Hello there. This is a bit of a rushed post as I have just been taken offguard slightly and found out that my book is available for sale.
Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think :)
Hello there. This is a bit of a rushed post as I have just been taken offguard slightly and found out that my book is available for sale.
Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think :)
So I have now been unable to run for three weeks now. It is a little frustrating mostly because my running commute to work has been replaced with having to share a bus with a load of school kids who often only go one stop.
I spent a week not really being able to do anything I decided to finally use the gym I have at work that I have not entered in the two years I have worked there. It seemed strange to me that people pay and queue up to go running on a treadmill when there is loads of floor outside to run on.
Did you know that the treadmill was invented in prison to break stubborn prisoners into repenting for whatever they did?
Inbecile Michael Gove has suggested that kids be given running as a punishment which sounds ludicrous given how much fun I find it, but only if it's outside. Perhaps he was talking about his experience of running on a treadmill in the Houses of Parliament gym. Watching Eric Pickles in shorts and a vest heaving on the butterfly press maching thinking it will increase his biscuit reach, watching Theresa May in heels trying to spin around the cross trainer in heels, Nigel Farage is pulling the plug on any slightly foreign looking exerciser regardless of how hard they are working. That sounds like punishment to me though fortunately it is not too busy in here since Iain Duncan Smith was out in charge of the computer membership database and fucked it right up meaning hardly anyone can access.
Where was I? Ahhh yes, pointlessness. I currently can't do anything that involves impact so I started on the stepping machine. I don't really understand what all the levels are, I selected "Cardio" as a work out and "level 7" which basically has me stomping up and down for 30 minutes while I get to stare at either a timer, a TV with some dreadful programme on or a wall. I have graduated to being able to to 45 minutes at "level 9", whatever that means. I am starting to get a bit obsessed with my heart rate though. I watch it shoot up to 170+ on the resistance bits and then head back down to 140 in my 2 minute recovery periods. I don't know what my resting heart rate or maximum is, I am guessing 50 and 190. It was 60 just after I got run over so guess it's a bit less that that.
Does all this shit matter anyway? The most important thing is the highly accurate and legally water-tight calorie counter that these machines have. It's about 200 calories a sausage so smashing out 600 in half an hour is pretty good going and gets me extra food (that's why people go to the gym isn't it?)
I figure I am now exercising parts of my legs that I do not usually need to rely on such as my glutes and hamstrings. Shuffling along a flat canal without picking up my legs does not give much of a total leg work out whereas now I find I am stretching these unused parts of my legs.
It took a while though before I progressed to the proper henching parts of the gym. My local gym costs £11 per session (discounted to £6 for residents). Who would pay £11 to pick stuff up and down? Anyway I paid the money and went into the place where I was sure not to be intimidated by people I work with but rather I can now get intimidated by complete strangers.
I pick up some dumbells (10s) and start lifting them up an down in front of a mirror while keeping alert to what others are doing on other machines that I might want to use later. I am not stupid enough to use the mechanical weight machines, I know they do more harm than good.
I lift them up in front of me, then lie down on a bench and lift them over my face (which seems hazardous) and then the ones Ian Sharman sugggested recently for trail running awesomeness where I stand up and bend to each side while pretending I am about to be punched in the stomach. I fear I am going to get punched in the stomach for monopolising the weights, however the the amount of dust I have to clear of them suggests that they don't get used that much.
Why do they go straight from 10 to 12.5kg? That's a 25% increase. You wouldn't go straight from running a marathon to running a 50k would you?
I find weights hard, mostly because they hurt my hands like shopping bags. If I put them down and swap them that seems to make both seem lighter, just like when you rearrange stuff in shopping bags.
It looks like I have a few more weeks of this. It's unlikely I'll be able to give the Machester Marathon the smashing I wanted to but this is great ultra brain training here. I find things to releive the boredom, such as looking for sweat clouds. People sweat funny and it makes funny clouds in their back. I saw a unicorn having a fight with a juniper bush the other day.
Current record for bicep dips - 2
I am feeling pretty hench but just not looking it yet. I imagine that the weight I have put on as a super hench core that is pushing my belly outwards making me look fatter? That happens right?
Dare I say I am enjoying this? But if anyone sees me on a treadmill please club me to death with a walking pole and bury me in a Hoka.
So lets me honest about what I am about to do here. I want to write a post that will get lots of hits such that more people might see that I have a book coming out and buy it so that I can spend more time writing posts like this one.
It's all very self fulfilling.
A lot of lists like this exisit and then get shot down with "what about this" and "that race is a joke". The problem is that "That race" has a hold on editors and publishers such that it has to be mentioned by law in any list where the dreaded "T" word is in the article title. I think journalists are in a hard place here.
So here is a list of really tough things I one day want to finish.
I was signed up to do this in the month just gone but decided I didn't want to wreck myself for the rest of the year. I sort of regret this having seen all the fun that was had on the Pennine Way. A 268 mile non-stop point-to-point slog along the "spine" of England in winter. British winter which is usually quite variable but leaves a muddy trail whatever. There were a lot of great stories of success and DNF this year. I would like to do this next year but will depend on having enough time off.
Only about 0.5% of people who apply finish this race. That's because only about 1% actually get in. I really want to do this but it looks unlikely with the popularity. I am told that this is regarded as the most scenic ultra marathon in the world which I really want to see. It sounds bloody hard though. 12000ft of elevation (total elevation is one of those measures that we ultra runners like to swing our dicks about) makes it more gain that the cheese race around Mt Blanc. Not only that but it is all at high altitude and equivalent to constant stair climbing with a sock in your mouth (luckily that's another weekend hobby of mine).
One day I will get in and then off to do it.
Coast to Kosci
This was kind of a bit like the Spartathlon, I think. It's 153 miles going from sea level in Australia to the Highest point, the top of Mount Kosciuzsko (strange name for an Australian mountain, I would have thought they would call it "Great Big Bloody Mountain"). It is a Fatass style event with little support and limited to 50 entrants per year. Will have to do that one time if I have enough money to fly over there.
The Big Cockslam
OK I was not sure of which of Mark Cockbain's really tough races would be part of this so am going to group them all up and say they are all worthy of a place (it's my list so I make the rules). Shortly we will see the 3rd running of the 147 viking way race through miles of English mud. ONly about 20% of people finish this. Next is the Coast to Coast race which has not run yet (and I may do this). A low support crossing of the UK from West to East over 140 miles. Mark has made the cut-off quite tight at 38 hours (probably wanting to get into Newcastle before the sun comes back up).
Third is the Cockslam Trilogy is the now infamous "The Hill" race. 1 finisher out of lots last year, the incredible Jon Steele who went up the Hill like Jack and Jill 55 times in 48 hours.
The Piece of String Race
What kind of sick race would they not tell you how far you had to run to the finish line? The kind of race that would make most peoples heads explode with torture. Well most people of that ilk won't apply for this race anyway but many do and they find it really hard. The first year the runners ran/swam about 115 miles (2 finished out of 10) when they were told they had finished. The second year the runners ran 100 meters and then were driven away 100 miles to the middle of nowhere (Bath) and told to run away to the sea, and then back again, and then all manor of head f****g until two runners finished the 135 miles.
What will it be this year? Who knows? Maybe the answers are in this book.
And the problem with this race is that I need a really sick f**k to organise such a thing.
Sri Chimoy 3100
This is currently ON my list. It on and off and on and off more frequently that Katie Price on a cage fighter.
It's simple, you run 3100 miles around a loop of less than a mile in a suburb of New York. My wife is very supportive of this idea so long as she can come along and just faff about in New York. I have already run 3200 miles in the USA which you can read about this most excellent book when it comes out. It's a simple race to 3100 miles with 18 hours of running allowed per day I think.
Tor De Geants
This looks absolutely nuts. 200 miles of climbing in the mountains. It's like the UTMB but twice over with more hills and less cheese. Along a trail next to the highest mountains in the Alps with around 24000ft of uppitydowny. Read Nick Hollons great blog post about his race last year.
I met someone earlier this week who lost part of a finger in the really quite cold temperatures of this race. It's a 135 run (slide/pull) in Michigan which in January can be really quite cold, even without the polar vortex that engulfed North America this year. You can do it on a bike too but that is cheating.
The only one of the races I have attempted and my effort was pretty feeble. Often dismissed as "not a proper race" because the race course has a chance of winning. It's rather like calling Boxing "not a proper sport" because the opponent has a chance of winning and then saying bullfighting is.
