3 in 3 becomes 4 in 4 (and a bit)

Its 2 days until Manchester Marathon and what was going to be the first of three marathons in three weeks. However, I couldn’t resist running Milton Keynes again so last week decided to add that one. It is the week after London but, as it’s on the Monday rather than the Sunday, I get an extra day off!

Sadly, confidence has dipped rapidly this week. On Sunday I ran the Reading Half Marathon. Initially I was going to take it easy as I had “gone for it” at the Cardiff Half the week before. However, after a mile or so I felt really good so decided to try running at marathon pace (around 7.25 minute miles) for the rest. It all felt great and my pace increased as the race went on. I came in at 1.36:09 only 9 seconds slower than Cardiff.

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I’ve got mixed feelings about this as, if I’d decided to go quick from the start I’m sure I could have easily beaten my pb of 1.35:21. Conversely I could have taken it easy and saved my legs.

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What has really got my worrying though is the huge blister on my heel I got from the run. I don’t do blisters, not even in ultras, so this is a bit of a shock. It’s huge and I’m struggling to see how I’ll be able to run properly in only 2 days.

I spent yesterday sticking needles into it as there was no way it would go down on its own. Liberal amounts of Savlon and plasters have made it go down a little. I really wanted to go out for a run today but am worried that it will knock my confidence too much.

However, I’ll definitely be parkrunning tomorrow as this is a pre race ritual I can’t do without – especially as I am now only 10 away from my 100 t-shirt!

I’m looking forward to Manchester though, as it supposed to be a good flat fast course. Initially I wanted to try for a 3.15 but after illness during the middle of my training I would be happy to qualify for Boston (somewhere under 3.25). If my foot holds up I will hopefully go for this and leave the Good For Age 3.15 for Berlin Marathon in the Autumn.

The course looks like it has a lot of out and backs which I really didn’t like at Bournemouth but I think I was just having a bad day.

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From about 9 1/2 miles to 17 miles is a long out and back so it will be great to see the leaders coming back the other way, less so to realise they are on their way back and I’m still on the way out!

So that’s it. All the training since before Christmas, the run on Christmas Day, the endless training runs in the cold and pouring rain being drenched by cars, the fantastic days of sunshine running through woods and trails, the 20 mile races and half marathons are all over.

It’s time to pack the marathon bag, try to forget about what can’t be controlled and focus on the things that can. And most of all enjoy it.

I might just have another go with a needle on my heel though….

 

I’m running these marathons for the South Bucks Hospice – a charity who support patients and families coping with life limiting illness, death, bereavement and grief.
If you feel you would like to help please click here to donate. Many thanks.

Runner

Win a pair of Ashmei Compression Socks

It isn’t a secret that I love Ashmei gear. I’ve been wearing their clothing ever since I started running (which, admittedly is only three years ago).

At my first race, the Henley 10k, they had their airstream at the start and I was immediately drawn to their styling. I’ve now got a couple of their shirts, a hoody, jacket and a number of pairs of socks.

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The main reason I like them, as well as looking good, is the fact that, after wearing them, they just don’t smell. I’ve used a shirt three times in a row letting it dry out between sessions and it still hasn’t smelled as bad as a normal shirt after one use. And the salt marks make you look pretty hardcore/disgusting!

Anyway, that’s enough free advertising. I bought these compression socks a week or so ago but they are the wrong size for me. Ashmei offered to take them back and refund the money but I thought I’d spread the love a bit and offer them up as a competition prize. I haven’t even tried them on, I realised once I had them that there was no point even trying. If a sock doesn’t fit, its just a blister waiting to happen.

 

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These are a size 6.5-8 foot (European 40-42) with a 39-44 cm calf circumference. I’ve had a pair of these previously and loved them but unfortunately hadn’t cut my toenails close enough before a particularly hilly ultra and put holes in both big toes.

So, the important question –  how do you win these socks (retailing at £30)?

Simple really. Retweet my competition tweet and follow me both at @thebaldrunner and @mattfowlerphoto. Oh and following my blog wouldn’t go amiss too! Obviously it would be lovely if you took a look at my business site www.mattphoto.co.uk but that would just be an added bonus for you!

Good luck!

