Rome, long run

Rome long

Training for the GUCR while in Italy has been a problem. I need long, flat runs, and flat speed work. Long runs around Venice were a problem because of the number of canal bridges, long runs around Siena were difficult because everywhere’s hilly, long runs around Amalfi were difficult because the roads were death traps (and hilly), it took hours to drive anywhere, and the only local lengthy stretches of trail involved huge numbers of steps (see previous blog posts).

So getting to Rome, and its relative flatness, was a relief from a running perspective. After 7 days of carb-loading on spaghetti and pizza, a long run would finally be mine. My plan was to do 15 miles total, 10 miles of easy and then 5 miles of decent effort, leaving myself feeling fatigued and happy before further carb input.

I knew that I had propensity to get lost, so I checked Mapmyrun for routes that I could upload to my Garmin. I found one that looked good at around 15 miles, and then found that the export button on the site didn’t work. 20 minutes of research down the drain. I tried Mapometer and found a good-looking route of about 12 miles, and altered it to suit my start and end points down by the Colosseum.

I set my alarm for 6:15 and went out at 7am, ran 3 miles easy on a route I’d run a couple of days before, and then hit go on my new route. All set. Except for… people. And traffic lights. And traffic. And more people. I couldn’t get any kind of rhythm with all the stopping and starting. Even my semi-aggressive London running style didn’t work so well here, where a slightly wrong move could literally get you killed by the vehicles that hare around the streets. Even the green man at a crossing doesn’t mean you’re safe, cars can go through if they see it’s clear – so a rapidly moving runner can surprise a motorist when crossing the road at speed on a green man, and I was always wary of collisions.

Added to this, I got lost around the Vatican. The route had a way into the city-within-a-city somehow, and I couldn’t figure out how to get in. There was a crossover of route at one point too, which was tricky to navigate on the Fenix 2, and I ran the wrong way a few times.

On the positive side, Rome is stunningly beautiful on a warm cloudless morning like it was today, and without my run I wouldn’t have seen the river Tevere so closely, I wouldn’t have seen the wonderful view of Rome from the Piazza di San Pietro in Montorio, and although I’m neither a Catholic nor religious in any way, it was good to see the ol’ Pope’s residence and the majesty of the Vatican’s architecture. (We later further celebrated this by purchasing a Pope-themed fridge magnet for Sarah’s brother, which I thought was fitting.) Also positively, in terms of effort I managed to up it for the last 5 miles as planned, so although from the Garmin data it looked like a washout, I definitely feel fatigued, ready for a rest and a recharge, then back to England before getting back to a normal running cadence on Saturday.

Amalfi run. Well, climb.


I had the strangest experience today. Scary, because I’d been stupid and underprepared, and exhilarating… because I’d been stupid and underprepared. I descended the cliffs from San Lazzaro, where we were staying, to Amalfi, along Sentiero dell’Antica Repubblica (the Path of the Ancient Republic). We drove there the other day, around 20 miles via winding roads, but I was told that the steps reduce that to a small number of miles and it would take 100 minutes to walk. I do love a challenge, so I wanted to see how fast I could run it.

I figured I’d run for an hour total including the steps and dodging traffic on the road into Amalfi, then that would give me 90 minutes to get back and get up the steps. I knew it could be nightfall before the end so I took my headtorch. One of the wiser safety decisions I’ve ever made.

Getting down the steps was a doddle. I lost count at 1,500 steps down, I’m told it’s 4,000 but I don’t think that’s right. Maybe 2,000 down and 2,000 up, that could be it. Anyway, although some were broken they were largely complete and much more recent than their title suggests, so I was safely down the 2,000 feet in 25 minutes and down to the Amalfi beach in 40 minutes. Sorted. I stuck to my hour plan, so ran through Amalfi and out the other side, through Castiglione and almost to San Cosma before turning back for my 90 minute return. Or so it was planned.

