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suunto ambit 2

’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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I’ve reviewed the Kent Roadrunner before, a relatively local race to me and a really fun day in the sun – please note this race review contains poo, pain and a giant piece of bling – you have been warned.

On the Friday I packed the smallest amount of kit in the universe, buff, shorts, t-shirt, socks, race vest, iPod and brand new Inov8 Xtreme 208 (that’s not much when you’re used to ultra sized I ate a reasonable sized bowl of carbs and some delicious ice-cream, laid out my kit and went to sleep to the delicious sounds of Pearl Jam.

I didn’t sleep very well but nothing worse than normal and managed to get ready and to the race in plenty of time – as per usual it was the same mix of warm sunshine and party atmosphere as it was in 2013. I met up again with several runners I knew or knew of from my local Parkrun and in the distance I had spied TP100 runner Naomi Newton Fisher and several of the ultra runners from the National 100. Given my recent performances and a less than memorable face I kept my head down and went to drink coffee.

The race itself is 17 laps of the rather wonderful Cyclopark facility near Gravesend in Kent. My plan was simple, the first half would be bang on 2hrs and the second half would be about the same – this would give me the confidence to know I could pace @hitmanharris for the Summer Breeze Half next week. I trundled slowly around the course, waving at my partner, occasionally grabbing at some liquid refreshment and generally doing okay. My pacing was proving to be bang on the money despite the gradient of the course and because at 13.1 miles I was rather pleased with myself I tweeted out a picture of my Suunto.

There were however two rather large problems – the first was that at just 11 miles in my hips started to give in on me again and the second well that was a call of of nature at around 8 miles in.

Let me roll back an hour or so to being sat curled up on the loo trying to make haste with your morning deposit – but my body just wasn’t playing ball – so I lined up to the race knowing that I was carrying around the course a dump that could have fought off Godzilla. Anyway with my pacing going so well I decided that I would thrust aside my problems and clench deeply and as I hit 13.1 miles I knew what would be my first port of call – the portaloo. I’d very much like to thank TZRuns for having a well stocked and clean portaloo which made my 12mins 18secs stay more pleasurable than it had any right to be.

Leaving the portaloo I felt lighter and much more refreshed but now that one troublesome weight had been dispensed with I had to deal with the other – my useless hips. I pushed on through each lap, waving merrily at several of the runners and hurling slightly abusive encouragement at others. In the hazy memory of the melee that were the last few laps I finally managed to get into a bit of a rhythm and plodded onwards until hearing the sound of the bell to signal my final lap was ringing in my ears. I drifted around the course much as I had done all morning and it wasn’t until the final push up Tourette’s Hill that I opened my stride out and flew forward like the wind, crossing the line in my customary sprint finish and beating the two runners who had been significantly infront of me only half a lap earlier.

It was a disappointing time, a disappointing way to run but a great race and I’ll probably be back next year to see if I can actually run a decent time on this lovely track.

I did learn a few things though regardless of my disappointment – the first is that you probably shouldn’t wear new trainers straight out of the box for a marathon – my Inov8 are lovely and comfy but it was my first time in any of their road shoes and my first time in minimal trainers for ages, a mistake I feel. I also confirmed to myself that tarmac running probably isn’t my primary thing, nor is sunny running – winter trails seem to be were I am happiest. I can also see that I am steadily getting worse at running because of injuries and running too many races and I am finally addressing this issue after more than a year of suffering. The GingaNinja who was at the race described my running as painful looking and that I wasn’t enjoying myself and she was right, there was very little in terms of big strides, sprinting or good form – so I am finally being looked at more seriously to get to the root of my problems.

TZRuns put on excellent races, offering really good quality medals and a handsome goody bag. The quality of the event and the marshalling is unquestionably good and it’s a small enough field for this to still feel intimate but not too sparse. If you haven’t run this one before then do consider adding into your late spring schedule – you won’t regret it.

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Sssscccrrreeecch

This was the sound of my flight landing at Gatwick on Friday evening, I’d been in Budapest for a week enjoying the cultural highlights of the city – highly recommended is the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.

