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Monthly Archives: March 2014

I wrote the following post almost a year ago and with Boston approaching I’m revisiting the sentiments I put down as when I wrote this it was still so very fresh in my mind. Below is the posting

It’s been a few hours since the Boston Bombings, I suppose you’d say the Boston Marathon Bombings and maybe to me that’s the difference, you weren’t attacking a political ideology here, you weren’t looking to exact revenge on anybody you were simply causing mayhem at a high profile event.

Runners are a rare breed, they go out daily no matter the weather, often without thought to other commitments and they are truly special breed-made of the sternest stuff. They can be liberal, conservative, fascist, communist or donotgiveafuckist, they can be male, female, black, white, yellow or even grey. Sexual orientation and even musical taste cannot separate these people. These people just go out and share running. I’ve never met a runner who couldn’t leave their allegiances behind in favour of an hour of pounding the ground. So why attack them, or those that support them? To a point you can see why a terrorist organisation would attack a building like the twin towers. They were a powerful symbol of Western life and capitalism and while the loss of life was horrendous you can see the logical lunacy of fanatics the world over who would want to destroy something like this in the name of whoever. But this attack, like the car bombings and such that we see in Iraq or Afghanistan are not against symbols they are against individuals. These are acts intended to inflict not just death but affect our spirit.

The running community seems united in its condemnation of this and so we should be for those who we know not, yet share a bond with have been attacked for doing something they love, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That seems so wrong to me, perhaps because this attack feels very personal – I wasn’t there thankfully but I aspire to run Boston. I know that should I ever qualify my partner would be near that finish line camera in hand. Had I run it this year she might have been in the firing line, that thought turns my stomach.

When I go running tonight I will be offering my thanks for the life I have and each step I take will remind me and others that being attacked like this won’t stop runners, we will line up again, especially at Boston and they will not win.

It’s the London Marathon this weekend, one of the showpiece European events – a possible target? Who knows, I hope not. I was thinking of going to watch but other things had overtaken me and was unsure if I would make it but now I am determined to be there, showing my support for the runners who put body and soul on display.

Our thoughts are with you today Boston. Take care.

As I reread the above posting all the feelings that I felt as I wrote it came flooding back – the revulsion and the stupidity of the attack, the horrendous maiming of innocents and the deaths caused – this was a dreadful day.

However, a year on and there have been enormous reminders of the power of the human spirit in the face of this horrific human tragedy, think about all the runners who showed their support as they crossed the line at the London marathon or the huge, near universal condemnation of the attackers and the ferocity with which they were hunted down. The memorial at Copley Square, which saw thousands leave mementos and tokens in honour of those affected and plans are set for these items to be displayed at the Boston Public Library in April as part of the #BostonBetter events that will mark the anniversary of the tragedy. Think about all those who are thinking about Boston, writing about it and talking about it. What happened almost a year ago will live long in the memory.

So this year as the Marathon runs and remembers and I am completing the WNWA96, in honour of the families, victims and supporters of the Hillsborough Justice Campaigns my thoughts will be with those who have lost their lives or been affected at sporting tragedies. Boston, I really felt, both as a runner and as a human being and I hope that you’ll give a few moments of reflection too over the next few weeks because as I’m writing this I feel like a very lucky person.

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Country to Capital
Valentines Challenge
Virtual Runner RunChatUK 10km
St Peter’s Way Ultra
VirtualRunner March 10km
Sidcup 10
VirtualRunnerUK Sport Relief Triathlon
Tough15

The year is sixteen weeks old(ish) and I’ve already managed to amass ten new medals and two new event T-Shirts plus there are at least ten more races I’m involved in before the end of the year – five of which are upcoming in the next month:

South Downs Way 50
We Never Walked Alone 96
VirtualRunnerUK April 10km
VirtualRunnerUK April 5km
National 100km

Can I break my annual return on medals which currently stands at 25? At this rate yes but I’ll need some shorter distances and even more importantly I’m going to have to start planning my winter 2014 and 2015 races – especially with the arrival of UltraBaby on the horizon.