What I didn’t bank on was ascending the wrong set of steps on the way back, twice. The truth is, one set of steps looked pretty much exactly like another – to my, the untrained, eye – and I thought I knew the direction I needed to head (up!) so I stubbornly stuck to that plan. I kept climbing, always looking up to see where I was going and seeing a wall, beyond which I thought would be a road that I could run to San Lazzaro, family, and dinner. There were no steps any more, just a series of rough paths and higgledy piles of rock. I’d get over the wall, or through it where a gate was available, and beyond that would be a climb over some rocks and yet another wall. It was all getting a bit weird, and it was only after I’d done this six or seven times that I realised where I was standing. I was on a terrace.

The beauty of the Amalfi coast is enhanced by ancient agricultural terraces, that look like this:

People farm the slopes using these terraces, which are large channels dug into the rock where crops are grown. When you’re looking at these from your car, or standing and marvelling at the view, they look utterly magical. Timeless. Wonderful.

When you’re standing in one, unaware of the way either up or back down, realising that each of these terrace drops to the next by around 10 feet, and the sea is several hundred feet below you, with sunset approaching, they are fucking terrifying.

I remember clearly saying out loud to myself “You could be in trouble here,” and I think that galvanised my senses and I decided to try to find the path back down. That was a sensible decision but it was really tough – I kept choosing a path that ended in serious brambles or some other dead-end, and having to turn back to try a different fork. My legs were getting torn to shreds and the sun was going down. I passed a very large aloe at one point and then found a few steps that I recognised. I went down them as fast as I dared. I got back to the road, relieved, and ran west towards San Lazzaro and therefore, surely to the correct steps. There they were. Excellent. I got up them double-quick, only to find that they fizzled out into trail again. I scouted around to find some trail, and spotted something that looked like steps – but east. I ran along there for a while, and found… the aloe. I couldn’t tell for sure if it was the same one, but the sun was now seriously setting and I could hear duelling banjoes playing in my head, so I retraced my steps, switched on my headtorch,  and bolted down the steps.

I found a house on these steps and knocked on the door, half-blinding a small child with the awesome beam of my Nao, before her dad appeared and I explained in my basic Italian that I was lost and looked for the steps to San Lazzaro. He pointed back up the steps, left, then up again, then left, and continue doing this until I reached the target. I thanked him and gave it a try. I eventually found my way to the original trail, and then just had the simple task of climbing 1,500 or so steps , and around 1,500 feet of climb in 1.5 miles, to reach San Lazzaro. That was a bloody good workout I can tell you! For those of you who know the North Downs Way 100, Detling should be pretty simple now I know I can get up these!

As you’ll see from the trail here, it was indeed the same aloe plant that I found from a different direction, and I did ascend the wrong steps twice. Next time I’ll take much greater precautions, as I would not have liked to have been negotiating my way around those terraces in the dark.

Total recorded ascent was 3,200 feet, but my watch crashed at one point for a few uphill/downhill minutes, so there’s a few more to be added in. About 12 miles, 2 hours 40 mins. Not the greatest of GUCR preps but about the best I’m going to get around here.

We’re off to a relatively flat Rome tomorrow, hoping to get some decent (rather than descent) miles in.

Race: Winter 100

Photo by Stuart March
This little chunk of metal, an oval about four inches across, is a belt buckle that shows I finished a 100 mile race in under 24 hours. 23 hours, 15 minutes, 32nd place out of 150 starters. I’ve dreamed about winning this, or one like it, since I started running and discovered ultramarathons.

