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There was a huge doubt in my mind as to whether I’d turn up to the start line of the Amersham Ultra. The reason? Well on race morning, having been upended by a nervous dog a week earlier, I was still carrying the bulk of a groin strain and the arse end of a hamstring pull having refused to DNF! I really shouldn’t have rolled up to the school hall at 8.15 on Saturday 11 March but I did and I’m very pleased that I did.

Let’s do the short version for those of you desperate to know how it was… basically if you enjoy the following; oozy mud, an undulating route, a great atmosphere and beautiful countryside then the Amersham Ultra is for you. If you don’t then I wonder how you got this far 🙂

And now to the rambling version of events. The start was located inside a school hall which, as you might imagine, brought about a bevy of long repressed memories. XNRG had arranged things for a swift registration process and there was a registration desk, T-shirt collection point, a tea and cake table, Apex Sport and some information about Humanity Direct (the charity who would be benefitting from our entry fee and running).

I was joined in the hall by the usual eclectic mix of runners and of course by UltraBaby and the GingaNinja. UltraBaby sadly was a bit ill and was mildly more manic than normal, which was to the amusement of some and annoyance to others – but ho-hum! However, it’s always a delight for me to be waved off to the two ladies in my life but my beloved hound had decided to sit this one out and he remained in bed – catching up on the 5Live I suspect.

Anyway…

Clocking in at around 30 miles this is at the baby end of the ultra running world but that should not detract from it being a very worthwhile event. I know from having done the first half of Country to Capital around these parts that there can be some tricky sections and that the Amersham Ultra while advertised as ‘for everyone’ should not be underestimated.

And with that thought and a few well chosen words from the organisers ringing in my ears we set off.

The course it is fair to say is mighty, undoubtedly runnable for the most part despite the mud and varied, it’s fair to say that there is a bit of tarmac involved but actually rather than me moan about this I’ll instead say that this was the connective tissue between the trail sections – it felt like a well considered course.


Lots of the runners set out at a good pace even though we were the 9.00am (slower) group and overall there was a genuinely positive atmosphere that passed through the groups. For a change I was mostly keeping myself to myself, trying to focus on the running rather than the chit-chat and this was working wonders except for some over heating!

By about mile 3 I realised I was wearing one layer too many and by mile 5 I was over heating. I stopped, threw off my tops and discarded one to the bottom of my much loved original UD PB vest. Now in just a t-shirt I felt much livelier and set about catching the dozen or so people who had overtaken me.

Still feeling strong I did indeed catch the runners who had overtaken me a little before checkpoint 1 but I was also aware that I could feel my hamstring and if I didn’t back off I might not make it to checkpoint 2. I had decided that I would use my ’90 second checkpoint rule’ for this race and so gulped down some orange squash and buttered malt loaf before hurling myself into the void of the second section.

I’ll make a minor tangent here to mention the truly brilliant aid station and checkpoint crews. As mentioned this is a baby distance ultra but the checkpoints and the runners were treated with the utmost respect – good, well prepared food with a good range available. The crews were upbeat, focused and never missed a beat. Absolutely superb – I understand why XNRG are so highly regarded in the ultra community.

Having now slowed a little bit I could start to think about the problem that had been pestering me since near the start and that was the epic ‘gut rot’. Thankfully I was a) still capable of running and b) fully armed with poo roll and I took full advantage of a hilly wooded area to relieve some of the enormous pressure that had been building. Relieved but with more than 10 minutes lost I set off again but noting I had managed to slice open the lower part of my shins and sweat was seeping into the open wounds.

For the third time in the race I stopped, this time to clean up the slices, then off again.

With my drama quotient filled I arrived into checkpoint 2, refilled my water and ploughed on. CP2 to CP3 would be the longest of the sections but at about 14km still was reasonably short and there was more fun to be had, although I know I got lost a couple of times which didn’t help my time but it did offer me some discreet cover for a second delivery of epic ‘gut rot’. I’ll be honest I was feeling pretty ill. However, relieved, I once again pressed on despite feeling that either my guts or my hamstring injury were going to get the better of me.

