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Robbie Britton | Robbie


Evesham 45, some “wild camping” and a lot of sheep.

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With the World 24 Hour Championships in 3 weeks time in Holland I needed a last long run before the big day and I thought 21st April would be a good day. I couldn’t really find any events on that weekend of marathon distance (God knows why?) so went for the 45 mile Evesham Ultra in the lovely Cotswolds run by Cotswolds Running.

After arriving in Evesham on the Saturday night and practically sleeping in someone’s garden near the start, I then pinched a free breakfast at the hotel (I think the breakfast was solely for runners staying at the hotel but i was staying just outside) and got to the start line in my Team Centurion top and La Sportiva Raptors, thinking that the tough, dry, rocky trails underfoot would warrant a tough mountain shoe more then usual.

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Perth 50k, Craig Charles and the Anglo Celtic Plate

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Scotland, land of Haggis, mountains and cold weather (http://www.mydestination.com/users/mrcastro/bbb#tab) and the Perth 50k race and a 100k race that would host the Anglo-Celtic Plate this year. It was also going to be the setting for the Team GB 24 World Champs strategy meeting and a chance for a couple of us to prove fitness.

I have the joy of flying up, after bussing it up to Scotland last time, and I get to Perth and bump into Dave Mitchinson at the train station, who’s running the 100k for England and has never gone over 50k before. Fair play, I thought, although he didn’t mention his 2:18 marathon that led to this selection, but more about Dave later.
Meeting up with the rest of the team was fantastic, not only did we have familiar faces like Commonwealth Champ John Pares, Grand Union Canal Race monster Paddy Robbins, Bislet 24hr winner and Hezbollah Mountain Biker Steve Holyoak and Barcelona 24hr chum Matt Moroz, but there was also our medal winning and record breaking women’s team! Emily Gelder, Sharon Law, Debbie Consani-Martin and Karen Hathaway are a great bunch and have countless Uk Champs, Grand Union Canal, 100 mile and 24 hr wins between them.

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Epic on the Thames Path and a bit of sprinting in Scotland.

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After an epic weekend at the Thames Path 102, which saw great efforts by some first time 100 runners, course flooding, a near flawless effort by Centurion Running to stage another great race and victory for “an overweight alcoholic” (Martin Bacon’s words, not mine, I think he looked quite svelte crossing the line and picking up his beer) and Debs Martin-Consani, it is nearly race time for me and I am itching to get going, the TP runners really inspiring me in tough conditions!

I believe the Thames Path was much tougher than the conditions I had to run in last year, mainly due to the difficult ground underfoot. The cold weather wasn’t too bad for running, a little chilly for crewing though. I felt honoured to be able to hand out some very well deserved medals and hard earned buckles at the end of the race and most people thought I was James Elson anyway. They must have thought you got better looking after a couple of nights without sleep?  Read More

Is the Kenyan Athletics doping scandal just professional sport’s trueface?

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So now Moses Kiptanui has come forward and claimed that doping is rife in Kenyan athletics, to add to the claims and positive tests in the last six months. Whilst it is a horrible thought, it is nothing new, Kiptanuin was complaining about doping back 2003 after Bernard Lagat’s failed tests (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/athletics/3084110.stm). So why does it make me feel a little sick to the stomach and why does it make me feel like we are on the edge of a much bigger story?

Back in 1960 Abebe Bekila won, barefoot, on the cobbled streets of Rome. He won the Olympic Marathon without even the advantage of wearing shoes (whether or not this is an advantage is another debate altogether), but it was a significant act that would have long felt repercussions in distance racing, East Africa was awoken and marathon runners everywhere would live to rue the day.

Many simply explain the rise in Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners as “genetics”, saying “oh they are simply born a lot better than the rest of us”, but this is not the case. A very interesting book by Matthew Syed, titled Bounce, is a review of this belief and advocates that although genetics may pay a part in some sports (my NBA career was over before it even started), it is the case that purposeful practice and competitive, high level practice environments that create world class athletes, nobody is born a world champion.

Just being Kenyan doesn’t make you a great marathon runner, just ask my mate Alex Goodenough, whilst a top lad and decent rugby player, he won’t beat me over 26.2 miles, let alone Wilson Kipsang. It is Syed’s and other’s opinion that 10,000 hours of quality practice make a world class athlete and many Kenyan runners in the Iten area of the Rift Valley get these hours from an early age, running to and from school, training against quality opposition, receiving the high level of coaching now in the region as soon as their potential is seen. Runners in Iten are not all going to be world champions but many will earn a living as professional athletes or obtain college educations that would otherwise be completely unobtainable for a young villager in the Rift Valley ( which just so happens to be at a very good altitude for distance running). If you like sports you probably want to check this Bo Jackson agent baseball speech

In my humble opinion it is often poverty that is a driving factor in creating world class athletes are they are that more willing to put in the hours of quality practice as there is often no other way out, no more luxurious lifestyle. Look at basketball in Harlem, sprinting in Jamaica, football in Brazil, rugby in the Pacific islands. You have seen your forefathers achieve success and you know it is possible, then you put in the effort. It is not always the case but it does explain the large concentration in certain areas. If it were genetics then why do we not see any Eritrean marathon champions? Practice, purposeful high level practice and lots of it.

But what do recent doping allegations in Kenyan athletics mean? It means money and professionalism are once again corrupting sport and this, i believe unfortunately, will always be the case, I really think people should now focus on different ways of entertainment like slotzo.com games online since in other physical sports some athletes will always find a way to cheat (Found this great blackjack strategy guide online). As long as there is money to be made people would look at shortcuts and it is a real shame as there are athletes out there who stay clean and see dirty athletes take the prizes and face the biggest challenge yet, do I follow the immoral trail and make a living or am I true to my sport? If you are running for the money, for the fame, for the lifelong security the prizes can mean for your family then that is an easy decision right? You cheat like everyone else and get what you entered the sport to win, also you may be intested on how professional perform based on these fantasy basketball rankings

That is why I am happy to be an ultra marathon runner. Running a 100 mile race won’t pay the bills (it merely creates them), it won’t provide fame, except amongst fellow nutcases and, I hope, for this reason it also won’t attract the doping and the cheats. Part of me still lacks faith in the human condition and I have heard stories of athletes cutting corners and cheating themselves, but I hope they feel empty at night as it is only yourself who you are cheating. It just drives me to that finish line a little quicker, makes me train a little harder.

I’ll keep training and working towards those 10,000 hours and I hope, like many hope about Kenyan Athletics, that I never have to hear a dark truth about my sport, but if I do hear the stories start I won’t hide my head in the sand, Kenyan athletics needs to stand up and admit it’s problems, take a lesson from Lance, it’ll catch you in the end. Doping is a huge part of modern day athletics and it up to each individual to make their own stand.

Pilgrims Challenge 2013

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Revenge, a dish best served cold apparently. So a February race on the North Downs
Way that was possibly one of my worst ever experiences first time round, a knee 
injury causing me to walk the last 13 miles and finish long after dark.

