I recognise I was grabbed firmly around both shoulders from behind. I was startled and for a moment thought it could be some crazy person from the crowd, or a policeman apprehending me or worse still a marshall pulling me out of the race.
His grip was strong and it seemed to last for ages, I turned around to see that it was the Brazillian guy. 25 miles and about 8 hours ago I saw him dejected and as far as he was concerned out of the race. I watched a German talk him out of his chair (in English) and then both of them head off into the distance. Before my eyes I watched a broken man get back up and carry on and now I was going to watch him finish. I could see how much it meant to him as he practically sprinted the last few meters and kissed that statue. That was the best bit of the race.
The Brazilan with a very firm grip
My own finish was less spectacular. I limped on and saw some familiar faces in the crowd. I saw Nick, John, Stuart, James and Peter. On seing them I felt a combination of joy and sadness. I hadn't seen any of them for a while and for the first time I felt like I was back with people I knew and who knew me (a little). However I realised that they were not going to get to kiss the statue. I asked Nick how he got on and he refused to tell me, saying this was my moment now and pointed towards the statue. John shoved a British flag in my hand and I waved in in the air, confusing some around me who thought I was Spanish. 
I thought about kissing this statue for a long time. I'd watched videos of it in the weeks building up the the event, it was practically pornographic. To now be here and about to do what I had seen in the videos was amazing. For years I'd wanted to run in this unique race, for the past few months I thought about having the olive wreath placed on my head, for the past few weeks I thought only of kissing that statue and for the past 15 hours the thing that motivated me the most was just for the hurting to stop.
I crawled up the steps and tasted the metallic rain soaked foot of Leonidas, splattered over the past 13 hours with the sweat and tears of the 102 runners who got there before me. I drank the water from the XXXXXXXX river given to me by the spartan girls and then the race director placed the olive wreath on my head and shook my hand as our photo was taken. 
As soon as the ceremonies were over I was taken by the arm by a nurse and escorted to a medical area. I had a choice of sitting down or lying down. I was in the minority who decided to sit in a chair while my shoes and socks removed, my blisters lanced and then dipped in iodine. I was then given a pair of hotel slippers to hobble away in.
I looked into the tent and saw runners who had only overtaken me minutes before. Some of them were lying on the beds completely motionless, like they had just been pulled out of a plane wreck. It occurred to me that the level of medical cover in this event wasn't a precaution "just in case" something happened. I'd heard so many stories about runners passing out in the race and being picked up by other supporters or the bus. Mark told me about passing out in a lift after his first finish, half in half out with the doors closing on him. The stories of vomiting, hypothermia and collapsing are more common than stories of statue kissing. The reason why there are so many medics at this race is because passing out is normal. On completing the race they are expecting you to collapse.
I was helped up by Nick and then took the shortest taxi ride of my life, 200m to the hotel. I had to use my arms to pick my legs up into the front seat and then out again about 30 seconds later. Nick would have to hold open the lift doors as I was unable to get in before they started closing. I was then taken to the room that I was sharing with Mark and a Polish guy who could not speak English but would nonetheless shout at us quite loud.
I slumped into bed and waited for one of two things to happen. Either I wanted to just fall asleep and not have to suffer the pain of it any more or I wanted the point of the experience to sink in. Neither would happen and I just lay there sulking in pain. My legs hurt so much that no position was comfortable to lie in. I had to go to the toilet so often and was now pissing blood. It took so long and hurt so much to get up that I considered not getting up at all. When I did piss it felt like razor blades. 

I didn't sleep that night. A combination of leg pain and the whirling of the pace calculations was still keeping me awake and making me sweat. Any dozy moments were quickly met with a feeling of still being in the race, still having to calculate how fast I was going and whether I was going to make it. I'd wake up from the slumber and then get reminded that my legs hurt so much and that I needed a painful piss.

The next day was no better. I could not lift my right leg off the floor and I was still tired. I struggled though everything, I looked around at the others and am convinced that I was the worst one. Everyone was sporting some sort of limp but few were as immobile as me. 

I spent the day after with about 4 other Brits and a few Americans. Between the 8 of us there was only one finish. Whenever someone came to our table and asked about the race I was pointed out as the one guy who got to kiss the statue. Normally I'd feel a great amount of pride, satisfaction, embarrassment and humbled at being revered by such great runners. Instead I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing, like I was without life. The only thing I did feel was physical pain, I could not stand or sit in the same position for more than a few minutes, my right foot and ankle were enormous. 

For the first time ever since I started running I was doubting why I did it. I've never suffered the "never again" cliche. As soon as I finished my first ultra I was signing up for more, as soon as I crossed the line in the GUCR I said I was going to be back next year. I just thought "why the fuck would I go and do something like this to myself". I suffered the pain, collected a head piece and felt nothing, not even after 24 hours, not even with everyone congratulating me. I was keen on getting out of there, heading home and being thankful for finishing for no other reason than it meaning I didn't have to come back. There was no way I was coming back.

Could it be that this race has actually beaten me?

The Kiss

The Next few days

The days passed, the foot got smaller, the right leg started to lift, I caught up on sleep and ate lots. The blood gave way to clear urine, the stinging became a tingle and the doctors gave me some drugs or it. I started to think a bit more clearly about what I had just done, I wrote down all the details I could remember and tried to recall them here. 

The events I enjoyed and suffered during the race came spilling out and I could finally stand back and see what I had done. I'd just completed one of the hardest races in the world.

My limited (and I would not have used the word limited before Sparta) experience of ultras is that they can have a way of breaking you into pieces and putting you back together again in a better way than before. It is normal to feel in pieces during a long race at some stage, feeling like you are not going to finish or you can't finish. My experience has taught me to remember these moments but not to succumb to them. Races are so much more satisfying when you can look back on moments you feel terrible and in despair and say that you got over it and finished the race. 

For days after I'd finished I was still in bits. If I was to compare my excitement and nerves before the race to the feeling I got from finishing I'd probably have opted to go back to the start and not bother. 

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." - Douglas Adams 

The next few weeks I exchanged war stories and read a lot of race reports from others who have been through the same thing I have. I read reports of success stories from those with experience of not finishing. I read tales of those who didn't make it and their vows to come back again fitter and stronger and not making the same mistakes. 

I'd spend weeks talking to people who had done several Spartathlons with varying levels of success and also some who had attempted it for the first time. People don't just do this once, they do it again and again, putting themselves through all that misery. I could not figure out why anyone who had "beaten" this race would come back to prove themselves again. 

It was a truly amazing race, very well organised and flooded with amazing runners who were a joy to be around. This is a reason to do it but maybe not to do it again. The risk of failure and pain is too high. Then I realised that this is exactly why people come here again and again, because they know that one day they will be beaten by it. 

For the first time as a runner I have found a race which I am sure will one day leave me wrecked by the side of the road and tasting the bitter taste of defeat. I have yet to experience this. I'm not looking forward to it but know that it will happen one day, more than likely it will happen here. 

Within the next 20 years I imagine myself attempting this race 10 times or more. Right now it's James 1 Spartathlon 0. After 10 goes if I have won more than I have lost I will consider myself on top. One result is not enough though.

Next time more than anything I want to run up that last straight like I was finishing a 10k. I want to bounce up onto that statue and kiss those feet. Next year is the 2500 year anniversary of the original running of the Spartathlon. It would be rude not to?

"Your biggest challenge isn't someone else. It's the ache in you lungs and the burning in your legs, and the voice inside you that yells "can't", but you don't listen. You push harder. And then you hear the voice whisper "can" and you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for who you really are" - Unknown

The Olive Wreath





Salisbury 54321

Another race to demonstrate my poor recollection of any race I ever do though I may have an excuse for this one. Last year Ian and I went to Salisbury the night before and decided to get absolutely hammered, just to see what would happen in the race. It actually went quite well, 3.45 in a 27 mile off road marathon. Or so I thought it was off road.