 

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The winner will be drawn at random on Friday 8th April from everyone who has followed both of my twitter accounts and blog page and retweeted as directed above. Postage will be paid. UK participants only. The prize is one pair of Ashmei Compresion Socks size 6.5-6 calf 39-44 as described. This competition is in no way linked to or endorsed by Ashmei. No alternative prize is available and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

(pre) Cardiff World Half Marathon

My only previous trip to Cardiff city centre was in 2003 when I was asked to shoot a number of rubbish bins at the recently completed Millennium Stadium (don’t let anyone tell you the life of a professional photographer isn’t glamorous…)

So I was doubly pleased to win a last minute place to the World Half Marathon Championships (many, many thanks to Advent Running) this year being held in the Welsh capital.

As it was a last minute place I was going to struggle to get accommodation but luckily one of my club mates was going and had booked an apartment. All I needed was a sleeping bag and roll mat and I was sorted. Friday afternoon saw Gareth and I crawling down the M4 getting into Cardiff 2 hours later than expected but still with plenty of time to meet up with another Handy Cross Runner, Soraya, pick up our race numbers and get to our pre-booked restaurant. It was a good job Gareth had reserved a table as, when we arrived for our 7.30 slot, people were being told the next table available would be 10pm!

Two and a half hours later we left feeling stuffed, and not feeling in any way like athletes!

The race wasn’t going to start until 2.10 on Saturday so I thought I would have a trot around Cardiff parkrun in the morning. Luckily a friend who I’d met at the Marathon Talk run camp a couple of years ago (and again earlier this year) had the same idea so I arranged to meet Anna there. She is training for Boston marathon in late April and wanted to get a few miles in either side of parkrun. This was supposed to be my first week of taper but I figured a few more, slow,miles wouldn’t do me any harm.

The apartment was at the other end of the park so I had a pleasant run towards the start of parkrun; until I realised I didn’t have my barcode, sprinted back to the room and legged it back again to where I was meeting Anna. We then did 2.5 miles around the park before the start.

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As we were running we met Mark, one of Anna’s club mates who had also run down to get some extra miles and had the obligatory selfie, all resplendent in red.

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I had been checking the weather constantly the day before as it wasn’t looking too friendly but it stayed dry and, down in the park, hardly windy at all. Hopefully this would set the tone for the day as the forecast was for 40mph winds at around 2pm.

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It’s a nice flat out and back (ish) course on tarmac paths and probably a quick one. However, having just done 4 miles beforehand, and having 13.1 to do in the afternoon I took it fairly easy. I’d love to come back and have a proper go at another time.

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As a parkrun geek I really liked the way they organised the barcode scanners by extending the finish funnel and having a scanner at the end of each exit. So naturally I got a few shots and have fed them back to my local run.

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Once parkrun was finished we still had over four hours til the race so there was only one sensible thing to do. Eat a full English (Welsh) breakfast.

We went back to the apartment to get changed and then off to a little cafe Anna had been told about. Full monty breakfasts all round. Happy boy.

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We managed to spend a good hour and a half over breakfast then a bit of a wander around town before finally plucking up the courage to take off the warm clothes and don the oh-so-flattering but very welcome ponchos.

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Anna went to meet her club mates and I wandered down to the start line to find my starting pen. I bumped into Soraya there and as she was going to run 7.25 minute miles we thought we’d run at least the first part together. I still wasn’t sure whether to go for a good time or just enjoy it but thought a 7.25 pace for the first mile would let me figure out how I was feeling.

But that’s for a later blog.

Ashridge Boundary Run

This Saturday is the running of the Ashridge Boundary Run (www.ashridgeboundaryrun.co.uk) and yet again I won’t be able to attend. Unsurprisingly, the route is run around the boundary of the Ashridge Estate near Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. It is a 16.5 mile course almost exclusively off-road on a mixture of woodland trails, ridgeway paths and, at the moment, mud.

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I first heard of the race three years ago and every year something has cropped up to stop me entering. This year I am at The Photography Show as part of my day job.

With that in mind I decided yesterday to run the route anyway.

The morning started bright and clear so I thought I’d have pretty good views along the way. By the time I’d got the kids off to school and arrived at Ashridge Estate however, it had clouded over and was pretty chilly at the start.

I started and finished at the Bridgewater Memorial where there is also a really good cafe. If theres one thing the National Trust do well (and there are many) it’s a decent cafe.

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This year the race is being run clockwise so I figured I’d run it that way too. From the memorial I turned right and headed through the woods towards Ivinghoe.

This is a great start to the course as it is flat, smooth and pretty wide. Eventually I turned left and dropped down out of the woods into grassland. This quickly turned right and to the first hill of the day. My Gore Racelight Windshell was soon packed away as I made a  decent (for me) ascent.