It was now just short of 9pm and we were off to get the car – I needed to spin round the motorway and get to a Sainsbury’s fast as I had no running food supplies. My other half put her foot (legally) to the floor and by 9.38pm we were filling a trolley with falafel, malt loaf, lucozade and a gigantic lasagne thingee from their nicer tasting food range – it was going to be a long night.

I got home at around 10.30pm – the GingaNinja threw some lasagne at the oven and I started to get my kit ready for the National 100km. It normally takes about 2 weeks for me to prep for an ultra – this one took less than 40 minutes, it’s not that I’m getting faster it’s just I was being tired and sloppy. At 12.54am I was in bed and exhausted, my hip stinging gently in the darkness of the early morning hours and me with the knowledge I needed to wake in just over 4 hours to run my third ultra in a month.

At 5.00am I turned off the alarm of my phone and stood exhausted in a shower of steamy water and thought to myself why do I do this? Regardless I applied the usual liberal amounts of Vaseline to all the usually affected areas and proceeded to get dressed. I’m much happier preparing for trail ultras but I figured this would be much the same, albeit with the addition of my box of goodies from Sainsbury’s. When I arrived at the Gravesend Cyclopark I could see that it got treated very differently. The other runners were mainly in low profile racing flats (I’d gone for Hoka Tarmac) and nobody was carrying a pack, I felt that my inexperience on the track was now showing a bit.

At the off though there was a very nice atmosphere as the group of runners straddled the start line and Ian, the race director, gave us a few final instructions and the location of the toilets. And then we were off!

The leaders from the national teams set off at a blistering pace and while we watched on in awe I think it dawned on most of us the challenge that lay ahead – 48 laps of a tarmac track with a couple of bitchy hills. Now I’ll be honest this, on the face of it, wasn’t going to be as tough as any of my previous ultras and as I drifted along at 5.05 per kilometre I was perfectly happy. In fact things couldn’t have been going much better, the toe infection I thought would be causing me problems was nicely secure in my Hoka and the various blisters from the WNWA96 and SDW50 that still hadn’t healed were holding up beautifully thanks to some strategic strapping and compeeding. Even the exhaustion I was expecting from my late night exertions at the airport hadn’t kicked in and so by about 14km in I was a very happy bunny. I was even remembering to eat and drink regularly which is something that often kills off decent times on an ultra for me.

It was when I making my second stop at the feeding table and having a bit of a laugh though that I ruined the race. Here’s what I think happened.

1. Stuffed Jaffa Cake in gob
2. Told a moderately smutty joke
3. Set off wiggling my arse and throwing hand shapes around in the air
4. Wasn’t looking where I was going
5. Slipped off the tarmac
6. Twisted right ankle and knee
7. Cursed myself – may have dropped the C bomb a couple of times

Before the end of the lap I knew that the 100km was out of reach as I was hobbling pretty horribly and even the 50km would be a tough ask within the time limit of six hours – to say I was devastated is an understatement as I’d be running well enough to do the distance in 10.5hrs which was the Spartathlon qualifying time. As I meandered what would have been about lap 8 I decided that I’d risk further injury and give it everything I had for the 50km.

I was now much, much slower and the pounding of the tarmac was making my feet feel heavy and combined with the injury the wheels just started to completely come off. I stopped remembering to eat and drink properly, I was leaning away from the right leg too much which meant the weight was pressing heavily on my already destroyed hips and worse was the sun was coming out and I didn’t have any sun cream – nor had I put any on.

15 laps in and I’m a bit dazed and confused but still going forward having finally figured out a method of movement that didn’t cause too much discomfort, I was back to eating sensibly and drinking but my skin looked a bit like crispy fried duck – I’d burnt badly. However I stayed in good humour and chatted with runners as I passed them or they passed me.

As I passed into the final lap I gave a little jig or two to offer a bit of amusement to the crowds and then pushed on doggedly. Despite it having been a disaster of a race, the like of which not seen since the Bewl Water Marathon last year, I was feeling okay if a lot despondent. I approached the final ascent up the unofficially titled ‘Tourette’s Hill’ and crossed the line.