So to all of us happy planning and even happier running 🙂

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This will probably be the penultimate post I produce prior to the WNWA96, the walk is just 2 weeks away and everyone is starting to get excited, but it’s also a very difficult time for those more deeply involved with the campaign as last week the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy opened, and this is a timely reminder of why people like myself are joining this wonderfully powerful and symbolic event.

It is perhaps too easy to forget, in the haste of preparations for the event, the reasons we are walking but that reason is as a thank you for the 25 years of support that have been given to the families of victims and to the survivors of the disaster.

I am sure that many of you who have read my posts about this walk will at least know something about the events of the disaster and will probably have seen the news reports that have been filling news channels and online services for the last few weeks – I am sure you, like I, can see how hugely emotionally and physically draining it is for those there.

Yet despite all of this there are a group of people who will sing, chant and make merry as they head from Hillsborough through to Anfield, via various northern football grounds. It’ll be a little bit like Scousers on tour – can you imagine it, dozens of Liverpudlians traipsing across some of the most inhospitable hills that Yorkshire and Lancashire have got to offer?

The walk obviously runs parallel to many of the other tributes being planned but this one has an air of joy about it and idea that my father could have not only conceived this lovely tribute to his brother and all those affected by Hillsborough but also take part in it, fills me with a pride and a joy that I will never truly be able to express. And so when he bangs out another old Irish folk song at 4am to lift the spirits, or tells one of his ‘classic’ jokes, rather than do my usual ‘sticks fingers in ears’ I shall afford myself a rye smile and hum along to the tune or help him with the punchline.

On the day
My dad or in this event perhaps ‘leader’ would be a better title, remains concerned that nobody can complete the whole distance in the time and that a relay is the best and safest way forward. I agree very much that in the main he is probably 100% correct but I have no such concerns for myself. Having just come off the back of the 4800ft of elevation of the South Downs Way 50, completed in under 11hrs, with two twisted ankles I am more confident than ever that I have the capacity to do the distance in the time.

My goal
I would love to complete the 96miles, not just because it is a truly remarkable achievement but because it will serve as a lifetime reminder to me of the effort and strength of those who have sought the truth for nearly a quarter of century – more than two thirds of my lifetime. I consider that a couple of weeks of slightly sore feet is a small price to pay to honour all those people affected.

I look forward to being able to put my arms around my dad at the end and saying ‘well done’, I look forward to telling UltraBaby of the brilliance of the men and women who undertook this challenge defiantly and I look forward to explaining the symbolic nature of it in the brightness of the truth that the families so very much deserve.

Running ultra marathons is as much about your preparation as it is about the race itself, if you fail to turn up for the training then there is little chance of there being glory on race day. I’ve been in a bit of a constant lull over the last six months because of the increasing pain I have been suffering in my hips. At 2014s other completed ultras (Country to Capital and St. Peter’s Way) I’ve had other issues which have thankfully been more serious than the pain coming from around my middle, namely a split open leg at C2C and a chest infection at SPW. However, with increasing regularity the pain has become unbearable – especially when I look to push myself to beyond the 20 mile mark. This has meant that overall my training hasn’t been as thorough as it should have been and no amount of resting has offered any respite. Ultimately I’m now worried about running and thinking about my hips, and the more I think about them the more I’m likely to make an injury happen.

However, now with the SDW50 just a few days away I’ve finally booked in with a physio to see if they can grind my bones and muscles into enough shape to allow me to get through the race – I don’t need fixing at the moment I just need to remain strong enough to be on the trail. Funnily I’ve also finally started stretching and foam rollering on a consistent basis and while this is making a bit of a difference it’s probably not enough.

I’m fully aware that my entire body is a bit of a mess and I am falling apart but I’m committed to the challenges I’ve set myself, therefore April and May looks like a make or break time with three ultra distances in a month (albeit one of them a hiking challenge 96 in 36).