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At the top it got quite boggy and I lost the path a bit looking for drier routes. However, it was pretty easy to pick up and I was soon heading for Ivinghoe Beacon. Another short sharp incline takes you to the Beacon and some breathtaking views over the Aylesbury Vale and further north.

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Sadly I didn’t have the best of weather, the wind was  strong and my Ashmei jersey wasn’t quite enough so I pressed on over the ridge.

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Although the race will certainly be well signposted this is the first place where navigation could be tricky. Halfway along the ridge the boundary takes a sharp right down into fields. Yesterday the gates had fallen over and I ran straight past before realising my error. As soon as I was down in the fields the ridge protected me from the wind and I warmed up, especially as it started a gradual uphill climb. A picturesque run through a copse led to a very steep ascent and the first sign of the mud that would feature later.

This part is very narrow as steps have been made up the hill so, if you are going to try overtaking at this point serious trail shoes will be needed to run along the side of the steps.

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From the top it was a straightforward run to the road where, the last time I ran it, I got horrendously lost. Maybe because of this or the fact that the signs may be better this year, I had no trouble following the many switchbacks through the wood and eventually came out on the B4506 and crossed over into the golf club. Good straight surfaces here and I managed to get motoring a bit. This was all new to me as I had gone so wrong before and was a nice stretch down into a valley.

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This section is basically a straight run without deviation until you hit a fence at about 9 miles. Then a right turn up a pretty sharp hill. Immediately at the top of this is a left turn (easily missed) and through a small wood and out the other side.

Bit of a tip for you lucky taller runners. At the end of this stretch, when you pass through a farm and immediately turn right along a narrow downhill path DUCK! There is a piece of wood at about 6′ high (I passed under it easily). I presume it is propping up the fence on the RHS but could scalp the unwary.(Don’t mention it)

This is where the wheels started to come off a bit for me. I’ve no idea why I do it but I never pay as much attention to hydration and nutrition prior to “just” a run compared to a race. Before Sunday’s Spitfire 20 I ate well, drank loads of water the day before and on the morning, had porridge, banana etc. For this run, only 3.5 miles shorter, I had cereal, two cups of coffee and that was it.

By around 12 miles I was feeling it. And you’ll tell by the lack of photos and a much hazier recollection of the course. I’m pretty sure that this part ran alongside another golf course and that once past the fairways was pretty muddy.

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Finally at the end of this stretch I came out at a house in the woods and, unexpectedly, instead of carrying on turned 180 degrees into the driveway, past the house and seemingly back the way I came. My already addled brain was not amused.

I can’t really remember much else of this part. I know I took this shot going along an enclosed footpath which may, or may not, have been here. Sorry!

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Eventually I crossed back over the B4506 and knew I was on the home straight(ish)

After a quick up and down after the road crossing there is a really nice downhill blast along a gravel track before turning right uphill along a path. Along this section there are a couple of trees across the track. One looks like it has been there a while and there is a bit of a path around it but the other looked fresh and may cause a but of a problem if it hasn’t been cleared (more like a decent sized branch).

After this it is pretty level though I was struggling badly now with no energy at all. One more small road to cross and suddenly there is a sign saying Bridgewater Monument 3/4 mile. A massive tonic! I got a bit of energy back and cruised the next 1/2 mile until…

The hill! The final 1/2 or 1/4 mile is all uphill to the finish. I was feeling better now and got up without drama finishing at the glorious cafe.

I would have taken a picture of my food but, even though well deserved, two cakes would make me look a bit greedy so I’ll finish with this…

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If all else fails, this is what you are looking for. They are pretty much everywhere.

Whether you’re racing on Saturday or just fancy a 16 ish mile run through some beautiful varied and “undulating” countryside, enjoy it. It is a great route and providing you remember to fuel properly a really pleasant experience.

Have I told you I was ill?

This time 2 weeks ago (almost to the hour) I woke up with a cold. Nothing unusual about that, but the timing wasn’t great. I had too much on to be ill. So, much like being injured before a London Marathon, I decided to defer my illness.

No really. I woke up every morning feeling a bit crap but deciding today is not the day I’m going to be ill.

That weekend I was at the Marathon Talk run camp meeting people, running lots and generally having to be well in order to do that.

Immediately afterwards I flew to the Geneva Motor Show for three intensive, very long days. I was being well paid to do a job and couldn’t let anyone down. So again, every morning I deferred.

It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds (and I’m aware it does sound faintly egotistical). As long as there is a jeopardy, something that will be massively affected if you succumb, then I believe the mind is able, in the short term, to postpone the illness. It’s a bit like stopping a toddler from having a tantrum because they want a sweet by distracting them with a colourful picture of an animal.