‘Are you okay?’ was the question
‘Disappointed’ I answered wearily

I took my medal but stupidly left behind my excellent goody bag, I wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate as I crossed the line. For a while I sat in the coffee shop mulling over my disappointment and my scorched skin and decided to leave both of these behind in favour of supporting the other runners home – probably the best decision I’d made all day as this really lifted my spirits seeing dozens of runners completing the race and achieving such amazing feats of endurance.

A few words about the race
The chaps at TZRuns are Amazeballs, they really care about racing, running and runners – it is all extremely well planned, well executed, brilliantly supported and reasonably priced. The National 100 was a race you could enjoy and while I had a personal nightmare that was nothing to do with the organisation.

The Cyclopark in Gravesend is a great course with great facilities, toilets, coffee shop, children’s playground – if you want a family friendly race location then this is it.

Special Mention
The supporters, photographers, medical guys and the marshals – epic. At every turn they offered a friendly face, a bit of a laugh and the right amount of food and drink. I wanted for nothing (except sun protection cream). In fact all the personal stores I took along with me pretty much went home because the feed stations were so well stocked.

Conclusion
Great race, with the 100km record time broken, stunning supporters, amazing organisation and great facilities. Add to this a course that was challenging and hard on your feet but fun to get involved in and you have perfect race conditions.

I’ll be going back for the Kent Roadrunner in a few weeks time (just 17 laps this time) also organised by TZRuns which I think says more about the organisers than anything I can possibly commit to my writings.

The only problem with this race was with this runner and I aim to fix that in time for the marathon.

Happy running guys

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Amazingly this was ultra number 6 for me, I’ve now got more ultra marathon medals than I have marathon medals – that to me seems a little bit crazy. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the SDW50 and am looking forward to tackling it again but this was a real beast of a course over some challenging terrain but enjoyable conditions.

Anyway, as is often my way, let’s roll back a few days to incidents that I have no control over and that most certainly had a detrimental effect on my race day face! On Monday of race week it turns out that my grandmother (whom I’ve written about before) took a reasonably serious tumble in her home, breaking her ankle and injuring other bits of herself as she went down. It was a hospital trip and then a hospital stay, even as I write this she’s there – and miserable about it.

What this meant was a lot of preparation. I squeezed all the work in the universe into a couple of days, managed to get a work laptop for designing on the go, advised my pregnant partner that I’d be away but be back in time for her hospital appointment on the Friday afternoon, slipped in a desperate appointment with the physiotherapist to try and fix my knackered hips, kit check with Mick (more about that running legend later) and even fit in a last minute race to Waterstones to pick up a couple of maps that were needed just in case kit checks were very thorough. This was then all topped off by my partner being on call until 1am in the morning on race day and me not finishing my kit packing until well beyond this time with a 5am start – let’s be honest this wouldn’t qualify as the best of race day preparation. This all meant that by 5am on Saturday April 5th I was pretty much over the race and fancied DNSing for the first time.

However…

At about 5.03am I stepped into the shower and allowed the hot pillows of water splash over my exhausted body and for the first time in days I looked over towards the mirror and I stared ahead and said to myself ‘you are an ultra runner’. I dried quickly but thoroughly, added in a copious (but as I would discover later, still insufficient) amount of Vaseline to those areas most affected by chaffing and then grabbed my kit from the top of the stairs, stroking my previous race medals as I went past for good luck.

My race preparation usually means that I get dressed in the dining room – this is where the remainder of my kit is usually laid out and also it stops me disturbing the rest of the house. Kit is now pretty settled thankfully, Ronhill VIzion LS top, my much loved tech shirt from the Snowdonia Marathon, 0.5 OMM flash tights, CompressSport Calfguards, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Drymax socks and my still beautiful Hoka Stinson Evo all topped off with my Buff and sunglasses (just incase) – I’ve still never quite managed to fix the underwear problem but I live in hope that I come up with a solution soon.