I’ve promised myself that if I get through the SDW50 (and WNWA96 and National100) I’ll get properly looked at and stop procrastinating, I might even accept whatever medicine that is thrown at me but for now, for this next race, I’m in a race against myself.

So can I finish the SDW50? The answer is ‘probably’ as I managed to finish the other two when I didn’t think it was possible. But do I want to make a fool of myself at this race? No of course I don’t – I want to finish well, probably in around 9hrs something would be nice but there’s the niggling feeling inside that says I should be grateful to come in under at just under 13 and a half hours.

If you’re running the SDW50 this weekend then best of luck and if you see me scrabbling in the dirt then please think kindly of me, perhaps even pat me on the back and tell me it’ll be over soon. Happy running.

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Given that this is a running blog (and often a racing blog) you’d think that a posting about the Tough15 in Greenwich would mainly be about my racing but let me set my stall out immediately and tell you that you would be incorrect. This is the story of one mans journey to get to a race because 2 minutes can be the difference between a medal and not a medal.

I live in deepest darkest Kent but the journey up to Greenwich is actually not too bad and so I had signed up to the Tough15 race around the park – three laps of what I thought would be ambling round having a few laughs. I awoke on Saturday morning at about 6am and drifted into the warmth of the shower, layered up my nether regions with vaseline and threw on my favourite Ronhill top and teamed it with my Inov8 245 and a pair of old Nike shorts. I’d also decided to run with my Salomon hydration belt to ensure that the expected days higher temperatures didn’t catch me out.

I left bang on time and jumped on my train, just a short hop from my house and this is where the problems started, while the train was on time it was delayed outside the station I needed to change at – only for 2 minutes but I only had 2 minutes to spare. Anxious I stood glaring out of the window – watching my next train in the distance bellowing out to the passengers that its door where closing. Inside my head I could hear the muffled scream of a man who was watching his race day dreams fade into obscurity.

Poo.

My train started moving again and we finally pulled into the station just in time for me to watch as my ride drifted slowly away.

Double Poo.

Hand on phone, I immediately tweeted my situation because thats what people do who need immediate feedback and support and also a plan and while there was a lot of sympathy for my plight there wasn’t a plan in sight and then I had an idea. I opened the National Rail app on my phone and started checking times for the various routes I could take and saw that I could drift into London and grab a return journey that should put me into Blackheath for about 9.05, then platform to registration line needed to be covered in less than 15 minutes – it was only about a mile or so, but it was uphill, it was just moments before a race and I really needed a toilet stop and not the kind you can have at the side of a building in Blackheath.

From here the trains ran to time but my anxiety was growing and the thought of not hitting the start line was annoying me as this would pretty much be my finally preparation before the SDW50 and although not perhaps the distance I was looking for it would give me the medal that helps with the mental side of things and also offers the race experience which I find invaluable before an ultra.

At 9.04 I hit the platform at Blackheath station, and when I say hit I mean hit. I pelted out of the station and straight up the hill across Blackheath, beyond the church and straight over towards the wrong entrance to Greenwich Park and so I thundered down the road as quickly as my fat thighs would carry me and hurtled up to the registration desk. I’d made it and with a few minutes to spare – though I was now a sweaty, dishevelled mess and the lady who handed me my number looked at me quizzically – perhaps wondering if I had already done a 15km that morning. I chose to ignore her quizzical stare and instead slapped onto my Inov8 the timing chip and the number to my chest – I was ready

And so to the race (at long last I hear you cry).

I’ve run a couple of The Fix Events and they have always been pretty well organised as this was no exception. The start line was clearly marked, the registration line was clear and the numerous toilets were located just far enough from the start line to ensure they didn’t intrude on the main waiting to run area. There was an excellent lady manning the PA and her enthusiasm amongst a surprisingly muted crowd was much appreciated and she kept going throughout the event.

I took my customary place at the back of the field and listened to the runners chatting, being on my own for the race today meant that I simply waited for the race to begin. Funnily I wasn’t really feeling the desire to run and even as the race started I saw no great desire to push off at a great pace. My lack of enthusiasm though may well of been of benefit as the start was pretty slow – partly due to the human traffic on the course and partly because I wasn’t yet feeling it. We all turned into the first corner and suddenly things started to open up a bit and I hit the afterburner to get myself some space and once found I drifted back down a gear.