Unfortunately there is always a pay off. Once I’d finished work and knew I had a couple of days of minimal work on the horizon my body took revenge. Full blown X-rated man-flu has set in and, aside from hauling myself to the Ashmei Ambassador’s selection day last Saturday, I haven’t been able to run for nearly 2 weeks.

This is a critical time in my Manchester Marathon training and I should have been working on speed combined with the longer runs. This Sunday was going to be the final test of where my pace was. The 20 mile Surrey Spitfire is the ideal race to gauge speed over a decent distance but I think I’ll be happy just to complete it.

Its not all doom and gloom though. I am glad I had, prior to the past two weeks, put in some fairly hefty long runs and was way ahead of previous marathon training plans. Hopefully I won’t have lost too much speed in the break and may even be refreshed and have benefitted from the rest.

Hopefully.

Ashmei Ambassadors – strike 2

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Last year I was shortlisted to become an Ambassador for athletic clothing company Ashmei. Unfortunately I didn’t get any further at that point. Unfathomably I have been shortlisted again this year and last weekend was the selection day. A lot of the fellow would-be ambassadors have already shared their recollections of the day and you can find them on twitter under #ashmeiambassador.

For better or worse here is my offering.

 

I’m a minimal kind of guy: minimal height, minimal small talk, minimal intellect and minimal capacity for pain after about 80km.

Ashmei immediately attracted me, not because they aren’t chatty or are a bit stupid (far from it – ahem) but because their design is so simple, so minimalist and yet so gorgeously effective.

This isn’t a kiss-ass ham-fisted attempt to cosy up to the guys from Aldbury, (look it up on Google Earth – they’d love to natter to you in person too) I’ve been wearing their stuff for years.

But for all the good looks what really matters, what makes them stand out from the rest (and yes, the price does put them pretty much at the top end of my budget) is the fact that they do exactly what they say they do. (For older readers, think Cuprinol, for younger ones, ask Grandad.)

Essentially they keep you warm when you’re cold and cool when you’re hot. But the real kicker, the whole reason I buy them – other than attempting to attain some sort of Steve McQueen cool and failing – is that they don’t smell afterwards.

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(Steve McQueen cool – I rest my case)

 

I’m the attractive kind of runner who, for some unknown reason, sweats profusely from miles 3-5 and then my skin gives up bothering. Consequently I’m drenched at the start, clingy in the middle, drying out a bit towards the end. I’ve worn tops that stink like cat vomit after a bit of perspiration and worry that I’m giving fellow racers extra incentive to get ahead of me or at least up wind of me.

I could give you chapter and verse about polyester v merino wool v merino/carbon manufacturing but I’d like you to keep reading so trust me, it works. Read up on it if you must but because of this stuff, I’m no longer “that guy” you avoid in the mid-pack.

Just as well as I’ve just found the one I wore a while ago crumpled up behind the back seat of my car.

A very sociable 10am to the event start meant I could fit in a very unsociable Tring park run beforehand (that hill, seriously, why?). Ever the fatalist I reasoned that even if I failed again at the ambassadorial role, I still had another parkrun in the bank. All not lost.

As soon as I arrived at Ashmei HQ I was relieved of my Polaroids (not as dodgy as it sounds) and had a quick headshot taken (presumably so later they can spread them out, Britain’s Next Top Model style).

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Then there was half an hour or so of mingling with fellow runners. After last weeks training camp in the New Forest I was getting withdrawal symptoms from talking about running so it was great to chat with various people about upcoming races etc. A hot topic was how far people had travelled for the event and again I felt like a fraud being only 20 minutes away. Some had flown or taken overnight trains to be there. Proper dedication.

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Talks by founders, ambassadors and Polaroid takers (I’ll get to these, honest) followed and then we were taken out for a run in the hills of Asheridge Estate. This is probably my favourite area locally with a great 17 mile course around the perimeter of the Estate.

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It was good to be running with so many people and we naturally fell into groups of 2 or 3. The pace was sociable allowing us to get to know each other even on the uphill sections.

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By varying their pace runners could subtly drop back or speed up when they’d had enough of me. I cottoned on to this and using the same tactic managed to chat to a fair few people. I also picked up some decent tips about next years Marathon des Sables from Holly (@ultraholly) who had done it last year. I promised her I shall pester her for more ideas throughout the year.

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And then it was all over. Back to Ashmei HQ, cake and coffee laid on and a final bit of natter before we were on our way.