It’s the culmination of over 9 months of training. Of getting home from work, midweek, and eating dinner with Sarah and the kids before nipping out for a ‘quick’ run at midnight. Of getting up at 4:30 am at weekends and going for a longer run in the hills before getting back to breakfast while everyone else is waking up. Of planning, mapping and heading out on long adventurous running trips with friends. Of the low of the Punchbowl Marathon where lots of stuff went wrong, to the triumphant 10:08 50-mile PB at the SDW50, both with John Pickup. Of the disappointed elation of a 100-mile PB by four hours at the Thames Path 100, yet still coming in over 25 hours. Of the knuckle-gnawing disappointment of pulling out of the NDW100 in August at 91 miles, knowing that I’d injure myself further if I limped on. Of following a gruelling training plan. Of all those bloody roller sessions, strength sessions, speed sessions. All those expensive and exquisitely painful sports massages. Of absorbing inspiration from the amazing people in the Centurion Running and Bosh groups, like Jacqui Byrne and Luke Ashton and Tremayne Dill Cowdry and Ian Shelley and Shawn Timmons, and at times inspiring others to take up running. Of all the reliance on Sarah to keep things ticking over at home while I fussed over runs and rollers and kit and nutrition.

In August I attempted the NDW100 for the second year. First time was a success – finish at all costs was the brief I gave to my cowering mind, and it bullied my body into a finish in 29 hours 11 minutes. I didn’t run again for 4 months. This year the focus has been different; as races came and went I felt the constant need to return to them to do them better. My focus was becoming less about finishing long races and more about getting faster at them. My pullout this year was tactical, I knew with 11.5 miles to go that I could walk to the end, get a PB by a couple of hours, but what would that give me? A finisher’s shirt and a buckle, both same as last year, and perhaps risk further injuring my knee. It was a tough decision. I knew I had the Winter 100 coming up, and I felt it was better to pull out, recover, and come back stronger for the next race.

Saturday 18th October took a long time to come around.

In the weeks leading up to the race everything was perfect: I’d peaked at 84 miles a week training, tapered for 2 weeks, I’d done regular speed work and strength training. I’d had a couple of massages to make sure my legs and back were in decent shape, and I’d run at night and day in all sorts of weather and terrain. I felt unbreakable, until a couple of days before when I woke up feeling shivery and achey. After preparing for so long for a specific race the notion of not running it, or not running as well as hoped, because of a virus is acutely frustrating. So I regularly necked Lemsip and vitamins and slept as much as I could.

On Saturday morning I woke up and I could feel it. I felt overly hot and sweaty, and I had a sore throat that I knew wasn’t just a cold. I tried to remain confident, to fight the doubts and make myself believe it would be fine, but deep down I wasn’t confident at all. I didn’t tell anyone except Sarah and my coach because I hate making excuses for a potentially poor race; I don’t know why but I just prefer to keep it to myself. There was NO QUESTION of me DNSing this race, I just didn’t know what to expect from it with the illness. I overheard Ed Catmur, last year’s winner and record holder, say that he was feeling under the weather, and I figured that if he’s here like that then I’m in good company.

Sarah drove the kids and I over to the village hall at Goring and dropped me off before heading back home, as Billy had a school do to attend. It was raining as I pulled my bags out of the car and trudged into the hall for kit check.

I’d had plenty of time over the last few evenings to fanny about with kit. The Winter is a strange race in that you return to Goring at 25, 50 and 75 miles, and then again at the end – so you only need one drop bag and you can have it at any time. I’d assembled a couple of bags for 50 and 75 containing a dry base layer, hat, Buff, top and socks, plus a fresh pair of shoes for halfway in case I needed them. I also threw in a few extra pairs of socks, tops and another base layer, thinking they might come in handy.

Food-wise I packed 3 boxes of Morrison’s Bakewell Tarts – my favourite running food du jour – a pile of ham sandwiches that Sarah made for me, a dozen bananas, some flapjacks and a pile of Strawberry and Banana GUs. I packed a few carefully into my running vest – an Ultimate Direction SJ, which I really love. I weaned myself off a Salomon bladder earlier in the year after a split just before the TP100, and a quick experiment revealed that bottles worked for me and I haven’t looked back. I filled both bottles with water, and pinned my race number to my shorts. I think it was at that point that I realised how much Merino wool stuff I was wearing – my hat, Buff, base layer, gloves and pants were all made of the stuff. Basically I was to be a sheep for the day. I do love it though. Especially the pants.