Anyhoo, why is this jolly hard. Well the race has been designed to be on the edge of what is possible by a very well trained and fit human. To cover 100 miles of this terrain in 60 hours I think puts you up there with Tour De France in terms of fitness (without the drugs). It's hard because you need to be going for all the 60 hours, the climbing is insane and the terrain is gnarley and slippy. It is an effort standing still.
I made one feeble attempt at it a couple of years ago and I will return to give it a better go. I need to be insanely fit though.
The Luton Marathon.
6 times I have attempted this race and 6 times I have not even made it to mile 1. My history of this race goes something like this.
2007 - Sign up for race, get too drunk the night before and oversleep and miss it
2008 - Get to the start of race but it gets cancelled as there is a car crash on the course
2009 - Sign up for race, get a bit injured before the race and drop out
2010 - Sign up for race, get too drunk the night before and oversleep and miss it
2011 - Sign up for race, it rains (in Novemeber in the UK) and race gets cancelled
2012 - Sign up for race, get psyched out by the prospect of having to run around Luton three times. Stay in the comfort of my own home until it all blows over
And now the race not longer exists.
It will always be the one that got away....
This would never have happened if I was wearing Hokas.
Thursday evening started out just like any other evening. In fact no it didn't because instead of running home I was headed to the shops to buy stuff to cook for dinner and get a Valentines Day card for my lovely wife. If only I were a Jehovah's Witness.
So on my way to the shop I crossed the road at a pedestrian crossing with the green man proudly glowing his stride, before I got half way I discovered an unusual thing on top of my foot. A car. He had just jumped the light and ran right over my right foot.
I reeled back to the pavement, at this stage not really knowing what to do or say. What on earth do you say or do when a car has run over your foot.
I think many runners first instinct when anything like this happens is to panic about the prospect of not being able to go running for a while. I am not too bothered if say I cut my finger while cooking as my fingers are not that important (except maybe for blogging but I reckon I can still do that with only 4 of them). I imagine a guitarist would immediately panic about their future fingerpicking before it even occurs to them to stop the bleeding.
I'd say the chain of thought that went through my mind was something like this;
1 - S**t this looks like I am not going to be able to run for a while
2 - Oh but I can't wait to bang on about this on facebook
3 - Owwwww my foot f*****g hurts
4 - OK better get the licence plate (which I did as the bugger drove off without stopping which apparently is illegal)
5 - Owwww, the foot is really hurting now
6 - Oh dear, It's my turn to cook, this will inevitably delay that and Gemma will be annoyed.
I found a community support Policeman and said in a very reserved English way "oh I'm sorry to bother you but I've just been run over the foot by a car and don't really know what to do".
So he called an ambulance which arrived in about 20 minutes (one of those first response units in a car) while I answered some questions. I was actually asked some really tough questions such as "what kind of car was it"? I know nothing at all about cars. I only recently learned to drive and when someone asks what kind of car I learned in I can only respond "A red one". Apparently it was an Aldi A3, which was quite a nice car to drive.
I just said "A black one" to which he asked "was it a saloon?" and I said "No, it was definitely a car, not a bar".
The ambulance arrived and I disgusted the poor medics with the state of my feet (the injury didn't look too bad but the stink was a bit much". I am not sure whether I could blame that on the hit and run guy. They were however impressed with how low my heart rate was, below 60 which they said was amazing considering I had just been hit by a car. I said it's probably 10 lower than normal because I no longer have to worry about cooking dinner and that usually elevates the anxiety a bit.
The pain got worse and worse as I went to the hospital to have an xray. It actually feels the same as the end of my first Spartathlon when I felt I may have fractured something in my foot. I recall that taking a few weeks to get over and hoped that this would not be as bad. The xray was inconclusive and I have to go to see someone on Tuesday for a further test. I am hoping the fact that it was inconclusive means it's not that bad. Getting the bus to work sucks.
At some point I really should get more annoyed that some dick ran over my foot and then drove off. I think the police are onto it.
And Gemma said the only way I was getting out of cooking tomorrow was to get my hands run over...
But a bit of good news. I send my book to the ePublishing people this week and it will be available to buy from around 12th March. Please "like" my facebook page to keep up to date with what is going on and spread the word too :)
I often get nervous before standing up and speaking about running, usually out of a slight feeling of inferiority that I don't think what I have done is particularly in the company that I am often presenting it to. However this one was different. I was reading the first few pages from my book (THAT IS DEFINITELY COMING OUT SOON) and I was worried that I might DNF 3.5 pages of words.
These 3.5 pages describe in pretty brutal detail what could well be the worst 20 minutes of my life. It happened in New Mexico and although at the time I tried to make a point of blogging everything I felt that I could not publish this as quite frankly it was too humiliating.
So I would not agree to put myself in this situation lightly, however when Simon asked me to read the first pages. He has read the book already and keeps telling me that he really likes that opening part.
A few months ago Simon told me about an incredibly ambitious plan of his. He is already doing great work with his company Freestak whereas this was going to be something else. A magazine that was going to be about the stories behind running. It sounded like a brilliant project and I was full of stories and happy to help. I contributed an article about some of the mind games I play when I am going through tough times. They see me through most things, they didn't quite work in New Mexico but now I at least have that as a story to tell at magazine launches.
It was in a really nice venue at the Truxman Brewery where a kind of "who's who" of British ultra running came and mingled. The magazine was not just about ultra running but obviously I was drawn to them. The magazine is a great read, not what you'd get from a regular running magazine. This was is just packed with great stories and beautiful artwork. This is not a magazine you are going to skim through in 20 minutes and then put in the recycling but one that you will keep and refer back to for inspirtation. I am thrilled that such a magazine now exists and even more so that I was asked to take part.
I managed to get through my part without choking too much. I also heard the delightful Mimi Anderson talk about her experience in the Arctic and was introduced to Simon Wheatcroft who has an inspiring story to tell about how blindness inspired him to run long distance.
But I got to chat to a load of others too. I finally got to meet Stuart Mills who's blog I have been following for a number of years now and I recommned reading and has written a great piece about his first marathon experience. I saw Tobias Mews who I met a few years back who now writes adventure articles in the telegraph. Robbie Britton was there, fresh from a victory at the Pilgrims Challenge 66 mile two day ultra. IN fact he looked way too skinny so I gave him my meal voucher. He too has put in a great bit of writing about his motivation for running. It was great to catch up with Dan Ashfar of Xempo and Sandra and the guys from the Ealing Half Marathon. Sorry I didn't make the Ealing Mile today, I had a work thing honest.
I hope you all get a chance to read this. Reading about other peoples stories and motivations I find is really inpsiring, helps me do things better and give me ideas about what to do next.
And I hope my article was of some use. If the Zebra thing becomes well known I would feel a bit bad as this was inspired from a girl I spoke to supporting the Thames Ring race last year. Putting the Zebra on a bike was all my idea though.
This month in Ultra Tales I assembled an article for "Ultra Wags" that looks at ultra running from the point of view of the other half, the one who is sitting at home wondering where their partner is or perhaps out in the middle of nowhere waiting for their husband/wife with a handful of lubricant.
You can (and really should) download ultra tales from here. There are lots of great reports in there including the Piece of String race.
Anyhoo I thought I'd put my wife's fansastic contribution here. Apparently I am quite obsessed by a race.
Your Name: Gemma Greenwood
Runner’s Name: James Adams
Relation to Ultra Runner: Wife
Details (eg married, kids, etc):
Married less than a year, been together four (it seems longer), no kids yet.
Brief history of ultra runner. (years running, ultras done etc):
What can I say about James Adams that most of the ultra-running population don’t already know? Bugger all, I suspect, since he’s a prolific blogger who loves to bang on about his running.
How long have you suffered your partner’s extreme running?
I started suffering my partner’s extreme running from BEFORE I met him. Yes, it is possible. Facebook makes these things possible, and if you know James at all, you will know his addiction to Facebook is all too real. I think that before I encountered him, I encountered his blistered feet which were his Facebook profile picture of choice for quite a time – some of you may remember the picture: great big purple blood-filled plum-sized blisters that he got as a result of his first GUCR run. Nowadays a small blister makes him drop out of a race (NDW100, 2013). Clearly marriage is making him soft.
Did they do this kind of thing when you met and what was your first impressions of them?
Fortunately (I think), James was already an ultra-running nutter when I met him. He’d completed GUCR and MDS with his sights firmly set on Badwater as the ultimate race…how things have changed! Badwater is a distant memory and now Spartathlon holds James’ focus for most of the year…
Anyway, at least I knew what I was letting myself in for, and wasn’t someone expecting a normal and conventional relationship with actual summer/beach holidays or anything (despite promises to the contrary). No, instead I spend my spare time & holidays standing beside the edge of a road/field/trail, in the freezing cold or scorching heat waiting for a brief appearance from my beloved, all sweaty and smelly, before he sods off again stuffed with food and drink.
