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UltraBaby


It was Christmas last year when I introduced the Mountain Buggy Unirider to our lives. I’d been looking for something that could help me take the joy I get from running to my daughter and this one wheeled wonder was the answer. I won’t be looking back into the spec again – for that you’re welcome to read my original review here. This is intended to give a longer term view of how the Mountain Buggy Unirider has influenced the lives of both myself and ASK.

I’d originally intended the Unirider as a way of running with ASK but in the months since we’ve been using it we’ve found it to be much more versatile than that.


Trail/Fell/Hill running I can’t tell you that the Unirider was built for running – I simply don’t know that for sure but what I do know is that it is perfect for running with your child on trail. ASK and I have racked up hundreds of miles over the last 10 months and we will continue to do so until she says, no thanks dad, you’re too slow’. With experience we’ve gotten faster and more accurate at negotiating tougher terrain, ASK has also increased in confidence and can occasionally be found hurling her arms in the air in delight or stretching her legs out in front of her if we’ve been going for a decent length of time. We’ve also had the joy of exploring every type of condition since the start of the year from snow through to the wettest, muddiest festivals and I’m pleased to say that the Unirider has come through it. 

The confidence that I discussed isn’t confined to ASK either – I’ve also grown in confidence as the pilot and I find myself willing to push myself to go faster, take corners more excitingly and I trust that my rider is in control of the front end. This trust had taken time to master but as she calls for ‘faster’ ASK understands that’s it’s both hands holding on, legs tight in and leaning just a little forward to give us additional momentum. She is very much an active participant in the Unirider experience.


It’s strange when I hand over the piloting to the GingaNinja during trail running because she’s much more reserved than I now am and I can both see and feel the difference in approaches. But much like I did the GingaNinja gets more confident the more she uses it and sees ASK and I battling up hills and across gnarly trails inspires her to run faster and better. Nothing like being beaten by a toddler and an old man to inspire improvement 🙂

Other scenarios? Where else might you use the Unirider? Well you’d be surprised but ASK and I use it for city running as well as trails and when I say city running I mean central London at the weekends! We love nothing more than blasting down The Mall or hammering through Trafalgar Square, Westminster or bimbling down the hills at Greenwich. City running is a skill that requires a little attention, fast footwork and preferably a talkative child. I’m fortunate in that ASK will request that people ‘get out of the way’ and she calls out, ‘faster, faster’ at regular intervals.

Your faster footwork is mostly required for tighter turning and swift breaking – city dwellers tend to be absorbed in things like mobile phones and the content of Tindr can sometimes be more engaging than the sight of an angry middle aged man, baring down on you thrusting a toddler forward, at pace, on a parent powered unicycle… apparently. 

The Unirider handles curbs really well – both up and down but you get pretty good at making judgement calls about what it will do and what it won’t. I find the curbs with the highest drop simply require us to make a swift turn and pop ourselves up in reverse. The crux of it is that the Unirider is a stunning device to use in any running scenario and has impressed with its handling in every type of condition across road and trail.


But not all you will want to run with the Unirider some of you might be wondering about day to day usage.

Perhaps this is why I’m writing the long term review because since buying it I’ve definitely expanded its usage to include shopping, hiking, music festivals, days exploring & adventuring as well as commuting and basically replacing our day to day buggy.


Hiking is much like the running only a bit slower – the Unirider is built for the outdoors and although it can take a bit of getting used to going over the roughest of terrain the ride handles it well. Some children might complain about bumps and jumps as you’re going over gnarly ground but if you make this part of the experience, and offer warnings to your rider where you can, I’ve found that my toddler doesn’t mind a slightly (or even very) bouncy ride.

Thankfully the design does help with bumpy, uneven trails as the air filled tyre has enough give in it to move with the trail (though do remember to periodically reinflate).

Our experience shopping is probably the thing of interest to most people as taking a buggy around shops can be a difficult affair – they’re big and aisles can be narrow – the Unirider negotiates these spaces much more accurately than a buggy can. The easy on and off of the device means that if things become difficult we simply jump off, spin the Unirider round and take a few steps until we can get back on. It’s true that you have a reduced capacity for carrying than you might with a buggy or pram but not by much. I often team our shopping expeditions with my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 in which I carry a few bits for ASK and then any shopping I’ve collected. ASK might also wear a small backpack if she wishes to carry anything for herself.

If you’re off out to buy the weekly Sainsbury’s shop then the Unirider needs a second person with you to push the trolley (but the same would be true if you were using a buggy) but ultimately this is a good and useful shopping aid that offers excellent space saving on either public transport or the car. It’s also wonderful for taunting security staff in shopping centres… we probably shouldn’t but ASK and I do love running round busy shopping centres, zipping in and out of all the nooks and crannies and making use of the long, slick and flat stretches.

I’ve seen ASK on more than one occasion give a thumbs up to figures of authority who’d like a word with us but in truth the Unirider gives us a huge amount of control in navigating between objects, and importantly, control in stopping quickly.


As for commuting the Unirider is a joy, I collect ASK from the childminders some evenings and when I depart from the train my first stop is home to grab the Unirider because it means our commute home is quicker and she enjoys the journey back more. When I knock on the door I’m often greeted by the phrase, ‘Am I going on the Unirider?’ and if I answer, ‘No’ she is always disappointed. Whether we run or walk home we can use this time to chat and it’s calm time (even if we are running) that she gets to cool down from banging round like a mini whirlwind at the childminders. If we’re both in the mood I’ll increase our commute to give more time for this relaxing journey time.

Longer commutes are equally easy – when I travel to see friends or family and cross the country on public transport we use the Unirider because it speeds up our on and off time, we are quicker on the connections and we’re simply more efficient. ASK and I have often been witnessed going like lighting between St Pancras and Euston in order to make a soon departing train and the Unirider is small enough that you can avoid the use of lifts and instead travel up stairs or escalators therefore making your commuting more efficient.


What about distance? The GingaNinja describes the Unirider as being hard work, even now, but then that’s when she is running with it round our local, very hilly woods. I mention this because it does take a little bit of time and practice to get larger mileage in. In my ‘early doors’ review I suggested I’d capped the distance at 10km for running and this remains roughly correct. I feel that 10km on the Unirider around a hilly trail is more than adequate for running and avoids passing any boredom threshold for ASK.

However, it is worth noting that I put no such restrictions on the Unirider when we are using it in day to day life and during our recent excursion to Scotland the buggy never got used – if we needed something to cart ASK around in then it was the Unirider (this included shopping, hiking and fells).


All I would say is start slowly and build your time used/mileage up instead of leaping head first into as many fast miles as I could manage.

A growing child? Some people have asked how it changes as your child gets bigger and I can confirm there is a change in the way I use the Unirider now she’s nearly a year older and bigger. My toddlers increased weight has helped to ground the Unirider a little better. I find I don’t have to push down as much either for the same level of effort – yes she’s heavier and bigger but that simply means she’s forcing the ride forward and therefore actually making it easier for me. I imagine we’ll get to a point where her size becomes an issue but I’ll be trying to convince her to ride it long after she should have given it up.