After some unfortunate chafing on the NDW100 I needed to get some Glide ‘down there’. I went into the toilets and there was a big queue, so I just stood to one side and did the business, which must have looked a bit strange to the other chaps waiting for the loo. But I had to do it somewhere! After the race briefing and a final session of ‘dropping the kids off at the pool’ we all trooped down to the start line on the Thames Path. An inauspicious start position – no big inflatable start line, just a big group of runners standing about in a narrow car park. And then we were off, to some applause from onlookers. I love the beginnings of races. I love the end, too. Not sure about the middle bit mind.

The weather had been bad overnight, and although it wasn’t currently raining parts of the Thames Path were like a skating rink. Actually, probably more like a cross-country skiing course. My memory of the Thames Path from previous runs was of mostly tarmac and concrete, but it’s not – there are a lot of fields, earthy paths and rough areas. In places running was easier than walking, which was troubling because I didn’t intend to walk the whole thing. I ran 5 minutes and walked 1 minute right from the start. I was glad it was daylight because it would have been awfully hard in the dark, I thought – not thinking that the Thames Path on spur 4 might be equally slippery in the coming night. It was also very narrow in places, so I had to be flexible with my run/walk to avoid slowing other runners down behind me.

Photo by Stuart March

My nutrition was good right from the off, I found it quite easy to pack the calories in, took an S-Cap every hour, and I drank more water than I thought I needed, knowing that this race has an abundance of aid stations. The first, Wallingford at 6.5 miles, came and went – I made sure my number was recorded, popped in with my bottles already unscrewed for a refill, and popped straight back out again. It was like an F1 pit-stop, the most efficient I’ve ever been. I’ve done a couple of triathlons in my chequered ‘athletic’ past and I’ve never been all good at transitioning, so it felt great to do this first one so quickly. The weather was mild and the forecast rain didn’t seem to be anywhere near yet.

The next section was lovely, really easy to run and came with the added benefit of seeing other faster runners coming the other way. I passed Ed first (or, rather, he passed me) who seemed like an irresistible force travelling at my sprinting speed yet barely appearing to register an effort. He looked straight ahead, totally focused. At my speeds I don’t normally see quick runners in full flight so this was quite a special moment and spurred me on a little bit. A few minutes later I passed the guy in second place, who looked altogether more… normal, somehow. I remember thinking how could this guy be in second place, as he appeared to be running at a much slower pace than Ed. As he passed he looked me in the eye and said, with a Scottish accent, ‘well done mate’. I then passed a few other runners, and a couple of miles from Little Wittenham I passed Paul Ali, Tremayne Cowdry and Luke Ashton, and gave each of them a high-five – they were quite a way ahead of me already but that was OK. Today was about me and my plan, not racing anyone else – just focusing on getting under that 24 hour mark. The Little Wittenham aid station was a pagoda positioned behind a high wall up a little hill, almost as though it was hiding from the elements. One of the volunteers refilled my bottles, I grabbed a handful of peanuts and then ran back. Then it was my turn to pass runners on their way out, and I was determined to say well done to as many as I could to encourage them in the same way that the Scottish Guy had to me. I passed Ian Shelley and Shawn Timmons who both looked strong.

The return leg seemed much shorter than the way out, and it felt like no time before I was back at Wallingford and then back on the mud slide and into Goring for a pit stop at 25, about 4 hours 15 minutes in, which was on schedule. If I could get out quickly I’d have 6 hours to hit my target of halfway no later than 10 hours 30 minutes, which I knew I could easily do now as long as I didn’t hang about enjoying the warmth of Goring Village Hall. Immediately I walked in the hall and registered my number I was handed my drop bag by a volunteer. They were really on the ball with that all day – I didn’t need to ask for it once, it was just there waiting for me each time. I refilled my water, threw away my rubbish, and added enough food for 4-5 hours. It was a little warmer now and still no rain, and I regretted wearing SealSkinz waterproof socks during the first spur because really my feet were in little danger of getting wet. But I heard again that rain was coming soon so I made the snap decision to keep going with the SealSkinz and then think again at halfway. I headed out the door and onto the Ridgeway.