Did they start doing this after you met? Describe the first time you heard about their plans.
How do you usually get involved in their racing and training? (eg supporting races, helping with training, massage etc).
It depends on the race distance, location, timing etc, but so far I am mostly a taxi service, given that James can’t drive (yet). I don’t think there is a ‘usual’ for these things. The first couple of Spartathlons, I stayed in the UK constantly sitting at the laptop and updating his Facebook fans with any developments in his progress. Last year and this for Spartathlon, I will be there, driving along the route from the mile point to the end. I don’t actually need to do anything on this race, since it is incredibly well organised and supported, but James did throw his toys out of the pram last year when I didn’t turn up until the middle of the Saturday morning because I was enjoying our swanky accommodation and the bugger just needed a hug.
When James ran across America a couple of years ago (as you do), I was only initially required to go out to visit him at the end of the race, and crew him for the last week before we had a week holiday in NY…until he got food poisoning in New Mexico and I got a sad/pathetic text asking me to go out there sooner. So, for my sins, I spent ten days driving across Oklahoma in 40C+ heat wave three miles at a time. I was responsible for carting his stinking kit, trimming his bushy moustache and beard from around his mouth, making him eat fruit, and generally ensuring he stayed alive.
Do you run? What kind of distances? Other sports or participate in? Run –
Yes, I run, and it’s how we met – through the Serpentine Running Club. Sometimes though, I do think it should be renamed the Serpentine Dating Club, given the number of our friends we’ve seen meet and marry through the club!
Over the years that I’ve been a member, I’ve run everything from a 1k race through to ultras, although I have a rule that I like to sleep at night, so the longest I have run for is 50 miles so far. If I can work on getting some speed like Sharman, I might consider longer distances. To date, I’ve finished over 25 marathons and ultras.
Do you ever wish your partner had a "normal" hobby like golf or chess or something?
Are they normal hobbies? No, I don’t think so. Anyway, running is ingrained in James’ soul (and perhaps his soles too), so I wouldn’t want to change that. It’s part of the man that I fell in love with. Also, if he stopped running, he’d be bloody HUGE. Have you seen how much he eats and drinks? That would definitely be worse…
Would you like your kids to follow in his/her footsteps? How likely is that?
I’d definitely like our kids (assuming we have some) to enjoy sports and the outdoors. Running would be awesome, and I suspect they’ll get little choice in the matter with regards to being surrounded by it from an early age. My biggest concern would the ‘forcing them into it’ element. If they HAVE to spend almost every weekend supporting running events or being involved, it might put them off a bit…
Describe the strangest moment you have witnessed while crewing your partner.
What are they like when they are injured or not running for some reason?
I don’t think I’ve ever known James to be injured or off running for more than about a week. I suspect his joints are well lubricated with all the fat from the pork scratchings he secretly scoffs, and he doesn’t go fast enough to do any real damage.
Do you ever go on "normal" holidays? Do all of your trips involve a race somewhere?
I’ve been promised a “normal” holiday for OVER TWO YEARS now. I am really not holding out much hope of us having one. We didn’t even have a conventional honeymoon as our wedding was sandwiched between two runs in New Zealand. The weekend before we got married, we both ran the Motatapu marathon. The weekend after, James ran Northburn 100. Even the weekend we had earmarked for getting married, James tried to worm out of because Tarawera ultra (in the North Island of NZ) was on that day… I really don’t hold out much hope for him organising a proper holiday / honeymoon experience for us!
What does your partner have to give back in return for all this supporting you do?
He doesn’t ‘have’ to do anything. Although I am still waiting to find out what special treats are in store for me… I suspect he will be the better one of the two of us at middle-of-the-night parenting, should we ever have kids.
Do you ever get the feeling that when you spend time alone together in a beautiful area they are thinking "that would make a great run"?
Feeling?? He bloody announces it ALL THE TIME when we’re out somewhere nice in the countryside.
What are they like with money? How likely are they to spend the family food budget on a solar powered back pack which inflates into a life boat? Give details of times when they have spent money frivolously.
James is a classic for ‘packing light’, that is, forgetting or not taking stuff he’s likely to need. When he moved in with me, he had over 40 cans of deodorant because he keeps buying more. He forgets to take trousers to work fairly regularly, which means he’s a good customer of M&S and when we went away for GUCR this year, he didn’t pack ANY normal clothes – trousers, pants, shirt, socks etc, which meant we had to do a shopping trip for all of the above. Which reminds me, he still owes me about £30-odd for that lot…
Have they ever said "never again". How long did it last?
I think he said that about Spartathlon once...after the first time when his leg nearly fell off. I think it lasted until the leg healed and he could walk again. Then he was determined to go back and beat it. I’m not sure how many times he’ll have to do this before he retires from it though!
How I laughed!
When you stood on that altar and agreed to "for better for worse" did you ever think it would come to this?
It came to ‘this’ a week later as he set off on Northburn 100. The only way I thought I’d get him to NZ to marry me was to tempt him with some ridiculous race. It worked.
Do you deal with their feet?
I have been known to pop blisters, cut toe nails, chop off calluses, and the like. It’s a grim job, but he’s so inflexible, he can barely reach his own feet. I do try make sure he’s washed them thoroughly first though – and even bought him a long-handled scrubbing brush to do so.
Do you have any special words, techniques to keep them motivated in a race (keep it clean please).
At the end of Northburn 100, I ran out to meet James on the trail and accompanied him for the last 5k or so, most of which was in the dying light or the dark. He was really struggling by now, but of course we both knew he’d finish. To keep him moving, I’d run out in front of him and flash my bum or my boobs on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anyone else around… and if there was, sorry!
What is their worst habit?
You mean I can only pick one? Right now, I think it is the vile and repulsive smell of his feet. He ought to take more care of them – dealing with issues before they escalate to this aroma! His shoes have been banished to outside, and his socks are tied up in a plastic bag somewhere waiting for him to deal with them.
Three words to describe your partner?
Obsessed with Spartathlon.
Do you ever wish you were running? Why?
When I want to run, I usually do. Hopefully though, once he can drive, he’ll support me on something a bit mad. Not quite America in 70 days, but I’ll think of something to get him back, I am sure.
If he/she didn't run what would you spend your weekends doing?
Probably walking in the countryside. Maybe bike riding. Visiting National Trust properties… all the normal things people of our advancing age get up to ;o)
What do your friends think about your partner? (assuming you still have friends).
Given that the huge majority of our friends are runners and ultra-runners (the first group being the more normal), I think people are pretty used to him…it’s the reaction I get from those that don’t run which is the best. Gobsmacked pretty much describes it.
Is your partner competitive. Please describe. Does this apply to other areas in their lives too?
I think James is one of the least competitive people I know. He likes to tease some particular friends, who are competitive with him, but that’s all really. Tenacitastic is the word I’d use for James (which I just made up). That man can just keep on running. He might not be fast or glamorous, but he will get there. Does that make him the Skoda of runners?
Do you get competitive? How important is it that your partner beats others to you?
No, I am not competitive either. However, I also like to make sure that where possible he beats the same particular friends above…
What's the best advice you'd give to a new ultra WAG?
Buy a lot of Halo & teach your ultra runner to use the washing machine.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Any amazing stories or anecdote –
Oh no… I don’t want to make his head any bigger than it already is, thank you.
The last fell race I ran I came last. I was hoping to better that result this time. I don't know whether anything south of the peak district can really classify as a fell race and I did see at least one guy wearing tights so figured this was a southern softie thing. The Box Hill Fell Race was going to include a few ups and downs though.
I have run (or walked) up and down box hill many times, this is as close as London gets to having a big hill. I have decided to do more stuff like this rather than plod as many ultras as possible between now and the Grand Union Canal Race. I need to be lighter and faster and figured burning myself 9 miles at a time would be more beneficial that shlomping another 50 miles. I blame Robbie Britton for this thinking.
Plus this was an event with a huge serpie turn out. There were some of the same faces there that I am used to. I find the starts of these races offer a different kind of endurance, for example I have to endure the comment "Isn't this a bit short for you" at least every five minutes before the start and during the race. Also I don't think people here know about ultra-crapping. If there is one thing ultra-runners are much quicker at it is expressing their bowel systems. Often it has to be done outdoors with a 20 second window of privacy and so you learn to crouch, push, wipe and run almost without breaking stride. Why were the people in these cublicles so so long, did they take a paper in there to read?