As we started down the first major hill I saw a chap go past me and he was pushing a Mountain Buggy Swift – a lovely little buggy seemingly perfectly suited to running with your child – I chased him down and we had a lovely little chat about the practicality of using one of these and he gave it a glowing recommendation. It turned out he wasn’t running the race but was there as support to his partner and so I was glad I realised I wasn’t to follow him as he went off the course.

The course then proved just how tough it was as the route started bending in and out of the hills, the turns meant that pace was knocked right back as you span round them and the hills challenged your knees. The final hill on the route was a real bitch too and in my Inov8 on the tarmac meant I could feel it, however, pressing onwards was never a problem and I felt rather sprightly as I picked up some water at the 5km mark and the start of the second lap. The second lap was when the heat of the day started to get to me and I once again (after the Sidcup 10) realised I was wearing one layer too many, but it was too late now. The second lap also meant that we had lost about a lot of the runners who were doing the 5km race and had now finished, I was therefore able to push on with a bit more space and I was finally finding my stride by about kilometre 8. The tough final hill came back around at kilometre 9 and I pushed through it once again, rather enjoying the experience this time and then swiftly into the third lap. The third lap was much the same as the first 2 but again with less and less people to overtake or be overtaken by. At kilometre 11 I briefly stepped off the course to kick the football back to some young kids who had blasted the ball as far from the pitch as was possible to and then at kilometre 14 as I endured the final hill I asked a girl for a bit of a push and she obliged a few feet against my sweaty back – what a sport! I of course thanked her with all my might and then pushed on for a reasonably fast finish.

Crossing the line was a nice experience and I really enjoyed it – this wasn’t a race I was bothered about my performance in but in truth I was quite happy with the way the race panned out. I didn’t push myself too hard, I enjoyed the hills. There was a good medal for the race, the cost was reasonable (£21), the course was challenging and despite three laps was never boring. The atmosphere while not over the top was certainly pleasant and I would highly recommend the race if you were looking for a last minute warm up to the London Marathon or any of the other April marathons. The other great thing about this one was that it was a Saturday race – this means that my Sunday is free for a bit of a swim or cycle, perhaps both. If you decide to do this next year, enjoy it!

Happy running chaps

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I’m a huge fan of the writings and achievements of Sarah, she is inspirational, funny, witty and brilliant. Strangely we have never met and our connections are through over use of Twitter and ultra running but I draw inspiration from her blog and our online chats which often descend into stupidity. I’d therefore like to ask you all to consider voting for her blog as she has been nominated in therunningawards.com – I’ll leave it to Sarah to explain as I’ve stolen the contents of her own post below and the above picture (which I’ve borrowed from her Twitter feed -apologies Sarah) shows a love of mud and running and that alone deserves the prize.

You can visit her blog by clicking here

Good luck Sarah

Can’t quite believe it but ‘Dreaming of Footpaths’ has been shortlisted for a running blogs award! (shocked face!!) It seems that you all enjoy reading about running, poo and mis-adventures more than I thought! Thank you!! If you’d like to add your vote, I’d be really grateful (and I might get a free dinner!).

All you have to do is go to The Running Awards site here therunningawards.com Go to ‘Online’, ‘Blog’ and click ‘Dreaming of Footpaths.’ Please. Do it for my free dinner.

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I’ve been really lucky to have been on the start line with some great runners in my time, I think my favourite was probably Tobias Mews who I met briefly in the bacon sandwich queue for the Snowdonia Marathon but even that pales into insignificance when I was able to train with my dad for the WNWA96. He was down in my neck of the woods to have a little check on UltraBaby and also do a bit of preparation for the walk. We had decided that we would spend the Monday looking over new shoes (many pairs tested and even more examined). Interestingly my dad said that the Hoka were possibly the most comfortable shoes he had worn in years, I only felt moderately smug as people tend to laugh at the stupid look of the Hoka.