Despite my troubles I couldn’t help but delight in the route – it was for the most part very special. I met several runners throughout the day indicated that this was a ‘warm-up for the SDW50’. For me, being honest and having done the SDW50 a couple of times, Amersham was more fun, more exciting and better looking.

Anyway, with checkpoint 3 reached I had about 10 miles to go. I gulped down some lovely cola and hit the afterburner hoping to get round in as respectable a time as possible. Sadly this section brought my final trip to natures toilet (and the use of my last tissue) but I was ‘cleaned out’ to use an appropriate gambling term.

Feeling better than I had for much of the race but increasing pain through my hamstring I knew I should stop at the final checkpoint but I’d loved this route so much that I was determined to see it through.

More lovely trails greeted me as I wound my way to the finish and a glorious climb into Amersham was just reward for my efforts. Here I was joined by the delightful Sharon and I delighted in her company as we inspired each other to the finish line. As we turned into the final field and back into the school we looked around a little lost and some kindly supporters waved us towards them, we were going to make it! I could now see the finish a few hundred metres away and I turned to Sharon and said ‘end of the cones we give it a bit of welly’ and we did – crossing the line to the same beautiful support we had received all the way round.

What a bloody brilliant event! and I’ll be joining XNRG again for many more of their events I reckon – check them out here.

Key points

  • Distance: 31 miles (ish)
  • Profile: Mildly undulating
  • Date: March 2017
  • Location: Amersham
  • Cost: £48
  • Terrain: Muddy trail
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
I feel as though I’ve already discussed my love for this route, it was a wonderfully eclectic mix of challenges that with effort could be achieved by anyone. For those that might question the value of shorter distance routes I’d say that what it lacked in big distance it provided in character and challenge – one not to be underestimated but one you’ll fall in love with. Recommended, especially in the earlier part of the year when conditions underfoot make it ‘real’ trail!

Awards
There was a truly delightful medal and an awesome t-shirt that perfectly matches my new down jacket. In addition there was tea, coffee and cakes at the beginning with free photographs thrown in just for good measure (I’m told there were prizes too but I’m too old and slow to win one of those!). You really would struggle to criticise the goodies that were heaped on this race. Excellent.


Horses
So having discussed my mid race gut rot I’ll briefly mention the horses on the course. Somewhere between the start and checkpoint one a huge herd of horses ambled politely around either side of the track, others had run through and the track itself was clear. I slowed as I approached and when they got too close let them wander past me, then it happened, like clouds on a mountain – they surrounded me.

I nearly ‘shat’ myself. Inching forward more horses came to face me down, several surly looking beasts snorting as they strode past me and then I saw my escape, a decent sized gap and I walked sensibly to the edge of the horses.

Clear(ish). I turned as I exited their thrall and what I saw next was terrifying – scores and scores of horses in a stampede across where I had been standing seconds earlier.

Had I been in there I’d have been dead but thankfully (for me at least) I wasn’t. Note to self, two races, two weeks, two incidents involving horses – a pattern?

Charity
Perhaps the nicest thing about the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra was the charitable element. Your £48 bought you much more than a race as XNRG were donating all of the entry fee to Humanity Direct who do amazing work with those that need it most in Africa.
The race organisers, I can only assume, absorb the costs of putting on this event (medals, t-shirts, food, logistics, etc) in order that this worthwhile charity benefits from such a spectacular event. It’s fitting to say that I’m in genuine awe of the guys at XNRG and can understand were the excellent reputation they have comes from.

If you want more information about Humanity Direct click here to check out their website

Organisation
Perfect, if anything went wrong then you didn’t see it – this was a very knowledgeable team delivering a great event.

Volunteers
Having volunteered a few times at different races I know a little of what it takes to support runners and it’s fair to say that the XNRG volunteers and teams know a lot more than I do. Everyone seemed so well catered for at the start, at the checkpoints and at the finish. Every single person I met under the XNRG banner was really outstanding. Top notch.