The start is up the grassy face of Box Hill, over some long grass. Everyone was keen to show that they can run uphill and whereas normally I'd be walking this and having a sandwich but 100 meters into a 9 mile race it didn't seem appropriate. A few minutes later we were at the top and running on some lovely trail.
For the first time in a while I actually started to feel like I could do some actual running. I was running down the hills with great gusto, careful not to plow into the back of others in front, I thought "wow - I'm not the worlds shittest fell runner".
The usual behaviour of opening gates and then holding them for the next runner went out the window as we all just pushed them open and left them to fly back in others faces. I was wearing Walsh's like a proper fell runner which gave me amazing traction on the ground, I should have used these for the Country to Capital last week.
It felt good to run some miles on a trail that were faster than canal boat. I wasn't pushing too hard and didn't feel as out of breath running up some of these hills as I did when walking some last weekend. The ground was pretty dry actually even though low down the fields were under water. It has been some time since I ran up a hill and it felt great.
Some runners commented at the end that they never spent so much of a race walking. For me it was the opposite, running 95%. I supposed 5% walking is a lot for some but most of my races have much more than that.
So - how about this for awkward.
I was running behind a girl, she was doing a great job of sweeping the hazards ahead of me and so I was happy to let the gates and trees hit her in the face (yep, no chivalry in fell running) and for her to slide on any slippy bits. A some point she turned around said to me
Hey, your that guy who posted on Facebook about that game you play where you try to guess a girls underwear when running
What is the response to that? "I have no idea what you mean dear now let me pass".
She could actually be talking about one of two things. There is a game that I am sure many a man plays when tired in an ultra where you try to guess "pants, thong or commando". It can help pass the time when things get hard.
However I think she was refering to my "confession" I made on a facebook group recently where I say sometimes in a race I am very tired, I play the same game but then sometimes realise that I have been playing it with another man who is wearing tights. On realising this I just shrug and think "no one else is around, no one needs to know, I'll just carry on playing".
Anyway, perhaps I need a therapist.
I got chatting to her (Jenni) who was at the talk I did last month about running and the mind. It's funny how every race I have done recently I have got to the stage where I wanted it to be over at some point and didn't enjoy the last few miles, even in 5k and 10k races. With about a mile to go I was still full of energy, the climbs and descents not whacking me as much as I would have thought.
The last half a mile is a nice steady down hill that you can get a good pace on. I have no idea what time i finished, about 1.20 ish or something I think which was faster than I thought I would I could do something that bumpy in my current state.
SO, more stuff like this please.
It's good advice. Also do not contradict the above advice on a train full of commuters, the British Transport Police are non-plussed by this. Also might lose something in the British translation. It should be "ARSE" not "ASS". Anyway.
This book captures the imagination somewhat with it's title and I ordered it without much thought. I thought it would be a book of ultra running tales similar to "Running though the wall" and "And then the vulture eats you" but it is in fact a beginners guide to running ultra marathons. The author describes.
"One average dude with limited athletic ability publicly writing a not-so-serious ultramarathon book for the rest of us"
It's certainly not one of the sterile and morbid guides to running you can get but quite a funny guide to running that most people would enjoy reading. Obviously being a super elite awesome ultra running machine that I am there is little I have to learn about the sport but this book suprised me with a combination of basic ultra running know-how and some pretty cool advice.
There is a lot of advice on how to survive the elements, hot and cold, wind and rain. There are tips on how to read the clouds and the animals to determine how long you have left to live on your run and some great general advice on first ultras and trails. I learned a bit on walking training and "speed-ups" during races. There are a lot of ideas here to try.
However I think this book goes to areas that others dare not go, the author has experimented heavily and can give you great tips on shaving certain areas to avoid chaffing (and maybe please others), how to get away with killing your annoying running buddy and.. erm.. "relieving" yourself on a run .
Jason Robillard is a man who has experimented on himself (in an ultra running sense of course) and is sharing all that he has learned, as he mentions at the start he is not on the heels of Kilian Jornet but more likely on the floor in a bar. However I reckon this serves very well as an intro to someone who might be doubting whether they are able to run an ultra. The laid back writing might be reassuring that anything is possible.
I recommend buying the book or at least following his facebook group which has lots of funny memes you can share with everyone. Read in addition to Relentless Forward Progress and you'll be invincible :)
This year was my fifth running of this race. I assume I'll be getting an MBE when I hit ten.
Instead of taking you through a tale of more beautiful mud splashing and gorgeous canal I thought I would just say to anyone thinking of doing an ultra for the first time why this one is the best.
I managed to convince a few of my friends to do this one as their first ultra. At the end I got comments that ranged from "Thanks for getting me to do this" through to "Are you James? I want to kick you in the shins for making my son do this".
But my shins are OK and I stand by my comment, I think the Country to Capital is a great intro to Ultra Running and here is why.
It was a blustery snowy night in the middle of the middle eastern desert in summer. Joe was still working hard in his workshop. Marie was in the lounge recalling a recently produced episode of strictly come stoning.
All of a sudden there was an almighty crash. Joe raced into the lounge to discover Marie looking pretty shaken.
"What happened" huffed Joe
"I have just had a visit from the angel Killian. He has inspired me to do an ultra marathon." "What the hell is an ultra marathon?"
I was stood at the Swincombe checkpoint as Terrence went through. He was looking in great spirits despite the fact that now he was running further and further away from the centre of the race. I can't imagine what he was thinking. We started at Streatley, drove them 100 miles away and told them to run back, now we were telling them to run away. Could it be another 100 miles? More than that? Who knows.
Terrence came through before Ed Catmur who was running at a blistering pace in the 100. I missed him and the leaders come through as I had to go back to the start and pick up the drop bags of the runners who were going to run up this way and take them onwards. I returned to Swincombe and waited around to see lots of the 100 runners coming in. I got a few interesting comments from them such as "you evil bastard". Clearly they had seen some of the runners on their journey up these hills.
"Leave your brain in your drop bag" - Rich Cranswick with probably the best advice for this race.
Continuing from Pewsey [read part 1 here] after James had left and a couple of things I forgot yesterday. Jackie had dropped at the 35 mile point looking quite crippled. She was so keen on doing this but had an illness in the weeks leading up to to and was not in good shape. She got a ride to Pewsey with Justin and was hobbling around pretty bad.
"You know we should set up a seperate company name to do these events; for insurance purposes"
James Elson said the first part of that sentence. He didn't explicitly mention the last three words but I suspect they were on his mind. James through Centurion Running has built a well earned reputation over the last two years of putting on immaculately organised 100 and 50 mile events. His events have become the standard in Ultra Running organisation in the UK, filling up quickly with runners of all abilities, being recongnised as qualifiers for Western States and UTMB and often having people travelling from abroad to run.
So I am still to this day a little suprised that James would agree to stage my idea of a race. One where the distance is unspecified. One where the exact route is not known until 5 minutes before the start. One that prides itself in being "The world's most pointless race".
That is the title of my next book (so don’t steal it). Obviously I need to get my current book out which should happen soon, I have contracts with the printers now.
Anyhoo this is to let you know about a talk I am giving next month which I hope you can attend. It is with mark Hines who is a bit of an explorer himself and writer of many ultra-marathon and nutrition books. I recommend reading them if you are interested in running in extreme climates or have an interest in the science bit.
Mark will be talking about injury with a focus on prevention which I think will be of great interest to all runners.
I will be presenting a story of what I have learned about the human brain while running. I have been running ultras for about 7 years now and when I got into it I didn’t appreciate that I will be participating in an intense and long term psychological study of one but that is what I have done. The past couple of years I have been reading and studying psychology and when reading through the text books I look at some phenomena and say “I remember that”.
I think anyone studying psychology should spend a summer running across the States as I reckon you learn more about the human brain while puking your guts up on the side of a road in New Mexico than you would in a lecture theatre.
The talk is going to be a combination of the stuff I have run and what I learned about my brain in the process, including;
Ultimately I hope to answer the question “Why I bother?”
Hope to see you there.
I get quite a few emails asking whether I’d like to test kit. On the face of it this sounds great. Free stuff, awesome. However I am keen to avoid becoming a cog in a marketing machine.
The latest things I got sent yesterday were a new type of shoe, released in spring that have a bent up toe and will guarantee to increase my speed. The second was some sort of electrode that I attach to my leg after a run that is supposed to increase the speed of my recovery. Both promise instant results for no work.
