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  • Running poles making ascents and descents easier
  • GPS to making navigation a doddle
  • Compression kit to reduce muscle fatigue

What do all these things have in common? These are all aids many of us use to help complete long distance endurance events.

I use running poles when allowed, I almost always use a GPS device even if a map isn’t loaded on to it and before I realised compression kit was causing all sorts of injury problems I would often be found in ridiculously tight fitting attire.

There are two aid types though that I wonder about, the first I don’t use, the second I do (when I can convince the GingaNinja to rock up to a race registration).

Pacers and Crews: The aid I don’t use that I’m referring to are pacers and it was after seeing some amazing finishes at hundred milers and the like that got me wondering if using a pacer increases the likelihood of a finish and whether by using them are runners on a level playing field?

The other aid are crews – which I do, on occasion, use and I believe that in the early days of my ultra marathoning I really wouldn’t have gotten very far without a crew and the support they offer. But do they give me and others who use them an edge on race day?

Reading lots of recent race reports and talking to runners it’s clear that there is an appetite for the use of both pacers and crews but does it take away something of the challenge? Increasingly my view is becoming that yes, these things are taking away from something that, at its best, in my opinion, is a solo sport.

Perhaps if they’re going to be in play there should be greater scrutiny about how a crew and pacers can be used as I’ve witnessed some things during recent races that has made me wonder if too much crew access and too much pacing is creating an unfortunate imbalance in ultra marathons.

I met a Spanish runner at about 30 miles into an unsupported race recently and we ran together for maybe 12 miles. I enjoyed his company very much but the curious thing was that his crew met him at five different points along the route during the time we were together. Each time he would stop, chat, change kit, have a nibble, check his route, have a sit in the warm vehicle etc. It felt like the spirit of the race was not being adhered to and there were others too during this particular event that had cars literally following them down the roads – with family members joining in for a few miles as pacers – picking up food at McDonalds, etc. I’ve met people who’ve run past their homes or near enough to detour and been witness to them going indoors, changing wet or filthy kit, filling up food and then simply popping back on the route – all I should point out, within the rules of the race. I don’t begrudge this level of support – hell, if I could get it my DNF percentage wouldn’t be so high! However, though I’m far from a purist in running terms I do feel this takes some of the shine off the effort required.

The pacer question is very much a personal choice and are often subject to specific race rules but for me these are an aid that detract from one of the most important aspects of a race – the mental challenge. I could pluck an arbitrary percentage out of the air but I’d suggest that most endurance races are won and lost in the mind and not in the body. The pacer therefore can have a real, tangible effect on a racers performance and we are back to the point about imbalance.

All this said though I’ve been known to buddy up with runners on a route in order to ensure a finish although always with the agreement that if the pacing didn’t match we’d say goodbye and good journey. That changed a little bit when on the South Wales 50 when myself and two other runners joined up on the course then formalised our pacing/team running strategy to ensure that we all finished. It was perhaps this more than anything that got me wondering about just how much of a difference a pacer can make. Now to be fair Ryan, Pete and myself were all pretty ruined by the time we’d hooked up and it was as much about surviving the night as it was pacing but it gave me an insight to what a fresh pair of legs or a fresh attitude can do for a very tired ultra runner.

These days I’m much more a social ultra runner rather than a competitive one and I tend not to think too much about my position in the field, preferring to concentrate on taking in my surroundings and having a lovely time. However, this has got me wondering just how much better I might be if I had a team right next to me pushing me forward?

The purity argument: The reason I suppose I don’t do that and put together a team to get me through these things is simply because of my belief in the solo element. I probably would be a better runner if there was someone in my ear for the final 50 miles pushing me that little bit harder or if I had a crew with lots of kit ready and waiting. However, for me ultra running is being out there, facing myself and a trail and although I can very much respect other people’s decisions for using pacers and crews it’s less and less suited to me. Perhaps evidence of this was that the last time the GingaNinja crewed for me was the Thames Path 100 in 2015 – here she met me several times armed with chocolate milk, kit options and a regular stern talking to but since then she’s mainly been at starts and finishes if there at all and in truth I prefer this. Although it’s scary to think you’re on your own it really does heighten the elation (for me) upon completion.

All this said I’ll still be using poles (periodically) and GPS – I’m not giving those up anytime soon, I mean I’m not completely stupid! Therefore am I a hypocrite for suggesting pacers and crews detract from a level race but I’m perfectly content to gain an edge by using kit that some call ‘cheat sticks’ or by buddying up inside an event? I suppose it’s an individuals view and more importantly a race directors view and if you (or perhaps I) don’t like it well then I don’t have to sign up to that race.