Like the Thames Path, this part of the Ridgeway is parallel with the Thames for about 5 miles, but on the opposite side of the river. It heads through fields and little villages like South Stoke and North Stoke, it has a great long section in the woods through the fabulously named Grim’s Ditch, and it has a challenging route through Nuffield golf course which I expected to be tricky in the dark. I was looking forward to this section, and at the end of it I’d be halfway done. I had a couple of cups of Coke at the North Stoke aid station. I really don’t like Coke except for when I’m running, where it tastes like the nectar of the gods and it’s a handy few calories to throw down. I tried to waste no time and dashed out again. About a mile further on I started to feel nauseous, so I slowed down a little bit, but pretty soon I had to be sick. With 70 miles to go I assumed my system wasn’t taking food in, and it was related to the virus, so I was worried. I walked for a couple of miles, regularly drinking water, and then had another salt cap and a bit of flapjack. It took a little while but eventually I started to feel a bit better, and began running a little again.

The Ridgeway towards Swyncombe is lovely, and it was nowhere near dark so it was a great, free run. On my recce I’d made a navigational error and missed a turn, adding on about a mile and a half – but none of that today. The route was well marked and I’d either run or recced the whole route before, but I was thankful on two occasions that other runners spotted a turning and a bit of tape that I may have missed had they not been there. This is the first long race where I didn’t get lost at least once. During my recce a few weeks earlier I remember an area with a couple of big fields which had just been ploughed. One was the sort of vast open space that gives you the feeling of vertigo looking across it, and I think it had been ploughed that morning because there were no tracks across it at all. I looked for signs of the Ridgeway continuing across it, spotted a couple of white posts, took a guess at the most likely one and ran across to it. This time, on race day, there was no such problem because both these fields had sprouted grass and the footpath was clear to see.

When I got to the top of Coneygear Wood a runner coming the other way told me that it wasn’t too far to the aid station. I’m not sure what I think about that sort of statement generally, because ‘not too far’ is relative – but I’ve learned to take it with a pinch of salt and extract the encouragement element while largely ignoring the distance information element. At Swyncombe I refilled, waved bye to the marshals and got on with the run. On the way back it was getting towards dusk and the wooded areas started becoming quite dark. It was only about 6 o’clock at this point though, and I’d planned on switching on my headtorch maybe an hour after this, so I ploughed on. It felt great to run in the woods on mulchy terrain, and I felt quick and spry. There was the odd tree root and other obstacles, plus a few direction changes, but they were easily negotiated even in near-dark and it was a wonderful part of my race. I saw a light in the distance and approached a runner wearing his head torch, heading in the same direction as me. As I passed him he jumped a little, which I guess is normal in a dark wood when approached by someone *not* wearing a head torch. I apologised and ran past him. A few minutes afterwards I couldn’t see the way, and relied on him catching me up to spot a signpost and a change of direction, and I realised that was perhaps a sign that I should be wearing my own torch and got it out. After a head torch disaster in the NDW100 this August I’d invested in a new Nao, and I do like it a lot – even on the lowest power it’s quite bright and apparently lasts for 12 hours. As it was heading towards 7pm now I was confident that it would survive the night and I wouldn’t have to mess about with any of the spare batteries I was carrying.

I continued to feel good running this section, and overtook a few more people along the way, quickly passing through Nuffield and North and South Stokes and texting Sarah and my brother Steve before heading back to Goring. A quick word on Nuffield: from one of my recces I was pointed to Nuffield Church for refreshments. There’s always fresh water, squash and a kettle with tea and coffee, and sometimes cake in the fridge, plus a little box for donations. It’s a lovely little church and I like that they have supplies for runners and walkers in case they’re passing, so if you’re in the area and need anything, just pop in.

Steve, Sarah and the kids were meeting me at halfway and Steve was to pace me. We’ve not run with each other much before, but he’s recently got into ultra-distance running and completed Race To The Stones in May with a decent time. Another friend of mine, Alick, was to pace me from 75 through to the finish, but he had to pull out due to ill-health. Steve’s response to that was “oh, I’ll just run the whole way with you.” What a trooper!