These sound less ridiculous than some of the other things I have received in the past. I got an offer to test some necklace that emits ions that is supposed to align my energy chakras or something. Disturbingly I got sent a link for some sort of torture device that is supposed to increase ones height. It looked exactly like a medieval rack.
I know running and runners and have read and learned a lot about how to run. I have discovered a truth that I have yet to see disproven and I would love for someone to try and discredit it. Here it is.
Once comfort is taken care of; never in the history of running has a bit of kit made anyone faster. Ever.
Sure wearing a pair of shorts made of sand paper will probably slow me down and you could say that some fancy new pair of shorts will make me faster. However once I find a pair of shorts that feel nice, a comfortable pair of shoes, a jacket than keeps off the rain and a bag that fits well and carries flapjack there is nowhere else to go in terms of buying kit.
Comfort includes some “function” aspects. For example a rain jacket that keeps you dry or some gloves that keep your hands warm. I know a lot of work goes into making products that allow us to run in the elements better. Making rain jackets lighter or sleeping bags smaller and such open up opportunities for me to run in places that maybe were inaccessible before. These are great and any genuine innovations should be commended.
Just don’t bullshit me that your compression guards are going to shave minutes off my marathon time. Or that your potions containing hornets honey will eliminate any discomfort with any run I ever do. Or that you have developed a new shoe in a lab that allows you to spring from the ground with more energy that what you hit it with. Give me evidence that it works in practice with actual athletes using it in actual races or piss off.
Here is a pie chart regarding what “matters” in an item of kit.
Why does this happen and why do we fall for it?
I love this quote here from Dave Grohl about the state of music. He said that the way he got good was by practicing with a load of friends for years and years. He said that for years and years he sucked and so did all his mates. However it was only after years of practice that they got any good.
But there is more to it than that. He actually enjoyed sucking. The simple pleasure of being with other people playing terrible music was satisfaction in itself. Had he never made it big as he has done he would still look back at that time he spent in that garage as time well spent. He enjoyed what he was doing for the sake of it, not because of the results of it. This is what is known as intrinsic motivation.
Take running then. What do you want from a piece of kit? Do you want something that will increase your intrinsic pleasure of running? Such as a water carrier that allows you to go further, or a GPS device that allows you to explore more adventurously or a coat that keeps you warm in cold weather? These are the things that I think are valuable. The things that allow me to increase my pleasure from running are the things I am likely to buy.
If someone said that a pair of shoes or a drink will guarantee me a 5% improvement on my time why would I take it? If someone just waved a magic wand over me that made me faster and then I got some great times would I be able to claim that victory as mine? Would it feel as good? I doubt it and I will never know anyway because none of this shit works.
So back to “why do we fall for it”? Running attracts a lot of people who like running but also a lot of people who don’t like running but like the results of running. There are 1000s of races now each which are sub divided into categories allowing us to claim “First Male 35-39” and such things. There are websites that list your speeds against the hypothetical fastest you can run allowing people to degrade themselves against each other.
This is not a bad thing and this is where most of the elites would be, however this extrinsic motivation is clear in many new comers to the sport who want the results without the work. They have been watching X Factor for too long and think the way to become a good musician is to get lucky in front of Simon Cowell rather than just work at it.
You can be results driven AND work hard, you can say you want to be the best and then strive to put in the effort but most of these products are aimed at people who want to claim they are better than others without putting in anything. There is so much crap you can buy now it is confusing to know what might help.
If you were concerned only with results and glory and someone said they could improve your speed with a shoe insert or a magic cream would you take it? Probably. And that’s how these companies gain traction. Simon Cowell and his ilk are destroying music and companies pedaling this shite are doing the same to running. However I don't think most people are motivated by unearned improvements.
So to bring this to conclusion I think we should warn people more about the charlatans who are out there promising great things to those who might not know better.
I would suggest you ask yourself before buying something "is this promsing to improve me independently of my own effort?" If the answer is yes then I would not buy it as I would get no satisfaction from the results it claims.
And it probably does not work anyway.
I suggest avoiding any product that sells itself using any of these key words;
Optimise, Eliminate, Scientifically proven, % increase, % decrease, % improvement, advanced, engineered, revolution, harnessing, synergise, harmonise.
If you want to sell me something, tell me your shorts are comfy and don't rip my balls off, or that you head lamps fit snuggly on my head and light the way, or that your bag allows me run run and carry stuff without shredding my back or that your watch will allow me to tell the time and I may buy.
You may remember Daniel Lieberman from such books as “Born to Run”, a book that many a runner (including myself) put down and immediately vowed to eat only turnips and run barefoot. That book was responsible for the sale of millions of pairs of latex foot gloves at £100+ a go.
Leiberman is an evolutionary biologist which means his area of study is about “why” humans are the way they are. What events happen and what adaptions we made such that now, 4.5bn years on from when the Earth was formed (or about 6000 years depending on what books you read) why humans seem to fair well at survival.
Now it is silly to suggest that somehow humans are at the top of some sort of evolutionary order (if you measure success by the amount of biomass a species occupies on earth then ants win by some margin). However what is clear that over the past few million years where humans speciated from common ancestors share with chimps and other apes “we” have adapted to life on earth in a way that is fairly unique. We live longer, have low infant mortality, spend relatively small amounts of the day ensuring we have enough calories and are unique in the animal kingdom in having offspring that are completely helpless until the age of about 18 years.
The main drive of the book is that while there were an number of things that we evolved to adapt to certain climate and food situations (such as bipedalism, larger brains, longer child weaning times, hands and so forth) that the change in our situations over the past 13000 has developed far faster than our bodies can adapt. We adapted to the dwindling forests over millions of years by walking out on the plains. We adapted to warming and cooling by very gradually growing hair and losing hair.
However there have been two changes over the past 13000 years that have changed human lives too fast for our genes to “keep up”. The first is the agricultural revolution of around 13k years ago and the second was the industrial revolution around 200 years ago.
Humans as well as all life on earth usually have to play a balancing act between getting enough calories out of the earth and then investing effort into reproduction. You can’t spend all time eating and then reproduce but then you can not reproduce and pay the heavy costs of child rearing without energy. This is a trade off that generally keeps animals on the edge of existence, keeps their bodies lean and mean and specialized in whatever environment they are currently in and to deal with whatever predators and prey are around.
Human hunter gatherers were estimated to run/walk around 15k per day in pursuit of this energy that allowed them to invest in reproduction however the invention of farming changed the foods we ate and reduced the energy issue. Farming was still an intense physical activity and so we still burned a lot but the insecurity around food was reduced massively as we started to eat more grains and roots.
Up until 200 years ago to survive you still had to work pretty hard. That changed during the industrial revolution where labour intensive tasks were replaced by machines and now in 2013 we end up doing most of our work at a computer, burning very few calories at all.
So here we are, a product of evolution that survived ice ages and deforestation but now has too much food and does too little work. The result of these are what Lieberman describes as “mismatch diseases”, not typical infectious diseases that we risk in nature but ones that are common now due to us spending so much more time sitting around and having an adundance of food. He argues that many diseases are not inevitable sign of aging (hunter gatherers lived long lives too) but the way we live now.
Cancers, diabetes, heart problems and mental health problems can all be explained to some extent by the massively different life we live now vs 200 years ago and 13000 years ago.
It is not a suggestion that we should all go back to the stone age and eat worms, lick rocks and wear vibrams but it is a great account of just what our bodies were designed for and what we are using (or misusing) them for nowadays.
There are a number of other books I would recommend that give an interesting account of the human body. Waterlogged as well as being an epic rant at the sports drink industry contains a lot of good stuff. I would also recommend reading "Anti-fragile" - not at all focused on running or the body but it gave me a different way of thinking about medicine and food.
But part of me kind of hopes for an apocalypse situation where maybe the seas rise or the forests dwindle. At that point only those who can adapt the best will be able to survive. I doubt those are the same people watching Dance Factor or getting on an elevator and pressing 1.
So my last couple of posts have been suggesting that some runners have gone soft and often look for excuses to bail. All that was behind me though as I headed to the start of the Greensands marathon on a miserable morning in pouring rain.
Half the people registered didn't turn up.
This was the smallest field at Greensands I have ever seen in my 5 years of running this amazing event. I suspect Dr Robert sold his soul to the weather God over the last few years to ensure the glorious days we have had in the previous 4. However last week it looks like he hit some debt ceiling and now good weather had been shut down.
As usual we badly sung Jerusalem which was typically British, just like the weather and my train journey here which involved a rail replacement bus. I find that a rail replacement bus is rather like a breakfast with a sausage replacement mushroom.