With this done I scoffed a bit of Soreen, had a big cup of tea and even a couple of those kids yogurts, a breakfast of champions I hear you cry. Not really but I’m not sure I’ve prepared well for an ultra marathon ever – though I am trying to amend some of my poorer habits.

With all of this done I said goodbye to the GingaNinja, ThunderPad and UltraHound who were staying in bed to recover from a challenging week and then I headed off to see Mick who would also be running the race as well as supplying the transport to the start line. I arrived at his house, feeling surprisingly perky, said hello to Nicola his wife and met his in-laws who were joining us for the journey to the start line.

It was a thankfully uneventful journey to the start line and as we approached the parking area I could see @abradypus in the distance – sadly she failed to notice me, but it was nice to see a smiling face so early in the morning and as we arrived at the main registration area with just an hour to go to the start everything had a wonderful air of calm about it. I suppose that is the benefit of going to an event that has such a distinguished, even if short history – you got the feeling that they really knew what they were doing.

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So a quick kit check, followed by the collection of my ‘chip’ to get my number and within a couple of minutes I was done and ready to go. Mick wasn’t far behind and we drifted over to the excellent changing facilities, what was a college or school on the field changing room with little benches that reminded you of being 14 again.

I was already changed so I used this an opportunity to tidy up my bag after the kit check, have some Lucozade sport, clip on my number and chat to a couple of the other runners. Strangely nerves had pretty much deserted me, which given my level of preparation and on reflection was a bit of mistake.

We were thankfully early enough to have nice and easy access to the toilets and after a few minutes we were simply stood around basking in the ultra indulgent atmosphere of the beautiful Worthing morning. We were soon joined by running and Twitter royalty @abradypus and @cat_simpson_ and also @annemarieruns who I had originally met at the White Cliffs 50 just over a year ago – again more running royalty. I introduced Mick who was at SDW50 losing his ultra cherry and suddenly it went from pleasant to having that carnival feel. The whole Centurion atmosphere that everyone raves about kicked in and you really were being pulled along by it.

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With mere minutes to go we hurled our bags into the van for delivery to the finish line and then strolled over to the start. I’ll be honest I didn’t take a lot of notice of the safety briefing as I was too busy chatting to Mick and Anne-Marie but it all seemed pretty straight forward and then it all happened in slow motion – the start.

I started moving forward rather gently and within a few seconds I found myself setting off in the traditionally too fast manner that has been the cornerstone of almost every race I have ever done but regardless at the first corner I saw @cat_simpson_ thundering past me and what a sight she is to behold in full flight! However, ultras are very much about your individual challenge and I had originally said that if I could come in with a finish that started 10hrs … something then I would be pretty happy.

The first few miles I was finding reasonably difficult and as I stormed up the first hill I could already feel my hips, additionally the uneven ground was a challenge even in my Hoka. The good news was that it was pretty dry and actually within a couple of miles the sun had really come out and I was forced into my first of many changes which was the removal of my under shirt.

I slipped my shirt off, attached it to the back of my Ultimate Directions and then quickly set of again, this time with Mick who had caught me up. Suddenly from behind came a runner – at sprint pace – to hand me back my sunglasses that I had thrown away rather recklessly on the course. Grateful, I thanked him for his sprint and carried on – Mick and I joking that the chaps sprint might well cost him dearly later!

The next few miles passed by pleasantly and with a nice troupe of runners both in front and behind I progressed at a steady but reasonably sedate pace. I had eased myself into the race, become familiar with the terrain and was feeling pretty good as we dipped down a rutted path about 6 miles in, my legs were feeling fresh at this point and as we headed across the first of many rolling hills I finally started to understand the enormity of the task ahead – because in the distance lay hill, after hill, after monstrous hill.

Mick and I caught up with one another again and at this point I had to confess that there was going to be need of a Paula Radcliffe moment and I was forced to abandon my comrade and seek shelter in the bushes just before checkpoint 1. However, there was a hiking group just across from me and I felt rather ashamed to ‘Paula’ all over their hiking destination and therefore I made haste for the checkpoint and filled up on the goodies that the amazing Centurion volunteers offered. It is quite possible that I guzzled down about a litre of Coca Cola on my own but feeling refreshed I set off again at a bit of canter.