I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend a morning. The company was interesting and friendly, the countryside stunning, and though I’ll be sad if I get no further (especially as with 3 marathons, 3 half marathons and a 24 hour race in the next 3 months I’m going to need A LOT of kit) it was nice to make new friends, catch up with old ones and continue to build that like-minded community of people passionate about running.

Oh, the Polaroids…

We were asked to bring one shot of ourselves and a personal one relating to our sport.

These are mine:

1. Me, having attempted Striding Edge to Hellvellyn with my son in the ice and decided that today was not the day I would kill us both. There will be other days I can do that…

2. I met this guy on a long run last year ant it seemed the personification of my feelings about running. Its not always about attaining something. Sometimes its about remembering where you are, why you are there, immersing yourself in the surroundings and enjoying the moment. And I loved that the Sainsbury’s bag he had his lunch in matched his robes …

 

 

 

Racing into the New Year

January has been a very busy month, both professionally and in terms of my running.

From meeting with South Bucks Hospice in the first week of the year – confirming our plans to raise as much money together as possible – to my first 26 mile run on the last day of the month, it has been non-stop.

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Traditionally January is a quiet month in the commercial photography calendar but that hasn’t been the case this year with shoots all over the country. Like most people running has had to fit in around work so it has been an interesting exercise keeping both sides of my life happy.

Having said that training has gone really well and I’ve recorded my biggest ever monthly mileage (242 miles) Knowing I’m running for the Hospice has really focussed my mind and made me determined to train as hard and sensibly as possible. I want to do well but also don’t want to get injured!

I’ve started to build in speed work now, trying to get a bit quicker. My club – Handy Cross Runners – cater for all levels of runner and hold a couple of sessions a week concentrating on speeding up. These benefit all types of runners as it pushes you probably further than you would do on your own; and it’s also a great way to socialise with fellow runners.

Long runs are the bedrock of any marathon training and I usually do mine on a Sunday morning. However, one Saturday this month my daughter had to be up early for work and wanted me to make sure she was awake. As I was up anyway I thought I’d get the run done so set off at 6.30. The idea was to run 17 miles and end up at the Rye just before 9am to run parkrun (the free running event held every week there – www.parkrun.org.uk). I’m not a morning person and obviously my first few miles were a bit sluggish as, when I got to the other side of the Rye, I could see 300 people running the opposite way having already started!

On the last day of January I ran my first full marathon distance this year. It’s not something I usually do training for a marathon but the Stonehenge Stomp is a favourite of mine and I couldn’t pass up the chance to run around those iconic stones. Organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association (www.ldwa.org.uk) this isn’t a race, doesn’t have medals, timing or goodie bags and isn’t really for runners! You can start when you like and just follow the very well signposted route for 10, 20, 30 or 40 kilometres. It rained for pretty much the whole way round but the marshals at each checkpoint were as enthusiastic as ever. I spent about 17 miles chatting to a fellow runner not noticing the miles passing as we swapped stories. At the finish I decided I might as well run another mile or so around Amesbury to get the distance to exactly 26.2 miles.

So the first month of training has gone well and I look forward to the next one where I will not only be concentrating on the running side of the challenge but also getting out and spreading the word about the incredible things that South Bucks Hospice do in supporting patients and families.

If you feel you could support South Bucks Hospice in any way please visit their Just Giving page at http://tinyurl.com/z2ttyw6

More about the Hospice at www.sbh.org.uk   More about my photography at www.mattphoto.co.uk

 

Would you like salt with that? My Race to the Stones journey

I’ve given this blog a lot of thought, and a bit of time and space. I tend to suffer from a massive low after big runs and didn’t want it to cloud my review of what is, after all, a spectacular race.

My first marathon was last year’s London Marathon. Like many first timers I was overwhelmed by the amazing experience and couldn’t wait to do another one. So I did. Another 4. In the same year. But pretty quickly something changed and I found I wasn’t running them just for the pleasure of running but, inevitably, to get quicker. Almost immediately I was putting pressure on myself (not a bad thing) to do better than my last run.

And then I stumbled on the evil that is GFA. My Good For Age, the magic key that unlocks all the treasures of the world (well a London Marathon place) is 3 hours 15 minutes. This arbitrary number has become my focus and near obsession since then. True, I haven’t done an awful lot training wise to accomplish it but it is there, at the back of my mind, at the start of each race.

Then I discovered the crazy, friendly, depressurised world of the Ultra. (which should always be capitalised!)