Value for money
£48? Smallish field but never lonely, beautiful and challenging route, great medal and perhaps the best organisation I’ve seen at an ultra marathon with the added bonus of the money going to Humanity Direct. This to me is a real bargain and one of the best value for money ultras around – no it’s not £1 a mile or less but there are some very significant mitigating reasons. Everyone should be adding this to their list!

Conclusion
As you’ve read I can’t praise this race enough. For myself I ran better than expected but not as well as I would have liked given my hamstring and ‘crotchal’ region proving that this was perhaps a bit too far after the previous weeks exploits (read about last weeks race here). What I liked was that at no point did I become bored by the surroundings, at no point did I really want the race to end and thankfully it wasn’t a brutaliser. Instead of brutalising it was an excellent test of your marathon pace over tough conditions and a few spare miles to give you a fright. What the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra gave me though was a big dollop of confidence to face down the UTBCN in two weeks time (subject to injury clearing – wish me luck!)

All in all, top marks for a top event, check it out!

 

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It’s been a couple of weeks since the verdict at the Hillsborough inquest was announced and it was a momentous moment for the families. Certainly it is a moment worth celebrating as we hope they are entering the final stages of achieving recognition for the innocent and accountability for the guilty. 

It seems fitting that Liverpool has been gathering in various guises since to celebrate the verdict and the running community will be paying its tribute too when it gets together next week for the ‘Run for the 96’. It’s a wonderful 5km route  through Stanley Park and its surrounds and it’d be awesome to see you there. 

But why should you think about getting involved? Well I have a few good reasons;

  • The verdict from the inquests deserves to be celebrated
  • This event is part of the positive lasting legacy of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy
  • It’s an opportunity for the community to come together not just in memory of the 96 but for those who have campaigned to say thank you
  • Getting a bit of exercise on a Sunday morning never did anyone any harm
  • Liverpool fans might be celebrating the winning of their first European title in a decade and want to share the love
  • Liverpool fans might be commiserating the loss of their first European title in a decade and want to share their pain
  • I’m going to need a great big crowd to help cheer me home after completing 80 miles in hours before the ‘Run for the 96’
  • The medal is awesome
  • The T-Shirt is awesome
  • You get to witness UltraBoy beat his own father across the line Dick Dastardly style

So join in on Sunday 22nd May 2016 for a 5km that promises to have laughter and tears aplenty in the heart of Stanley Park, Liverpool. You don’t need to be a football fan, an elite athlete or even wear a shell suit – this is one event that really is all inclusive.

Find out more here and you can sign up here and I’ll look forward to running alongside you next weekend.

Photograph copyright: Liverpool Echo

It’s been a great couple of years with Virtual Runner UK. I (the GingaNinja, UltraBaby, ThunderPad and even Pops accompanied by Jimmy) have done quite a few events with them with the highlight definitely being the Poppy Challenge – a little over 300km in 24 running days. It’s actually going to be a little bit sad for me not to be doing them for a while but I try not to repeat myself too much in my running and so I’m off to concentrate on the build up to my 2016 ultra events – BUT I WILL BE BACK

I’d like to say a gigantic thank you to the lovely and dedicated Susan who has provided some excellent events since she set up VRUK and I’ve been incredibly grateful that they’ve kept me going during injury rehabilitation, the GingaNinjas pregnancy, tough working situations and a whole load of other things that, had it not been VRUK, might have stopped me running. So thank you.

And now to the the Poppy Challenge which has given me the opportunity to go on a creative tour of London as I have racked up the miles. Below are a selection of the images taken during the month as I sought to find both culture and fitness in the name of rememberance.

 



But what of the final full week of the Poppy Challenge. I was left with just 37km to go. By Monday I had dropped this to just 25km and by the time I was drifting to sleep on Tuesday I had less than 15km to go. But what to do? I wanted to finish at exactly 300km, this meant reaching 290km by Friday and doing my Movember Greenwich 10km on Saturday and concluding the event. I decided bugger it, I’d just have to pass through the 300km mark and forget about the numbers.

The good news was that I reached and passed the 290km on Wednesday and relaxed a bit with some gentle and short jogs too and from my office. And so I strode up to the start line on Saturday – moustache and other facial hair adorning my chiseled good looks and set off around the hilly Greenwich Park pushing UltraBaby in the UltraMobile.