Age? You’ll have to judge your own child but ASK (quite the adventurer) was using it from just after 2 years old and this seemed like a good starting point to me.

Reversing? As you’ll see if been rather effusive in my praise for the Unirider in my long term review and given how often our Unirider adventures appear on my Instagram feed this should probably come as no surprise. However, I am very happy to record a flaw in the device, a minor one, albeit one that a potential purchaser should be aware of and that is reversing. The Unirider and pilot, as far as I can tell, do not have the same perfect balance going backwards as they do going forward. This means that turning should mostly be done going forward or with limited reversing. It’s a minor thing but the only thing that caused ASK to drop her feet to the floor for support.


Do people stop you? What’s the reaction to a slightly more unusual form of toddler transport? We’ve covered lots of miles on the Unirider and it doesn’t matter where we go we are always the subject of people passing comment as we go by and often we get stopped to quiz us about it. At WOMAD I was stopped probably 50 times by people asking what it was and more importantly where they could get it, I had people stopping us to take photographs with us (bit weird) and I was happy to offer people the opportunity to have a little go with their own child. In cities you hear things like, ‘ahhh look at that child’ or slightly older children saying ‘ooooooo that’s so cool’. Adults will often comment things like, ‘now that’s the way to travel!’ and I’m always happy to discuss why we love it if someone asks because I’d love to see more parents out and about with them.

Unbreakable? After nearly a year of use I feel confident in being able to answer the question about how robust the Unirider is and the answer is fairly simple – it is very robust.

There is an important caveat with that though, ‘the wilder you are the more care you’ll need to take’. My daughter and I go on adventures and we’ve bounded through some pretty tough trails and this has a habit of trying to lodge itself in and around the wheel and so occasionally (every few months) I’ve taken to deconstructing the Unirider and cleaning all of its elements. I also make sure the wheel is the right level of inflated and that everything feels taut. The most notable cleaning required was after the mudfest that was WOMAD – I noticed that the combination of very thick, deep mud and tonnes of bark (laid to try and dry things out) was the closest we’ve come to being stopped in our tracks – but then in reality nothing was getting through that unscathed. 

The only damage I’ve managed to inflict is to the foam handle when a low hanging branch attacked both child and Unirider and cut into the foam (a bit of gorilla tape later and it was as good as new).

Benefits

  • Easy to get on and off public transport
  • Avoids the need for lifts
  • Excellent on road
  • Excellent off road
  • Fast
  • Excellent for tight situations
  • Inexpensive
  • More versatile than a buggy
  • Huge toddler enjoyment
  • A conversation starter

And finally to the toddlers verdict. I quizzed ASK about the Unirider, this is what was said, ‘Why do you want to go on the Unirider?’ I questioned. ‘So we can fast dad,’ came the reply. ‘Do you like the Unirider?’  ‘No dad, I love* it’ she answered, ‘can we go to the woods on my Unirider?’ ‘Of course we can’. ‘Yay’.

*she is going through a phase of loving things. 

Conclusion. After months of usage, after a shedload of mileage and after causing mayhem at both home and abroad I can clearly state that the Unirider remains some of the best fun that ASK and I have. It’s fun as something to take us to bigger adventures and it’s fun as a tool for exploring and adventuring but equally it is happy as a replacement for the buggy and ambling around the shops.

In February when I wrote my ‘first impressions’ review I commented that, ‘The Unirider is a thoughtful and well constructed device which is as much fun for parents as it is for your children. When it works at its best, pilot and rider act as though they have a symbiotic relationship. It is brilliant and with a reasonable price point. I have lots of love for Mountain Buggy kit and I’ll be sorry when UltraBaby finally outgrows their stuff but for the time being we are having the most fun possible – together!’.

I have no reason to change a single sentiment of that review (which you can read here) I would simply add that the Mountain Buggy Unirider has proved to be much more than a one hit wonder and will remain a firm favourite in our home until ASK says she’s had enough. So has the Unirider influenced the lives of our toddler and the two parents that use it? Hell yeah.

You can find out more and buy your own Unirider here.

And in the interests of clarity and transparency, I bought my Unirider, at full price and have no connection to Mountain Buggy other than we occasionally like each other’s posts on Instagram and this review is free of influence.

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My second race of the weekend wasn’t my race at all, it belonged to my daughter, ASK and I’ve never been more ecstatic not to be racing.
I remember when she was born, almost exactly three years ago that I decided I would enter a race with her and aged 15 days old she completed the Dartford Bridge 2km Fun Run with myself, the GingaNinja and Pops (my father).

Well much has changed since that race, ASK has become a boisterous toddler, my father and I fell out over Hillsborough (although it was always made clear he was welcome at our door to see ASK whenever he wanted) and both the GingaNinja and I have lost half a yard of pace due mainly to Dominos Pizza.

Anyway three years later we return to the scene of her first medal triumph, only this time she’s powered by her own legs.

Now I’ve been accused by many of being a pushy parent getting her to run but the truth of the matter is she asked me to find her a race because, ‘I want another medal dad’. She also asks to go training and use both the running buggy and the Unirider – I think it’s fair to say she’s the pushy toddler and I’d rather be taking her running than having her sat infront of Dora the Explorer or Paw Patrol!


Anyway we rocked up to the start line just after the 10km had started and we paid our £3 entry fee (which would be going to a local good cause) and waited for the main race runners to come in. ASK stood transfixed at the sides watching runners of all shapes and sizes crossing the finishing line and claiming their medals – desperate to know when she could get started! 

Before long it was time to line up – kids from near newborns to 13 and 14 year olds. We eyeballed a couple of our fellow toddlers that we knew we could take down and when the horn erupted we set off from our position at the back of the pack like lightning.


ASK quickly set a steady if unspectacular pace for the first 500 metres, preferring to soak up some of the undeserved adulation she was receiving! But once out of sight of the supporters we made better time taking two other runners on the first corner, followed quickly by a slightly older girl whose interest seemed to have waned a little. By the time we had reached the end of the first kilometre we had taken out another couple of runners but the field had now spread itself out but with just 8 minutes on the clock we looked to be making good time and ASK showed no sign of stopping (other than for water breaks).

In the distance – some 200metres ahead – we saw a couple of older boys, probably aged about 10 and we suggested to ASK that we could try and catch them. As they disappeared around the corner and into the final stretch she looked dejected that they had gotten away. 

‘Do you want to catch them?’ we inquired. ‘Yes’ replied ASK and so with that we hit the go faster afterburners and our little daughter responded with much enthusiasm and although we would never catch the boys we knew that the sounds and sight of the finish line would give her a huge lift to finish well. 


With just a couple of hundred metres to go ASK geared up again and started hurtling towards the finish – the remainder of the crowds cheering her every last step home.