At the start a load of people commented on my shiny spanking new Salomon Sense Mantra shoes which they sent me to try. They looked very nice but I couldn't quite figure out the lacing until my friend Michael (who I used to work with and probably helped him to get involved with this stuff) showed me how to stuff the lace wire things in under a flap on the tongue. Genius idea. People looked and laughed at this idiot with all the gear and no idea. They are right, except that usually I don't have the gear.
Off we went, up the hill and then into the melee of people only this year since there was only half a field it felt quite spacious. It was a bit cold and had been pissing down all morning but I soon got a bit warmed up. There was the usual "dance of the puddle dodgers" which makes me laugh. With water falling from the sky, falling from the trees, soaking the ground and even leaking from our skin why do people try and avoid puddles? Perhaps they are from Surrey.
Anyhoo as I said earlier I was testing some shoes and I thought of myself as having a job to to. Would Salomon prefer me to prance around in them like Nuryev or to smash through obstacles like a tank with no brakes? Well I was not really feeling like a ballerina so I had no choice but to plough through.
Leith Hill is the first sharp climb of the race at about 10k (after about 3 miles of gradual climb which you don't really notice because you are too excited). You have to get there in 70 minutes. A chap asked me how long it took as he had forgot his watch and I said I don't know as I didn't forget not to wear a watch but my guess is that it was about an hour. Then another chap with a Garmin turned and said it was exactly an hour. Yes, £300 saved by me again. WIN.
The course is a beautiful (even in these conditions) and is an out and back which means you get to see everyone ahead and everyone behind you, which is kind of cool except you feel compelled to say "well done" to the other 100 people in the race.
The first person heading back in the other direction was Ed Catmur, super nice guy, winner of the North Downs 100 earlier this year and on his way to a super fast 3.03 finish, probably because he was rushing to his nieces birthday party. While winning the race he has to say "well done" to 100 other people. It must be exhausting.
He was miles ahead and then a steady stream of others came splashing down and the "Well Done, Well Done, Thank You, Looking Good, Hi Mum" went on for quite a while until the turn around and then back to say "Well Done" to all the people behind. I saw Dave Ross who had not got last at this stage and soon after saw Oli Sinclair who would end up coming second and winning a bottle of wine which he would never hear about as he left too soon and it was given to me and is being drunk as I write this blog. Oli I owe you a bottle of wine :)
A minor embarrassment when I stopped for a wee and just went at the side of the trail facing the direction I was running, but then a runner come back the other way while I was effectively flashing him. "Pardon me" I said with a smile. "I was going to say well done but you might take it the wrong way" he replied. I laughed and thought to myself that in this cold weather there is nothing to celebrate here. Finally it stopped and I was treated to a lovely section where I was just jogging along on my own.
This is what I crave sometimes. Any man who has been married a long time will tell you that once married he often has to ration certain pleasurable activities, probably most significantly one beginning with "S".
But here I was now actually doing it. I was enjoying the best silence I had done for a long time. There was no one around and I was just running along in the pouring rain on beautiful trails and loving it.
The shoes were actually working out really well. I was not slipping all over the place and they actually feel very comfortable and the laces had not come out at all. I don't currently have a preferred trail shoe so am pleased when one works. I don't actually have a preferred road shoe now that stupid Brooks discontinued the green silence and replaces them with "pureflow" which are pretty much the same except about 3 inches taller. Anyhoo, so far so good with these shoes.
I ran a little with Dan De Belder and we spoke about how some of our friends here have improved massively. "Makes me angry when people improve, why can't we all just get along in a perpetual state of mediocrity". Both of us want to improve though neither seemed arsed enough to work for it.
Not long after Justin overtook me looking pretty solid, he was another one who I might be slightly responsible for here. I promised him it would not be very muddy and it was quite muddy. It wasn't Rotherham though.
Justin passed me without much effort but a few miles later I caught him again as he had knackered his ankle. He is too new to this game to have thought of excuses for quitting so it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. Luckily we were only about 3 miles from the end.
Those three miles you are reacquainted with the stuff you forgot in the first three miles cos you were too excited and involves steps. By that point the deal is done and it's just a nice downhill mile or so to the end where Dr Robert greets you with a carrot. I ate the carrot, it was the first fruit I had in ages. The fry up later was better.
So that was the 5th time I have done Greensands and I never regret getting up early in the morning to get out here and do this. It is an amazing race and I really hope it rains for 6 months now so that I don't get too crowded when out for a jog :)
OK, I write a blog which is an honest reflection of what goes on in my mind when I DNFed. I put it out there that most DNFs are of a similar nature and then my blog gets hit more than it ever has done before. More than running into New York, more than finishing Badwater, more than my three Spartathlon finishes combined and more than this video.
I asked for comments and I got lots confirming my hypothesis that most DNFs are lazy and cowardly. There are a number of reasons that lead up to being in this mindset and I seek to find answers and strive for this to never happen again. To do this I need to train harder and read much more about what goes on in the head. I am really interested to discover all that it takes to maintain mental toughness to get through physical efforts like this. This is going to be a journey.
However I believe I have uncovered at least one element to the solution. I think there is at least one thing that can be changed fairly quickly and even without much effort on my part. The problem is, in fact, it's you lot. It's all my friends and all the people who read and comment on this blog and on facebook. You are all too "nice".
Before I alienate some people here, I LOVE ultra running and most of the ultra runners I know. My life has improved massively since I ran my first, mostly because of my ever expanding circle of friends who are really keen on challenging themselves, pushing limits and having adventures. I am thrilled that this is my hobby and you are my friends more so than being involved in anything else.
But I think we have become to regard our own group too highly in comparison with others (non-ultra runners) and also being too soft on each other when things go wrong. Not a day goes by when some patronising "WE ARE ULTRA RUNNERS WE ARE AWESOME" meme is posted on facebook instructing us that every run we do we are still lapping everyone on the couch or some such vomit inducing drivel. It seems there is a movement to seperate those who do ultra running as a hobby into "us and them". That's how war starts.
It gets worse. I think the worst consequence of this is that within this group we have created an environment where we are unduly soft on each other as if we are protecting ourselves from the "others". Like politicians all bungling together whenever someone is caught with his pants down in Clapham Common or yells Pleb at a Policeman we seem to all offer support and encouragement when perhaps a telling off is required.
Gemma (my wife) who was out at the Spartathlon supporting said that if she was there when I DNFed I probably wouldn't have. She was asleep and if she was there she would have said something like "just fucking grow a pair and get on with it" but instead I was listening to you lot telling me I am still awesome and I have already beaten this race before and only I know whether it is the right decision.
If those voices were saying things like "are you really that bad?" or "stop f****g moaning and get over the mountain" I might have carried on, I might have got out of it. I might have finished.
Obviously I can't blame you for the things I invent that you say in my own head. What goes on in my head is my responsibiliy and I need to manage that better.
So the first thing I am going to do is to encourage people to be harder on me with feedback on what I am doing. I know most facebook updates contain what are know as "Ulterior transactions" where you say one thing but want someone to read another. You say "I am terribly gutted by my DNF, I am weak, I am pathetic I am going to quit running". What is actually said in an ulterior way here is "please tell me I am awesome, that I am still better than you, that I can bask in the shadow of yesterdays glory". Those will be the first dozen comments on any such post. Why not just wade in there with "yeah, you are probably right. What are you going to do about it?"
There was an interesting story in the Spectator yesterday about how Doctors are feeling that they can not call a patient "Obese" because it might hurt thier feelings. There is no doubt that this will lead to more obesity. I believe the same to be true of DNFs, the more we pussy foot around as to the reasons people quit the more we will do it.
If you break a leg or get some kind of heat shock then yes, that is a valid reason for not finishing. You shouln't run yourself to death. But I ask others to ask others really what went on when they DNFed, stop being so bloody nice to each other. It's not helpful.
What do you think of this post? Tell me it's awesome.
I am going to try to convince you of something here. Let me start with a pie chart. According to a recent scan of my facebook friends and their reasons for not finishing a race this is an approximation.
However in my experience of running I suspect the story to be much more like this.
To finish the Spartathlon you need to arrive at the start line with two things. You need a fit body that is going to handle a 153 mile pounding over constantly rolling roads. You also need a running mind that will motivate you to finish the race and handle any expections that arise.
Then once you are in the race you need two things to work for you. You need that brain you have trained to excel at exception management and you need a bit of luck with the body.