The main attraction for me was that it is pretty impossible to compare one Ultra to another. Terrain and profile can vary wildly so chasing a time is fairly irrelevant. The experience is everything.

Before Race to the Stones I had only done one previous Ultra, a 40 mile race around Henley organised by LDWA and apart from the beautiful countryside the most memorable thing was the fantastically well stocked check points. I wanted more of that!

I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends coming with me to the race; Steve who was running it with me and Helena who would be crewing, cheering, driving like a loon and generally keeping our spirits up. I picked them up from their hotel on race day morning and we set off. The race start was only a few miles from my house so it wasn’t a particularly early start and the journey pretty relaxed.

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I only had about 40 minutes from parking the car to the start gun so no time to think about much other than getting all my kit on and getting to the start line.photo 2

I’d packed as little as possible as I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up for that length of time on my feet.

My kit list was:

  • Ashmei running jersey
  • Ashmei road socks
  • Nike shorts (about 10 years old but I still love them!)
  • 2XU calf guards
  • Mizuno Ascend 8 trail shoes (at least 2 years old and no idea how many miles but feel like slippers)
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Race Vest (swapped hard bottles for soft ones as bottles dug into my ribs)
  • inov8 Race Elite Windshell (unused)
  • Karrimor long sleeved running top (unused)
  • Alpkit Gamma head torch (unused)
  • Buff (unused)
  • SIS gels (x4) 3 unused
  • iPhone
  • Headphones (unused)
  • Jelly beans
  • Sun cream
  • Body glide (unused)
  • Small first aid kit (plasters, blister plasters, pre cut rock-tape)

As you can see the majority of the kit I carried I didn’t actually use but, not knowing how long it was going to take me I had to be prepared for running at night in dropping temperatures.

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Almost immediately at the start line, before the race had started, I lost Steve. He seemed to know pretty much everyone taking part so was chatting with everyone! I wasn’t to see him again until 13.5 hours later.

The race started and for the first few miles it was pretty congested, on narrow shaded paths. This was perfect for me as it kept me to a good, slow pace. During training I had struggled to comfortably run at 9.30-10 minute pace. This wouldn’t be a problem later!

The views were pretty stunning and at this point I was still comfortable enough to appreciate it. One bit was particularly memorable. Running downhill through a cornfield, hands out brushing through the ears of corn. Just beautiful.

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Checkpoints came and went. I took nothing at the first one and just filled up my water bottles at the second. As the feed stations were pretty regularly spaced (around 10k) there were no worries about stocking up and I kept pushing on.

By the 3rd feed station (around 34k) I thought I’d better have a bit to eat so grabbed half a banana and a granola bar. Almost as soon as I finished them I got bad cramps and felt pretty rubbish. I kept drinking pretty steadily as it was getting hot and hoped the stomach problems would go away.

I past marathon distance in around 4 hours 30 and reached halfway in 5.31. At half way Helena met me and it was great to see her ever-smiling face. This was also the overnight basecamp for people completing the course over two legs stocked with food, drink, chairs and tents. It was a struggle to leave!

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There was a lot of food on offer but I couldn’t face anything. I grabbed a coffee and finally decided to have a sandwich. I ate half of one but that was all I could manage. Another very strong milky coffee and I was off again.

At this point I decided that I would try to run 25 minutes and walk 5 for the rest of the distance. I was feeling OK but it was getting pretty hot and I thought this would be a sensible way of pacing myself. Ironically, from this point until the last pit stop at Barbury Castle, 12k from the end, there wasn’t a 25 minute stretch of track that didn’t have a hill on it so I was always having to walk the hill, reset the 25 minutes and hit the next hill. Still this kept my mind active trying to add 25 to whatever my watch showed. Not easy!

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My main concern from now until pit stop 8 was fluid intake. I was getting through both bottles every 10k plus what I was drinking at the feed station. I decided that this was probably being a bit excessive and worried a bit about hyponatremia. I decided to cut down on fluid intake and try to take on some sort of salts. It was now that I discovered something that is well known to Ultra runners – flat coke and salt. A couple of cups of this from stop 7-9 sorted me out and tasted ridiculously good. I shan’t be trying it outside of a race. I can’t imagine it will taste as good without my body craving it.

Just after pit stop 8 with just over 20k to go something above my left knee started to feel odd. Just a little pain but nothing terrible. A few miles later and it was worse, much worse. I took some paracetemol and struggled manfully on. Unfortunately it was worse on downhills and there was a lovely mile long downhill before the ascent to Barbary Castle and the final checkpoint. I was pretty trashed by the time I got to the Castle. I’d pre-cut some Rock-Tape for my calfs so after more coke and salt and more paracetamol I tourniquet’d above the knee – rugby prop-forward style – and got on my way. The strapping did absolutely nothing but made me feel like I’d done something proactive.