As I crossed the line, 55 minutes later, I was elated but not as much as my legs were ‘Time for a rest UltraBoy’ they chimed in unison. 315km done, my Poppy Challenge complete. A great event and I feel properly ready for Saintelyon and I have few days rest ahead of me before the final and main event of 2016 kicks off – so thank you Susan, it’s been a blast.


  

Several months ago I signed up to The Soldier On Challenge and ran a reasonable distance in my June Virtual Challenge. At the time there was an opportunity to do a similar event for the month of November in honour of those who have lost their lives during conflict. 
What Virtual Runner UK say is: this challenge is different from our usual races and is live between 1st – 30th November. In the month, run, swim, walk and cycle as far as you can to add to our collective km total. Our aim is to complete 88,824.6km. 888,246 is a significant number, as represents the number of poppies displayed at the Tower of London last year to remember the fallen soldiers in World War One.

With 2,000 runners, cyclists, swimmers and walkers this shouldn’t be a difficult number to achieve – it amounts to a little over a kilometre and a half per day being required by everyone to reach the total set. However, in honour of those who lost their lives and in an effort to prepare for my assault on the Saintelyon I will be looking to run (no cycling or swimming for me in this challenge) somewhere in the region of between 300-350km. I should be being helped by running the Hugin 6hr timed event this weekend but my logistical transport nightmare means that’s a no go but the Thames Meander Marathon will give me a decent hit and then I’ll be doing a couple of long, slow, back to back runs during November. Add to this I’m hoping that I can build in a few miles here and there during my RunCommute efforts and actually my target looks mostly achievable. 

But why would I do this given I have no real military connection? The answer to that is pretty simple. Those who have died during war, regardless of the side they served, whether they were soldier, civilian or even animal should never be forgotten.

And as a final thought a huge congratulations should be passed to those who have entered and helped raise so much money for the British Legion but especially the number one virtual runner, Susan who organises these rather special events. Good luck everyone and give it some welly – I know I will be!

  

’It’s a bit achey’ I said ‘more than it’s been since I started running again’. The problem was I’d said this to myself and not to anyone useful. That was Saturday night after the inferno that was the Pizza100 tweet session (I think I’ve been generously excused the aftermath). Sunday morning and I’d had a cramp filled night and my glutes were biting but a warm shower and into my ‘thigh crunching’ body helix and I was ready to go to the …

Brands Hatch Half Marathon. 13.1 miles around a track – how sedate I thought.

Brum!Brum! It was a late start (10.30) so we trundled down to the course and were greeted at first by oodles of traffic and secondly by a cut up and hilly field that was doubling as a car park. ‘You’ll have to push’ came the expected words from The GingaNinja. 

Out I got, and I launched myself behind the car giving it everything I (and my glutes) had. I was quickly joined by a couple of burly runners who aided our ascent up the hill and into position.

‘Bloody hell UltraBoy I’m never going to be able to get up that hill for the exit’ on the positive side that was a problem for later in the day.

UltraBaby decided that she would remain in the MiniUltraMobile today (aka Pram), it was windy, cold and Brands Hatch seemed to be acting like a magnet for both and the pram seemed like a good idea (wish I’d thought of it).

It was a reasonable hike to the TShirt collection point and it was in this journey that I caught sight of the route.

‘That’s a hill,’ I heard myself say, ‘so is that, but it’s track – for race cars… aren’t they supposed to be flat?’

It seemed that Brands Hatch was not the pancake flat route I had been expecting. Bugger. The idea originally had been to test myself across a half marathon distance on a relatively flat course, I’d already done one training half marathon earlier in the week, which had been moderately undulating, so I was after something fast and flat to give me a confidence boost ahead of further pushing up my distance.

Hmm – common sense should have dictated that I pull out but I found myself lining up on the start line (at the back as per usual) and when the group lurched slowly forward I joined them. 

The course was fun(ish), hilly, lots of bends, twists, inclines and hairpins as you might expect, the scenery was pleasant and the atmosphere was very charitable (it was a British Heart Foundation event). It was crisp weather on the course, the wind, while often beating on your face, wasn’t cold – just strong and I ambled around taking it all in. 