From here we were marshalled across a busy road and onto the next of our many climbs, we came to the top and once we had headed out alone the road I decided I would once again try and stop and deliver ‘paula’ which was becoming an increasing burden and I was confident that my ‘paula’ need was affecting the way I was running and therefore no good for my hips. However, once again I was thwarted by a lack of sufficient cover and therefore I rolled back up my 0.5 OMM Flash tights and continued onwards where much to my surprise the lovely @abradypus caught me up.

I ran with her for a few minutes but the problems I was facing and her overall pace meant that there was no way I could manage to keep up at that time – if I was lucky I might catch her later but there was the ‘paula’ issue to deal with. The last time I saw @abradypus she was thundering past her pinked topped nemesis and she looked like she had a lot of energy in the tank, so much so that not only did she dip in below 10hrs at the finish but she overtook both Mick and Anne-Marie on her way to South Downs Way success! Huge congratulations to her!

Anyway, after the next major hill climb I finally found some respite in the form of some thorny bushes that straddled a road and here I hid for a few moments checking that runners were not going to be alarmed by the sight of a 36 year old man trying to recreate a moment that simply shouldn’t be recreated. Anyway having achieved a measure of success I hit the trail again and this was were I would meet Sue.

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Sue, I am sure wouldn’t mind me sharing that she was a 61 year old ultra runner and an amazing lady with lots of energy and a nice zippy style that put my old hips to shame. We chatted for a few minutes and realised that we were gong at roughly the same pace and ended up progressing through the miles together. We chatted about lots of things including Springer Spaniels, Greyhounds, our respective partners, races, etc. And actually this partnership proved crucial I think for both of us for quite a long time. When I was struggling up a hill, she would put out a cheery little something and vice versa, it became like a mutual appreciation club but I was fully aware that with the way that my hips were feeling I would need the company for as long as possible.

Sue and I continued climbing the hills and making progress through the field, so much so that we actually passed people we thought would have had a much better chance, of a much better time than we were aiming for. Still we had a plan and the plan was a good one – sub 11 hours. We picked up a couple of other runners on the route and as we passed into third checkpoint we were in remarkably good cheer and my thoughts of handing in my number had disappeared. And so we ambled onwards and the next few miles meandered past us like an old friend – or perhaps more akin to the miles already achieved!

The volunteers at the fourth checkpoint and just beyond the 33 mile point were wearing sombreros and handing out both excellent advice and delicious snacks. The route from here looked a little ominous though but it was met with a happy heart and the little team we had amassed spread themselves out a little bit and trudged up the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse either of the summit or of the crew at the bottom of the hill. After ten minutes of straight climbing we could see neither the top nor could we see the volunteers and crew at the bottom and so, still laughing and joking at our good fortune to be out on these wonderful hills we pressed on.

At this point @ultrarunnerdan who had been stalking us for some time finally joined the group and being a veteran of the SDW100 gave us some excellent advice about what was upcoming (even though he lied about the severity of what was to come) and together we ambled in and out of each other’s company. It was here as the group had spread itself out that tragedy on the course almost caught me out.

I had been bumbling along at my own little pace, Sue had decided to push forward a little bit without me and @ultrarunnerdan was a few hundred metres behind me and I decided then to give a little sprint to allow my legs a slightly different movement. I was going pretty well for a guy with no hips left and I was keen to give the good looking girl, holding the gate open a show to remember …and then I did.

As I passed the gate, flashing my winning smile I caught my Hoka on a rock and tripped and was sent sprawling. I managed to stay upright long enough to get my hands in front of me – but it was too late, the damage was done. I had twisted one ankle, bloodied the other – though I wouldn’t know about the blood until nearly midnight. I picked myself up and in the haze of pain and shock I simply started running, telling Sue that we’d never make the 11hr finish time if we stopped now. Progress was steady but I was in pain and again the thoughts of DNF came to the forefront of my mind! I urged Sue to push on with Annalise (spelling?) a very nice Swiss lady who we had met earlier in the race and adopted into our little posse, but we all remained together for the most part. What could have proved to be the end of the race for me proved to be the point I managed to pull myself together and head into the next checkpoint taking over Annalise, Sue and even @ultrarunnerdan who exclaimed ‘here he comes’ as I thundered past him and into the hall, almost blasting straight past it.