A few miles from halfway I texted Sarah and Steve and told them I was heading in, and asked if they would both be there. Because we’ve got young kids and they were staying in a local hotel I wasn’t sure if they’d still be up, but I got a text saying they were all there. Brilliant, that gave me a little boost. When I got there I headed through to register my number, picked up my drop bag (which was again handed to me automagically) and headed on through for hugs. Steve was about ready to go, so I started getting changed straight away. I swapped to a dry top and base layer, changed to Twin Skin socks and swapped shoes. These were a near-identical pair of Trailroc 255s, but a little newer so the grip would be better if the rain was finally to appear during the night. I’m glad I took lots of kit. The humidity meant everything got very sweaty despite the cold, and the facility to swap to whatever I liked was a big plus.

I said hi to Jacqui Byrne, a fellow Bosh runner and Goring volunteer for the day, and she got me some soup and bread which went down a treat. I had both bottles filled, one with half Coke half water, which is a new combination for me but I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I had this combo for the rest of the race, nice easy calories and I think it helped. I was dawdling though, I’d been about 20-25 minutes in there which I was a bit annoyed with myself about. It got to the stage where Jacqui was lurking and cajoling me to get out of the door. I kissed Sarah and the kids goodbye and Steve and I headed out.

I really enjoyed running from Goring 50 with Steve. We chatted about all sorts, and the miles ticked away. We ran the flats and downs, but I mostly only wanted to walk even the slightest uphills. It felt OK to do that, knowing that on the way back these would be runnable – and they were. That stretch of the Ridgeway, once it pulls away from the Thames, is extremely open and desolate, and it became quite cold, but it never seemed quite as inhospitable as I remember from my daytime recce. We kept moving well and Steve did a fantastic job of lighting the way – we both had head torches, and he had a bright hand torch as well which he shone across the path. That was particularly useful because my new Nao took this opportunity to flash and tell me the battery was expiring. It went to low-power mode, which I’m sure is still bright but it was terribly dim compared with how it had been. 6 hours from a battery that’s meant to last 12 hours; hmm, I need to investigate that. Then there was the aid station in the distance. We wondered what it could be – in reality it was a pagoda with some disco lights and music playing quite loudly, but from a couple of miles away it looked like an alien spacecraft. Wonderful to see that in (almost literally) the middle of nowhere. It had a real party atmosphere with music playing and some of the marshals were dancing; what a total contrast to the surroundings. I asked a marshal to refill my bottles while I sat down and replaced the rechargeable battery with a couple of Duracells for the return leg. This was fiddly in the dark but the marshals helped by keeping me well-lit. Steve changed his head torch batteries as well, and then we started running back, again trying to give some encouragement to the runners coming the other way. Even with new batteries the Nao went immediately into low power mode, so again I was really happy that Steve was around not only for company but with his extra lighting.

At this point I started having occasional feelings of despair about the 24 hour finish. Every so often I would calculate the number of hours remaining and quickly work out what I needed to do, and it wasn’t all good. I got to 50 miles in about 10 hours 15 minutes (8:15pm real time), and it seemed to take an age to reach 62.5 with all the uphill gradients and the walking. On the way back down I set a target of *leaving* Goring at 75 miles at 3am, giving me 7 hours to finish the last 25 miles. To leave Goring at 3am I would need to get there at 2:45am, and that meant we need to do the 12.5 miles back in about 2.5 hours – with low-power torches.

With the slight downhill gradients I felt like I was gliding along, but I fear Steve didn’t fare so well – his ankle was becoming more and more painful and a few miles from the end I could hear he was limping. Still, we were moving at a decent pace. We talked about whether he should stop at 75 or continue; and we decided he should stop. It would have been lovely for me to have his company for another few hours, running through dawn and on to the finish, but by the time we got to 75 at about 2:50am I felt quite fresh and I knew I could make it to the end on my own. I also thought that the Thames Path trail might be quite slippery and Steve might really hurt his ankle.