And so… I’m curious about your views on pacers and crews, do you feel they offer you a better chance of finishing well? Do you think they give some runners an advantage that others don’t have? Would you consider them a hindrance? Or are they simply part of your ultra running armoury?

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I’ve been trying to pay it forward a little and say thanks in meaningful ways. It all started last week when I saw that lots of the big names were once again lined up for the #RunUltraBlogger nomination and as much as I love some of the names on the list, it was, to my mind, mostly uninspiring and I wanted real runners who motivate me and so I nominated the two that have inspired me most over the last 12 months or so.

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The blogs therefore I nominated are UltraRunnerDan (dan-fattofit.blogspot.co.uk) and Totkat (www.totkat.org). If they make a shortlist (or whatever the process is) do be sure to give them some support – they both highly deserve it for their awesome running and tremendous contributions to ‘run’ debates and healthy living. And even if you don’t vote for them do go along and visit their blogs and see what can be achieved with a bit of tenacity. They really are excellent reads.

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Now, while in awards mood I also slid over to The Running Awards website and both put my tick next to some of the nominees and also nominated a couple of races.

The most important things I nominated were the SainteLyon (best international race) and the Skye Trail Ultra (best endurance race). This seemed like a good positive thing to do – the SainteLyon is (I believe) the second longest running ultra marathon in the world and is an inspiration – I recommend that all ultra runners look it up and take part (there were only a dozen or so English runners there last year).

The other nomination for the Skye Trail Ultra is for three reasons 1) it’s a small local race across a tremendous landscape 2) it deserves to compete against much larger races because it has a spirit not found at places like VMLM and 3) the race director Jeff Smith is a brilliant, brilliant man who gives up his time to put on the most amazing event!

You can click links here for both The Running Awards and Run Ultra Blogger awards to find out more. Run Ultra Blogger awards are available by clicking here and the The Running Awards can be found here

Now before I go I wanted to discuss a different way I’ve been paying it forward via running; but as many readers will probably be aware I’ve been heavily focused on politics the last few months. This is very much because the referendum result has left a shit show which I feel has shown how nasty, insular and intolerant the UK has become. It saddens me hugely that many people, I had once considered friends, voted leave with the key reason being immigration.

Roll forward to the last week… twice in the last week I’ve been running slowly home and it’s been cold, really cold – winter is finally upon us.

On one of these cold early evenings I saw a man reading a book, a little bedraggled, trying to remain warm – he looked homeless, he certainly looked like he had troubles. I asked if I could buy him something to eat and he accepted. It wasn’t much but I bought some hot food and drink to take to him because who knew when the last time he’d eaten properly.

He was English or at least had an English accent, white, young(ish) probably my age actually – we didn’t speak much because I was cooling down post run and I didn’t want to embarrass him by standing over him as he ate. I wished him well and we shook hands.

I wondered if I had done right?

I did a similar thing tonight, a young(ish) lady who spoke little or no English, not enough clothes on, carrier bags with possessions that looked like her entire life and no hope. I was at Charing Cross with 15 minutes to spare before my train and I spotted her. I mimed the idea of food to her, tried to explain I’d just be a minute or two (I was) and thankfully she was still there when I returned. Given she couldn’t understand me, nor I her, I didn’t feel the need to make small talk but as I stood to leave she grabbed my arm, pressed it firmly and smiled thanks.

I could have cried.

Instead I smiled and waved gently before getting on the train to write this.

I see lots of homeless people as I run, people selling the big issue, refugees desperate for help, the mentally ill, the runaways, those hiding in plain sight and I don’t know how to help but what I do know is that too many in the UK see these poorest of people as a blight and a problem.

But maybe we could look at it differently?

Instead of seeing a homeless woman, try and see a woman who needs help. Instead of seeing a starving refugee, see a hungry man. If you were displaced, tired, hungry, distraught, abandoned wouldn’t you want someone to help?

Post referendum result I’m scared what my country is becoming.

So I’m asking you to do something for someone else. I’m asking you to pay it forward, help someone else or if you can’t help someone else then consider helping yourself by fighting to overturn the stupidity and the rhetoric of this country.

It’s never too late to start making a difference. #IAmEuropean

‘Bye bye’ UltraBaby said as I wandered down to the back of St Pauls Cathedral and the start line of the City of London mile. I’d accidentally put myself forward for the 5mins 30secs club but post Skye my feet have been playing up with bruising, bleeding and generally not being very useful. So when I ran into Ben (the beardy one offa Twitter) who was starting a wave behind me I was a little bit worried. The truth was I’d only run about 3 times since Skye and none of that had gone very well.