Anyway, enough of the Hoka and retail love.

On the Tuesday morning we set ourselves up for a 21.2km walk, both of us kitted up to the hilt and using this as an opportunity to test the Black Diamond Ultra hiking poles, which I had suggested that my dad might want to use across the 96 miles. We set out from my house about 9.30am with the aim for the walk to take around 3hrs 30minutes (including photography and traffic stops) this included a halfway stop for a bacon sandwich – sounded like a genius plan and would also mimic the conditions on the walk which has been broken up into (roughly) 6 mile sections.

As we left the house a lady called over to us and said hello, my dad and I, being rather polite, said hello in return and then suddenly we found ourselves deep into conversation with ‘Pat’ a lady, originally from Burma but now… Hmmm I could go into her life story (believe me I received it all in the 45 minutes we chatted) but I feel that is for another time.

Anyway, armed with the kit, Thunderpad the Spaniel and Justice Jimmy the Westie we started out but also damp and cold from our untimely meeting with Pat… The weather was cool and mildly windy but great conditions for walking, so despite being chilled we soon warmed up.

The first mile was very much downhill and primarily on the tarmac but as we came to the first of the trail sections we could see that there might be problems as the uneven nature of the course meant a slowdown in pace. However, a return to the tarmac and better roads meant that we were able to pick up the pace and maintain somewhere in the region of 3.5miles per hour. This was excellent and even the undulating and even hilly nature of the course I had selected bothered neither of us and with the dogs now off the lead we headed at pace towards the first of the major inclines we had to attack.

My dad pushed well through the incline and as we hit 5km only 45minutes had passed and I was keen that we went as hard as we could because I feel it is important that in the sections were you have the most energy you use that enthusiasm to cover the ground, especially in the training. A brief respite in the incline brought us to kilometre 6 and with it probably the hardest section of the walk with over 400ft of positive ascent. This according to my dad would mimic some of the section of the WNWA96 between Sheffield and. Huddersfield. Despite the challenge of the incline we again exceeded expectation but the cold had started to set in and so with some common sense kicking in we both wrapped our buffs around our heads and despite looking like knobheads felt all toasty. The buffs had the added benefit of cutting out the noise of the traffic which was at points quite loud.

The final 3km to the country park were relatively quiet, save for the traffic, and crossing into our ‘checkpoint’ meant that there was hot coffee and a delicious baguette. Again in line with the walk we kept the stop short(ish), 20 minutes for the food and a few minutes for a couple of photographs (enclosed). Both the hounds were excited to be hitting the road again as there had been no sign of bacon sandwich for them and I explained to my Dad that the return leg was much more of a downhill effort than an uphill slog. Our pace quickened to account for downhill and we made swift progress to the major decline, here my dad tested the hiking poles I had brought along and found that, once he had gotten the hang of them, they might be invaluable in terms of walking the actual route during the event.

We dropped on to the 5km point bang on time for a roughly 3hr 30min finish and with a bit of a flourish we could probably trundle the last leg without any problems. Annoyingly the finish has some gently inclines to account for the decent from my house onto the main track and so the last section required a bit of a push – which we both gave and then straight into the town. Thunderpad and I fancied a bit of a big finish and the a chance to get to the kettle on, so at the top of my road me and hound said goodbye to daddy and sprinted the last couple of hundred metres – lovely.

Upon arriving home, cup of tea in hand and armed with some soda bread toast we agreed that this was a good test walk, it had a bit of everything. The route was heavily undulating, challenging but manageable, multi terrain, noisy and windy. This was the kind of training walks that really help set you up for big events and in all fairness we managed it with great aplomb. The only very minor downside is that the route wasn’t 30miles but with time against us this was excellent.

I’m very proud of my dad, and of course the rest of the people who are giving this a go, they really are amazing and I’m looking forward to not only to the event but also to blogging about it as we walk as I’m confident that we will all need your support on the day.

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