‘Milky coffee,’ I called, ‘you lot are my favourite checkpoint since the last one’

I slurped down my coffee and in marched Sue … ‘4 minutes 37 seconds’ I exclaimed. We knew if we left this checkpoint with 2hrs remaining we would probably make the 11hrs. Sue drank her coffee quickly and we stepped outside – there we the noted the patter of the rain on our skin and decided this was the point to whip out our waterproofs. Now fully waterproofed the three of us set out in search of @ultrarunnerdan, we once again hit the ground running and finally the urgency of the run became apparent, we could finish this in time, we could finish this in the light, we could finish this.

The three of us headed up another killer hill and the grounds remained this rather difficult stony affair that offer respite to our feet and here on the difficult terrain the combination of my hips and my ankles meant that Sue and Annalise were finally pulling away from me and I urged them forward, knowing that my sub11 was now quickly fading away. I took a cursory glance down to my Suunto and saw that I was still 10km from the finish and had less than an hour to go. Yes I was going to get a medal but it wasn’t a medal I would ever look at with pride.

However, with a thrust of guts and determination on the downhill into the churchyard I was cheered in by a combination of locals and volunteers and there were Sue and Annalise – I had caught them.

I had a sip of coffee and no food

‘Are you okay?’ Sue inquired rather urgently
‘Yes, now move, let’s go’ came my rather gruff and dogged response.

I bounced down the stairs out of the aid station and never looked back, my ultra running colleagues were now behind me and I pushed quickly up the final ascent, infact it was some of the quickest movement I had managed for several hours. Yes my ankles were on fire and my hips resided at checkpoint 3 but I really didn’t give a flying fuck about any of that. I could smell the finish line. Annalise briefly powered past me but in the descent I knew that I would be more surefooted and I thundered down the hill in a positive and yet controlled manner – a fall here would bring the race to its conclusion a mile or so too early and so I made sure that every step was the right step.

The runner I was then shadowing soon hit the tarmac and we were finally in Eastbourne, ‘goodbye runner, I’m having you’ were my thoughts as I pushed through the roads of Eastbourne. Now following my Suunto very closely for signs that the course as coming to end I kept seeing floodlights and feeling that we must finally be there, but the end never seemed to appear.

10.49.59 was the time on my watch and I passed the final corner – another runner in my sights, boom, caught, onwards. Words of encouragement wee raging around my head and I threw out equally encouraging words with gay abandon. There was the sports centre, there was the track, there were the floodlights – follow the lights.

Boom

I could hear the cheer of the assembled group. @abradypus claimed that she thought it must be someone else by virtue of the fact that I was still running at all, but the watch said 10.56.33 and I wanted a 10.57.something time (watch not gun time). And on the final bend I gave it everything, every last ounce of strength that remained to me was thrown into the last 75metres and I crossed the line – more joyous than you can probably imagine.

At the finish line there was @abradypus whom I must sincerely apologise to for probably being incredibly rude. It was that moment when you finish a race and you just can’t see straight anymore and there was all the pain I was in and I just didn’t give the right response. I did of course go for sweaty man hugs later but still it never hurts to say you’re sorry.

A minute or so ahead of me @annemarieruns completed the race and I caught up with her as she prepared to eat some of the most delicious chilli available, she was all set to be running the Brighton Marathon about 12hrs later! Legend! Sue, Annalise and @ultrarunnerdan came in shortly after me and completed the final stage in stunning times. I know for certain that I finished under 11hours and I’m confident most of them did too for which I’m really happy.

So that was the experience but what about my opinions?