I arrived here in slightly better wear than last year, still really unfit but not quite so hungover. I got a lift with Oli and was taking advantage of his new found desire to do every race in the UK. And his mum's car...

This is a very well organised race considering it only costs £10 to enter and involves being given a page of directions. I don't recall from last year getting lost so was hopeful that I could just follow others and keep on track. It starts in Salisbury and takes a scenic loop passing 5 somethings 4 somthing elses 3 2 1 etc. I can't remember what is what. I remember a cathedral.

I ran the first half with Oli who had done a hilly 30 mile race the day before. Jen was also here doing her second trail marathon in as many weeks and it was great to see her ditch the road marathon rat race to join us in more fun surroundings. She set off like a bullet and I was in no mood to try and follow her. 

I was only accidentally a bit hungover for this one. I was supposed to meet Rob in the pub in central Westminster the night before, he ended up being late and hence I ended up getting pissed. It was purely an accident. I wasn't expecting to be able to keep up with Oli for long and certainly after I had to stop and do the Pope's job in the woods again. However I put on a bit of a sprint and caught him up again.

There was a lot more road running than I recalled from last year. At least two thirds is on road. I was disappointed with this although I was struggling with the off road sections. Oli left me on a grassy bit at about half way and ended up taking half an hour out of me. As Oli sped off I just felt like I'd hit a wall. I had no energy left. 

2 months ago while enjoying a really nice run I decided to change my life drastically and become a vegan. Now 2 months on while suffering again during a long run and feeling much worse in the same places I was running last year I decided to change it back. No more veganism. It was fun trying and I learn a lot about food. I'm sure it can be done by someone with more patience and time than me but that isn't me.

I struggled on, getting passed by people as my legs gave up. I thought a lot about the Spartathlon. In my current state there was no way I was going to finish it. I had a plan to run as much of August as possible and knew that I couldn't do it like this. Then I thought a lot about milkshake. How I ran so much without milkshake is beyond me.

The end of this race was quite funny from last year. Whoever puts out the markers obviously gets way to enthusiatic about it at the start and then realised after about 18 miles that he is running low on signs. Then the signs appear only every mile or so. Many got lost in the closing stages of the race. i seemed to know where to go from last year and stumbled in 4.01 or thereabouts. 15 minutes slower than last time. 

I want to remember this for a while. The shitty feeling of bad running so that I can feel better about good running. I have a massive month of running planned to get me into the shape I need to be for Greece. I'm going to start by eating some Haloumi. 

Davos 2009 - Sell your bike and do something fun instead

Race reports for races that I've done before tend to descend into simple route descriptions. That is not the case with the Davos 78k and even if it were it would still be worth writing. The course here is stunning. This race is the first foreign one that I would like to do every year forever.


Last year was pretty special. I was introduced to mountain running for the first time (I'm not including the hills you find in the UK). I was amazed by how hard but how rewarding it was to scramble up a mountain, stagger across the top on a knife edge sometime and then bound back down. There is something very humbling about standing near the bottom of a mountain, equally it is quite liberating to climb onto their back and stamp all over them. I was really looking forward to this race.


My plan was simple and based upon a mistake of last year. Last year I took the first 30k (mainly downhill) a bit easy and got caught up in the crowds while going up the mountain. This year I was going to nail the first 30k and then hopefully be able to have a clearer run up the mountain.


The run starts in a stadium in the town. We are all penned into the starting area while helicopters roared above. The loudspeakers were playing "Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis at full volume, it was hard not to get excited by such a fitting song, I sure was hoping to conquer paradise today. For the first time since I watched Black Hawk Down I thought to myself "helicopters are cool".


10-9-8 etc and the horn goes, Vangelis gives way to U2's "Beautiful Day" and 1000 runners pile out of the stadium and start a lap of the town. The first 3 miles are on road and the streets are lined with people clapping and cheering, every hotel has people hanging out of the window yelling. After a little twisting and turning we are into the trails and heading for the mountains.


The rain that threatened but never really came


Davos has 6 races running through the day. The K78, K31 and C42 start at the same time and follow the same path until the K31 finishes. The C42 diverts before any hills arrive. The K42 joins the K78 at around 40k and sticks with it for most of the rest, taking in the same mountains. The K11 and K21 start and finish somewhere else. A great thing about this was that I knew people in all the races and was expecting to see them over the course of the day.


After about 5 miles there is a small climb (Parliament Hill x 4) that takes you from the open trail into the woods. Rob and Jamie passed me at this stage and started to fade in the distance. I was going at a fair pace still but was having the usual stomach problems. Perhaps I shouldn't have had so much beer the night before. As soon as we were in the woods I did what the Pope allegedly does there quite a lot and managed to get moving again. I was trying to keep Rob and Jamie in sight but I had lost them. I ran through a food station at around 8 miles and was told "well done James - wait a moment". I looked round to see if I'd dropped something but then realised that the route was closed at a train crossing. We all gathered behind the barrier as a train carried lots of spectators down to the village where they would be cheering us on later. That was ok.


The first 20 miles of the course are generally downhill. There are a few small climbs, Londoners would call them hills but the locals here and most Europeans would probably not even notice them. There were some significant down hill sections that were great to run down, just the right gradient for a crap downhill runner like me to not fall over. Often when I run down hills like this it is hard to gauge how far I've gone down. This is not particularly important except that it will be the distance I have to come back up again at some point.


After 31k you run into a small village with roaring crowd support. This is where the K31 runners veer left and finish. Some of them look quite exhausted but not as much as I was, I'd took the first 31k hard and was going to pay for it, I still have 47k left. Shortly after the field is thinned out by the departing K31 runners we are joined by the K42 runners. Here I was expecting to see lots friends overtake me as they would have just started the marathon.


My memory of last year was quite poor. I deliberately didn't look at the course profiles before as I wanted it all to be a surprise, and it was. A I can really remember from last year was than there was a mountain some time just after 20 miles then lots of mountain top trail which was quite hard but really enjoyable to run on. I remember joining in with all the K42 runners and getting a bit caught up hence why I went much faster this year. I thought the mountain is going to kill me anyway, I may as well be nearly dead when I get there.


Before we met the K42ers we had a long climb up a winding road. I did not remember doing this last year, I was expecting the mountain. Instead I climbed up 2 miles of steep road, half running half walking. Then it was back into the woods for more trail, the mountain was surely just coming up? No?


near the top of the highest point

Ben was the first to overtake me, looking fresh and telling me to keep my head up. I was shortly followed by Dave Ross who did the K78 last year. I chatted briefly with him and he told me he'd just got engaged to his girlfriend Mel. I congratulated him and he said to watch out for Mel who was not far behind, also doing the K42. As we started to climb up but still not steeply Mark Bell and Gareth Jones passed me. At that stage I had already run a marathon. Soon after Lars Olsen, Jenny Bradley and Andrew Taylor jogged past, looking like they were really enjoying themselves. It was really great to see smiles on all of their faces though I suspected that my change as soon as the mountain comes.


The weather turned out to be perfect. The previous day it baked, then later that night it poured it down. If either of these weather conditions prevailed then we were in for a hard time. When it came to race day the sun took it easy and every now and then there was a fine rain shower. It was almost as if you could just switch it on when you were feeling a bit warm. I think a lot of people would have struggled without that rain.


The mountain threatened to appear but again was stalling. More people overtook and I felt like I was getting in their way. Jany Tsai came past, stopped to take a photo of me looking exhausted then ran off in the distance to take more photos. Shortly after the mountain finally came, 28 miles in. I was exhausted and new that I had more than the proverbial "mountain to climb".