To say I've matured as an ultra runner from 2009 would be an understatement but 
also XNRG, the Pilgrim Challenge organisers, have gone from strength to strength 
and they offer some of the best value for money and the most fun for a messy 
weekend in the country.

66 miles over 2 days along nice, muddy, hilly trails, all leaning slightly to the 
south and heading over some of my favourite hills including the meaty Box Hill 
with its stepping stones and steep steps! Team 9bar were there in force with 
Justin Montague (last year's winner) and myself, as well as Liz and Alan armed 
with a bucket full of healthy goodness! Daryl Carter (2012 Brecon Beacons Ultra), 
Craig Stewart (2011 GB 100k champ) and Sondre Amdahl (2012 Ultima Frontera 83k 
winner) all lined up at the start and we were good to go!

Justin and I at the start with Daryl Carter (30) and Danny Kendall to the right
The starting pace was electric, led by Sondre, it was all I could do to  hang on 
for dear life but I was happy to be pushing myself to such a level, chucking in 
miles well below 7 minutes off road, on hills and through mud. A lead pack soon 
emerged, then reduced to the three of us and before long Sondre and Danny Kendall 
were off into the distance. Haribo and 9bars at the checkpoints kept me going but 
my pace definately dropped as the course went on. I just hoped the front two 
hadn't kept it up I'd have no chance on day 2! I managed to hang on for a 3rd 
place on day 1 in about 4:21, about 20 minutes behind the leader and a few 
minutes ahead of Craig.

After some showers that were so good that they set the fire alarm off, a spot of 
rugby and a carbo loading pasta meal, there was a talk by Andy Mouncey, a top end 
endurance athlete and engaging public speaker and I won a pair of wigwam socks 
which were rather nice to have on my feet for the Sunday. They fitted nicely in 
my new La Sportiva Raptors, a comfortable off-road shoe with a good level of 
cushioning and excellent grip. Not one blister from the weekend.

Then we all settled down into the hall ready for our staggered starts in the 
morning, walkers at 7, elite runners at 9. The weather was looking fine, chilly 
and windy on the Sunday and we the wind was coming directly at us but at the 
start it was the same again when Sondre and myself pushed the pace at the front, 
both of us knowing we had to make up some time to have any chance of winning. 
Danny knew he just had to mark the front runners and Craig wasn't letting anyone 
sneak away today, so the 4 of us went off.

At the first large downhill I decided that I had to try and make a break for it 
and managed to open up a nice, 50-100m break between myself and 2nd by the base 
of the hill. I hoped I could keep a study pace and keep ahead, or at least tire 
the others out when they tried to catch me. 
A lovely plan. In reality I was reeled in and spat out the back like a break away 
rider in the Tour de France, allowing me to see Danny and Sondre disappear rapidly 
up a hill, forcing me to throw caution to the wind and promptly get lost. Serves 
me right for sprinting down another hill...

After choosing to add a couple of extra miles on around one of the small towns on 
the route, I probably confused Craig a little by turning up behind him after the 
last check and telling him that "Henrik was coming!" I then sprinting off like 
a man possessed. With a couple of miles to go I saw Danny and Sondre up ahead, 
about 500m away, and like an excitable dog chasing a car it has no chance of 
catching, I was off!

We came to the nice grassy finishing stretch and the two leaders were totally 
unaware of the mad man chasing them at full pelt in an attempt to change nothing, 
they both had big day 1 leads.  I managed to finishing about 5 seconds after them 
and collapse to the ground, confident that whilst my effort was relatively 
pointless, I  would never have it any other way. Every Ultra marathon needs a 
sprint finish..
Team 9bar were there and XNRG's Neil offered a medal and 
then I was left to recover on the finish line, not before shouting "has anyone 
got a 9bar?" to keep the sponsors happy!

Pop up flags are all the rage these days,I’m in a pile on the floor just next to these ones.
So after just over 9 hours of running I was happy. Happy I'd come back and run 
the whole course, happy that my fitness was at a pleasant level after Barcelona 
and happy in the knowledge I will just keep getting quicker. Next race in Perth, 
50k, sub 4 hours please, maybe another sprint finish? 

Barcelona 24hr Race…Finally.

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Barcelona, the world famous pickpocket hotspot, subject of epic tunes ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj9sMxrFHZs), the slowest builders known to humanity (sorry Dad, not you, the chaps on the Sagrada Familia) and a rather good Olympics in 1992. What better place to run a 24 hour race in December to attempt the 230km qualifying mark for next year’s 24hr World Championships; also a nice excuse to wear a lovely England vest again. I couldn’t think of anything better to do on 15th December, my birthday… what kind of monster had I become?
After the bright idea of a 6.30a.m. flight from Stanstead (which meant getting up at 3 in the morning!), Mick and I arrived in Barcelona on  Friday morning and settled into our apartment, the highlight of which was a shower made to measure for me and about a foot too short for Mick! Maybe it was Lionel Messi’s old flat in the El Ravel district, famous for being a red light district of Barcelona. That is what you get when your mother books the apartment as a birthday present…what kind of man do you think I am?
Some bland tuna and pasta (described by Mick as the worst meal he’d ever had), an early night and Saturday morning we were off to the track around which I would dawdle for 24hours from 12 midday. The differences from Tooting Bec were slight, a rather sunnier day in December in Spain, a more pleasant approach journey that avoided Streatham and everyone spoke in a funny language, of which I only have a basic grasping that mainly involves the language needed to sell alcoholic beverages to drunkards. My friend Iria had taught me a rather unpleasant way to ask people to move but I didn’t want to make too many enemies on the way round, I might need their help later on!

I recce’d the course online. I didn’t want last year’s winner, Kai Herzog, having too much of an advantage with the route.

 At the track I started to see some familiar faces, the formidable Garfield Jones, the rather pleasant Matt Moroz, who’d been at UTMB and Tooting Bec, Mr. John Pares, GB 24hr hero and the new face of Richard Brown, manager for the GB 24hr squad who had been here to help Lizzy Hawker (who unfortunately had to withdraw with a niggly injury) and myself run around the track. Richard is a fantastic runner and race walker who held the JOGLE record, going quicker than most that cycle the distance. With my beautiful assistant Micky Seymour, the lovely Anne and the experience of Richard I really had no excuse but to run the 230km required of me. I was set a steady pace by Richard: to run the 230km I just had to run each 436m later in 2 minutes 30 and keep that up all night long. I had my usual stacks of food, including malt loaf, cheese, flapjacks, crisps and some sandwiches. I had a ban on sugar until the 12 hour mark but I knew my faithful jelly meerkats were there, waiting for me to gobble their little heads off. BRING ON 12 HOURS!