Cruising through the barrier she stopped only briefly to grab a medal (we offered thanks in her behalf) and then some rehydration and refuelling – this had been a gruelling race.


What can I say? There are a few things to say about the race, the organisers and ASK.

Firstly let me congratulate Bridge Triathlon events who year in, year out put on lovely events for all ages and all abilities. As a regular runner I’ve taken part in a few of the events as has the GingaNinja and ASK marks her third Bridge Triathlon event here.

The Dartford Bridge 10km and the 2km fun run really help promote a healthy running lifestyle and it’s low key approach in a simple setting make this a perfect September Sunday morning event.

Secondly the event itself is magnificent, either the 10km or the 2km (the only reason I wasn’t doing the 10km was because I’d ruined my groin at the RunWimbledon marathon the day before). The route is fast and flat and if you want it to be it’s a really good event for racing FAST!

And finally, ASK (my UltraBaby) What can I say other than, well done little daughter of mine. She ran brilliantly, she ran fast and she wanted to do it and is already inquiring as to when she can get her next race medal. So if you know of an upcoming event please let me know – I’ve got a three year old ready to race and that’s an attitude I’m happy to encourage.

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As the summer comes to a close I can say that I’m a very fortunate fool, I’m pretty healthy, pretty fit, with a very silly family and mostly, I get to do the things I want to do. This summer allowed me to return to two festivals I haven’t been to in several years – WOMAD and the BBC Festival in a Day. In previous years the GingaNinja and I have seen some amazing performances such as Mama Rosin, Robert Plant, Lenny Kravitz and even the mighty Status Quo!

This year was a little different, this year we had ASK along for the ride – now it’s true that it’s not her first festival as the GN and I at 7 months pregnant took her along to the Hop Farm in 2014. It was here we believe she cultivated her love of James Blunt and gave much kicking dance action to both Sophie Ellis Bextor and the brilliant Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot.

However, it would be nearly 3 years later before she got the chance to experience all aspects of festival life and we decided that WOMAD was a good place to start.

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WOMAD

We arrived early on the Friday morning to a relatively packed campsite and therefore had to park a little way from the camping. However, armed with a pull-a-long trailer we piled everything in and headed up to a relatively quiet, top of the hill spot. WOMAD is a well drilled festival and we were never far from either water, decent toilet facilities and warm showers.

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We had hoped that the weather would remain dry as this would keep our options open for what music to listen to but when it didn’t we decided that staying a little drier would make for a better experience with ASK. Over the course of the three day festival we saw some amazing acts from ‘World Music’ Trad.Attack! from Estonia playing amongst other things the bagpipes were a real treat. The Gubi Family (Beautiful), Goat (reminded me of Orbital), Las Cafeteras (brilliant), Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds (Inspiring) and The Ska Vengers (Cool). For me though the best thing I saw was Kuenta i Tambu who brought a level of energy to the stage that I hadn’t seen in years, it was bring powerful Afro-Caribbean music that really made you want to get up and dance (and we did). WOMAD had such a hugely diverse range of music on offer and although you won’t like it all you really won’t struggle to find something that you do like.

Importantly ASK found much of the music to her tastes and we danced to the fast moving, beat laden tracks and we snoozed through the gentler music. Although we went to WOMAD for us, we wanted our daughter to experience live music and the energy that comes with it and thankfully she loved it.

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We found the use of a trailer meant we had a mobile bed for ASK and added large umbrellas to keep her dry if it rained. This was perfect for when she grew tired it meant we could stay out and she simply snoozed until she was ready to party again. What we didn’t take was a buggy and although many did they might have regretted it once the mud got thick – we chose to transport ASK on the Unirider when not in the trailer as this handled all but the worst of the conditions with great aplomb (and as we sped around the arenas we were much pointed at, talked to and even photographed – weird).

WOMAD though is much more than music it’s an environment of creativity, play, education and experience. Each morning we sought out the children’s world and joined in with the many wonderful activities on offer. We made masks, hats, skirts, created patterns in t-shirts (£4 for the shirt, a real bargain). We sculpted clay, played numerous instruments, engaged in group games and had several interactive story times – ASK had so much fun!

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The food was almost universally excellent too and although we did some camp cooking you really don’t need to – we had the delight of trying lots of delicious foods and the raclette was amazing as was the mac and cheese we tried and the plethora of cakes, coffees and treats we tried were all delicious. Pizzas offered a good and easy option with prices generally being reasonable for a festival. WOMAD scores well for its food options and have certainly improved since our last visit in 2012. As a teetotaller I don’t drink but the GingaNinja did try some of the ciders and exclaimed that the Mango Cider was her favourite of the whole festival!

Ultimately WOMAD is highly recommended on all levels and while some would argue that it’s a bit of a middle class event I’d argue against that. They do their very best to be hugely inclusive, ASK didn’t pay to attend and you can pay in instalments for adult 3 day tickets and there are options around this. WOMAD has a wide range of music and although nothing you’ll get on Radio 2 it offers you a chance to learn something new. The craft, poetry and children’s sections are phenomenal and as a family experience you really can’t go wrong. I’ll certainly be going back and I won’t be leaving it 5 years between visits!

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Practical Advice

We adventure a lot with ASK – running, biking, hiking, climbing, ice skating, parks, cultural trips, educational trips, parties and that other good stuff but we knew that camping would be something we should be better prepared than usual for. There may be some useful tips in here for new parents about to embark on their first camping trip or music festival.

  • Buy a big enough tent (we bought the Coleman Octagon – an eight man tent which was perfect for a 3 person family and all their stuff)
  • Spread yourselves out, build a proper camp and develop outdoor space that’s yours
  • Get the child/children involved in the buying of any new kit
  • Have full waterproofs for everyone
  • Take a potty
  • Buy good quality ear defenders
  • Buy or rent a trail trailer
  • Use the mornings to do things they want to do to make doing your things more acceptable to them
  • Get to know other families

BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day

Our second festival of the year was the BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day. A very different beast to WOMAD but no less enjoyable. A few months back I’d seen that Blondie were on the bill an having just bought their new album decided I’d like to see them live as I’d always been a fan. Looking further down the list I saw James Blunt, Shania Twain and the wonderful Take That. I urged the GingaNinja to make sure she had all the computers in the house ready and armed when the box office opened and after much effort we secured a couple of tickets! Ace.

Having been a couple of times before we knew that it would be hectic and that food outlets would be rammed and so decided to take quite a significant picnic to ensure that both we and our toddler didn’t suffer from any food outages! Armed with a picnic blanket, buggy and food we got to Hyde Park with a couple of hours to spare but this was soon eaten up by finding a decent spot, lunching and getting comfortable.