The climb finishes of what was started about 8 miles ago. Over 8 miles the course gradually ascends from 1000m to 2000m. The mountain climb then tops it off with 600m in about 2 miles. This is done on a track that switches back onto itself over and over so you can't see the top. A well know "rule of thumb" in running is that if you can't see the top of the hill, walk. This is what I and all those around me were doing. My pace had slowed in comparison to everyone else. I was getting overtaken by lots of people both marathon runners and the ultra runners, I tried my best to step aside when I thought someone wanted to pass but sometimes it was impossible. I was in exactly the opposite situation I was last year, instead of wanting to get past runners who were going too slow for me I was that slow person getting in everyone's way.


another of me looking knackered, and nipples bleeding


Despite doing this hill before I still underestimated how long it was. There comes a point where you can see a lot of sky and then assume you must be on top. Then it swings round into some more trees and then up again. At this point I was overtaken by Alex Pearson who looked like he was having the time of his life. "Thank you Davos for your wonderfully taxing calf stretching mountains" he entusiatically chuckled as he went about finishing the hill. It was almost over, at the top is an aid station with a lot more aid than usual.


The aid stations in this race are frequent and fully stocked. There is plenty of water, energy drink, sweets, cakes, coke (later on), soup, bananas and lots of medics braced for a refugee crisis. Many runners including myself took this as an opportunity to sit down for a minute and regain breath. I was feeling a bit queasy and short of breath, I assumed it was the exhausted effort of climbing a mountain when knackered. This is about the 32 mile point and the next 8 miles are at an altitude of about 2500 meters and along some fairly tough trail. It is quite technical running and this alone would justify wearing trail shoes. I saw lots of road shoes and they seemed to be going fine but I was happy to be as close to the ground as possible in this section.


I had long since departed from any idea that I was going to do this quicker than last year. Once I'd let go of any competitive finish I decided just to enjoy the spectacular trails, even though I was still feeling sick. I walked most of the 9 miles as I couldn't get going without feeling ill. This was strange as I didn't feel this last year. I recommended this to so many people as a race where it didn't matter if you had to walk large sections of it. Because it was so spectacular and quite difficult walking. It was really great seeing the guys overtake me and look like they were really enjoying it. I was enjoying it too even though I was struggling with exhaustion and sickness.


There is one more peak which the K42 runners do not do, this is where they start their decent. The climb is much smaller than before but takes you to the highest altitude. At the top of this one is another tent braced for a disaster. This one looks more like a proper destruction scene though, there were runners lying down in the tent, others sat on the rocks. The marshals were handing out foil and ponchos. I remember feeling cold having been so high and making quite a few snowy passes. I took the chance to drink some of the soup, it was delicious though it could have just been salt water at that point, I didn't really care.


39 miles in the descent starts and it is quite a spectacular one. It is quite hard and steep but if you can run downhill (and I can't) then it can be the most enjoyable of stumbles. I decided to really go for it anyway as I'd not run for some time and did quite well, overtaking lots of people which is unheard of for me on down hills. The sickness abated as I got lower and I knew that there was little in the way now in terms of hills between here and the finish line. There is a checkpoint at 40 miles that dispenses Coke. This was most welcome and taken advantage of. What lay ahead now was 9 miles of beautiful and fairly easy trail running. It is a straight line into Davos and runs through some towns full of friendly people. No more hard rocks and stumbling all over the place, I was on the home straight now.


50 meters later into the "easy" bit I tripped over a rock and went arse over tit and rolled into the ground. I was pretty shocked and a spectator was kind enough to look really worried and come running to me. It's funny how lying on the floor after an embarrassing fall turns you into the rudest person in the world. There I was in a heap on the ground and this lady was only worried about my welfare as the fall must have looked pretty bad, however I had little more to say to her than "Yeah Yeah, I'm fine thanks. Merci, Danke" and scuttle off. As I walked on and inspected the damage she called me again and gave me the sun glasses that I had dropped. I was more grateful this time as the last pair I had I lost in a fall. I thanked her again and walked on. She then shouted again and handed me back my Garmin which has come off and smashed on the floor. I was even more thankful this time, those are quite expensive. By this point I was smiling and I hope she appreciated my thanks.


finishing with beer

I jogged on and saw blood dripping down my legs from a nasty gash on my knee. There was also cuts on my arms and my nipples were bleeding too though this was due to my stupidity in not putting anythin on them. I didn't really mourn the loss of the Garmin though, it was not very accurate on the mountains, it understates the distance travelled. Something to remember for next year.


There are markers every 5k and now they were appearing a lot more frequently. The sun started to shine some more and peoples pace picked up as they could sense the finish. I bumped into Ryan who's video I watched before the GUCR last year. It was really helpful and it was good to see him at races again this year. Near the end I was overtaken by Owen Barder who looked to be in good shape. With about 4k to go there is a cheeky little hill that leads into the woodlands that skirt Davos. At the top of this hill I saw Jamie who told me that he set out really fast too and spent some time in a medical tent. Despite his struggle he was really enjoying himself and said to me the best thing I heard all weekend. "Fuck Ironman, I'm selling the bike, I want to do this all the time". This alone made the weekend worth it.



We ran together and came out of the woods into the town where we saw Gavin and Lou taking photos. I ran past and then into the stadium where this all began over 9 hours ago. In the crowd was Rob who handed me a pint of beer. I was going for a sprint finish but decided that keeping the liquid in the glass was far more important. All about priorities.


I ended up having a great time regardless of the not so great time. I was most pleased by the others who enjoyed every minute of their adventure. I felt like Davos had converted some road runners into trail runners and some triathletes into ultra runners. There were about 25 Serpies here this year. Next year I'd like to try and get 100.


100 next year....

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Marathon Des Sables - Moan moan moan cough moan moan cough camel moan water cough moan cough cough splutter cough moan

I'll start from the beginning of the running bit, which represents a small proportion of the whole MDS experience. I'll return to the other bits during the course of the report. 

Day 1 - Dunes Day 34k

We arrived at the start by coach, which is unusual as normally we would have camped the night before at the start. This was not going to be a normal MDS year. The flooding had cancelled the first day and was hanging over the rest of the race. We were all just relieved to get to the stage where we could actually start running.

Some way into the sand dunes, everyones enthusiasm for running had diminished

Day 1 was meant to be day 2, the dunes day. This involves at least 17k of running/hiking through sand dunes and about the same distance over tracks. The dunes day is probably the second most feared of the MDS stages (after the long day) at it is over the hardest terrain and tests ones ability to keep sand out of their shoes. The fact that we were starting with this without the 20 mile “warm-up” the day before didn’t really faze anyone, we were just so relieved to be able to start running.

The coach did not take long to arrive at the start point. We were all pushing our heads against the windows of the coach to try and see the dunes that we will be crawling over in a few hours. Finally they came, from a distance they looked quite intimidating. They were bigger than any I had seen before (in Wales) and were much more golden than I imagined.

The start line was farcical. Patrick Bauer and a bad translator bumbled through the course changes which involved very precise bearing measurments (most runners did not have a pen) and the helicopter roared above us and drowned out the sound. I thought this helicopter was here for saftey reasons, it's presence was actually stopping us being able to hear whatever the race director was saying. I wasn’t planning on winning, so I’d have to rely on following everyone else.

After too much pomp and ceremony the race finally started, 2 years and 3 weeks since I signed up for it. A horn went and we all staggered forward over a rocky path towards the big dunes that we’d been looking at for hours.

Waiting for the French to show up

I find the starts of multi-day races very amusing. We are all running with backpacks, frontpacks, things strapped to our arms, legs, shoulders and waists. Everyone is wearing varying levels of clothing and tubing that could mistake the scene for a school play about robots were the kids have made the costume. One of the most important “rules” for multi-day racing is to test all of your kit lots and lots before you actually use it in the race. No one ever does.