It was a pretty big event for 24hrs and the 5 lanes inside of us had all kinds of different races and relays going on, from 5k up to 6 hour races. The 12 hour racers had been bundled in with us, just to mess with the heads of anyone trying to pace to win. I would be doing my best to ignore what anyone else was doing, I was just going to crack on and do what I needed. We all bundled to the start, the briefing “run around in circles, turn around after every 3 hours” was as complex as ever and we were off.
Turn right, turn right, turn right, turn right. The race briefing was complex.
John and Matt were flying round at the start but I was determined to stick to my 2:30 laps and put a little break in at each hour, which was lucky as I felt like crap. The first 3 or 4 hours were the worst I’ve ever felt in a race, I had a headache, I felt lethargic and had stomach issues. I thought to myself “you’re going to waste everyone’s time coming out here, all this way, and you’re falling apart already. Maybe I just wasn’t made for 24hr racing after all”. I decided to push on, gobble some painkillers for my head and keep plodding on at my required pace. I thought I might as well make sure I got to 6 hours on target and see how I feel. 24 hours seemed like a really long way off at this point, as did 18 hours, but I kept moving in the right direction, eating and drinking. I reckon that my lack of sleep on the Thursday had affected me more than I had thought and my body was none too happy. I kept a smiling face on for everyone else, and was pleased to see John and Matt still pushing on strong through the night. At least we were having a laugh about me having to pee every other lap, I thought I’d developed diabetes or something? What was going on?
When we were getting nearer and nearer to 12 hours I was feeling a lot better and I needed the psychological boost of that half way mark. Home straight now and still on target (Insert distance here). Izzy Knox was having a blinding run in the 12 hour race, although also blighted by some pleasant vomiting and the happiest disposition I have ever seen in a running race (please read my sarcasm here, face like thunder is appropriate). After she was 1st lady and 2nd overall (and still unhappy about a MAN having the cheek to beat her) I expected a Sir Steve Redgrave quote of “If you see me near a track again, please shoot me”. It was a fantastic effort though, I’m sure she’ll be back to defend her title next year….
As ever the halfway point was a nice feeling and I was happy that I was feeling better and still on track (no pun intended). I had banked as many miles as Matt and John but I was hoping my steady pacing would see me good in the end. I was used to finishing strong in 100 mile races but hadn’t transferred this to 24hrs races yet, limping and crawling the last few hours in Basel and Tooting Bec earlier this year. I wanted to finish at pace this time, every race needs a sprint finish, this event needed a sprint from 20 hours to try and make it a little exciting!
The race went on however and I was trying to eat anything I could. Richard was insistent on getting as much food in me as possible and was adding little extras to everything I was to eat, especially lots of cake. I’ll have some peaches, “add some cake”, I’ll have a coffee “add some cake”, I’ll have some soya milk (a wonderful addition to my race diet) “add some cake”, I’ll have some cake “add some cake”. I never want to see another cake for the rest of my life, but I did get enough food in thanks to Richard’s skills as a feeder and Mick sneaking me some jelly meerkats when he wasn’t looking and eating some of the things that I didn’t want to eat.
On I plodded and it was rather nice to see Matt go through his first ever 100 miles in under 16 hours (I was a little happy he didn’t beat my PB) and he was still going real strong. He’d previously only clocked 93 miles in a 24 hour race but was guilty of sleeping and not pushing himself as much as he could. John, Richard and I then made it our mission to keep pushing and dragging him round the track, sometimes a lot easier than others, but he was smiling and moving quickly in those ungainly Hoka shoes, although you can find other shoes in great sites online like shoeadviser.com. One benefit of the Hoka shoes was that if Matt and I were jogging round together people moved out of the way. It sounded like some kind of industrial machine stomping round the course and none of the Spaniards wanted to take their chances! Matt had the joy of every step being a PB, a nice way to think of a race and something I hadn’t been able to do since Grand Union seeing as there were not many longer races. Hopefully I would get a little taste of that today to go with the 10k PB I’d set a couple of weeks before the race, equally important.
18-20 hours in is getting towards the business end of a 24 hour race and I was happy to be still plodding round at about the same pace I’d started at. I knew myself that if I made it to 20 hours with 21 hours with 200k done then I would be fine for the distance. For once I knew I had a strong finish coming and that I could up from 9k an hour to 10k or more without too much worry. Unfortunately Mick and Richard were not as confident and unnerved by my calm attitude at this point. 30k in 3 hours, it’ll be fine chaps. So I plodded on. John wasn’t having the best of times at this point but Matt was still going round and the 230km mark, an aim for the future at the start of the race, was his to lose and we all knew this. I think I even shouted at Matt when he stopped for a pee, but he knew we had his interests at heart. Every time I jogged past I got Matt to tag along and churn out some more laps. I think both Matt and I gained a lot of the team aspect of this race and we started a “GB Train” which was Matt, John and I powering along lane 5, shouting “TRACK” and “Gracias” to anyone who hadn’t heard Matt’s almighty Hokas pounding the surface. I have always played team sports and taken great comfort in a shared struggle so this was great fun and helped all of us put a few extra miles on without too much effort. We even dared to talk about how nice it would be to get a GB train going at the World Championships in May next year… hopefully we hadn’t spoken too soon.
It wasn’t until the last few laps that I started to get a little emotional, probably for a number of reasons. Firstly I was so glad that I was finally finishing strong in a 24hr race, like I do in any other distance I run, and I wasn’t letting down the people who had shown faith in me over this year. My last 12 laps were my fastest 12 laps of the 24 hour period and John and Matt had to take it in turns to do a lap or two with me. My body felt great and I pushed so much on my 231km lap that no one was anywhere near me and I reckon I could have kept up with the last lap of the 10k race (I was probably crawling round at an excruciatingly slow pace but I felt like I was flying round like a disturbed racing pigeon).
Like a real man the tears started trying to force their way out and I imagine I sounded like I was in some kind of pain/pleasure mix as I was charging up behind people. Quite unnerving I imagine. I pushed it all the way to the line and then grabbed hold of my mate Mick and yelled “I’ve done it” and cried like a little baby. With Mick being a 50 year old plumber and all round tough guy there were obviously no tears from him…

Ah, ah, ah, ah Stayin’ Alive. Just about.
John and Matt jogged round and we managed another lap, stopping for a group “moment” celebrating that we’d all be in Holland together in May then  got the GB train on for one last ride. Night Fever was blaring out of the speakers and nothing drives a man to run more than the high pitched tones of the Brothers Gibb, dancing and all. The crowd was fantastic; cheering everyone over the finish line after our lap markers had been dropped, all together. Matt had finished a fantastic 3rd overall, behind a brilliant German effort at the front from Oliver Leu. Considering Matt had come here to try and get to 200k, his performance was one of the top runs from a UK Ultra runner in 2012 and I’m expecting big things from this chap in 2013 (I’ve already been hearing about his epic mileage weeks in January). John is training up and down the mountains of the Alps and getting himself in peak physical condition for May; it should be fun to all run together. Hopefully my new job in the outdoors will let me run around a lot as well!

(L-R) Matt Moroz, Oliver Leu, Moi, John Pares at the finish. I’m just getting something out of my eye.

My 2013 aims are the 24 hour Worlds in May and Spartathlon in September, both opportunities to pit myself against the World’s best and see what happens. Earning a chance to run in a GB vest means more to me than anything I have ever done before and I couldn’t have done it without the great help of everyone out there!