Making the 75 mile mark bang on time gave me a lot of confidence. I met up with Jacqui again who got me some more soup and bread, and a cup of tea. I shouted to James Elson that my 24 hours could be on, and he told me that it most definitely was on, that I should relax and go for it, not look at my watch, and I should be able to do it a lot under 7 hours. I saw Scottish Guy, Marco Consani, relaxing having already won the race with a course record of 15:03. That was humbling. I went over to him and asked if I could soak up some of his aura. I probably looked like a bloody lunatic, but I think it worked.

After leaving Steve and Goring, for the final time, just after 3am, I went out on the final spur. I really didn’t feel like running at all at that stage, and I’d assumed it would be flat. In reality it was undulating with a few short sharp climbs and downhills. My quads were letting me know they were there, and although I walked most of that 12.5 mile section I strode it out, doing 13.5 – 14 min/miles. Still, that feeling of despair appeared more than once, as I could feel my 24 hour finish slipping away. The first aid station was 4 miles in, and the next section – 8.5 miles into Reading – was horrible. There were 2 or 3 occasions when I thought I’d reached the aid station and I hadn’t. The first was a well-lit car park, the second was an empty field. With hindsight I asked too many runners coming the other way how long to the aid station. I got wildly different responses, which comes from asking people who’ve run over 87.5 miles about details of space and time. It felt never-ending, and this was my lowest point mentally. Finally I got to the aid station, and it was only then that I knew, reasonably concrete-ly, what I needed to do. I had about 3.5 hours to do 12.5 miles. I’d been running for over 20 hours at this stage and mental maths wasn’t a strong point, but I figured that meant below 4 mph, so should be possible even by walking it – but I wanted to be sure and as it was raining quite heavily at that point I knew that towards the end the ground would be a sea of mud. Somehow the knowledge of the distance galvanised me mentally. I ate a lot at the Reading aid station, asked for my Coke/water mix to be a little stronger, and just decided I was going to go for it. My quads were hurting and my toes felt hot, but otherwise I felt OK – and just putting one foot in front of the other with short steps came quite easy. So I started running. I don’t know where the energy to do that came from.

At the last aid station before the finish there was a little road leading up to it. Runners heading to Reading turned right, while people heading for the finish turned left. I felt physically sick imagining that I might have to turn right there. Yet still there were many runners coming towards me on that 4-mile stretch back to Goring. At no point in my races to date have I seen such humility, grace and raw drive that I saw in the eyes of those people. One held a large gate open for me and waved me through, and wished me good luck getting my sub-24. She had 20 miles yet to run. And she’s not alone. Shawn Timmons wished me all the best achieving my dream when he had a similar distance yet to cover. That really spurred me on and I had no trouble running then. Lots of runners clapped as I ran towards that finish, even though they had a long way to go. I felt more emotional than I ever have while running.

Towards the end a runner, not on the race, told me that I was the first person he’d seen running, everyone in front of me was walking. I thought for a brief moment of trying to catch them, but dismissed it quickly. I texted Sarah and told her I’d be there well within 24 hours, and it might even by 9:15 am.

Photo by Stuart March

Finally, having passed a sign for Goring Bowls Club, I asked a chap with his dog if this really was Goring, and was the village hall close by. It was – and he pointed out a chap waving to me a few hundred yards away, pointing up a slope. As I turned the corner I realised that was the final slope, and I was still running strongly at that point. I could see Sarah at the top, shouting to everyone that there’s a runner coming. I think Stuart the photographer had gone away for a minute and she was desperate that everyone should be there to see me and capture the moment. I felt an overwhelming urge to take my jacket and race vest off and fling them in the air while running on, and give her a big hug in some fantastic Hollywood-like scene. I don’t think it quite worked like that, but I’ll never forget her face, so much emotion, and that hug will stay with me for a while too.