The first few miles are a melee of people dropping bottles, adjusting straps and rearranging stuff in their bags. I quickly discarded my front pack as it bounced around and had to carry my water bottles in my hands as they kept hitting me in the face. I didn’t really have a sense of the direction I was running as there were too many people around.

The first 3k was along a rocky track. Much of the terrain is the same, flat dirt tracks with little rocks strewn all over the place. It’s a bit like running through Shepherds Bush only instead of rocks it’s broken bottles and litter. It was fairly easy to run on now but once it becomes harder to lift your legs these rocks become really painful.

We then hit the sand dunes, everyone was really enthusiastic and still running up and down quite difficult inclines. I think the rain over the previous days had made it a bit easier, steps would form in them where others had placed their feet and it was like running up stairs. There were cameramen everywhere and often you’d almost run into them, they didn’t make any effort to get out of the way.

I worried before this race that the dunes would be impenetrable. I had a vision that I’d try to get up them and just sink, however they were much easier than I imagined. They were still tough and some of the downs were very steep. This is where everyone’s gaiters get tested.

The gaiters are probably the most thought about piece of kit for any MDS runner. The measures taken to avoid getting sand in your shoes is the most thought about thing in the whole race. I’d super-glued silk ones on and added a huge amount of gaffer tape. I’m not sure how well they were working, it is something you never know until the end of the day. Every time I ran down a sand dune I’d feel sand hit the backs of my legs and slide down, I had no idea whether it was getting in. I’ll just have to wait.

The sand dunes came to an end and we hit the first checkpoint. At each checkpoint you are required to run through the timing sensor and have your card stamped for bottles of water. Normally 2 were on offer but most were just taking one, it wasn’t too hot at that stage. The route then took us onto a fairly uninspiring long straight track. Time to pick up the pace, or so I thought.

The temperature picked up a bit and I’d describe it as an uncomfortably warm British summers day. I was told that bone dry heat is not too hard to run it and that humidity would not be a problem. The first rain in the MDS for 15 years however made humidity a problem and I suffered.

The track was flat and not too rocky, there was no reason why I shouldn’t run the lot of it and run it well. As soon as I started running at any kind of pace I was stopped by coughing. I had hoped that some dry air would clear my cough (there was no medical basis of this hope). The moisture and the sand just made everything worse.

I’d run-walk-run-walk for about a minute at a time but the length of time I could run got smaller and smaller. I eventually gave up and started to walk the whole time. This was incredibly frustrating, not just for the day in question but for the rest of the week. I was still kidding myself into thinking the cough would go away, if only it got hotter. I had written off today and was ready to go for it the next day.

Having no expectation of finishing well I thought it would be a good opportunity to take pictures and admire the scenery. I don’t normally get the chance to do this as I’m looking at the floor trying not to trip over. I had spent the last few months mocking the majority of people who do this for approaching it as a trekking holiday. This was now the only way I could do this race. At least there was something to look at on this day.

I plodded over the line in about 5 hours, I didn’t really enjoy it because I don’t like walking. I later joined another queue for the doctors and told them about my cough and asked for some codeine. They informed me that by taking it I’d then fail any dope tests and would be eliminated from the race. Looks like I was in for another few days coughing to get the medal for this.

The coughing seemed to get worse once I stopped. There were so many frustrating things about this event, my own condition being only one of them. Because the route had completely changed we had no idea what was coming up tomorrow, if anything. Whereas normally everything is decided long in advanced and we know what is coming up, this time we had no idea. Rumours would be rife, my favourite was that they were going to make each day longer to make up for the lost miles on the first day. Another was that the race was going to keep the same distance each day, another was that the race had just ended. I started to think about the last one and wish that was true.

a rare shot of me running

Message after day 1

"Marathon Des Aster - bet simon already had that pun. I'm feeling pretty low now. just walked 33k in 5 hours and feel like ive been hit by a train. my throat infection got worse and the humid sand dunes nearly finished me. The doc said te only thing he can give me would break the doping rules.
I cn't run without coughing and wheezing, i had 2 coughing fits in the run and get them every nighr. i hope it gets better but probbaly wont. the long day could be very long. On the positive side i get to take lots of pretty pictures and wathc the wildlife, bugs and ants mainly.
I had high hopes for this race but now i just need to finish. its going to be a long week. Badger seems to be enjoying it though.
you may have heard the 1st day was canned cos of floods. this was the dunes day and wasn't too hard terrain wise. Id have liked to have run a bit of it.
Anyhoo, ill stop moaning now and try to barter for some codene, which is illegal but im not that bothered.
hope you have a better week than im going to have".

The Flood

The heat hit me as soon as I got off the plane. We spent a while in a queue to passport control and I could feel the sun slowly cooking me. I wasn't suprised by this, someone did mention that the desert can be quite hot. It was around mid day and I was looking forward to running in this heat. We stayed in a 5 star hotel for about half a day and then set out in the morning for a 5 hour transfer to the point in the desert where we were to start the race. On the way there it started to rain very heavily. I thought 2 things, one was that this obviously happens all the time in the desert and the sunshine will get rid of the water and secondly that this is a very local and short lived rain storm and once we got into the desert proper we would be in the baking bone dry sunshine. I was wrong on all counts.

The rain continued for hours and hours, the coach journey took 8 hours and none of us could believe what we were seeing. The coach would stop for the occasional toilet break and the wind and rain would make this very hard. Finally as night was falling we arrived at the point in the road where we were transfered to army trucks and sent bouncing over the rocks of the desert, still pouring it down. After about 20 minutes of spine shattering driving we arrived at the first camp and did not quite know what to think of it.

There were 100 soggy tents in various states of collapse. We were told just to find anywhere that was dry and sleep there rather than being assigned a tent. The floor of the desert is not good for drainage and all of the water that had fallen was still sat on top of the surface. Each bivouac only had dry space for 1 person and even that was shrinking. We all scrambled to find somewhere where we could put our stuff and for it not to get wet. This was difficult because the water was still moving in. Some started to dig moats around their sleeping areas. Only half of the Brits made it to the camp that night, half were stopped by flooded roads and the other nationalities didn't even set out.

I was bracing myself for a night where I'd probably wake up soaking and have my kit ruined before I'd even start. We all went to the food tent to have our pre-race rations of bread and pickled cabbage and then stood around in the soaked sand and laughed at the whole predicament. Then a word got around that we were being taken out of there to a hotel not too far away. This was a relief to some but a disappointment to others. I wouldn't have minded staying, it would have added to the "challenge" of this race.

The flooded Bivouacs. We struggled to find a spot that wasn't wet

The next few days in the hotel were really frustrating. We'd wake up each day and not know whether there was a race to run. We were told that the organisers were plotting another course but could not guarantee that there will be one. The most frustrating bit was not knowing. There was the realistic expectation that there would be no race.

Day 2 – 36k

We were told in the morning that we were going to run a 36k loop along trails. Though I wasn’t feeling any better I still hoped for a good day. Alas it was not to be. Day 2 went exactly the same as day 1 minus the sand dunes. Read that again if you want.

Message after day 2

"This is no fun. today went pretty much like yesterday, i ran for a bit, coughed then walked for hours. Its really frustrating. stage 3 was a loop of about 36k back to where we started. they are having to put the course together day by day. tomorrow is the long stage which should be 80k but i can't see that happening.
If it did happen I'm going to take a long time. Legs are a bit sore now from all the walking though the terrain is not that bad. 60% is trails like you get in lanza/watford. there are quite a few dunes. The desert all looks the same after a whil, maybe cos we are staying in the same place. maybe we'll go to a running track in marakesh and do 200 laps tomorrow?
Anyhoo, still hoping i can run tomorrow for a bit at least. might trade some antibiotics for a spag bol later. Its quite warm but no where near as hot as it should be.
Have a pint for me in the wargrave tomorrow for me serpies, I'll probably still be walking in the dark.
Not dead yet."