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The final leg was great: I’d run a lot of it a couple of times before recce-ing for the Ridgeway relay so knew the terrain well. This was probably the best I’d felt for a couple of hours and I’m sure most of it was psychological as I was getting closer to the finish. I quick tour of a very few of the stones at Avebury and I was turning onto the final straight and the finish line.

I can’t really describe the feeling. I was elated I’d finished, elated Helena was there with her ever beaming smile (seriously, she never stops), obviously exhausted, but almost sad it was over. Both my Garmins had run out of battery (really need to address this for my next Ultra) so I had no idea what time I’d done. Then I saw it was 8.04pm. While I had no expectations of getting a specific time, to miss a sub-12 hour 100km by 4 minutes was a bit gutting.

Until…

There was a chip-timing printer in the corner.

Helena punched in my race number and there it was  -11 hours 58 minutes 29 seconds!

Elation again  -so fickle.

All that was left was to have a few manic-looking pictures taken, eat some veggie chilli (or curry- no idea, didn’t care) and wait for Steve, who had struggled since mile 18 with a hamstring niggle.

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It was the most awesome, painful, beautiful, horrible, wonderful, hideous thing I have ever done.

Apart from the knee everything else held up really well. Calfs were no problem thanks to a lot of massaging and my feet were perfect. I’m sure this is the combination of really good Ashmei socks (which sadly I put a hole through sometime during the race – toenail not short enough I guess) and great shoes that really do feel ridiculously comfortable. (I am not paid by Ashmei or Mizuno!)

On Sunday I couldn’t think about anything except eating, constantly.

On Monday I was definitely never doing another run that length – definitely sticking to marathons.

On Tuesday I signed up for the Race to the Kings Ultra in 2016.

Go figure.

One sentence reviews of my races since April – a quick way of catching up

To say I’ve been a bit rubbish in keeping this blog going over the last few months is a bit of an understatement. Since my last blog I’ve run 4 marathons and two ultra marathons plus a two hour stints round a track for charity. In order to catch up before a detailed blog about last weekends 100km Race to the Stones I thought I’d attempt to review each race in one sentence and record the times so I have them for posterity.

My calfs have become a bit of an obsession for me since injuring them in December so apologies if I bang on about them during the reviews. As ever, thanks to Poppy Bowler, (www.poppybowleracupuncture.co.uk) who seems to have become my personal masseuse over the last 6 months, for patching me up enough to get through each race.

Paris Marathon 13th April

The most architecturally beautiful marathon I’ve run – due to injury took it slow and took in the sights, the laid back atmosphere and the great weather; I’ll definitely be back.

3hours 48 minutes 15 seconds

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Oxon 40/20 Ultra 2nd May (40 miles)

1st 20 tough, 2nd 20 harder but with great company and as a result became a BOSHer- undulating but beautiful countryside and amazing checkpoints that probably added half an hour to my time!

7 hours 43 minutes

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Milton Keynes Marathon 4th May

Hated last year so back to try again, loved it this time, beat previous time by 3 minutes – even after ultra two days before

3 hours 48 minutes 12 seconds

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Liverpool Marathon 14th Jun

PB’d by 9 minutes so all positive, although crowds were smaller than I expected  – final 3 miles into headwind was a bit brutal and 3.30 pacer was all over the place but can’t complain as I smashed my Abingdon previous PB

3 hours 26 minutes 59 seconds

Cheltenham Challenge Marathon 21st June 

Brutal two lap trail marathon with huge hill (twice); ran with full race pack and trying to keep to 9.30-10 minute miles in preparation for Race to the Stones 100km and felt pretty good throughout.

4 hours 15 minutes 15 seconds

Runs and Reviews

Today I did my final (and first) long run before Paris in two weeks time. I decided to try out the new parkrun at Maidenhead so parked about 7 miles away. The idea was to run towards Maidenhead, over the river, double back for a while and the continue on, making it 10 miles to the parkrun and timing it perfectly so I didn’t have much recovery before it started. I’d then run the 7 miles back giving me a perfect 20 miles. This distance also gave me the opportunity to test out a few bits of kit I’d bought recently and see how they fared on a long run.