Race and Course
I don’t think that anybody could fault the race or the course, it was tough, it was challenging and it was ultra. The South Downs Way is a hard packed course and offers little respite on the feet. The runners I met who were wearing Hoka One One tended to be grateful and those in more minimal shoes such as the Salomon Sense Ultra said they were feeling the fatigue being caused on their feet by the course. I would highly recommend running the South Downs Way at any time of year but it is very exposed to the elements – so do be careful. The route also benefit from not being closed and therefore we, as a running group, were able to converse and be supported by the cyclist, horse riders and hikers who were out and about. 10/10

Support
The support was pretty minimal in terms of on the course support and often inaccessible to friends and family who might want to follow you around, with the exception obviously of those people braving the elements of the South Downs Way. The many smiles and cheers we received were much appreciated. The support at the aid stations though was simply fantastically 100% and it was my pleasure to offer at the bare minimum a smile as we passed through and the odd bit of flirting if I had the energy. 9/10

Aid Stations
The aid stations were all well stocked and well manned, the volunteers and Centurions themselves provided excellent checkpoint help. The food was generally of a very high quality although there was a lack of diversity in the savoury options and I struggled to find things I liked (perhaps I missed the chicken nuggets found on the St. Peter’s Way). However, that said I didn’t struggle to fill up and the biscuits and cake at Checkpoints 1 and 3 were particular highlights with the addition of coffee at the last couple of checkpoints a real lifesaver – the Centurions really know how to put a spread together. A word should go to the volunteers and crews also, they were 100% amazing and without them things like this would be impossible and we were all so grateful. 9/10 (10/10 for the crews)

Value for Money
As with the course and so many of the elements of the SDW50 you really can’t fault the guys, not one iota. And in the value for money department this is a race that delivers in spades. At £65 you are almost the same price as the Run to the Beat half marathon or the Royal Parks Half and what do you get for your money? Signage, support, an excellent well labelled supporting website, goodies and best of all an experience you will never ever forget. I even think there might have been showers at the end, but I was too busy trying to find trains to care about being clean. 10/10

Medal and Goodies
The medal is brilliant – not as blingtastic as say The Wall or as rich in heritage as perhaps The St Peter’s Way but it has a beautiful charm of its own and more importantly, as a young boy pointed out, it has a sword on it. The medal and the T-shirt were both very understated and I really liked that and will be wearing both to my next fancy dress party, where with mock indifference I shall wear both and tell people I’m a Centurion. 9/10

Conditions
The conditions on the course were excellent and the guys had clearly worked their magic to neither bring too much sun or leave it at home. I can’t score this, they don’t control the weather

Live Tracking
The live tracking was a bit of a bag of uselessness, it didn’t kick in until beyond the halfway point and then only once before the finish – but on the plus side they did attempt live tracking and I am sure this was simply a minor technical hitch. 4/10

Navigation
The navigation was faultless, I really didn’t need a map, compass or infact the GPS file on my Ambit 2 – brilliant marking 10/10

Conclusions
This is a bit of a strange one, despite everything, despite it being absolutely brilliant, it still wasn’t my very favourite ultra – that honour still rests with the St. Peter’s Way but the SDW50 is an outstanding course with outstanding levels of organisation and if you are an ultra runner I would urge you to try it. This felt like a labour of love for the guys who organised it and if they can retain that feeling going forward then they will have one of the best events in the ultra calendar. I’m very much looking forward to both the NDW100 and the Winter100 with these guys because I have the confidence in the team that they won’t let me down and all I need to do is not let myself down.

I learnt a lot of lessons as well on the course – the first was more hill work, more sprint work and more everything. The next thing was that I should try and prepare better for big races because when you have a crappy week in the run up then it shows on race day. But the most important thing I learnt is that you should never, ever forget to put a shedload of vaseline on your nether regions unless you want your balls to looks like a pepperoni pizza. 9/10

And on that note, happy running guys and thank you Centurions

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I’ve been racing quite a lot since the turn of the year and this has been helped by my participation in the VirtualRunnerUK events. I was incredibly pleased to see that they had decided to run a Sport Relief event as it made sense that we might all fancy a bit of a go at something different and so a few days before the Sport Relief weekend the entries opened for an any distance and time event in cycling, swimming and of course running.