I’d give you the names of all the corners and hills but truth is I don’t know them and doubt I ever will, but it’s suffice to say that the track was tough. Weirdly as the race wore on it got tougher as we were then sent out of Brands Hatch and around the general vicinity of the track. Then over onto what I assumed was the motocross or bike track which was littered with more hills. Finally for the first lap, in a rather uncharitable decision, they made us run in a zig zag across some tarmac – by now I was actually a little bit bored and the knowledge I had to do it again filled me with dread especially as I could feel the onset of injury.

I made my way through the pit lane and slowed to a crawl as I could feel my hamstring biting under my body helix, depressingly I could feel my glutes burning and worryingly my ITB pain was burning right through my leg and into my foot – all by kilometre 14. At this point I stopped, looked around to see if I could see the GingaNinja for some moral support, but she was not  in sight and so I decided to do some emergency stretching.

Twang: Stretching was not the answer and so I decided I could probably jog/walk it – it was only 7km after all. However, looking at my Suunto I realised I was now well outside my preferred 1hr 40 finish, a 1hr 50 finish was already creeping up and by the time I had hobbled 7km I would be lucky to get 2hrs 30.

I shan’t bother you with my tale of disappointment further other than to say I drifted home in a time I’m ashamed of and I should have had the mental strength just to give up. But I didn’t. 

Instead I shall draw a few conclusions about the race.

Organisation: it was okay, the parking was stupid given the ground conditions and access to the ground was slow. There was also a long walk to the start and not enough people directing and fiving out information. The Tshirt collection was a bit of a free for all but the bag storage looked like it was running sensibly. 5/10

Course: There was a lot to like about the course – running through an iconic location, variable terrain, big uphills, big downhills. However, it was all very intricate – back and forth, in and out, mixing with the 10km runners, it felt messy. 6/10

Goodies: The medal was the standard British Heart Foundation medal and a bit poo. The Tshirt is okay but it’s a bit too ‘charity advertising’ for me to actually wear it and there was a bottle of water and a chewy bar – meh. I know it’s charity and they’re not likely to give away naughty chocolate goodies but still. 4/10

Atmosphere: For me it was a bit of a let down, the crowds were a bit sparse, in fairness runners were a little sparse too, the overly loud and annoyingly crap music couldn’t disguise a lack of race enthusiasm. If this were a stage show it would smell of amateur dramatics – nothing wrong with it but not exactly Broadway. 5/10

Marshals: Perfectly lovely, very cheery – probably not enough of them – as they seemed a little over worked, especially in the pit lane. 8/10

Overall: Even if I’d had a perfect RaceDay I don’t think I’d have come away going ‘next year, I’m back’. It was a little bit lacklustre and a little bit lacking. However, if you fancy a challenging pre Spring Marathon season that isn’t really expensive (about £30) then this is okay. 6/10




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Please note: The picture above was made possible in part by the runner I am about to blog about.

‘You useless article’ I think that’s what I called her shortly after we met and we’ve never looked back but for the purpose of this post I am going to look back a little and explain what this is about.

As readers will know I’ve just been badly injured for the last few months caused by a near unknown level of stoopidity, but during that time UltraBaby came along, I DNFd the Winter100 and I started a new job. It’s at the new job that I found a very inspiring character – @marathonwoman52. In this fellow tweeter and creative I’ve been able to keep my spirits surprisingly positive despite not being able to run – and it’s time to say thank you.

Now it’s true that awesome runners like @Susie__Chan and @Cat_Simpson_ are really the dogs doo-dars when it comes to being inspired to push harder, faster and further or @UltraDHC and @UltraRunnerDan when you want to know what ball churning tenacity is but I have an equally huge respect for those at the other end of the run spectrum that get up and pound the pavement for hour after hour in the pursuit of a better run time, a new challenge or simply to keep fit.

@marathonwoman52 falls very much at the heart of this final category and whenever I have the pleasure of speaking to her I find that my own challenges in running terms seem insignificant. Her chirpy, northern charm never fails to see the positive optimistic side and while she’s never going to break any speed records what she will do is go on to achieve truly great things in her own inimitable style.