The weather was looking a little ropey too and we prepared our ‘camp’ for it getting wet later on. By the time the Stereophonics opened we were all in the mood for a little dance and the band delighted as they smashed out new and classic songs. The remainder of the afternoon rolled on without much disturbance, the Radio 2 team bringing truly global musical talent to the stage for everyone to enjoy. It all started to ramp up though when Rick Astley appeared and from here on it was simply a succession of bigger performances. James Blunt was brilliant as ever and I delighted at his live version of Bonfire Heart which I sang to ASK every night for the first two and a bit years of her life to help her sleep. Shania Twain was much as you remember her and delivered a magnificent reminder of her heyday and potentially a return to huge success. ASK, the GingaNinja and I bounced around all day to music as it belted out around Hyde Park with the child periodically requesting the opportunity to sit on our shoulders for a clearer view of the action.


When Blondie came on though ASK recognised and appreciated the pop rock that she’s been brought up on and we both danced for all we were worth! For me Blondie was the absolute highlight of the day but credit where it’s due Take That gave them a real run for their money.

With a 9.30pm (ish) finish/curfew this compressed festival makes the most of its family friendly credentials. The toilets are decent, it isn’t too overcrowded, it’s fairly priced at £50 for general admission and the music has all the toe tapping hits you could wish for. The biggest concern are the stupidly long queues for food and drink but by the food being within earshot of the music the organisers get away with it (just).


Ultimately the Festival in a Day is a wonderful experience and if you’re within spitting distance of London, love the music of Radio 2 and don’t mind the potential of getting wet then it’s a no-brainer!

And so… as parents what we learnt was that ASK loves music, lots of different music and being around these big events. She had no fear of the scale of it all and simply did her own little thing (singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ for example while the stage was blasting out pop classics). The most important thing in terms of enjoying a music festival with a toddler is to be prepared, it didn’t take much effort to get us ready for either event but doing our research and adequately readying ourselves meant that everyone had a brilliant time.

And will we go and do more festivals with her? Damn right we will!

 


Stood at the back of the first family wave at the Vitality Westminster Mile reminded me of every race I’ve been in – the difference was that this time I was accompanied by both the GingaNinja and UltraBaby. For the first time UB was taking to the tarmac for a race powered solely by her own two little feet. Yes it’s true that she’d completed the Chislehurst Chase 2km last year but that was trail and I was quite excited to see what 6 months of growing, the training and some slightly more technical kit might draw out of her. 


As Lord Sebastian Coe dropped the flag at the sound of the starting horn we belted out of the ‘starting blocks’ and pushed hard. As parents we kept hold of our little athletes hand and reminded her of the medal we were aiming for.

Our training had been pushing for the mile in between 15 and 18 minutes and as we hit the first 400 metre marker at 3mins 12secs I did wonder if we might even break 15 minutes. The route had lots of awesome support to help keep us going and the Steel Drum band gave us a bit of a boogie wiggle opportunity. There was such a positive atmosphere that you couldn’t help but want to push on!


At 600metres in, the clock ever ticking, we encountered a problem though – UB wanted to run alone!

We tried a couple of parenting tactics to get her to hold onto us but to no avail…

  • She simply stopped.
  • Bottom lip drooped.
  • A little tear slid down her face.

The seconds ticked on and with a thousand metres to go I was worried we wouldn’t get started again. It was then than a little girl went past us and I used her as the reason to get going again, ‘look at that little girl…’

UB relented and pursued the young girl with all the vigour she could muster – faster than before and encircled, hands free, by her parents.


Cheers erupted from all over the course, volunteers and spectators generously giving of their applause. UltraBaby returning the response with a series of double thumbs up, culminating in lots of ‘ahhhhh’ from the crowd. But with a great swathe of focus we had pushed to the final quarter of the race, before us we could see other runners and we encouraged UB into one final effort.

Over the line my little monster raised her arms in the air and cried ‘ice-cream’ (a promise I had made her during her mini meltdown). We had done it!


With meltdown we finished in 16mins 04secs. I was incredibly proud and watched with a little lump in my throat as she strode around displaying her medal to all that would look, telling them that she ‘won’ her race. I shan’t be dropping the crushing reality on her just yet that she wasn’t quite the overall winner.


Post race we ambled around the race village (while UB slept) – listened to Seb Coe talking and generally soaked up the amazing race day atmosphere. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning!


Toddler Kit: For those of us looking for reasonably priced running t-shirts and shorts for our toddlers can I recommend Uniqlo, who have a reasonable range of smaller non cotton kit ideal for the active toddler. UltraBaby was wearing the 3 year old sized short sleeved ‘boys’ top and the peach shorts and UB is a small(ish) 2 and a half year old.


Conclusion: What I can say is that the Westminster Mile is a mass participation event that feels small scale, low key and uber friendly. It never feels pressured and has a smoothness that keeps it feeling that way.

The family friendly nature of the event means you aren’t worried about bringing gran or grandad along (as we did the first time we did it) nor do you have any concern about having your toddler or younger with you. I ran this our first year with UB strapped to my front and loved it – this time she’s old enough to do it herself and run in a great time. More events could learn to be this family supportive.

The only thing I would love to see is this event replicated across the UK – to help build sporting achievement in the UK and as Seb Coe said at the event ‘everyone can run’ and mostly he’s right. So let’s spread events like this to every corner of the UK.

On two final notes, the first is a huge thank you to the army of volunteers and supporters who make this event feel special (especially for the younger runners who are hugely encouraged by the positive, inclusive atmosphere). 

And the second thing, get involved, you won’t regret it.

March started with such promise but ended in a failure from which there seems no escape. Below are the high and lowlights of my March running

  1. More than 200 miles run (mostly race miles)
  2. Completed the Hockley Woods Challenge despite injury early in the event
  3. Completed the outrageously fun Amersham Ultra
  4. Nasty bout of food poisoning gave me a week off running – that’ll teach me for eating slightly mouldy muffins!
  5. Withdrew from the UTBCN at the three-quarter point due to a kit failure in my brand new Petzl head torch
  6. The effect of a race failure caused by things outside of my control has meant I haven’t felt like running at all since
  7. Weight loss was slowed to allow me to eat more in preparation for the three races in March – 0.5kg dropped.
  8. I dumped Petzl in favour of Black Diamond head torches after the UTBCN. Fingers crossed my new choices don’t fail
  9. Kit tested my new Oxsitis Enduro and Ultimate Direction PB 3.0 both of which are outstanding pieces of kit – expect reviews in the coming months
  10. Yesterday UltraBaby told me we had to go for a run! Cool!

So it wasn’t a good March all in all – it’s not a disaster but after several months of geverally forward progress this feels like taking steps backwards and being unsure how to resolve it with a big race on the horizon doesn’t fill with me anything other than trepidation.

ho-hum.

Importantly though, for those that read this and feel I require a ‘man up’ or a ‘go for a run’ then please allow me to spare you those well meaning sentiments – they don’t help. I’ve already had quite a lot of well meaning but ultimately generic help from both real people and social media and actually this is just something you need to resolve yourself, or at least that’s how I need to do it.