Next year I will be again supported by the great guys at 9Bar (www.9-bar.co.uk) and I will also be part of Team Centurion with James Elson, Drew Sheffield, Neil Bryant, Paul Navesy and Ian Sharman, a great bunch of lads (www.centurionrunning.com/team-cr). I know it is just the start of things to come and I won’t be happy with less than 240k in Holland so I best get a bit of work done before hand and start stockpiling those jelly meerkats.

10 Reasons to run outside this Winter

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Before I jet off to Barcelona in the morning for my next race and having upped my training mileage to a reasonable level for the first time in this lovely Autumn/Winter season there are a few things I do to try and keep myself going and getting out of that door and I thought I would share them with the world.

1) Make a plan, write it down and write down your progress (alternatively use one of the fancy online equivalents, I just like having a little notebook)

2) Get on the trails, the hills, the footpaths, just somewhere a little more interesting then your normal run. This isn’t too difficult if your normal run takes you along the Old Kent Road and through Lewisham… Good for Fried Chicken stops though.

3) Get competitive. Race your own times on similar routes. Race friends times. Think about how the training will help in the season to come and how that chap in the hognail boots with the limp won’t beat you next time, because he’s tucked up on the sofa eating PIES. I did take this tip from a Lance Armstrong book though, so maybe this is cheating?

4) Make it part of your journey or a commute. I jog to my climbing gym, mainly because I am poor as dirt, but also because in my mind, I have to go there, so I have to jog 15 miles and if I stop, I’m in Catford or Lewisham and I’ll get mugged. www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/2437568.0/

5) Go on a treadmill in a nice warm gym. Not really. That is no way for any self-respecting person to improve their cardio-vascular performance as the counter-effect of “becoming a wuss” will slow you down in the long run.

6) Get a friend to keep you company, then you feel bad if you let them down, or some similar feeling. Or the misery is halved. None of my friends want to run with me any more, anyone fancy 30 miles on Sunday on the North Downs Way?

7) Book a little race, like the Grand Union Canal Race (www.gucr.co.uk), the Thames Ring (www.tra-uk.org/thames-ring

), the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (www.ultratrailmb.com), a little Centurion fun run (www.centurionrunning.com) or Spartahlon (www.spartathlon.gr/en.html), and scare yourself into activity. That always works for me. IMAGINE FINISHING BEHIND JAMES ELSON! Or not at all?

8) By far the most effective method of getting out of the door and training, for me personally, was the decision to move in with my father for a short time. That man could drive me to the ends of the earth with his lectures, drunken rambling and skewed sense of right and wrong. Just live with someone you don’t like talking to, works a charm.

9) Help train someone else; use your enthusiasm and love for running to get someone else out of the door and running. You have to set a good example then and be willing to jump up and get into the cold. Don’t let them know it helps you too, always leave them in your debt and remind them how much a personal trainer costs these days… now buy me a Appletini.

10) Buy more gear. Everyone loves buying new things (even if you don’t like paying for them), so buy some Winter gear and guilt yourself into getting out. A fancy new Petzl head torch (www.centurionrunning.com/storecan’t just sit on the side and help you find your pets in the garden all winter. Those £40 pair of leggings aren’t just there to mince about the living room and scare the kids, get your jog on.

I’m off to Barcelona this weekend to run for 24 hours and I can’t wait! I love doing it and I’m really grateful to have friends coming with me to cheer me on and help me out. I need to run 230km to qualify
for next years World Championships in Holland and I’m feeling confident. I’ve trained hard, I’ve downloaded some Infant Sorrow and Lonely Island tracks (check out Youtube for a laugh) and I’ve had a haircut so I’ve got no excuse now, I’ll just churn out those miles. FINGERS CROSSED. Follow on 
www.corredors.cat if you like?

Lastly, just get outside and do the first ten steps of your run. The first ten steps are the hardest ones (as is so in every Ultra marathon…) and after that you won’t regret getting off the sofa. Make sure you wrap up warm and bright for everyone to see and enjoy yourself. 

I’ll sign off with the inspiring words of one of my heroes Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates, “I’m going outside and I may be some time”. Considering what he went outside in, you’ve got no excuse. He did die though…

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, no ordinary race.

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The UTMB. 168km around the Mont Blanc Massif, 9800m of up and 9800 of down and 3 countries. This is up there with the world’s biggest, most horrible, evil bastards of a race when you put it like that, but all you have to do is look at some pictures, watch a video or two and it doesn’t take a fool to notice this is one of the most beautiful regions on earth and we’re allowed to run up and down mountains for 48 hours amongst thousands of other suitably unhinged individuals.

After a summer in the Arctic Circle with youth development charity the British Exploring Society, I had managed a longest run of 6km and clocked a few good days of hiking and crossing glaciers, but most importantly, I had rested my body and let it recover from the niggles picked up during March’s 100 miler and May’s England 24hr Squad. Plus I had become quite accustomed to atrocious weather and, as will become apparent in a paragraph or two, this could have been the best bit of prep I’d done for a race in a long while. I got back from Arctic Norway on the 27th and was back at Gatwick two days later and hoping that my travel into to Switzerland this time involved a little less nudity than the Basel jolly (I had my mum with me and she would not be happy if I got pulled over at Customs like Howard Marks on a “business trip”).

The Start. If you look carefully you can see James and I in the middle looking little two little kids, with Mark Collinson, Luke Carmichael and Paul Bennett

I did have a carton of beetroot juice to help me performing at altitude and the study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was beautifully paraphrased by the wonderful, hate and fear-mongering Daily Mail but what they don’t tell you is what happens if you drink a litre in one go and what kind of affect this will have on an athlete’s performance. Therefore don’t try and take a litre through customs and then drink it all.

My body was extremely unhappy with the beetroot but it had not dampened my spirits, this race has been something I’ve been looking forward to all year and now the nice 105 mile race was promising to have bloody horrible weather to make it that much sweeter. The UTMB race directors had text everyone warning of rain, snow, winds and temperatures of -5°C and the necessity of at least 4 layers and I saw this as a great sign. 6 weeks of rain, snow, wind and cold temperatures in Arctic Norway had hardened this soft city boy and I was one of the only people in Chamonix urging the weather to be nasty as others would drop out I thought and I would not. I did not however have the previous experience of Centurion Running’s own James Elson, here on his 3rd attempt to run the full 100 mile UTMB course, James had seen bad weather at the race before and what it could do to the course. With James as a bad luck charm, it was only a matter of time until the race directors did what they had to do and let everyone know that we wouldn’t be going up any mountain passes, we’d only get to run in France and, the worst news, we’d only get to run 100km with 6000m of climb. My first reaction was anger and disappointment. I had come all this way, a lot of money had been spent and now I was going to have to run a race that was a little too short for my liking.