So let me start at the beginning. I first ran the Spartathlon 4 years ago. I trained hard and only just finished. I was probably very physically capable, less mentally so and a fair bit of luck pulled me through.
The second time I was probably just as physically capable, much more mentally capable and managed to do better than before perhaps with less luck.
Last year I was perhaps at the peak of my mental ability, physically not so great but a bit of added luck saw me through.
This year I vowed to do many things to put myself in a better position to finish this race, perhaps in a faster time. I was going to clock up lots of miles, do some fast running, lose a load of weight and fall back in love with the feel of a good beasting outdoors and the glowing satisfaction that comes with it.
I did precisely none of that.
I felt less excited about this race than in the previous two. That was a warning sign. I have spent the last 6 months getting as many others involved and excited by this and think I managed a good job of that.
So off we strutted from the Acropolis (if you want the more descriptive versions of the race then read my other blogs). I thought I might run with James Elson for a bit but I could not keep up with what he was doing in the first 100 meters.
My calves and groin always feel a bit tight early on. I have learned not to worry too much about it and this year they were hurting less than in previous years. A bit of luck. Going into this race I had no injuries, no illnesses, no baggage issues that Paul Ali had, no equipment failures and I got plenty of sleep in the nights before. So that's 6 bits of luck in the first few miles.
I played the usual dodging game, trying to keep an eye out for where all my friends were. Keen on running my own race but it is always nice to have someone else to run with. Early on Mark Woolley and Rob Pinnington overtook and said that at current pace we were going to get to Corinth in about 8 hours. I was aiming for 8.30 and a confortable 8.30 at that but it was obvious this early on that I was struggling even with that pace. It has been obvious for a number of months now that I have become a slow runner. I used to be able to do ultras and still do some fast running but all the miles I have put in over the last 6 months have been crawling.
I got to the marathon point in around 4.10 and hoped that I could make it to the 50 in 8.30 but it wasn't going to happen. I had a few more walking breaks than I should have and just slowed down even more. Not to worry though, If I can get to Corinth before 9 I am in good shape to start chipping away at the cut-offs.
It was about 8.50 that I got there and I only stopped for about 5 minutes, a record I think for me.
The heat was easy this year, really easy. Last year I came into this point in a much worse state but a bit quicker. It was clearly a lack of training for this race.
I headed out to the “nice”” parts of the race and felt like I was pushing all the time, however I was doing that thing that I told every one not to do, I was obsessing about the time I had between checkpoints. It just wasn’t going up. I might make a minute here and there but despite my efforts I could not get the time back anymore. I was too slow to run this race.
I ran a lot of the section up to half way with Rob Pinnington, the team’s most improved player as I called him and still believe. He looked like he was having the time of his life. I didn’t let on that I was now on a different team to the one I was on last year.
How 80% of DNFs happen
I spoke to some runners after the race about a thing that I do (and was not surprised that others do it too, even elites) when a race is not going so well or you are feeling low. It’s the DNF snowball, and it can take hold of weak minds and put them out of races. It goes a bit like this.
You are suffering, which is normal for a race like this. Perhaps you have not gone as fast as you would have liked or maybe things are hurting more or maybe people you know you should be ahead of are well ahead of you. The first stage is that you start to entertain the possibility of not finishing.
It is well known that as soon as something is regarded as possible it becomes more probable, like the 4 minute mile or climbing Everest. It works the other way too, as soon as you start thinking bad things could happen then bad things are more probable.
So the thought enters your head, then the second stage starts, trying to answer the question “How would I explain this to others”?
Well obviously we only run for ourselves and our own personal glory and blah blah blah, bullshit, at this stage you feel the oppressive gaze of everyone you know staring at you and looking for answers. Why did he not finish? What was the reason? It is pretty narcissistic to believe that everyone is looking at you but that is certainly how it feels and what motivates us at times like this (I believe this to be true of everyone with a two exceptions, ).
So what do I say? What conversation can I have with the people I will see finish, with people at work, with people on forums, with Gemma, with family, with some of the random people who email me about how to run this race. What can I tell them, what will they buy? That is the key, it stops becoming about what is actually happening and more about what you can actually get away with in terms of excuses.
I now become a salesman. The problem is everyone I know knows how much I adore this race and so the job becomes more difficult than selling Gay Pride to a Daily Mail reader. But the conversations have started, I am working on my pitch, hypothetically putting it to friends and acquaintances and listening to their feedback. The problem is that everyone is so nice that I feel justified in what I am thinking “Oh well it was a great effort anyway”, “You still finished 3 times, this year was not your year” and “you have nothing to prove to anyone”. There was only one voice that told me to stop being such a pussy and get on with it, but my brain had descended into an oppressive democracy by that point.
So, stage three – looking for stuff. The thought has been planted, I have worked on my pitch to bail and now I just need to find the excuses on this road. Anything will do. Falling down a pot hole, puking up, getting lost, a slight niggle. I am clutching at anything here.
When I mentioned earlier that I was on a different side to what I was last year this is what I meant. Last year loads of things hit me. The heat was immense, 10 degrees more than here. My nipple exploded at 10 miles. I was sick at 50. I was rolling around in agony at cramp at 55. Fortunately for me I was on team Finish last year and all of these things just got batted away. Everything that came my way I was just finding a way to get through it, when I lay in the road cramping the only thing on my mind then was getting myself back up so that I could carry on running.
Now look at me, I am welcoming any problems with open arms, even a Jehovah’s Witness would feel a bit creeped out by how readily I would let something in. The problem now was, there was nothing going wrong at all. These were perfect conditions. My pace was slow but my body was fine, I had a couple of massaged which preserved my legs. I had no sickness, I had no hydration problems, my nipples were fine, I had no chaffing, no stomach problems. I had the most beautiful sleep in the two days I had ever had going into this race. I was running the best race in the world.
The tumbleweed rolling across the front door of my DNF excuses was annoying, I need a reason to get out of this race and I just can’t find one, nothing is coming in. I would take anything, falling down a pot hole, a back spasm, perhaps one of these cars would kindly knock me into a ravine or perhaps one of these dogs could trip me over.
I was running all the time, even uphill. There was nothing wrong with me except I was going frustratingly slow. The times at the cut offs were closing in a little but not nearly enough for me to get pulled out. I was going to make it to the mountain in lots of time however at around 95 I made the decision, I am going as far as base camp and then that’s it I am done.
The next day when I spoke to Martin Illot he said to me that if I got over the mountain then I could have walked the rest and would have finished. I knew this and didn’t really appreciate it being said out loud. Assuming I had no major problems (which was quite likely as I had no major problems in the first 100 miles) then I could have plodded it home.
I would love to be in a position where I could say that I was pulled off the mountain with Hypothermia, or that I got a nasty shin splint or twisted ankle coming off the mountain which reduced me to a crawl, or that I puked so much that my body went into shock and I was taken home in an ambulance. The reason for my DNF somewhat less glorious than that.
Back to the original pie chart I was hoping to change your mind on from the start. I don’t think I am unique at all in what happened here though I rarely see something like this written. I am going to put it out there that 80% of DNFs happen in a similar fashion to what I have described. I am going to call this large segment of the pie chart “lazy cowardice”.
The reason I didn’t carry on was because the thought of doing the 53 miles that remained was just too hard. I quit because what lay ahead felt too hard. That is it.
I feel pretty bad about how things went but I hope this is a much needed wake up call for me to do some things different. Like I said you need to be in a good physical and mental shape at the start of this race and then to have the physical luck and mental management to get through it. I didn’t have the physical this year as much as in previous years and no doubt that affected my mental management of the race. I had plenty of luck though.
SO in summary I got what I deserved. The Spartathlon just spat me out this year, it tried not to but I gave it no choice. I didn't deserve my place in it this year.
It was great being part of the team. First of all huge thanks to Buff for providing us with lots of Buffs which I believe all got used in the race.
Big thanks to Ultramarathonrunningstore for supplying us with the T Shirts which looked amazing and were the envy of everyone there.
Another huge thanks to Mark Howlett who designed the British Team logo. I reckon that is going to be with us for a long time.
I was really pleased to see Pat Robbins do what he always does, racing from the back and being super confident in his abilities to just work his way through the field. I’ve been badgering him for years to have a go at this race and he absolutely smashed it.
Robbie came here with an ambitious target which didn’t quite work out but his respect for the race and for the sport saw him suffer some harsh times with great resilience and he still produced a fantastic time. I expect to see him back here a number of times over the next decade and I expect to see him stepping onto a podium sometime soon too.