Still I was at the very least well rested.

I stood nervously at the back of the pack and when the start came I pushed as hard as my little feet would carry me. I’d chosen for the race my Altra Instinct which in all honesty are not noted for their speed – I had wanted to use my On running shoes but my feet were a bloody, nasty mess and I required the soft, extra wide, cushioned feel of the Altra to even get going.

I realised about halfway I was losing ground on the front of the pack but I also wasn’t at the back – clearly others had also over-egged their ability but at the turn I still felt okay and as I came up to the 400 metres to go sign I hit the afterburner and put my mid-race slump behind me.

At 200 metres to go I could feel the power of the crowd behind me and my arms pumped hard to cross the line in a little over 6 minutes – not my best time at the distance, not even close but I’d enjoyed it.

The route took in the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral so it was familiar territory and I knew this would be harder than the Westminster Mile but in the end I’d just had a nice time and an opportunity to run without a race vest or hydration. There were other benefits – I did get to say hello and see running Gemma Hockett who is as exceptional a runner as her social media suggests and I picked up a very nice medal for my efforts but there was something else – the GingaNinja was back for a raceday.

The GN had signed up for one of the last waves, clearly I had bullied her into taking part but it was a nice day and I felt she’d appreciate taking part in something with such a tremendous atmosphere.

The problem was that UltraBaby was feeling a little clingy. We hatched a plan, a simple plan, move the GN to the ‘family wave’ and she could then run with UB who would walk/run as much of the distance as possible and then I’d take her off the course to follow in the buggy along the route shouting support.

With approval of the plan from the organisers we got UB warmed as she ran up and down the street, carb loaded and did a bit of stretching (of her very loud lungs). Then problem two kicked in – UB fell asleep.

Some quick thinking saw me remove the timing chip from my race number and join in the family wave with the GN and the buggy containing the baby. For a second time I prepared for the off and this time I enjoyed the ambience of the event, sedately running through the City of London, waving at children, taking in the Steel Drum Band and generally having a lovely time.

The GN in her first run in ages and her first race in even longer powered home the last few hundred metres and was greeted warmly by the excellent volunteers who handed her and UB medals. Great work, especially just a day after completing the Great East Swim.

The Amba City of London Mile (and the Westminster Mile) is a truly great event run in the spring and having done it, I can recommend it (and its Westminster sibling). It’s a ball breaking distance, the mile and one you can really put your foot to the floor with but the sense of achievement is huge regardless of your actual running ability. I love the mile, its my favourite race distance after the 10 mile.

The City Mile is incredibly well organised coupled with a great route and a stunning atmosphere, its unbeatable. if you’re looking for a community event next year that can draw people together then this would be my recommendation (along with the Westminster Mile).  As a final note I think a great deal of goodwill should be shown to Amba Hotels who sponsor the event and help to make it a free to enter race. Without organisations like them events like this simply wouldn’t be possible.

Anyway, don’t delay get training – you’ve got a whole year before the next running! and most importantly get involved!


Mr Corbyn,

I’m writing to you on behalf of my daughter, UltraBaby, she’s not even two years old and I’m worried for her. I’m worried about a United Kingdom not in Europe, I’m worried about the consequences of the actions of the people of our nation in just a few days time and ultimately I’m worried about the future. So I’m writing to you because I want her to be involved in a United Kingdom that is an integral part of a culturally and economically rich Europe.

Is that too much to ask?

Therefore I’m imploring you to do two things for my daughter and for those who can’t or won’t vote across the UK.

  1. I need you, without caveats, to get behind Europe and our position in it and rally sleeping labour supporters.
  2. I need you to get on a platform with the Prime Minister and rally the whole damn country. If Clement Attlee could share a stage with Josef Stalin and Harry Truman you can do it with David Cameron.

Help my daughter remain European Mr Corbyn, because she isn’t being given a choice in this decision and I believe she deserves the best possible future and the best possible future doesn’t include leaving the EU.

Thank you in advance for anything you can do to truly help.

UltraBoyRuns


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 nearly 2 years since I completed the WNWA96 (read about it here), a walking event that for me turned into a running ultra distance event. As some of you will remember it was a very special event as it was organised by my dad and it was with a great sense of pride that I completed the entire distance despite looking like I might pass out at the end.