I constantly got asked (and still do now) "How do you train for something like that?" My response was that I run marathons and ultras most weekend and had already done something similar but harder than this. I also would get asked about the heat and I said I was planning on running for a week in Lanzarote with jumpers on and all the kit to try and simulate the heat. It pissed it down all week in Lanza, I can't decide whether that was a week well spent or not.

When you sign up to the MDS your name and email address will be sold to a multitude of unscrupulous companies who try to extort money from you by playing on your fear of the heat. I got dozens of emails about running in oxygen deprived chambers, saunas and all sorts of aclimatisation things. These are very expensive and unessessary. Though I didn't experience the heat in all it's glory I never met anyone, vet or otherwise who said these things were worthwhile (unless of course they had a vested interest).

This race is not nearly as hard as is made ou by the organisers or the press generally. Most people finish. Though I can't comment on how to run a great race I did feel that I was more prepared that most for this. Many of the other competitors had barely runa marathon before. For me this this sums up up this whole event. The majority of the people here are not those who love running and want to take that to another level by takling something really tough like a 150 mile run through the desert. Instead most of the people are here to get a medal and then go back home to say "Look what I did" and probably never run again. It's a shame.

Despite feeling better prepared than most (though much more poorly) I would in retrospect have gone about the training in a different way. Something like this;

18-12 months to go - Start practicing your queueing techniques. In total I spent 24 hours in a queue in the 9 days of this event. 1 hour at Gatwick,2 hours at quazzazatte while the officers got confused by passports, 1 hour for hotel check in 1 hour waiting for idiots who were late for the coach, 1 hour again queuing for second hotel, 2 hours queuing for kit checks, 6 hours locked in a courtyard in a hotel while everyone else registers (all nationalities) because New Balance insisted everyone was there to hear Patrick Bauer announce the race was on (something we already knew) just so the DVD can show us all cheering, 1 hour waiting for the coach to get out of there, 30 mins each day queueing for water at the start of the day, 30 mins each day delayed start while the french turned up later and Patrick and his bad translator spoke for ages telling us nothing, 3 hours on the last day waiting for the coach to take us out (The brits are first in, last out), 2 hours at airport. I make that 24.

I would suggest buying lots of things from the Post Office, on Thursday morning in a run down area so that you are in amongst all the Giro crowd. This is all about time on your feet and the mental preparation of standing around.

Scary Rain Clouds

12-6 months to go - Develop Queue manovering skills and introduce static standing. In the race to minimise time on your feet you will need to develop some queue pushing in skills that the French competitors seem to have a natural born talent for. It does not help to be British when you are in a queue in the desert. Go to crowded bars with obnoxious arseholes (Anywhere in the City, Camden, Soho or Shorditch should suffice) and try and get served. Try and distance yourself from any thoughts of empathy for the others around you, they'll do the same to you. If you manage to get drunk you are doing fine.

The standing is key here. Each day you are tormented by a comedy double act of Patrick Bauer (race organiser) and a really bad translater as they read out the list of those who have dropped out, tell you (incorrectly) how much water is at each stop, point out (vaguely) if there are any deviations from the road book and remind you to keep your running number in full view. It is quite difficult to keep the number in full view on the raidlight packs. It is quite easy to keep it in full view on the New Balance packs. Hmmmmm.

I would suggest attending any local Punch and Judy events or other childrens shows which involve standing up, craning your neck and trying to comprehend mindless drivel. I hear the Chuckle Brothers are doing a world tour next year.

6-3 months to go - Doing it in the heat, with back pack and introduce form filling. By now you should be able to queue for 2 hours comfortably and your head should have similar rotational abilities to an owl. Now is the time to step it up and do the same things in heat and with the kit on. Perhaps take a rucksack onto a tube train in rush hour and crane your neck a lot. You may get hauled up by the British Transport Police for this and may have difficulty explaining all the vasaline and freeze dried food in your bag.

To do this race you will be required to fill in a lot of forms. Mediacal, Admin, Security, Media, Insurance, Passport Control etc etc. If it's been a long time since you were in school then this wrist breaking activity may seem a bit daunting. Don't panic though, there are plenty of ways of exercising your wrist. Try signing up to market research panels where they send you stuff to fill in each month about your attitudes to baked beans or your preferences for types of tree in some park you never go to. Alternatively do what I did and sit some marketing exams. Not only do you get some intensive 3 hour sessions of hand writing but you also get valuable practice in reading and writing absolute drivel. Plus you get some funky letters to add to your name. I'm now James Adams B(Econ)Sc, MSc, CIM, Dip Digm, MRS Cert. My business cards are on sheets of A3.

Now is also the time to cut down on your alcohol intake and general frivolous spending, not because it will help you in the race but because you will soon be billed for £1500 to pay for half of the race.

3 Months to go - Do some running (optional). Most people don't bother with this bit but are still fine.

Stuff you should know about the MDS part 2 - Equipment and food.

I discovered 2 universal truths about this when I got out there in the desert, both were given to me before I went out there but I disregarded them anyway and went ahead. The first one is that everyone takes too much food. The second is that no one has ever figured out how to drink through those bottles with the straws sticking out of the top.

My pack weighed about 9kg, this was on the light side especially for a Brit. The lower limit is 6.5 kg and some of the elites were bang on that. Mohammed Ansul had a pack that was even less and had to add a couple of cans of red bull to get the weight up. All of his compusary equipment fit into a tiny pot and his food was all crushed up nuts.

My food consisted mainly of nuts, bombay mix, some sweets and expedition meals. The expedition meals are suprisingly calorific, each with 800 cals and weighing only 130g. I also took Beef Jerky, energy drink sachets(which don't count as calories in the registration process) and some Kendal Mint cake but the latter was dumped on the second day as it was too heavy. During the course of the week people will be ditching food. Burning 5000 calories a day you are only required to take 2000 per day. This is enough, you may as well accept that you'll be burning off fat.

My Kit

I used a raidlight 30L rucksac with a frontpack. This is what 90% of Brits use and it does the job ok. The front pack takes practice, especially when it's full. I got rid of mine near the start of the race because it kept bouncing up and down. I also used the bottle holsters and those bottles with the straws sticking out of them. I didn't even take them out of their packaging till I got out there. I asked others who I was sharing a room with how exactly you are supposed to drink out of them but no one could. In the end I just cut off most of the straw and used them as normal bottles, having to take the lids off whenever I'd drink. I was tempted to take a bladder with me but worries about what I'd to in the case that it broke.

I decided not to take a sleeping mat with me and only took a very light sleeping bag. I'm still not sure as to whether this was a good idea. The bivouacs are laid on the desert floor with no clearing for rocks and stuff. You will bascially sleep on a blanket laid over loose rocks. With only 1cm of soft material seperating you from rocks it can be very uncomfortable. I struggled to sleep anyway because of the cough, I imagined that I'd be able to sleep on anything after the days exertions.

One piece of equipment I would recommend would be the all in one tyvek suit. You look like an idiot when wearing it at home but lots of people out there wear it. I found it was really good at keeping the sun off me in the day and was a useful extra layer in the night. It gets quite cold in the desert at night. I took a 7 degree sleeping bag which was fine with the suit.

Day 3 – The “Long” Day – April fools day.

There were rumours going around the British camp that the French organisers like to play tricks on us on April Fools Day. Practical jokes such as pissing in the water or moving direction signs were the most common rumours. I was already convinced that this whole week was a joke and wasn’t really worried.

This is the day (or 2 days) that most of the entrants fear. Few people run this far at all let alone in the middle of a week of hard running. There is a 36 hour cut off for covering about 50 miles. It seems like crawling but so many fear it.