And that starts here: in just a few short weeks she is going to tackle the mighty Brighton Marathon. Listening to the pride in her training is fantastic and I’m so thrilled to be able to get first hand accounts of how it’s all going. Sadly I won’t be in Brighton on race day as I’ll be running elsewhere but I know a lot of you will be heading down to Brighton so if you happen to see her or know her then make sure you cheer her in and if you follow her on Twitter (and do follow her on Twitter, I know my favourite community will only inspire her further) don’t forget to remind her to set up her justgiving page 🙂 – very interestingly she’s got herself involved in a Duathlon too, plus her run time at her first virtualrunneruk 5km was something to be very proud of. So she’s really gunning for a life fantastic, clad in lycra and lit in neon. She, to me, is living proof of why we do what we do – to be fabulous and prove that not just that this girl can but that everyone can.

Anyway to conclude, because I’ve gone on long enough. @marathonwoman52 I offer my most sincere thanks for you being incredibly supportive, whether you knew it or not, during my rehabilitation. And this is what this post is about, telling the world and my fellow tweeters that you’ve been one of the four amazing ladies (and my dog) that’s gotten me back on the roads and pounding the trails (the others being The GingaNinja, UltraBaby and ThumbMistress Rosie, my physiotherapist).

So thank you … oh and no bloody slacking.

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So I’ve been a bit quieter than normal on the blogging and tweeting front as I’ve been busy doing, as my partner puts it, real life. But now it’s back to more fun things and by fun I mean sport.

As regular readers will know there are a number of things I want to achieve this year but this has had a huge bomb thrown into the middle of it called UltraBaby. Advice seems to be suggesting that having a baby will have a negative impact on training, running and racing and I can see how that might be but I’m going to do my best to race as much as is humanly possible this year and then see what the future holds.

And so to my 2014 aims – the triathlon.

I haven’t yet been able to find a suitably timed, local triathlon that I can get involved in, that is suitable for beginners and available at the sprint distance as my swimming isn’t very strong and my biking is nervous. However, to the rescue has come my new favourite event – the Virtual Run, from VirtualRunnerUK (I’ve blogged about these guys before).

To coincide with the Sport Relief weekend they are offering the opportunity to go cycle, swim or run a sport relief distance, get a medal and also donate to a charity that I feel very positively about.

So how does this link up to my aims for 2014? Well, I’ve signed up for all three elements and I’m thinking that if I were really clever I could turn this into a type of personal triathlon. Sounds ridiculous I know but I’ve found that the virtual events have made me feel competitive during training and I’ll be transitioning as quickly as I can. Obviously for the sake of logistics it won’t have the same kind of feeling as a real triathlon but it will make for a bit of mid March fun before I head into the Tough 15, SDW50 and the hugely important (to me anyway) We Never Walked Alone 96mile Challenge. I’ll also be doing it in a slightly different order than a triathlon (as far as I’m aware), for the logistics side I’ll need to do my cycle first (only 3 miles) followed by a 5 mile run and then a 1500metre swim.

I’m fully aware that this won’t count as completing of one of my 2014 aims but it will take me one step closer and that’s very much what running and training is all about – making progress. So time to crack out the old iron horse, hope the Hoka dry and pray my swimming shorts don’t become any more translucent…

I know that a lot of the people I follow or are friends with via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram read my general witterings and then very sensibly ignore them but I would urge you all to support this outstanding event, if you aren’t doing anything this weekend, hell even if you are doing something this weekend then get involved. If you don’t want to sign up to the VirtualRunner version of things or even a Sport Relief event near you then can I urge you to open the door, smell the fresh air of the day and just doing something active. Take the kids, take your significant other, take an opportunity to challenge yourself.

My pregnant partner, the lady carrying UltraBaby, is looking at doing at least one of these events – possibly all of them, only at the shorter distances and she will speed walk the run section but if she can do it then so can you.

What’s holding you back?

Look forward to reading about your adventures on what could be a very active weekend.

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