I did cheer up though when I saw Luke Carmichael and James Elson as James looked so miserable I had to laugh. Now 3rd time unlucky, will this chap ever get to run the UTMB? Has he done some unspeakable wrong in a former life that deserves this treatment from the French Alps. I reckon so. Chatting to other runners and supporters did help though and it wasn’t long before I remembered how lucky I was to be out in Chamonix to run this Diet version of the UTMB and it would just be a good introduction to the serious level of racing on the continent. Every other person in Chamonix looked like a top, elite Ultra Runner and I knew this was going to be a massive challenge. Even though I was here just to complete the race I had wanted to run under 30 hours and now I didn’t really have a race aim or plan. I thought I’d just trot off at the start and enjoy my first 100k race. After failing when it came to resisting bundles of brand new gear in the ridiculous amount of outdoor shops I came out with a new Quechua 5l racing bag (30 Euros and a good alternative to the £90 Salomon equivalent) and some UTMB compulsory tights (3/4 length ones that are actually full length on my stumpy little legs). Last thing to do now was stuff all the required kit into my mincy little bag and get to the start line.

2400 people started the UTMB and nearly every single one of them wanted to get to Les Houches first, nailing it through the streets of Chamonix which were lined deep with hundreds of people and a far stretch from your usual ultra race start, where numbers can be as low as 10 including the racers! This was my first introduction to racing with poles (the long,  sharp, walking ones not the tough, East-European chaps that can’t be underestimated in a race) and running along the streets of Chamonix the walking poles were out in full force, dangerous weapons of trail running. I wasn’t carrying them, it seemingly terribly un-British to have these poles helping you walk up a hill but I’m sure 100km of the Alps would probably change my mind about that and remember that I’m here to learn from the best. Anyway we steamed off, soon down to one layer, three less than recommended by the directors, and rather toasty. Maybe the weather would be lovely after all? Then we went up.

So a lot of my racing is on the extremely mountainous canals, river paths and tarmac of southern and middle England and the hills of the Grand Union Canal left me feeling confident that the Alps couldn’t throw anything at me that I couldn’t handle. I was a little glad that I’d spent a bit of time bumbling up a glacier or two and up some scrambly mountains in Norway. I could even draw strength from my extensive scrambling experience in Wales, a very wet scramble up Tryfan and a jolly along Crib Goch, so to say I was out of my depth with these hills would be ridiculously unfair. I mean I must have run up Crystal Palace Hill at least
50 times this year and that is right steep, so when we got to the climb up to Le Delevret, about 750m, I was absolutely loving it. The course we had been set went over 6 noticeable high points but at times went uphill for miles on end and it was a little tiring!
Anerley Hill, Crystal Palace. Perfect UTMB training ground you see!
So after La Houches and the little hill behind it we were back down to St. Gervais, where my Ma and her lovely chap, Big Tony, were waiting to see me and I did feel a little guilty as I powered past with a wee wave, but I always believe in the saying “make hay whilst the sun shines” and I felt good. We’d “rested” going uphill, there were crowds all along and I was surrounded by other Ultra Runners at a standard I hadn’t run at before. I knew to make the most of the lighter weather before we got up to the nastier stuff a bit higher up and I kept on plugging on nicely, running past mother a couple of times and continuing on the official UTMB course up to the check point to La Balme and that was where the course was to divert. This is also where I made a couple of simple mistakes that could have had a much more serious consequence had it not been for the aid of someone walking down the trail supporting another runner. Having stopped to stuff some oranges down my throat and say a quick “Merci beaucoup” to the support staff I set off uphill into the snow, not thinking about the loss of temperature I had suffered due to the stop. This would not have been a problem normally as I would have stormed on and built up my warmth. I had stuck to a base layer and a waterproof jacket as I intended to keep moving but I had forgotten about one thing, my hands. Now I was getting shooting pains in my hands, a combination of the dropping temperature, the increasing rain/snow and the wind, and I knew I had to stop and put on my gloves. Easier said than done. Getting into my bag and getting the gloves out was an ordeal in itself and then trying to get gloves onto my hands, which were getting colder, along with my body, was getting harder and harder. It would have been easier had I checked that the lining of each glove before the race but they had come back on themselves as well. Trying to force my hands in I was then aided by a very friendly supporter of the race and he even gave me a pair of under-gloves (somewhat holy, but great) to ease my own hands into the gloves. I imagine I would have had to have jogged back down the hill to the La Balme checkpoint had this person not helped me so I owe that a debt of gratitude, one I could only pay back in my usual way, helping any other racers that needed help along the way.
What I didn’t hear was something that you always hear in UK races, concerning voices from other racers and the camaraderie of any Ultra Distance Races. It may be the higher levels of professionalism and competition on the continent but it was a lot rarer to hear any racers offered, or indeed accepting, help from other racers. A couple of guys, struggling during the race downright ignored me. I think that ultra marathons, especially those at the deep end 100k and upwards are such an experience and the friendliness and camaraderie is what sets us apart from the average Joe elbowing his way through a 1500m race or a road 10k, doing whatever is possible to get to the finish line 1 second quicker than last year. I wouldn’t normally take help but when I really needed it, it made all the seconds I’d lost helping others really worthwhile. Rant over, I’ve got a race to talk about and I’ve already got enough issues keeping the bloody word count down! We shouldn’t expect help, but always offer it.
After my little scare just above La Balme, it took some serious power walking up hill to get everything ticking over at a nice temperature again but soon I was feeling fine, even though all I could see with my head torch was the reflection of the snow falling in front of me, I was just plodding through snow, still watching out for wayward poles, and getting into a good rhythm. There was often times when I was on my own for at least 45 minutes, overtaking the odd person but normally with no one within clear sight. I expected a more crowded course than this but I guess 2300 people spread out pretty quickly over 100 hilly kilometers. I kept on going and went through the 54km mark in a shade over 7 hours, nicely on target for what I wanted but still a long way from home.
It wasn’t until after the second visit to Les Houches that I had any trouble. I was glad to be in some aggressively soled Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s, something that wouldn’t really help on some of the roads we had been given to run on but bloody useful on the technical and slippery down hills that kept cropping up. James was confident my feet would be in bits by the end but they were fine, I wasn’t doing anything silly like running in brand new shoes, I’d worn these on one 6 hour training run back in July. After the Les Houches check we were told it would be 21k until the next check so I called my ma and asked if she could meet me somewhere in-between with one of my secret weapons, none of this blood doping or EPO, it was a couple of packets of Morrisons Jelly Meerkats.
The wonderful Jelly Meerkats.
With their amusing appearance and calorific value this are more than just your usual race fuel, always entertaining my simple mind and keeping me going on many a difficult race. I shot through the check that had been put between the 21k to ease the distance as I knew my jelly meerkats would be about soon but I had missed them. Distracted by a van going across the road doing a terrible 6 point turn (and possibly a little less with it than usual due to 10 hours plus of light exercise) I missed Mother and sailed through some nice woods. We arranged for the chaps (the meerkats) to meet me further along the trail but it ended up being 500 m from L’Argentiere and 20.5k from my last real feed. A real cock up on my behalf, I had gels with me but just couldn’t stomach them or even get them down without feeling sick (too much of a good thing, GU?). I had underestimated the 100k of this race and hadn’t carried as much emergency real food as I would have done for the 105 mile race. I stumbled and sauntered along the track and just didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I knew that it was a good, old fashioned, hunger bonk but I didn’t have the food on me to remedy it! It didn’t help that this section had a huge uphill to the Col des Montets that consisted of the largest number of switchbacks I had ever seen! It just went on and on and on and on, every time I looked up I could still see someone 100m further up the hill crawling up it.