The night before we were told by our concierge to expect a run of “between 70 and 80k”. I had doubts they could do a long day as the weather was still unpredictable. Later on at night we were told that the actual distance was going to be 91k. This was the longest the MDS have ever done.Despite still being ill I was looking forward to this. This was going to be the bit I enjoyed more than the other stages.

It started really well. I had started near the back this time but was making good progress at getting though the field. For the first time since I’d been here I felt like I was running through a desert. There was still some residue from the rain but the whole run was punctuated with things to see rather than a track against what could have been a TV studio backdrop.

Start of a sand storm

I was determined to keep running for longer today as I wanted to take advantage of the “rest” day tomorrow. All those who can finish this in one day get to spend a day at leisure. All those who cannot have to suffer all week.

The first 40k was really nice. The weather was picking up and the course consisted of windy paths through trees (yes there were many more than I expected) and large salt plains against a glorious rocky backdrop. This is what I paid my money to do. The feeling of actually running is a desert probably kept me going for longer than I could do on previous days.

We hit a minor sand storm going through one of the passes. There was a huge salt flat in between two gebels. The sand hit me but it was fine, I started to feel good about the day and ran on. There was a checkpoint after about 40k which was partly hidden. I did the usual stamping thing and carried on.

I prematurely got excited about how far I had run and that I was not coughing yet. I was at the checkpoint for 40k in about 5 hours and thought I could get this whole thing done in about 12 which would be a vast improvement on the previous days. I wasn't too bothered about my times or positions anymore, I had come expecting to finish in the top 100 just by running most of it. But, like most of the field I was reduced to walking large sections of it. For the first time the sun started to make it hard work and we headed out of the checkpoint into a long straight stretch.

My previous excitement turned to frustration as soon as I jogged out inot the open terrain. I inhaled my first lungfull of sand and had to stop to cough it out again. I spluttered on like a car on it's last legs but to no avail. It was like having shards of glass in my lungs and making my lungs do more work than was essential was very painful. I tried putting my buff over my mouth but that just restricted my breathing which had the same effect and the sand was already in.

I had kidded myself on both days previously that this would not last for the rest of the leg and each time I was wrong. I was the same here, as soon as I get this flat windy bit out of the way I'd be fine. Obviously this did not happen.

I walked along as many people walked past me. I had not done any walking training as I had not planned on walking any of this and was abysmal at it. There is a technique to walking which I did not have and the dozens of people walking past did, kicking up more sand as they went by. I had several coughing fits where I'd have to stop and hold onto something and cough, one time I coughed so hard my nose started to bleed.

I sat down on a ledge facing the runners coming past and tried to stop the bleeding. I watched a small pool of blood and snot form right underneath me and then insects gather round to feast. Didn't look very appetising to me but I guess there is not a huge amount of food in the desert. By chance I looked up to see the Ansul Brothers running straigh at me and then passing either side. They looked very comfortable running and I could not get a "well done" out in time. They started 3 hours after me and this was the first of a succession of runners who cruised past me. I had hopes of being in this 50 at the start of the race but now I was looking at last 50.

The nose stopped bleeding and I continued, being overtaken by faster walkers and even faster runners. Hopes of getting this done before midnight had evaporated, unlike some of the moisture that was still in the air. I had some time again to admire the scenery and it really was spectacular, there was a huge ridge to my right which I would normally love to have a go at climbing. It looked like we were going to go round it but then as the sun was starting to disappear behind this magnificent piece of geology I saw the path and a line of walkers heading straight into it. Fuck.

It wasn't the biggest or the hardest climb I've had to do but the idea of getting myself up any vertical distance seemed a struggle. As I started to climb I saw the 2 Chris's, people I was sharing a bivouac with. They were both doing quite well in the race and I new at this point I was at least in the top 3rd still, despite the walking. As we climbed into the dark pass we switched on the glow sticks that we were provided with. The climb was horrific. There was no sand in this crevice but the effort of scrambling up was still so hard to take. I would climb on my hands and knees and then have to stop every few seconds to try and extract oxygen through some pretty violent coughing. My legs were trembling too. I had to stop and plan the next few steps of any climb, taking into account what would consume the least energy and oxygen so that I could at least get to a higher place and stop again. I would have to think about where to place my hands, what I could grab hold of and where to fall if I needed to. I fell several times. Fell runners do a similar thing when bounding down hills at lighting pace, they carefully (but very quickly) consider where exactly they are going to plant their foot each time. The costs of getting it wrong for them could be broken legs but they take that risk because those races are won on the down hills. I had less time pressure but the cost of getting this wrong for me was that I'd still be in this crevice come sunrise.

There was no one else around me while I was making this climb. It almost felt like people were standing back to watch. I could see glowing at the top of the pass but luckily there was no one immediately behind me for me to fall on. I can't remember how long it took or how many times I stopped or slid back down. I do remember getting to the top, falling down on my knees and thinking about whether I'll make it to the end.

I spent about 10 minutes sat at the top looking back down at what I'd just climbed up which is probably a silly thing to do. I looked back down on the short but significant climb that just nearly broke me, I should have turned the other way, like when someone gets pulled out of the water, the first thing you do is make sure they are facing away from the water while you do all the other stuff. Stops them panicking. I'm glad I was facing back down though as I saw a chap skipping up the rocks. I was not hallucinating at this point, it was in fact one of the elite runners. He got to the top in a fraction of the time I did, stopped to say hello, asked me to activate his glow stick and then skipped on. It was only at this point I looked the other way and saw what was coming up.

Absolutely Fucking Exhausted

I watched the glow stick bounce down a path similar to the one I had just climbed and then continue and join this amazing line of other glow sticks that spread as far as the eye could see. It was a spectacular sight that I tried to get a picture of but it wouldn't come out. A photo wouldn't have done it justice anyway, it was truly amazing.

I was drawn in like a moth to a flame, wanting to join this army of glowing walkers lifted me out of despair and got me climbing back down onto the sand. The next 10k or so were over sand dunes.

The next few hours were also incredibly tough but for a short while I managed to forget about the discomfort I was in and concentrate on moving forward. My head torch would show the grains of sand flying across my head, it would also reflect against the others ahead of me. If I turned my head to either side I could see nothing, there was no life here, nothing for the light to reflect off. The sand dunes varied in height and incline, some were much easier to get up than others. I think I was still coughing but by this stage I think it had become an inconscious action. I no longer had to think about coughing, I was just doing it.

The tops of the sand dunes are concave, like volcanoes, which means you can't see what is immediately beneath. I'd be looking ahead at the huge line of dim light ahead and when I'd start climbing a dune this line would disappear. I could still see the one behind me but then when I was on top of the dune the whole lot would disappear. One time I was on top of a sand dune I felt like I was the only person in the world, I could not see any humans or any sign of civilisation for 360 degrees. I've done plenty of races where I feel like the only one around even when there are people right next to me, it is a strange but liberating feeling. This time I felt alone because I was alone. It was an amazing 5 seconds or so before the isolation was broken by someone else clambering up the dune. From then on I tried to recreate that moment by adjusting my speed so that I was ascending them alone. It never happened again, it was always spoiled by the polluting light of others trying to make their way towards the next checkpoint. I wished they would all disappear.

First Sleep of the long day

I was quite calm during this section, between 60-70k. The feeling of isolation and the fantastic site of all these annonymous glowing backpacks crawling through the desert made this a new experience that I was enjoying enough to forget about the struggle. I would still find myself short of breath getting up the sand dunes but when that happened I'd just stop, sit down and look at the stars. It was a perfectly clear night and looking at the stars in the sky was a very relaxing and calming thing. I don't get to do this very often in the smoke back home. I thought about how people would have used these to plot their course instead of the glowing waymarkers that we were following. I counted myself lucky that I got to see such a thing and started to feel like the expense and the faffing around was worth it.