I hope everyone else has had good running over the last month and that Apri is awesome too!

IMG_6839When I wrote my first A-Z of running I knew that I had much more to talk about and that for certain letters I probably had dozens of examples, so this is part 2 of my A-Z.

A. Age
I’m 40 later this year and in many ways this doesn’t bother me one iota, I don’t feel the need for a mid-life crisis and it will probably pass much as the previous 39 did – with little or no fan-fare.

There is something with regard to age and running, well for me there is.

In my youth I was a short distance track sprinter, 100 and 200 metres, I was explosively fast but as I entered my later teens and early 20s I drifted from running and didn’t bother much, preferring fast girls and night clubs – I suspect a recurring theme in the adolescent community. However, by my mid 20s I had started to amble back to running, 1 mile, 2 miles, etc until in 2004 I entered the Preston 10km aged 26 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Still though I ambled around this kind of distance for years and didn’t race again. I enjoyed running but never saw it as a way of expressing myself.

Perhaps it took a little maturity and, dare I suggest, age to give me enough perspective to realise that lots of the good things in my life were directly related to running and at the end of 2010 I finally started the journey that I write about now.

Falling in love with running and devoting myself to it at an older age means I’ve always been focused on it (not always the right focus but focused). I moved quickly through the discipline/distances to find the area I most enjoyed – no time wasting (5km to 100 mile ultra in 2.5 years).

Ageing and getting older has also allowed perspective on the nature of achievement and that actually the human body is amazing and that actually our limit is determined by our will. Seeing men and women much older than myself running and often beating me to a finish line is inspirational.

In truth I’d love to go back and teach younger me all the lessons I’ve taken on board over the years so that I could start at a younger age but he wouldn’t listen. The truth, in my opinion, is that age is not a barrier to good running but actually the key.

B. Body image
I wonder how many of us love our body? Probably very few of us are 100% happy but mostly we get by. I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m fat, now rationally I am aware that I’m not fat, I’m mostly average but mentally, when I catch sight of myself and I see a fat UltraBoy staring back.

Running hasn’t honed my physique particularly and I’m not comfortable in the gym, you won’t catch me weight training but you will see me bench pressing many a mars bar. Undoubtedly I’m my own worst enemy, when I assault the biscuits or crisps or houmous I can hear myself saying ‘hey fatty, how you doin’?’ But I still eat it – I have an unhealthy relationship with food and this makes my body image problems worse. Some of you who know me in real life will have heard me use the term the ‘Compressport diet’ which is not a diet but both a joke and a way of living.

Effectively I eat less and run more in an effort to one day fit into my Compressport top and not look like a totally fat bastard.

I see lots of runners posting on social media platforms about how awesome their weight loss has been and while they should be hugely proud of this I do wonder what the original motivations were – I suppose because I know mine are ultimately down to a huge insecurity in the way I look and I suspect that no matter what weight or shape I achieve I’m always going to struggle.

C. Cycling
Cycling is back on the agenda and I’m fancying a triathlon. Sensible? probably not

D. Direction
I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB – then I went and attempted the CCC and thought, this is rubbish.

I believe we need a direction in our running, something to aim for – it could be a new bigger distance, a better time, a new race, weight loss, whatever, but having a driving force makes us better runners.

For a long time the direction was missing from my running and it wasn’t for the want of looking for one. I thought that achieving the start of membership to the 100 marathon club would be an aim, but I found myself put off by those doing things like the 10 in 10, which to me has always seemed like ticking off numbers rather than running great events (though no offence to those that do these intended). Then I finally found the road I’d been looking for and I decided to start going about things the right way and (as I write this in March 2017) I’m directing my energy towards, distance, elevation and tough as fuck events as I aim for my own ultimate challenge in the coming years.

E. Endangered Races
I am bombarded daily with emails, social media and other suggestions for ‘races you might consider’. Running is a multi-billion pound operation from kit, to gym membership, to nutrition, to therapies to the races but there is a saturation point for all of it. For example we’ve recently seen Pearl Izumi pull the plug on it’s well regarded running line because (I suspect) too much competition and, if we are honest, a confused marketing and naming strategy. However, the big issue for me is the amount of races – every weekend there are dozens (if not more) of races all over the country and a limited supply of runners – I’ve turned up to some amazing races to find numbers nowhere near capacity in recent years and while this is great for it not feeling too cramped, it’s doesn’t aid the longevity of events or the atmosphere. Anecdotal evidence points to events such as the Yorkshire Marathon, which sold out very quickly in its first running, still having room for runners looking for a northern marathon.

I’d like to see the major events such as the London Marathon, GNR and other mass participation races offering support by only accepting applicants from those who have run an equivalent distance in the year prior to their application. We should be fostering a culture of running and racing that is sustainable both for participants and for the businesses that run them – something to think about UKA?

F. Facing fears
Do something that terrifies you every single day (words I try to run and live by)

G. GoPro
I know runners with GoPro and action cameras look like tits but I don’t care I find carrying my GoPro Hero4 Session a reliable and efficient way of capturing memories and helping to tell my blog stories after a race. So while it’s not an issue to carry it I shall continue to do so.

H. Holding on (at races)
White Cliffs 50: mile 14, broken foot, lost. The Wall: mile 62, crying, 20 blisters. Saltmarsh 75: mile 35, crying, glutes destroyed. St Peter’s Way: severe chest infection, crying. Mouth to Mouth: undertrained, severe GI distress. Skye Trail Ultra: unfit, undertrained, vomit, GI distress, dozens of blisters

I’d like to think I’m a reasonable fun runner but the reality is I’m actually a terrible runner but with a decent amount of tenacity. The above races are simply a snapshot of the every event occurrences that dog my racing.

The annoying thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter what I do I can’t shake this monkey and it delights in giving me a good kicking in different ways at different races.

Even this year when I’m actually training, running properly, losing weight and preparing for races in an organised fashion I’m still being short changed (as proven by the Hockley Woods dog incident – read about it here). If I believed in luck, fate or karma I’d assume I was being singled out for some special sadistic treatment but I’ve simply come to accept that I’m never going to be a Scott Jurek or Tobias Mews.

What I do know though is that I can hold on when things go wrong (if it’s important enough to me) and maybe that’s my skill.

Not much of a skill is it!?! 🙂

I. Insurance
Is it a great big con or not? I’m not sure but what I do know is that for about £10 per foreign race I can use the Activity top-up service at Sports Cover Direct and it gives the GingaNinja peace of mind for the day when I finally do fall off a mountain.

I suspect we’ve all heard stories of adventurers needing to be rescued and ending up with enormous bills from foreign medical suppliers and nobody wants to get caught in that trap. Ultimately ultra running can be dangerous, at its best it’s an extreme sport and therefore I’d rather be covered than not.

J. Job
I written before about how your job can affect your running. I mean let’s be honest who doesn’t occasionally have a stinker of a day and then let’s off steam by pounding out a few miles pretending each step is on Alex Keith’s face.