The jog down to Argentiere, knowing that food was nearby
As I got closer to Argentiere I knew I was getting closer to food and managed to stomach half of a gel and it was then that I received a very welcome slap on the bum from a HUGE bald man, who told me to perk up, in Spanish or French and then piled off into the distance. Knowing that the Meerkats must be nearby and this slap on the bum sent me flying down the last little bit into the last checkpoint and there they were, the lads, my saviors, the Meerkats.
After rather unfairly accusing my mum of pinching of the meerkats, I went through the check point and felt rather good. My legs were not a problem as I had been walking for ages so I decided to get my sprint on and raced the last 8/9 miles as if I was doing a 5k, the closer I got to Chamonix the faster I went, passing about 25 people on my way in and getting so overexcited in the last kilometer that I finished too quickly for Big Tony to catch me on his camera. I ducked over the line in about 16:25 and I wasn’t too unpleased with that. I think I lost an hour due to my food mistake but it’s a swings and roundabouts kind of event as I could easily have piled the time on had I been more leg weary in the final section.
My first Soiree into the mountains and the serious racers in Europe and I had absolutely loved every second of it, the rain, the snow, the cold, the hills, the poles, the bonking, every little aspect was reminding me why I love doing these races. It normally takes a couple of days to want to come back to the pain and suffering but I knew as I crossed that finish line that I would be back. From the minute I got to the Alps, my first visit, I knew that this was something else and Chamonix itself is wonderful. Surrounded by trail runners, alpinists, mountain bikers, walkers and people who would be labeled a bit crazy in any other walk of life, I felt like I belonged out there. I know that with hard work and determination I can come back out here and clock a real good time on a course like that. For anyone who enjoys running Ultra Marathons, being out in the hills or just life in general, this race is a must do for your bucket list. I will be back to race it in the next few years and I will be aiming to line up with the elite guys at the front. Whether I keep up with them at the first hill is another matter all together.

Support providing excellent support at the finish.

Now after the UTMB Diet, excellently organised in the circumstances, I thought I best get a race in for September. Maybe a little jog around lovely Tooting Bec for 24hrs and the small problem of running 230km to qualify for next year’s World 24hr Champs would be fun? 

Basel 24hr Race – My England Debut

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Getting asked to represent my country is something I’ve always dreamed of, maybe on a football pitch as a youngster, but when I started running Ultra Marathons I knew I was still a youngster and that, potentially, I could one day do rather well at this sport I’d started. People peak in their late thirties to late forties in the sport and I thought that left me with a fair bit of time to get to the top, but in the past 3 years, since starting running marathons, I have somehow jumped up to running 100 mile races and become pretty good at it. I finished my last 100 mile race in 16:02 and apparently that was enough to get the attention of the GB 24hr Selectors. 24hr races are simply seeing who can run the most times around a set loop in 24 hours, ranging from a 400 metre track to the 1099 metre track I would get to saunter around in Basel on May 12/13th and the next youngest person to be racing would be ten years older than me. At 25 I was the real baby of the bunch and I jumped at the chance to run in an England vest for the first time, with the hope of running the 230k to qualify for the 24 hour World Championships in Poland in September.

After struggling through passport control and, after the strip search, feeling quite relieved that they didn’t search my bag and find the bundles of secret gels and powders I had stashed in there, we make it to where England Athletics had put us up, the Ibis Hotel in Basel and stuffed my second pizza for the day down my gullet. I went through my pre-race prep and tried to get some kip.

On the day we were in the middle of a Swiss sports complex, running around a tarmac track that went around a bunch of football pitches, set up by the Sri Chimnoy Marathon team there was tents for our crews, inspirational messages on the course, countless flags and a small glockenspiel style band that was to play popular Swiss club tunes for most of the night… At 12 midday we all lined up, met our individual lap counters and we were given a detailed description of the route: Take the first right, then turn right, take the next right and then le tourne à droite and repeat for 24 hours. The gun goes and we’ll off at a frantic pace and by frantic I mean snail paced.

Jogging past our lap counters with Bislet 24hr Race Winner Steve Holyoak

We watched a few guys shoot off but I was happy to jog along with Steve Holyoak (my fellow England debutant, but also winner of the Bislet 24hr Race) and John Pares (Top GB 24hr runner and Commonwealth Champion) and let the Swiss chaps shoot off at the front. The England contingent was completed by experienced GB Runner Heather Foundling-Hawker and Adidas Thunder Run Winner Karen Hathaway. One guy was lapping everyone extensively and breathing heavily on each lap. I was sure he wouldn’t be able to keep it up so we let him steam on, we’d pass him when he blew up later on. It was a bit of a rainy day but nothing too bad, we plodded on and, with the help of Team Manager Andy Smith, we ate, drank and were merry on the way round. 24 hours is a long race and you really don’t need to do any racing until the final 6 hours at the earliest so I settled in for a steady night. The leaderboard went up after 40 or so laps and it provided a small piece of entertainment to watch Steve, John and my name slowly creep up as the race went on. My early “pace” had given me a two lap cushion on Steve and John but I was happily lapping with them. It wasn’t until about 100 miles in when Samuel Nef, the chap who’d be puffing his way round at the front, suddenly crashed out of the race. His laps stopped going up each round and we were gaining as news went round that he’d done something to his hip and that it was his first 24hr race, proof to me that he’d shot off way too fast. I went through 100 miles about 20 minutes before 16 hours in a new personal best and I felt fine, whilst John had picked up a gear and we were now running on level par.


England Base Camp – Team Manager Andy Smith and Karen’s Dad. A pleasure to see them everytime I went round, but unsure if the feeling was mutual.


From about 5 hours in my left ankle/foot had been swelling in some way and I just loosened my laces and trainer a few times and carried on. It wasn’t hurting so it wasn’t an issue for me, but one thing something like that can do is put your body out of sync. I decided to reward my 100mile pb with a spot of music and picked up my pace again. I was suffering a little but I knew with a bit of food and drink down me I’d be on form again and I always peak towards the end of a race, time to actually start racing and pulling in the people in front. Today though, as I went through the 200k mark in about 20 hours I started to feel some pain above my left knee. A shooting pain as I put weight on the leg, it was just something different to ignore for a while, I’ll just crack on, but it wasn’t long before I was limping around like a pirate with a second hand wooden leg borrowed from Pinocchio. I soon was unable to stay ahead of the two guys battling out the Swiss Ultra Championship in 4th and 5th and I dropped down to 5th place and left John and Steve to push forward with 1st and 2nd. Both of these excellent 24hr runners tried to help me out by jogging with me but, although I had the energy, I could push myself on that leg. I was about 12k in front of 6th and I was determined to keep it that way regardless of the pain.  I recalled all the knowledge that I have gained through the training on www.nervepainguide.org, I focused and meditated on that. I knew that every step I took round the circuit was another step further Gunter would have to take and every now and again I tagged onto him and dragged myself round a lap just behind him. My cheery demeanour throughout the race meant that I had the Sri Chimnoy lap counters on my side and they gave me great encouragement each time I managed a lap, now at a much slower rate, and poor Gunter must of wondered why they were cheering this young whippersnapper who kept trying to run away from him in a limpy manner.