The next checkpoint came a bit quicker than I was expecting, probably because I no longer had any sense of time. The checkpoint looked like a refugee camp, there was a medical bivouac and a sleeping one. All of a sudden I became very aware that I was covered in blood and coughing like a dying man on an anti-smoking advert. I feared that I may get pulled from the race if anyone saw me like this so I held my breath and walked past the marshalls and headed for the sleeping tent. Just after getting there I saw Dan Ashfar, who was one of the leading Brtis but was not having the best of times also. He took a power nap of about 10 minutes before heading off. I stayed for about 45 minutes, hoping to catch my breath before heading out again.

The terrain from 70-80k was more of the annoying rocky path fo the previous days. By this stage I was walking pretty slow and had no walking skill. I think I tried running again but it just wouldn't work. I started to feel pain in my heels, something I'm not used to as I had never walked so much before. I knew I had some blisters on my heels and each step was pretty painful. My legs did not hurt at all. I wish my legs did hurt though, that would have involved some running.

I was falling back into the despair I was feeling a few hours ago. People were just walking past me like it was no effort at all. Most of them had walking sticks though (which are allowed but really is cheating).The sky had clouded over and I could no longer see the stars, I was on a flat piece of trail and could see people all around me. I was feeling a bit claustrophobic, I just wanted everyone to go away again. I was starting to get worked up again and had no outlet. I tried to listen to music but that too was ineffective. Some of the spacy prog/post rock music I came with would have been ideal for this kind of adventure. The likes of Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Death in Vegas, Tristeza, Theta Naught, Always the Runner (??), This Will Destroy You were the ideal sound track to marching along the sand and feeling like I was at the end of the world. This had to give way to more upbeat rock music to try and lift me. When that failed I hastily went for the last resort and played "Hella Good" by No Doubt. For some reason the thought of Gwen Stefani thrashing about in the water usually gets me going. Even that didn't work.

I was starting to get really frustrated and angry with myself and everything. The path is flat but has loose rocks the size of bricks strewn everywhere. When I was walking I felt like I was tripping over every one of them. Each time I did I would stop and curse. Sometimes I'd kick the rock out of the way, once I even picked it up and threw it. I was staggering from side to side, in pain from the blisters, still coughing and most of all frustrated that I was having such a bad time and could not see how it could get any better. I left the previous checkpoint about 9.30PM and thought I should not take more than 2 hours to walk this stretch. There was a huge green laser pointing out from what I thought was the end of the stage. I could not see the source but it's light seemed to curve right over where we were running.

Edging slowly forward felt like it was using an incredible amount of energy, each step was an ordeal and all I could focus on was the time passing and the checkpoint not coming. The 2 hours I'd given myself came and went. At 11.30 there was no sign of the checkpoint, at midnight there was still no sign. The green light now was directly above my head and it felt like I was walking through a tunnel, the sky only a few feet above me. The rage I felt from kicking bricks turned into an admission of defeat. By now I was no longer angry at these inanimate objects in my path, I just accepted them and tried to move on. My brain felt like it was frying. It gets quite cold in the desert at night but I didn't feel the need for long sleeves. I had put on my warm top but overheated after a few minutes and went back to the T-shirt.

12.30 came and went, still no checkpoint. I'd been on this stretch for 3 hours and in this stage for 15 and a half. I was thinking about everything and nothing, like some nights when you can't sleep. There was something nagging me inside my head that I couldn't get out. It wasn't important but it was consuming me, like a broken record playing the same 3 seconds of barely audible noise over and over. I was not physically tired nor did I feel sleepy but was really struggling being in the state of awakeness. I lost hope of finding this checkpoint, I thought all the others around were going the wrong way too. I'dnever felt this bad in a race before, I had long forgotten the moments I enjoyed just a few hours before. 1.00 came and finally I could see something up ahead. I could not believe that what I'd just traveled was just 10k, nor could I really believe that the checkpoint was finally here. I saw the source of the green light which I thought would be at the end. I collected some unneeded water and headed for the bivouacs.

11k/7 miles to go. This is quite a significant distance for anyone who belongs to the Serpentine running club. 7 miles is the length of the most popular club run "the 3 parks" which involves a lap around Hyde/Green and St James' Parks. It is also significant as many will use this to reference the last 7 miles of a race that they are in. I know for many a marathon I have reached the 19 mile point and said "only 3 parks to go". The same applies in longer races and the longer the race the more potent the effect. 43 miles into a 50 miler or at Perivale in the GUCR I can easily visualise the end of the race because all you have left is a distance that you have done 100 times before. I can take myself out of wherever I happen to be (A canal path, an Alpine trail, Canadian forest or Rotherham) and put myself at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and think about jogging around familiar surroundings with people that I know and looking forward to the pub at the end. This always helps but in this instance it just didn't occur to me.

I could not think of anything apart from whatever was rattling through my brain, I could not get it out. I had not slept well all week and felt sleep deprived but not sleepy. I knew that one of the key functions of sleep is to clear your brain cells of all the crap they build up over the course of the day. The cells build connections which normally get reset when you sleep and those that don't become memories. Right now I was building up bad memories that were clogging up my head and stopping me from fuctioning properly. I knew vaguely what was tormenting me here but had no idea until I looked it up on my return that this branch of neurobiology had such a cool name. Synaptic Homeostasis is a theory that the brain only has a certain capacity to "learn" in a particular time period before it becomes full and needs refreshing. Sleep does this. It was hardly as if I was attending any lectures in this time but I felt like I'd reached the limit to what I could mentally deal with for that day. Any further progress I would have to do as a zombie, oblivious to any external influence, possibly not reacting to and external stimulus or even my own internal state. It still seems ludacrous to this day but with only "3 parks to go" to the end of the long day I got my sleeping bag out of my bag and crawled inside. I needed to sleep, just to forget.

Finish line for the long day

It wasn't the first time I'd woken up still wearing my shoes. I didn't take them off for fear of not being able to put them back on again. I looked at my watch and it was around 4am. I'd been asleep for 3 hours, completely out of it. I could have stayed there longer but for the first time in ages remembered why it was that I was there. There was a stage to get to the end of and I had to get up and walk it again. It was still dark, I was still coughing and it was cold. I was pleased that it was cold, it meant I was no longer roasting myself from the inside. I left the checkpoint as annonymously as I arrived. Funny thing this race, there are hundreds of runners and organisers and no one really gets to know anyone. It felt like I was just leaving some service station in the middle of the night, no one cares where I've been or where I'm going, I just got up and walked.

The participants (none of them are runners at this stage) were spread out much more thinly now. I had to start looking out for the occasional markers to make sure I was headed in the right direction. I knew this was going to be a long and painful finish but I at least felt myself again. The track was the same as before and as the sun came up I could at least see in front of me and not trip up on all the rocks. I hadn't imagined that I'd be finishing the long day in daylight. I was looking forward to this day more than any other, my only previous multi-day race I nailed the long day, this time the long day nailed me. The sun was starting to heat the desert floor up again as I crossed the finish line. I felt nothing as I walked through the banner, collected my water and headed for my tent. Half of the people were already there, some sleeping and others just milling around. I wasn't sure what to think about what I had just done. That was undoubtedly the hardest day of effort I have ever had, 21 hours of running/walking/staggering and sleeping.