My problem in the relationship between work and running is that because the job preys on my mind long after it should and I find it either stops me wanting to run or worse sends me angry running.

I recall an issue of the comic Guardians of the Galaxy from many years ago where the phrase, ‘an angry opponent is a sloppy opponent’ was used in the dialogue and when I’m angry at work it makes my running angry, and worse it makes it sloppy, risky and often just plain stupid. Guardians of the Galaxy were right – but I bet they didn’t know they were talking about me.

I realise this a problem with the subjective nature of my job and my desire to retain some professional dignity occasionally – perhaps if I cared less about the quality of my work then I wouldn’t be so riled when it gets ridden roughshod over.

I often wonder if others share this issue and how it affects them outside of the work environment?

K. Karimmor
In my notebook there’s a list of things I despise; ‘my mother’, ‘the people who voted leave in the EU referendum’, ‘the people who voted for Donald Trump’, ‘the knobhead Donald Trump’, ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn’. However, there is one name missing from that list and it covers a wide area and that name is ‘Karrimor’.

I’d recommend looking up Karrimor who have an incredibly sad story, a high quality British brand that was snapped up by hideous ‘businessman’ Mike Ashley. He turned Karrimor into the cornerstone brand of his Sports Direct empire. Now that name is synonymous with poorly and cheaply made outdoor and running rubbish that because of its huge high street presence lures in unsuspecting runners and erodes the market share of the independent running and outdoor retailers.

Basically if you love running then don’t shop at Sports Direct (or associated brands Sweatshop and Field & Trek) because there are so many better and reasonably priced brands that treat their staff and customers with the respect they deserve.

And if you see someone running, decked out in Karrimor gear can I offer you this advice. Run with them for a few minutes, tell them about kit that will support them, tell them of Run and Become, London City Runner, Up & Running, Decathlon, Wiggle, Likeys, Castleberg Outdoors and Ellis Brigham and then go about your business as normal. And I recommend you do this partly to save me from setting all of their Karrimor kit on fire.

L. Lone Peak 3.0
Since I started running I think I’ve worn pretty much every brand and every style of running shoe – or at lest it feels like that. However, there have been a number of stand out pieces of footwear over the years, my banana yellow Vibram FiveFingers Komodo, my first pair of Adidas Adios, my Inov8 Race Ultra 290 but perhaps most notably the Lone Peak version 3. It’s fair to say that I’ve loved all the Altra Lone Peak that I’ve owned but none had the same comfortably supportive feeling that the LP3.0 – visually they might remind me of an American muscle car but underneath they’re all class. The LP3.0 are a reminder to me that having a trusted shoe can make all the difference in running.

M. Mud
I have a loving relationship and it’s not with who you think it might be – it’s with mud and when you love trail running I believe you’ve got to love mud.

N. Negative thoughts
In both running and not running I can be both up and downbeat, it’s the nature of life but I’m lucky that I rarely hit the extremes of high and low. However, when I’m running I do suffer with negative thinking and it’s something I’ve long been working hard to combat.
Outwardly I’ll say ‘you’ve got to run your own race’, ‘I’m just here for a bimble’, ‘I’m just here for the cake’ or whatever. But I like to do well and I like to push myself to do well.
Recently at the Hockley Woods Challenge I thundered through the first 3 laps believing I was on my way to a four hour hilly, muddy trail marathon (and a bit). Then when I was upended by a dog that came out of nowhere and bowled me over I immediately knew I had done something to my groin in the landing. The problem was I was far enough enough to determine that I should complete it but not far enough to do myself some lasting damage.

The thoughts that rolled round my head for the best part of 30km were a little unkind to myself and the problem is that I’ll carry that self loathing and negativity into the Amersham Ultra if I’m not careful.

Thankfully I’ve been using these negative events to try and double down harder on the elements that have been going well and so even if I can’t see it at the time I try and analyse it shortly after to ensure that the negativity remains short lived.

It’s not ideal but I’ve found a negative mental state to be the ruin of my racing and running, much more so than any physical injury I might ever have picked up.

O. ‘Off’ time
When I started running again I wanted to be like Ron Hill with a 50 year RunStreak behind me but what I found happened was that my body simply wasn’t up to it and as I pushed myself further and further my body eventually gave up.

I’ve learnt the lesson of not resting and have now dropped back from races that I don’t need to do – I’ve dropped out of junk miles and I’ve given myself rest periods across the year to allow more time for my body to heal and to train smarter.

For me, the key elements of my ‘off time’ are that I’ve adopted a ‘no race’ policy for July/August which should stop getting DNFs through excessive chaffing and I’ll cap ultra marathons per year at about a bakers dozen. I’m also varying my daily RunCommute mileage from as little as 5km to as much as 25km and ever the occasional rest day thrown in too.

Off time also gives me greater capacity to spend time with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby and might even allow me the capacity to train for a sprint distance triathlon. Perhaps I’ve come to the conclusion that switching off leads to better switched on!

P. Planning
I’m always in planning mode, 2017 was in the planning stage by the time I’d reached April of 2016. Ultra marathons, especially the very popular ones sell out quickly and you have to be ready to catch them – MIUT was done on the day of release for example – and was sold out 5 days later (or so). I have thankfully only missed out on one of the races I was looking at doing and that was the XNRG Pilgrims Challenge, (which I have now left too late for two years in a row – lesson learned) I’ll be aiming to get there next year.

Planning is essential though for more than booking in races, it’s at the heart of training too. I have been heavily focused on hill work, building my strength with buggy running and gently increasing my distances in preparation for all the elevation I have planned. This is because between the UTBCN, MIUT and SW100 there is around 20,000 metres of climb over 360km – so planning is essential. Knowing the races I’m doing is providing an incentive to train both harder and smarter.

For smart running you should always consider smarter planning – something it has taken me a long time to learn!

Q. Quiet
Stood at the summit of a hill somewhere in rural Kent there was no silence – there was the rush of the wind and the rustle of the leaves shipping around, driving rain pounding my back and my hot deep breath was beating on my ear drums. But I was alone, so very alone – I looked forward to see signs of brightly coloured waterproof jackets but the weather had kept people indoors, warm and toasty. I scanned my surroundings some more and realised I’d found what I was looking for – a little bit of quiet. My breathing slowed, my heart rate dropped and the rain and wind became friends and I just enjoyed a few moments of quiet. I imagined this is what a car feels like in an automated car wash as the mud was hewn from my limbs by the rain, but there were no soapy suds on this hill. My quiet was broken by a sheep creeping up on me but I like to think it was there seeking much the same thing I was and so I vacated my space and gave it to the sheep.

Sometimes I run to find quiet and sometimes I find it.

R. RunCommute
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the humble RunCommute. When I decided to start running and training for the Grim Challenge all those years ago I knew that running at weekends would never be enough and that I needed to adopt an efficient use of my time – that efficiency was running to and from work. I remember that first time strapping my OMM 25 litre classic pack to my back and running from Regent’s Park to Victoria Station, it was so tough but I felt like a Cram or Ovett.