I recall being sat outside Anfield, the home of Liverpool F.C. at the end of the journey silently recalling what had taken place and watching the joy on the faces of those who took part. Importantly though I listened to the moving tributes being given to those who had lost their lives all those years ago – it was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone there.

Since the WNWA96 I’ve completed a load of ultras, a few marathons, had a brush or three with serious injury and gained a daughter. For the families of the victims they have had the long running inquest into the events of April 1989, which as I write, is in the summing up stages and therefore hopefully drawing to its conclusion. Given all this it seemed the right time to get involved again – at an event where I can hopefully make a difference. Now perhaps it’s just good fortune or serendipity but an opportunity has arisen for me to get involved.

Inspirational
I’ve been aware for some time of Dom Williams, an ultra runner (excellent finish at the RoF to prove it), the kind of ultra runner you’d want to be and the man behind the Hillsborough to Anfield Run in memory of the 96 people who so tragically lost their lives in 1989 as well as the Run for the 96 5km run.

A conversation between us arose out of my blog post concerning the Run for the 96  (read about it here and then enter here). We eventually discussed whether it would be possible for me to run some or all of the Hillsborough to Anfield 79 mile route as part of the team that will be attempting it. However, because I am racing the Skye Ultra Trail a week after the H2A Run I said I’d love to do it another year but that 2016 was unlikely. I also had family joining me in Liverpool that weekend which made it all the more difficult and so I knew it wasn’t to be

What a difference a couple of weeks make
That was a couple of weeks ago and I was looking for a way to say ‘yes I’m in’ because this was an event I felt I wanted to do. I was especially keen as I knew that my dad was involved once again and running with him is always quite a special experience. Thankfully, it seemed destiny had a place on that team for me when the GingaNinja said ‘I can’t get up to Liverpool that weekend’ I now had a little more flexibility in timings.

But what about the race the week after?
Ah, well I figure its going to be great training for the Leeds to Liverpool Canal Run 130 in August and sometimes when amazing opportunities present themselves you just have to do them.

And so I spoke with Dom over the Easter weekend and suddenly I find myself ‘in’. The team will run around 79 miles from Sheffield to Liverpool with the aim for the whole team to arrive in time to take part in the Run for the 96 5km at Stanley Park (the ground that lies between Goodison Park and Anfield). So, a little over 80 miles in around 21hrs, it’s far from a walk in the park but its very achievable.

I’ll be writing about my progress periodically and I’d appreciate your support whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter or I know you in real life. If you can make it then I’d love to see you at the 5km run on Sunday 22 May or simply come and wave the team in when it arrives into Liverpool. Events like this are all about community, the community of the runners, the community of the supporters and the community of the families that have fought for more than a quarter of a century for the truth they deserve.

This is is a special event, take a look at the Hillsborough to Anfield Run here, I hope you’ll find it as inspiring as I do.

I saw a post on Facebook a few nights ago (yes even I use Facebook) and saw that OMM were on the look out for people who could serve as ambassadors for the brand in 2016. For the first time ever I thought ‘maybe I could do that?

 

I’ve always been quite proud regarding the fact that I owe nothing to any brand if I review a product or event but OMM is a little different.

OMM is a brand that’s been at my side since I started running again in 2011 – my first running bag was the epic Classic 25 (still RunCommutes daily I might add). I ran my first ultra almost totally decked out in OMM stuff because it was the right fit and feel. Today I still use OMM kit, not because I’m brand loyal, but because it works but that’s not to say I don’t love other kit because I do – I’ll always be an advocate for using the kit that is right for you.

There are other considerations such as the platform that something like like gives you. That is an opportunity to, hopefully, inspire other people. Let’s not forget I’m no Scott Jurek, I’m just your average runner, getting out and doing, proving (mainly to myself) that anybody can do this.

There is also the allure that they want real runners and people who could take on The OMM race and that appeals a lot. The race is the right time of year, right kind of endurance, right kind of challenge and it has UltraBoy written all over it.

So, I find myself in new territory, having looked at their application process, even writing down answers to the application questions I’m genuinely tempted to apply, but also apprehensive.

The GingaNinja says I should apply, she tells me that I love testing kit, I’m always blogging, tweeting or Instagramming anyway and that I use their stuff daily – to her it’s a no-brainer. To keep my grounded though she did remind me that a slew of great runners will also apply and that my chances were slim – thanks GingaNinja.

So do I apply? 

I suppose I’m also writing this to encourage all those that read my blog to apply. It seems like a great opportunity to be a part of something interesting in a sport you do everyday anyway. More details are available here and if you do apply then best of luck.

Happy running.   

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