It was getting closer and closer to the 24 hours and nearer and nearer to the joy of being mathematically safe in 5th position but I wasn’t going to let the great support team down by finishing early, this was my first appearance in an England vest and I was going to give it all I could. I’ve not DNF’d a race yet and I wasn’t going to do it for the first time with a Red Rose on my chest! I pushed on towards the end and just about managed to hang
on to 5th place. Not quite the GB 1,2,3 that we were thinking about at 100 miles but I still managed 222.5km or 138 miles in the 24 hours and I was the only one in the top 10 aged under 45!

I was 7.5km off the GB Qualifying standard for the World Championships in Poland in September but I hadn’t given up and battled through with my injury. In the final. few laps Karen Hathaway was unfortunately pushed into 2nd place after leading for hours, but it was a honour to see her push on to make the qualifying standard for September’s World Champs, displaying a such a strong desire to succeed I’m sure she will get better and better in the future.
How one should look after a 24hr Race; Shattered but satisfied.

I’d been well on for the 230km at 20 hours and the wheels just came off a little in the last 4 hours, possibly because it had only been 8 weeks since my last 100 mile race, probably because I’d tried to race the Commonwealth Champion and gone for the win, but if you don’t try then you will never know. I do know that this is just the start of my 24hr racing career and if I don’t sneak into the GB 24hr squad this year (No dice, I’ll have to make do with UTMB) I’ll be back next year to earn a place myself and prove my worth. This is just the start and I know my experience with ITACE 2014 (http://www.south2014.com/) will only make a stronger competitor and vice versa, the physical and mental strength I gain from this races will put me in good stead should I make it onto the ground in Antarctica. In the final. few laps Karen Hathaway was unfortunately pushed into 2nd place after leading for hours, but it was a honour to see her push on to make the qualifying standard for September’s World Champs, displaying a such a strong desire to succeed I was hugely impressed!

Steve, John Pares and I at the awards ceremony. Bother rather nice chaps!

Needless to say I know that I’ll be remembered by the other GB competitors and managers I met that weekend, be it for my performance on the tarmac or as that strange young lad who got strip searched at the airport because he had sello-taped his photo back into his passport when it went through the wash. Let’s hope it is the former!

England Team (L-R) Steve Holyoak, Heather Foundling-Hawker, Karen Hathaway, Me.

Thames Path 100 Miler – Under 16 hours?

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The excitement had been building in me for weeks, the same as every other time I’ve signed up for a 100 miler but this time was slightly different. Rightly or wrongly, after my efforts at the North Downs Way 100, Race Director James Elson had thrown an extra weight or a helping hand onto my shoulder, it seems I was one of the favourites for the win and a cheeky little race preview had listed me amongst 2.30 marathon and sub 20 100 mile runners as one to watch!
The 100 miles along the Thames Path promised to be a beauty, flat, clearly marked, covered in helpful volunteers and not too muddy (one of the benefits of the current “drought” we’re having). The plans were laid by James to produce a fast, top end UK 100 mile race and it was up to us lot to do the easy part and get to Oxford quick sharpish! Nearly 200 people lined up in front of Richmond Town Hall and, after being told we were going the opposite direction to which I was expecting, we were all lined up and ready to go, awaiting the fog horn that would send us all on our way.
From the start I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to jog for 55 minutes then walk for 5, but this is always a lot harder once the adrenaline is pumping, you feel good and the other runners are doing no such thing as walking around you. I headed off the start and a familiar sight was ahead, Bruce Moore (GUCR finisher) was off to a flying start, racing off like Greyhound on speed, something I’d seen him do every time I’d had the pleasure of racing him so I shouted my goodbye to Bruce and settled in a light jog just a bit back from the two chaps who decided to chase after him. I’d decided that I was going to go for 16 hours, despite a really cycling based start to the year and no more than 10-20 miles consistently a week I had got the Thames Trot (50 miles 6:43) and The London Ultra (50k 4:21) under my belt and it just made sense for me to go for this seemingly unachievable time. If I didn’t go through halfway under 8 hours I’d have no chance so I went for it, “He who dares, Rodders” was the attitude I was going to take and flew off at the start. I just wanted to run comfortably and keep to the run/walk strategy, it might just work.
We shot through the first 12 miles in an about an hour and a half and I thought “woah, steady fella”. Richard Webster and I were setting the pace after Bruce had taken a wrong turn at a bridge crossing and hadn’t heard my shout to send him on the right course and Richard had decided to stick with my walking whilst we were together. I’d jogged the start of the Grand Union with Richard in 2011 and I’d let him jog off with the legendary Pat Robbins that time, I wasn’t competing with that man and I’d seen Richard later in the race. Richard stuck with me until he tired of my gibbering chatter and he left me to it, just after Ed Catmur, Martin Bacon, Matt Winn-Smith and Craig Holgate over took me for the first time and I gave chase. It made it much harder to stick a walk in when you’d just chased 4 blokes for 55 minutes, just to let them run off into the distance but I hoped I’d see them all again shortly!
We went through the 28 mile checkpoint in 3:32, still flying and with 15 minutes of walking in there as well (I really should crack that 3 hour marathon sometime this year) and I’d caught up with Craig and Matt at the point where we over took the lovely volunteer placing the route marking, we really were running a bit too quickly, even the lass on her bike couldn’t stay ahead of us! It was just after this point that I let Matt and Craig go off into the distance again to allow for my 5 minute walk and I was confident I would see Craig again later, that my planning would see me consistent to the end and I’d reel him in with the thrill of the chase, but this was the last I would see of him. Despite Martin urging me to chase, to run his race and that nobody remembers 2nd place I knew that I had to stick to my plan or I wouldn’t get the time I wanted and perform like I could. I thought I’d see Craig again but he became a distant shadow, leaving checkpoints 40 minutes after I got there for much of the rest of the race. I wanted to hear “He looks rough, he looks tired” but it never came and I knew I’d relied on the wrong man, he wasn’t slowing down.
After a while it was just me and Matt and, as he put in his race write up, I nattered on for all my worth. I filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds of distance run and about 120 seconds of my thoughts and conversation. I like to think he didn’t mind, he didn’t run away. It always annoys people when I chat to them on a training run, the majority can’t run away and they’re stuck with my conversation. Matt and I headed on steadily, hitting some really windy bits next to the river and finding our way along to Henley-on-Thames where I knew I’d roped a colleague to run 7 miles with me and my twisted sense of humour kept me going when a child fell off his bike and we weren’t the ones suffering whilst we could hear his wailing. I learnt plenty of lessons falling off my bike as a kid and even more as an adult, teeth missing and holes in face. He’d got off easy; we still had 50 miles to go.