James Elson, so pleased you came back to finish what you started last year. I don’t think there was any difference between us last year except that one mistake you made leaving Nemea. I can only imagine how much it must have hurt for those 12 months but now you can rest on that amazing result.
Steve Scott and Jonny Hall, I don’t really know you guys but blimey were you in great spirits all the way round. I had rarely seen such great spirit in the last 30 miles of that race but you guys just tore it up. Well done to you and it’s going to be great catching up with you guys after this.
Mark Woolley, first of all I’d be interested in your opinion more than anyone else about this race report, such is my respect for you as a runner. You looked comfortable throughout, the way it should be done.
Paul Ali – never doubted you would finish this first time. Your approach to racing is spot on.
And for those who did not finish, there are a few I want to mention.
Firstly Mimi, who did not make it to the end this time. When I saw her with about 20 miles to go she looked like someone possessed with the desire to finish this whatever the cost yet struggling to control her mutinous body. I have so much respect and admiration for Mimi, what she attempts (and almost always succeeds at) is genuinely on the edge of what is humanly possible. The sport of ultra running is contaminated with people claiming they have completed “THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST RACES” and dining out of that at the expense of those who do not know better. Mimi does not take things on without massive risks and this was one of those occasions where it didn’t quite work out. I think we can all learn a lot from Mimi as to how to go about this kind of stuff.
Drew and Claire, you guys make me laugh. Both of you are ready to finish this and again had another unlucky year. Lets spend the next year getting ridiculously fit so that when it comes round again we’ll be ready to smash it.
I don’t know everyone well enough to make any judgements of their performance but I will single out two more. I hope they don’t mind.
Lindley, fucking hell you have the balls and the brain for this. Dare I say not quite the body yet but that will come if you carry on as you are. That was a huge improvement from last year and to get to 110k, almost half way was incredible. The day you get over the mountain will be the day you finish because all that is required from there is the mind to stick to the job and a great big pair of balls, none of which I had this year.
Rob Pinnington – you are going to finish this next year. Just carry on as you are. Your improvement over the last 12 months has been immense. Whatever you have been doing in that time then just do it again and come September you’ll be quick enough to get to the mountain. It’s a shame you were not around there this year as I have no doubt you’d have told be to get off my arse and get over the mountain and not give in like a coward.
Call for comments
OK so I don’t want anyone commenting on this blog with words like “well done anyway” and “you still did great getting that far” and “great post – please visit our spam site with a load of links to fake watches”.
I would however be really interested in hearing what you think about my DNF and whether you have ever done anything like this. I think most DNFs are for this reason. What do you think?
 Read “Six degrees of Empathy” by Simon Baron Cohen for more on this
Now I'm no pussy, but when a field of 30 cows start charging at you down a hill you have to get out of there quickly right? I saw a few of them look interested in my confused look as I tried to find a path in a field. It does not look like I have to climb this gate but this fairly macro map just has a straight line and running in a straight line leads me to this gate. I start to head back and the cows (I later found out they were called "Bullocks" which I think means teenage boy cows") all started to face me. One started to walk towards me, then another and another. One broke into a run, then another and then like sheep (just to confuse the situation) they all started running at me.
I know people say they will only bother you if you have a dog or they have calves blah blah but I felt like I had no choice but to leg it over the gate that I knew was the wrong way and then watch helplessly as these animals assembled against the gate and looked menacingly at me. I looked at these delicious hulks of rump and sirloin steak and asked myself "what have I ever done to them?"
Actually I am a bit of a pussy.
Across the top of the field I saw a couple of runners heading in a different direction to what I did, a simple right turn I missed and they seemed to follow quite easily. In normal circumstances I might be a little annoyed at losing some time and losing a couple of places in a race, but that was not the issue here. I was NOT in the race, I was supposed to be out ahead of all these guys marking the route with glow sticks. Shit. My only hope was that the sun would not set tonight.
I was out helping out a friend in his first go at organising an ultramarathon. He mentioned almost a year ago about wanting to put on a 100k race along one of the most beautiful sections of countryside in England. I certainly could not argue with that, the small sections I ran were pretty stunning. It was amazing to see just how much work Matt had put into this race, organising volunteers, getting the T-shirts made, recceing the route, getting permissions, getting maps, buying food and no doubt answering all the inane questions that come with organising a race such as "what flavour crisps will you have" and "will there be any psychotic cows on the route?" I was really keen to help and for the race to be a success.
It started well, despite the weather. It had been raining all week and rained at the start for the early starters who may take upto 15 hours to complete the 100k. Matt wanted to be as inclusive as possible and so had two starts, about 20 heading off at 7.15 and then another 70 or so at 9.15. This start would have been ealier had the train companies not decided at the last minute to put on enginieering works making it difficult for many to get to the start. I was stationed at the first checkpoint about 12 miles in and then was "floating" for the rest of the race.
The runners came through the 12 mile point in good spirits, only one had got significantly lost and no one was really pushing the cut-offs at that stage. Sam Robson was leading at that stage and looking comfortable. The checkpoint captain was Bruce Wright who was a keen ultra runner and who's first ultra was the same as mine, the old Tring to Town race. We felt like old timers on the ultra scene. We ended up waiting for quite a while as we thought there were still three runners to come in but discovered that these hadn't actually started so we were fine to pack up. We'd heard that the sweeper had not shown up so Matt has to use his right hand man to sweep up which put him in a bit of a spot. I said I was happy to sweep some of the course if needed and he said that I could put glowsticks out for the last 12 miles.
Oh dear, this was a big responsibility, more than pouring cups of coke and repeatedly saying "you are doing really well"
We went to the 50 mile point where there is a really nice pub serving really nice food. The course was not as fast as people expected and although the CP was there from 2 is was not until 5 that the first runners came through. Sam had stomach problems and had dropped back a bit but was determined to finish. I left at 6 to give me about 2 hours to cover the 12 miles I needed to in glow sticks. About 6 runners went ahead who were likely to finish comfortaly in the light.
The first couple of miles went well, along and out of the lovely little villiage of Stoke-By-Nayland. It was as soon as I hit a ploughed field and was not sure on a direction to take. If I were in the race I would have taken the path where there was an arrow pointing (not for the SVP but for another path). I thought it would be a god idea to at least eliminate the possibility that the gate opposite the field was the correct direction. That's when the bullocks charged.
It didn't help that when texting my wife I said that I had been been chased out of a field by a load of boys. Damn autocorrect. Not sure what she would have thought on first reading of that message. I did think of the embarrasment of maybe having to be rescued from a field of cows. At least this didn't happen.
I thought it would be quite a funny story that the guy who was only supposed to put out 12 miles worth of glow sticks would be the one to need rescuing. I managed to man up a bit and re-enter the field, clapping loudly and marching towards the delicious livestock. They retreated quite happiliy and I was on my way, rejoining the other runners.
I soon caught up with Sam who was still running strong. It felt novel finding it easy to overtake anyone in the race. This section I heard contained a few more hills that most others. The overall route is pretty flat. I decided to just jog along with Sam to the end. Unfortunately I was now way behind where I thought I would be, I spent an hour wandering around those fields and getting trapped by cows so it was getting dark already. Not only that but I discovered that I must have dropped a lot of glow sticks as I suddenly only had a few left. I was going to run out by the next CP which was about 5 miles to go.
I thought about rationing them but I thought about how the runners would deal with these psychologically. By putting glow sticks down I have set an expectation that there will be some. There are two types of glow stick/marker. One is to tell you the correct direction and should be placed where there might be some doubt such as a junction or across a field. The second type is the "reassurance" glowstick which does not come at a turning but along a straight bit just to reassure that runners are going the right way. I figured it would be best to just use up most of the glow sticks on this section and warn runners that there would be none on the next and hopefully that would be easy to navigate as it is all on the river.
The section seemed longer than the 7 miles stated and it was dark by the time we got there. I attached a glow stick to a fence and with a big jolt through my arm it confirmed that it was an electric fence.
Getting chased by cows and getting electrocuted, this is turning out to be quite an eventful little run.
I arrived at the last CP and said there was no point me going on as I had no sticks left and instead headed to the finish to see Matt and the runners come through. Sam didn't take long at all on that section which apparently was quite hard to navigate. I saw a number of other runners finish too including Richard Cranswick who will be running a self supported LEJOG run next year.
It was great to see that the event went well and that Matt was keen to learn any lessons he could about organising events to make the event even better next year. From what I heard from all the runners it was very well organised, well stocked check points, lovely scenery, not too hilly, really friendly people and not too difficult to navigate.
Oh and the T Shirt is really good.