Until I did it I hadn’t realised just how many people had abandoned or part abandoned public transport and their cars in order, presumably, to improve their fitness.

RunCommuting also brings little cool ‘mini-games’ like Kit Watch, Strava Art, Time Attack, New Route Finder, Race The Bus and a personal favourite The RunCommute PhotoChallenge.

The RunCommute hasn’t always gone to plan and has been at the ground zero of a few injuries over the years but it’s always felt that it has given much more than it’s ever taken and while I probably take it for granted I certainly won’t be found abandoning it.

S. Scotland
Jedburgh, The Fling, The Devil, The WHW, Glencoe, Skye, the Charlie Ramsay, Celtman… Scotland has a lot going for it in running terms and I’m considering a change of location and moving north of the border.

I’ve grown increasingly weary of the English and the whole EU referendum makes me disgusted to be English – I am proudly European, defiantly European even. Now my thought is that if I can’t save my own country, because the level of idiocy has pretty much reached its spunk unloading climax, then perhaps I can help the Scottish people to achieve independence and find a new home in the EU.

The benefits are many, I’d get to live in the countryside, be closer to some of the best trails around and I’d be in a country where the majority want to stay in the EU. In running terms though the race scene looks brutally beautiful and that’s a decent sized consideration for me.

I always thought I’d stay near to London but living in Kent has highlighted with tremendous clarity that the future for England is intolerance and trouble and that taking a punt on Scotland may be the opportunity that I, my family and my running have been looking for.

T. Training
Do you remember training? Training was something I used to do several years ago when I was getting ready for mr first half marathon. Training was something other people did and training was a bit of a waste of my very valuable time. I managed to run nearly 40 marathons/ultra marathons on very limited training over about a 3.5 year period.

Interestingly though I also picked up 3 DNFs, a couple of serious injuries, and any number of smaller injuries and piled on enough weight to consider myself a bit of a fatty. Yes I was doing the RunCommute but I was never committing to longer, more structured, targeted miles, essentially I was coasting and yet still turning up to events wondering why the magic just wasn’t happening.

Since the start of December 2016 I’ve very much been focused on delivering the promises I made to myself and this has required training. I’ve actually been committed to weekly averages of around 40-50 miles, speedwork/fartleks, hills, buggy running and a more co-ordinated approach. However, I remain ‘fluid’ in the way training is achieved and I’m not sure I’ll ever quite be ready for written plans or dogma but at least I’m training properly and I feel fitter than I have done in years.

U. Unirider
If you’re a runner and have a child aged between two and six (size dependent) then the Mountain Buggy Unirider is probably the best piece of kit you can own (reviewed here). My daughter and I are often looking for ways to extend our adventures and this single wheel push along ride is an ideal way for the pair of us to go running round muddy, hilly trails and fast, flat roads! There is something really quite fun about watching UltraBaby scream out in excitement as we bounce across gnarly trail, calling out, ‘faster, faster dad’.

V. Vigo Tough Love
If you want to truly fall in love with trail running then this is the race for you – it has a little bit of everything. A ten mile run through Kentish hills this offers nothing but the opportunity to truly enjoy yourself. Up, down, through mud, through water and across the finish line – it’ll never, ever be a fast course but it is an exceptional course and deserving of the high praise it gets. You can read my review of the 2017 event here.
W. Westminster Mile

I have favourite events and I have preferred distances – the Westminster Mile combines the two. The mile, to me, is one of the great unsung heroes of running. With the mile you can be ball breakingly fast and make your lungs gasp for air and you can feel the exhilaration of a race in just a few short minutes. The Westminster Mile allows for both of these things but adds in drama and atmosphere – it’s a great day out with thousands upon thousands aiming to lay claim to a fast time around the course.

Of course the best thing is that it’s a family event and UltraBaby already has one finish to her name and after a year off will return for the 2017 edition. Highly recommended wherever your age, gender, fitness level or even if you aren’t that interested in running.

Find out more here.

X. Xenophobia
I was recently on one of my longer runs and was briefly joined by another runner who was going in vaguely the same direction as me, he wanted to chat and I was fine to listen. He was telling me about how he had turned to running after a heart attack at 35 and that he had turned his life around. All very noble I thought and then he got into politics and particularly the EU referendum and perhaps it was were we were running or something about me that suggested xenophobic or mildly racist but he decided to espouse his theories about the ‘fucking scroungers from Europe’.

I kept my cool and told him that I had voted remain, and felt more European than ever because of my belief and research that his statement was simply not true at which point he called me a ‘traitor’ and decided to run off in a different direction.

As a tolerant person (to a point), despising only stupidity, a lack of curiosity and my mother this man highlighted why I dislike running in Kent, why I despair about England and why I love running in Europe.

Our friends on the continent (and north of the border) offer such a tremendous welcome to their countries and their races that this is very much now my preference for running (I’ll race in Europe three times in 2017, UTBCN, MIUT and SainteLyon and possibly in Scotland too).

I don’t want to come across people like the man who ran beside me telling a total stranger about his hate filled beliefs – xenophobia and intolerance have no part in my running community. Running should be the most inclusive of all the sports!

Y. Yearly
I think some runners will return to races year on year, perhaps because they really enjoyed it, because it gave them a personal best time or because it’s local.

I did four editions of the Kent Roadrunner because it was local to me but at the fifth and sixth time of asking I’d had enough of running round a cycling track in the heat, I simply wanted more out of my racing.

The only race I return to year on year is the Vigo Valentines Run and this is because that’s a very special race that is never the same twice and brings untold levels of joy to me.
I’m curious about the mindset of those who always have to run London Marathon, Brighton or wherever. I suppose for me there’s now so many great races that you can do a new route, meet new people, take on new challenges almost every time you choose to race.

I don’t really want to be critical of a persons choice to do the same thing over and over but I just wonder why you might limit your experiences?

With nearly 150 different races completed I feel that now and again I can go and revisit my favourites (SainteLyon this year, Skye Trail Ultra next year) but this is only because I’ve already done lots of different races. However, I still go looking for new experiences and this year (so far) all but the Vigo 10 and SainteLyon will be new races to me and I can’t wait to be surprised!

Z. Zippers (UD jacket)
I quite like the Ultimate Direction waterproof jacket but it does have a couple of very serious flaws and the most major one is the really crappy zip – it’s weak, feels like it’s going to break and offers no sense of security. When compared to the zipping mechanism of my 4 year old Montane Minimus there is no comparison – the UD comes a distant second.

So come on UD you’ve improved the Signature Series no end with the PB 3.0 – let’s see you do the same for your waterproof jacket.