Just past the checkpoint and already a little behind Craig. I’d catch him this time but stick to to run/walk strategy.

We got to Henley and not only had Richard Cross turned up with his little man bag of a rucksack to help me out, my father and his mate Micky Seymour were there to put together the dream team of a crew. If you thought I could talk, my dad is a brilliant tonic for checkpoints and along the trail, he’ll talk and talk and talk and before long you’re flying out of checkpoints just to get away. The pair of them really keep me going though and at the NDW 100 last year I couldn’t have done it without them because more than anything they believed me when I said I could do it, that I could run it under 16 hours, they had long since given up doubting
that I’d lost my mind when I started running Ultras. Far from it, I finally seemed to know what I was doing for a change! Even if Mark Cockbain at Marlow checkpoint informed me I was going too fast and if I hoped to conquer his Viking Way I best slow down.

Richard and I plodded off and he made it very clear that he found it difficult to run at our snail’s pace. “Cheers Rich, where were you for the first 51 miles?” but I had a new victim for my chatter and we set out to right the world. I knew that I needed to push on from Matt when I had the benefit of Richard alongside so we pushed and got away just before the 58 mile mark and Richard knew he had to keep going to help me open the gap. I was stuffing the GU gel down my throat at least once an hour and eating whatever else I could get my hands along the way, jelly meerkats, fruit gums, sour pastilles, ham wraps and plenty of salty crisps. I knew that getting the food in was vital and as thick as the GU gels are they were starting to grow on me, once every half hour after 51 miles was keeping me fuelled and if that was all I could eat then so be it, the checkpoints were well stocked!
Somehow I convinced Richard, checkpoint after checkpoint, to keep going to see Dick Kearn at Streatley. Dick is a cracking bloke and I’ve often been pleased to see him at Caesars Camp and alongside the Grand Union and I always want to try and impress such a stalwart of UK ultra running. He’d let me back alongside the Grand Union this year but I wasn’t going to upset him at Streatley and I ate his food, pinched his gel and told him how well marked his checkpoint was. It was head torch time,  and I made a simple mistake of loitering at Streatley too long and I was a bit chilly in my damp top. I had to get going again and if I stood around anymore I’d get colder and colder. Back on to the track I went and I was also n the region of the course I had recce’d, although backwards, at the Thames Trot. Would that help in any way shape or form? I think it did make me a little more confident and I believe that any type of recce, map studying and pre-planning is going to help as much as you can afford to put into it.
It was 8 miles to Benson and only now did I put on my music, something I always hold back until way beyond 50 miles in a 100. I don’t deserve it before 50 the race hasn’t even started and I know it will boost me when I hear LMFAO’s Sexy and I know it blasting into my ears. To be honest it’s a real mix of music ranging from Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Madness to Avicii, The Strokes and some real strange indie folk music. It all keeps me going and as long as it makes me smile I’ll keep going. I felt like I flew the 8 miles to Benson and just before I got to the checkpoint I saw a head torch ahead, could it be? Had Craig slowed down when I sped up? It then took a turn I didn’t expect and was heading back alongside on a separate road and when I got to the junction I thought the diversion might have sent him wrong. I pegged it to the checkpoint, I hoped to here that I was ahead, that I was gunning for the win and I felt good…
When I got there I realised my mistake, Craig was no nearer, still his shadowy 40 minutes ahead, a ghost that had left this place long before. I didn’t tell anyone about the head torch I’d seen, it must have been a casual jogger, but it hurt. I felt deflated and knew that the next few miles were going to be tough on my mind. I had two objectives at the start, two objectives I’d hoped to achieve and as the race went on I knew both were possible, I thought I could do the impossible again and it had just been snatched away. I knew at the point that Craig wasn’t going to falter and my race plan wasn’t going to pay off now, not this time. I had to convince myself to keep going for that second objective, sub 16 hours was still a possibility and I flew on, blinding the crew of volunteers at Little Wittenham, another bright advert for my LED Lenser Head torch, one of the best bits of kits I’d ever obtained (a prize from my Dad for winning the NDW100 and falling all over the shop due to my 5 quid Karrimor head torch) and something I’d never night run without. A good head torch is worth its weight in gold (and this thing is heavy) as it allows me to run with confidence at night and really keep my pace strong.
At this point it’s all about keeping going in the right direction and I know I have less than a marathon to go and I get the pleasant suprise of seeing XNRG’s Neil at the Abingdon checkpoint, gobble down some Haribo and get on my way just as “No Woman, No Cry” hits the head phones and I run off singing along. As Bob said in Three Little Birds “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cos every little thing is gonna be alright”. I knew I was going to make it to the finish (I’d know this from the start, I had to believe it) and I was going to do it fast. Could I crack sub 16 hours, I still didn’t know but I’d give it my best shot.
After a mix up and no crew at 95 miles I gave my bag to Drew Sheffield, a great ultra runner who I’d first met at the Enigma Quadzilla last year. He was standing at the finish in a GUCR finishers’ top and he told me about his crazy mate. I secretly hoped one day that someone in a GUCR top would think I was crazy but I’d have to emulate James Adams’ Run Across America to get that kind of compliment! I saw Drew and left my bag with him for my crew to collect when they eventually turned up and I set off to run the last 5 miles. Drew told me I had 36 minutes, so off I went; now I had to dig deep and see how it went.
The last five miles were not the easiest terrain but I kept going and I knew I was near the finish but I didn’t know how close so I sprinted the last 5 minutes up to 16 hours, just in case the finish popped up round the corner, but alas, it didn’t appear in time. I saw the marquee at the end and I put in my usual slow sprint to the finish (It always feels like I’m giving Usain Bolt a run for his money but in reality I’m running a solid 20 second 100 metres. Banging) and the first thing I ask is the time, 2:02:43a.m. and then I yelped a loud obscenity and received some encouragement I had in reality done rather well.  I had run 100 miles in just over 16 hours and in just under 17 months I had improved my 100 mile PB by 11 hours and 45 minutes. If I can keep that improvement up I’ll be running sub 13 hours by the end of next week, but I may attempt it a little slower than that.
I stumbled over to the van and after chatting to James and seeing him jog off to make some adjustments to the last few miles of signage (ever the perfectionist) I had some hot soup and continued my gibberish to a rather chatty Canadian chap and then dragged myself to
the van. Dad, Mick and I had a long drive home to SE London and I needed some rest.
It was a cracking event and I am so grateful to the efforts of James and all the wonderful volunteers. This day wouldn’t be anything without all the great volunteers and runners out there and I want to say a massive thanks to everyone! I may not of won but I know I’ll be back to go quicker than that, not a worry at all! Craig Holgate put in an amazing effort and so did the people who were pulled out of the race after 27 hours. I’ve been there after 27 hours and I know how hard it is but I know James made the right decision; it wouldn’t have been easy for him and I hope you guys will be back for revenge next year.
I’ve got a sore right calf now and I won’t be running the Viking Way this year, I know I need recovery time so that I’m fighting fit for my 2nd assault on the GUCR course, how fast do you think I should go?
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