Message after Day 3

"That could have been the hardest day and night I've ever had. They extended the "long" day to 91k to try and make up for the earlier loss. I ran about 40k and was feeling quite good but then some sand in the breeze killed my lungs. I was reduced to my usual walking wheeze. with headaches, nosebleeds and bubblewrap feet.
Parts of the night were spectatular though. The point where i was completely alone in the desert in the dark was exhilirating, probably worth the entry for that. The miles of rocky track were less so. I was so hard stumbling in the dark for 12 hours not being able to breathe properly. 7 hours for half way then 14 hours for the rest, my heels have some corking blisters on, massive.
Feeling pretty shatterd now, only a marathon tomorrow. I think they are canning the last day too.
Thanks for all the messages, see you all soon.
I'll have to come back and nail this one year"

Stuff you should know about the MDS part 3 - Bivouac Life

"Bivouac" is a French word for "Some sticks with a blanket on top". Each day a crew of locals would erect a village of bivouacs in a circle that would sleep 8 competitors. We were assigned a number which would be ours all week and the bivouac would be in the same relative position.

They are not ideal for sleeping. There is only a rug seperating you from the rock and as I didn't have a sleeping mat I suffered in the night, constantly having to lie in different positions to stop rocks going into me. The windat night would ensure that there was a constant stream of sand flying over my head and making me cough. I didn't get any rest from the cough even at night. I felt sorry for the others I shared a tent with as I was making such a racket. I requested to sleep near the end so that I could get up if I needed to. Several times I did get up just to walk around a bit and get away from everyone else. Once I coughed myself sick. I don't think I got a proper nights sleep all week, this includes the times spent in a bed in the hotels.

The sunrise always looked spectacular, one of the benefits of sleeping almost outside is that you get to see the great panorama of the sun starting the day. I'd always feel quite sleepy at this point after an exhausting night of spluttering and tossing. As people got up and started their pre-race rituals and faffing I'd look around and see one by one the bivouacs collapse. They would not wait for you to wake up or get out, the blankets and sticks were just hoisted over you and the rug pulled from under you. You were then exposed to the sun and to the ground where you had to carefully tread so that you wouldn't get sand in your shoes.

Day 4 - The Marathon Day

This was to be the last day. Normally the last day is a 10 mile showboating exercise but instead it was going to be quite a long run. I was looking forward to getting it over with. There were a couple of marketing things we had to do for the DVD in the morning, one was to stand around for ages in a roped off area that spelt the number "24" to denote that this was the 24th MDS. Also we were given new running numbers to put on as it was considered important by the sponsors that their name looked nice and clean for the many photos that would be taken that day. I kept my blood splattered number I'd been wearing all week and threw the others away. I could not be arsed spending my time making sure that the DVD looks good and that the race organisers look like heroes.

start of the marathon day

After the usual start line nonsense and the French turning up late again we set off on the final stretch of the MDS. I started this day as I started each day, running and expecting the moment to arrive where I could no longer do this. The marathon day actually turned into the best of days. I could run for most of it. The terrain was quite challenging but all great to run on. There were plenty of smaller sand dunes, a few rocky passes, some track and roads and lots to look at. Finally we got some of the heat that we had been threatened with for 2 years. While running and enjoying the atmosphere of the last day I felt a strange sensation that I had not felt at any stage in the race until now, I was sweating. The combination of the heat and my running actually convinced my body that I was in need of cooling down and was making me sweat. It was lovely.

There were quite a few spectators in this leg, at least 20, more than I am used to in other races I have done. I wonder where all these kids come from, there are no houses near by. I wonder what sort of curfew their parents impose of them? How far are they allowed to wander into the desert before they have gone too far?

Towards the end of the stage there is a significant climb up a rocky pass. At this stage kids are around telling you there is only 2k to go and asking if they can have your water bottles/hats/buffs etc. They are not aggressive or anything but at that stage I didn't belive that there was only 2k to go and kept hold of everything. Then at the top of the climb I saw the finish, it really was just 2k away. I scrambled down and started my final approach, still running. This was the only day where I ran most of it and was the day I enjoyed the most. As I got to the bottom of the slope I had to give some water to a Spanish guy in distress, he looked pretty dehydrated and I could only give him warm water.

As soon as I got near the end I gave the fastest sprint finish that I have ever done for a race though it was missed by all of the cameras. I got a lot of cheers and comments afterwards. It's a shame there is no photo evidence of my finish, just one of me looking exhausted. I reckon I'd have given Usain Bolt a good race in the last 100m of that one. As I steamed through the finish a loudspeaker was playing "Won't get fooled again" by The Who.

Stuff you should know about the MDS part 4 - Communications

At the end of each stage you can go to a computer tent and send an email to the outside world. I didn't think much of this before starting the race but as the week went on this became really important for me. I'd think about what I'd write as the story was unfolding in the sand. This is something I do anyway and gets me through a lot of tough times. It's like a projective technique where you imagine that you are not actually you but someone else looking at you and giving commentary. In doing so you can be as complimentary as you like, which is easy to do when you are thinking about yourself in the third person. Years of daily Facebook status updates have trained me well in this, I never thought I could say that hours on Facebook have made me a more resilient long distance runner, but they have.

The daily email was my outlet to the rest of the world. I wanted everyone to know that I was suffering just to see what they would say. I found the emails were a great way to let off steam at the end of each stage. There was a word limit but I never really pushed it, I managed to keep the words down, unlike in my race reports.

By far the most enjoyable part of each day though was getting a piece of paper with all of the emails which have been sent to me. I was quite suprised by the numbers of them. I felt a bit bad for the others in my tent that they would get a handful of messages and I would have pages and pages. Not my fault for being popular :)

I got messages from all sorts of people, some I didn't even know (but made sure I got to know afterwards). It was amazing. Most messages would either be words of support in response to my distress messages or general updates on what was going on back at home. Some of them made London life seem pretty mundane, which was nice. I thought about being out here doing a "crazy" race while everyone else was back at home going to work on the tube. It seemed like such a stark difference but I just couldn't wait to get back there and join them, this week did not pan out well.

Message after Day 4 - Box Ticked

I had a good day, at last. I ran the marathon in about 6 hours, not very fast but i ran most of it and felt good. That's it, it's all over now.
Have no idea where i ranked and have not looked all week though i hear my rankings are being glibly announced back home each day so you probably all know better than i do. Nikolai will be in the top100.
It certainly was an experience, the long day will haunt me for a long time, i've never felt anything like that before. I'm sure i'll bore yu all with the details over several kegs of guinness.
I'm off to treat myself to a clean pair of pants, I've been wating for this all week. still in camp tonight and being fed bread and pickled carrots.
sorry to dissappoint anyone who was hoping I was actually going to die, though ther is still time, i've not started drinking yet. it was great to finish on a bit of a high, am going over now to watch the last runners come in, it's amazing to see some of these guys.
Thanks everyone and see you all soon x.

Box Ticked

So there it was, all done. Well all that we were given to do anyway. It's hard to sum up this week (hence the 10000 words previous) but it was hard for so many reasons that have nothing to do with the challenge of running. I felt like I was taking part in a corporate challenge rather than a test of endurance, everything about this race reeked of marketing and PR. Fair enough there is little they could have done about the flood but the focus seemed to be on making a great DVD rather than putting on a great race. I didn't like all of the faffing and queueing involved.

This became more of a challenge for me because of the illness. It was one of the least enjoyable weeks of my life and even at the end I felt nothing. No cause to celebrate or sense of relief, just a feeling that I'd ticked a box and could get on with other runs that I really wanted to do. I've just read back a comment I made about having to come back one year and nail this, I won't be doing that. I'm not coming back. It's hard to see this as anything more than a large dent in my credit card. There is other stuff out there, harder, better organised, less needless ceremony and a lot less expensive. I still didn't feel like I had finished, I knew 2 more days of queues and hotels awaited. I wasn't going to consider this over until I was back in the UK. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, a running race along a canal then a running race around Greece.

Still, I doubt I'd get another chance to be the only person in the world like I was at the top of the sand dune. That was pretty special.