Sat in the comfort of my armchair I mused to myself about the fun I could have doing all three and in no time at all I was signing up to the swim, then I was signing up to the cycle and finally the run. It was then that it occurred to me that I could turn this into a personal triathlon and so I set about planning a route where I could minimise the transitions – because the swim section would realistically have to be in a pool. I planned it to be a cycle followed by a run and finished with a swim.

What actually happened was this

On the Friday – the first day of Sport Relief, and the night of the televised event , I went out and did a light 10km, this was unintentional but it served the purpose of completing the run section if I didn’t manage to do anything else. The reason I was worried was that my OHs mother was visiting and this meant that there would be non sporting activities that I might have to engage in – meh.

However, I revised my plan so that everything could be completed on the Sunday morning – nice and early and with a shunt in the running order. My VirtualTriathlon would be a 5km cycle, 500metre swim and finished with a 5km run (although there was a second 5km bike ride to allow me to get home from the pool). The first part was the 5km cycle, I span out of the house and hit the road – pushing my bike as hard as I can manage, which to be perfectly honest isn’t that hard and I did the hilly ride in about 16 minutes. It wasn’t anything spectacular but I was saving myself for the swim section which I knew would be the hardest part for me. The transition from cycle to pool was just under 8 minutes, which I didn’t think was that bad considering I needed to lock the bike up, get entry to the pool and change.

I hurled myself into the pool and began swimming the 25metre lengths, struggling as always when I’m in the water. I was alternating between freestyle and breast stroke as I’m not strong enough as a freestyler to do the 500 metres. So with all the energy I could muster I powered up and down, over and over again – so much so that I lost count of my lengths and therefore ended up doing about 625metres, although the Suunto can’t be considered definitive in its accuracy in the pool and it was probably more like 500metres. However I powered though the distance in just over 13 minutes and even with the time consuming transition I was still in good form. As I was swimming I made the decision to dry as little as possible out of the pool and throw on my running gear and thunder out of the leisure centre – leaving behind my bike kit which I would pick up later. This method meant I was held up for less than 10 minutes between getting out of the pool and starting the run.

Straight out of the door from the centre I knew a slowish route up a hill and back again. It was at this point that I could feel the hunger I normally associate with about mile 18 of a marathon and I had neither food nor water on me. Hmmm, this was difficult but I wasn’t likely to stop now and in reality I was flying.

Bang, kilometre 1 gone, bang kilometre 2 gone – I was expecting my feet or my back or my hips to suddenly implode and I’d need to use my Friday night 10km as my run distance. Thankfully kilometre 3 and 4 ebbed away into the ether and I was on the return to my bike and other kit. Sadly I came up a little short at 4.89km but in an excellent 16.32 – probably looking at a 17.30 5km which is the fastest I’ve gone in a long time.

For a while I sat at the wheel of my bike, feeling like I was going to puke – but I didn’t and when I finally stood up I knew I’d done something brilliant and I have VirtualRunnerUK to thank for the opportunity.

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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.

3hrs sleep
Carried weighty 12kg OMM 25litre running bag
Wearing my Inov8 Trailroc 245
Strode purposefully out of my workplace
Kicked open power of Suunto Ambit 2 GPS
Started running
Hit full stride by the time left Regent’s Park
Jumped across traffic lights into Marylebone
Burnt down towards Edgware Road
Turn of pace to avoid old people
Sprinted out toward Lancaster Gate
Waved in an annoyed fashion at tourists in Kensington
Troubled a hill as darted towards Kensington High Street
Doffed Snowdonia Buff towards the Albert Hall
Pressed afterburner as crossed Hyde Park Corner
Lurched heavily towards Victoria
Stopped for traffic
Thundered along Victoria Street
Thanked commuter for getting the fuck out the way
Saw traffic gap, took it
Ran past Run and Become, scanned shoes in window
Looked to Suunto, 9.91km
Continued looking to Suunto, pace rising
Nearly hit man as stopping
Finished outside Scotland Yard
Virtual 10km complete in 51minutes
Hips sore
Back sore
Ordered Trailroc 235s
Acedemundo (see Fonzie / Happy Days)

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