Attending an inaugural running event can be a dangerous thing, the route may not be fully tested, the organisation might not be quite as slick as when the event has been running a while and the atmosphere may be dampened by the attracting of fewer runners than a more established event…

Thankfully we then have the Hockley Trail Challenge which was blighted by none of the above, in fact I think it’s fair to say that this looped course deserves nothing but high praise and return visits! But let me rewind to 10 days before the race and recount another sorry tale from my personal pantheon of running tales.

I was recounting the story of the week before the Green Man Ultra in 2016 and how I’d been pushed into the road on New Bond Street and been hit by a car mere days before the Bristolian 45 miles. I joked that I hoped that didn’t happen again, it seemed however, that fate is a cruel mistress and as I was bounding along New Bond Street a plethora of tourists refused to get out of my way and I was forced into the road, pulling a muscle in my calf as I landed awkwardly.

Boom! Lightning can strike twice.

I hobbled home and almost immediately cancelled my 49 mile Milton Keynes to London run and sat for hours with the TENS machine and the bastard rumble roller I own – there was Hockley Woods to get ready for! I decided rest was the order of the week and reduced my running to the bare minimum did nothing over the weekend and managed to see my physiotherapist the day before the event (never ideal). Anyway patched up and rested I rolled up to Hockley Woods in good spirits and a desire to have an amble round a new location.

By the time I arrived at 8.30 a few runners had congregated round the registration but many were hiding in their cars avoiding a pre-race soaking. Number collection was swift and smooth and I ran into Cherie and her husband who I met at the Ridgeway last year and we exchanged banter about our various abilities to do directions!

I soon returned to the family who had decided to join me so that the hound and the GingaNinja could get a few miles round the woods in before departing for a morning of trampolining pre-race UltraBaby and I bounded round on the Unirider chasing ThunderPad and the GingaNinja. However runners were soon called over for a short but useful race briefing and we all lined up for six hours of trail shenanigans!

I took up my customary position at the back of the course but as the start was called I quickly made my way forward through the other eventers, quickly catching the front four or five runners and settling into a very pleasant stride.

As I often do on looped events I look for markers and note conditions underfoot so as to try and see where problems, challenges or faster sections will occur later in the race and this one the course was replete with challenging conditions, grinding up hills, gnarly trail and the odd speedy downhill.

I quickly realised that the use of the word challenge in the title was very appropriate.
Regardless I pressed onwards, enjoying the spray of mud that had erupted all over my legs and I thundered through the first lap in under 30 minutes despite the reasonably heavy rain. The second lap went in an even faster time despite a stop to speak to UltraBaby who had been chasing round the woods after runners and our Spaniel, when lap three dropped at a similar pace my thoughts turned to a sub 4 hour marathon time for the first time in ages and a little over 4 hours for the eight laps I had targeted.

I took a few minutes at the checkpoint to gather myself for another lap and then set out again, still making good time and looking at a little over 2hrs for the first four laps.

I was about halfway round lap 4 when I came across a horse riding teen, I’ll assume parent and dogs. Having been kicked by a horse in the past I know instinctively to give them a wide berth and I’d noted that the Collie looked nervous and I felt best I give it some space too. Sadly the dog decided to run between my legs and, in my efforts to avoid giving it a thoroughly good kicking, upended me – forcing me down badly and heavily on my groin.
I managed to hobble away, there was no word from the owner, an acknowledgement or even apology might have been nice but still. I knew I’d pulled something quite painfully and so felt around to see what was tense but it was just sore. I pressed in some thumbs and then moved on gingerly.

At this point I hoped I could run it off but all running was doing was aggravating it. I stopped periodically to stretch my leg out which would give a minute or two of relief but the Hockley Trail Challenge as a race, for me, was over.

I moved into the fifth lap looking grim faced and eventually telephoned the GingaNinja asking for advice, however, having already decided that I wasn’t going to give up I pushed on despite her wise words. I found myself now being overtaken and in some cases lapped which simply irritated me but there was nothing for it I had made my decision and you don’t DNF the marathon distance when you’re so close to home.

Thankfully I was still managing to run some sections of each loop which kept both my sanity intact and my timings reasonable given the pain I was in and I was fortunate to meet some lovely people as I ambled along (most notably Joe, a lovely, hardcore ultra running chap from Tipperary!) who provided excellent distractions.

Reaching the eighth lap I stopped at the checkpoint for a few minutes and ate some chocolate raisins, looking longingly at the medals, thinking ‘I should have had one of those hours ago’. But with these thoughts put out of mind I pushed on for one last go round Hockley Woods. With the rain long behind us, the sun out and the knowledge that I was less than 6km from finishing I continued to run/walk these last few steps.

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As a very pleasant surprise though my little daughter UltraBaby was waiting for me a couple of hundred feet from the finish line (thanks to the lovely volunteers for the picture). She jumped out to ‘scare’ me as she is prone to do and then joined me for those final metres. We bimbled towards the finish as UltraBaby told me we were racing and we crossed the line to much applause from the amazing volunteers. Sadly for me UltraBaby stole the medal, little sodding monster – thankfully only one of us ended up coated in mud and it wasn’t her!

Key points

  • Distance: 5.5(ish)km loops
  • Profile: Undulating
  • Date: March 2017
  • Location: Hockley Woods, Essex
  • Cost: £30
  • Terrain: Muddy trail
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route
The route was much harder than I had imagined, hillier than I was expecting and conditions on the ground and the lapped nature of the course meant it got cut up pretty quickly. That being said once the rain stopped and the runners thinned out the course quickly returned to being more runnable for the most part. In truth despite the hills and mud this was a good running course with more than enough interest to sustain you for as many laps as you can manage. Hockley Woods looks like a really good training ground and if you’re local I’d recommend banging a few miles out.

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Organisation
The organisation was brilliant, the route was well marked, there were photographers and floating volunteers on the route and the checkpoint was well manned, well stocked and well protected for any gear that we had left behind. The volunteers were always on hand to provide the wrist bands to count our laps and there was always a lot of love and cheers as you rocked up to the checkpoint.

Awards
Medal and goody bag. The medal was big, heavy and has a fun feeling to it, the goody bag had Maltesers in (and other stuff) and that’s more than good enough for me. The real award though was the event and I think this was the general feeling from the runners I spoke to during the day.

Value for money
£30 seems like a very fair amount for a race this well organised.

I saw a Facebook post that suggested that £30 was too much but actually look at what you’re getting. A glorious loop on a glorious course with a big bespoke medal, an incredibly well stocked aid station/checkpoint and a really good atmosphere all supported by a wonderful team of volunteers who never stopped smiling. I’ll put it like this, I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less (I’m thinking East London half marathon and even the Royal Parks Half Marathon).

Conclusion
The Ranscombe Challenge (read the review here) has always held a special place in my heart as my favourite ‘laps’ marathon/ultra but the Hockley Trail Challenge has replaced it. I know that my experience was marred by getting injured but that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of this event. I would highly recommend running it’s a great experience and I know that I for one will at some point be back to add an ultra amount of laps to marathon amount of laps!

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