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As I’ve posted before I was selected for the shortlist to be an ashmei ambassador a few weeks ago. Sadly I didn’t get the gig but they did offer me a really good deal on their clothing so I picked up one of their t-shirts (or “running jersey”) at a decent price. Other than comfort the key quality of these shirts is that not only do they dry quickly, but they don’t smell. I have to admit I do tend to emit a very personal kind of end-of-run odour which is far from pleasant so I was interested to see what would happen. Unfortunately this week due to working long hours (for a change) I have only got out for 3 runs. One 6 mile hilly trail run on Monday, same on Friday and todays 20. I was told by Robert at ashmei that I shouldn’t wash it too often and that it could handle a few runs so I put it to the test. I wore the shirt on each run without washing it in between, just hanging it up to dry. Now I have no affiliation with ashmei – in fact quite the reverse as they rejected me! – so I can honestly say I was staggered after each run, not least the last one. There genuinely isn’t any nasty odour at all. I wouldn’t want to push it to another run but compared to my other t’s (admittedly mostly free technicals form races) it is a revelation.

That’s not to say it is perfect though; I am a medium and fairly short and even I would prefer a slightly longer cut. I’m sure there are taller people who might find it a bit short for them. Also I couldn’t, for love nor money, fit my headphones into the clip on the back of the shirt while I was wearing it. This might be because I was 13 miles into my run and a bit sweaty but I gave up after a while. Finally there is a zip pocket on the side of the shirt. I’m prepared to be shot down here but I cannot see the point of a pocket on one side. Anything substantial (you can probably just about get a phone or car key/gel in it) will bounce around pulling the shirt. I’ll be happy to get feedback that this isn’t the case but I would have preferred it to be at the small of the back, if at all.

The second item I trialled was my Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest. I’d bought it at the beginning of the year thinking I’d get a lot of use out of it but, due to injury, this was only the second time I’d used it and the first over 12 miles.

What is immediately apparent when wearing it is that I probably have bought the wrong size. Again I bought a medium but – without lowering myself to national stereotypes – I think an American medium may be a touch larger than a British medium.

I had it pulled in as tight as possible on both of the straps and still got a little bit of a jiggle on. There may be other ways of tightening it that I haven’t found but if not there may be a bargain on eBay soon. It comes with two 560ml bottles. I’ve also got the 420ml collapsible body bottles but thought I’d need the extra fluid over comfort so used the larger ones. I needn’t have worried as they were pretty comfortable with no rubbing on the chest. I filled one with water and the other with Torq vanilla energy drink. I’m not into particularly sweet drinks so the vanilla flavour is just the job. It is also packed with carbs as well as electrolytes which helps me massively on a long run

There are plenty of pockets all over the vest and most are pretty easy to get to. Gels (I took two, both SIS lemon) can go in pockets around the bottles and phone, car keys etc can go wherever is comfortable. There are also two large pockets at the back to fit a bladder (with drawstrings to keep it tight), jacket etc

This really is an awesome vest and once I get the right fit it wont leave my back on any unsupported runs.

That’s enough free advertising. On to the important bit.

I started just outside Bourne End at about 7.15. I hoped to run 9 minute miles for the 10 miles there so expected (with a few stops for traffic, gasping for breath etc) to get to the parkrun for 8.50. The run itself was great, plenty of early action on the river with rowers, canoeists and canal boats taking my mind off things. Once over the river, after a mile or so switchback to give me the mileage, I ran through Cookham – at one point and very briefly keeping pace with a cantering horse and rider – and back to the river. The footpath then runs alongside the river for a couple of miles until Boulters Lock where it changed to pavement up to Maidenhead. The market was just setting up in the High Street with lots of fresh fruit, veg and enormous bagels to tempt me. I reached the entrance to the park where the parkrun is held at mile 9 instead of 10. Either me or mapmyrun had gone wrong. The only thing for it was to run laps of the rugby fields in front of the gathering runners who must have thought my pre-run preparations were a) pointless and b) ridiculously slow for a 5k event.

I finished the 10 miles at almost exactly 8.50, dumped my vest with the other luggage and set off on the parkrun. I expected to carry on the 9 minute mileing but there is something about a crowd of runners that won’t let me be sensible so I set off at around 8-8.15 mm and clung on. Its a really nice double loop course through Braywick Park and a pretty flat one too. I did a fairly respectable 25 minutes which was around 2 minutes faster that I wanted to. All that was left was the return 7 mile leg covering the same paths without the extra loop. I haven’t run that far since Abingdon Marathon last October so my legs felt a bit heavy for the last couple of miles but all in all it was a very pleasant way to spend a morning. And all before 10.30!