This was the best races I’ve ever run. I did exactly what I needed to, and the result has given me huge confidence for progressing in 2015. The organisation was excellent as always, and the out-and-back format meant a great deal of contact with other runners which added a special element. From the encouragement and high-fives given by the leading runners while I was heading out, to the encouragement and high-fives that I could give to other runners on the way back, it was a highly unusual race and a tremendously uplifting experience. I will definitely do it again next year, especially now I know the lie of the land.

I became obsessed with this little piece of metal, or one like it, and now it’s mine. It’s been quite a journey getting here. Unlike my first 100-mile race last August, the NDW100, after which I didn’t run another step for 4 months, this time, a day later, I’m itching to get out again. I want to go faster. I want to run longer. I want to explore new places. I want to see what my body and mind can do.

There are lots of people to thank: the people of Bosh and Centurion running groups; the incredible volunteers who gave up their time to keep us healthy, happy and running; the other runners for a great spirit and camaraderie; Nici and James for organising the event and the latter for coaching me into shape; Stuart March for high fives and encouragement, and great photographs; Jacqui for hugs and help; Steve, for joining me for 25 miles on Saturday night in the pitch black and the rain, and for literally holding the torch when the going got bleak; Billy and Daisy for the little pictures they’d drawn for me. And most importantly of all, Sarah, for her unending support, enthusiasm, love and patience.

Knee problem – a solution?

I’ve found a great, if a bit unorthodox, way of solving my knee problem: run like a bastard up and down hills for half an hour. Seriously.

On the NDW100 I twisted my right knee and ankle at different times. The ankle repaired quickly, but the knee has been giving me problems. It’s like an internal swelling, that flares up after speed work and some of the longer training runs I’ve done in the meantime. After Saturday’s 17-mile run on the NDW and Greensand Way, with 2,500 feet of ascent/descent, I felt really stiff all afternoon, evening, and Sunday morning. Sunday’s session was: run for 30 mins to warm,up, then pick a hill and aggressively hike up it, then run down it as fast as you can. Then repeat for 30 minutes.

I picked a short but steep hill which was very soft underfoot – not great for grip, but easy on the knee. I kept it light – well, not light exactly, but tried to make sure my landing foot was on toes and already moving back on impact, with a high cadence. It was quite tough, but not as tough as I expected. The weather was warm and humid, and I had a few strange looks from passers-by, plus a few comments and questions. The hill was less than 0.1 miles (about 0.07 miles I think) and I gave it the beans. I’d tell you how high it was but I can’t get my Garmin to sync. I was hot and sweaty throughout, but I didn’t slow down much – I roughly timed an up/down near the start, one in the middle and one at the end, and I reckon each was about 90 seconds. I suspect I got slower on the way up but slightly faster on the way down as I got braver.

When I got back home I RICEd, had a couple of Ibuprofen, and then had a bath. My knee didn’t hurt at all throughout the evening, and this morning it felt like I had new legs. This afternoon there has been a slight ache, but only slight.

So there we have it – a cure-all for a knee problem: crazy hill repeats!

Race: TP100


After my first 100 miler, the NDW 2013, I didn’t run another step for four months. I totally lost interest in running. I found other things to fill my time. I didn’t miss it at all. I put weight on, little niggly problems started to occur in my legs for no apparent reason, and I started to huff and puff while walking up escalators and stairs. After Christmas I knew I needed to get back in the saddle, and I did what I did the year before – I signed up for the NDW100 2014. I guess it’s like childbirth; you only really know how bad something like a tough Ultra is while it’s happening, and then once it’s finished, over time your mind eases off on it and the good things start to outweigh the bad. Out goes the tortuous climb up Box Hill after 26 miles of running, in comes the familial love of the Centurion marshals and volunteers. I forgot the night section with the hallucinations and the falling asleep while running pitch-dark trail, and instead remembered, vividly, the joy of that sweet finish line.

With the NDW 2014 booked, I now had eight months to prepare for it. I wanted to go under 24 hours. It would mean knocking more than five hours off my personal best, but I knew where I needed to improve and not only would this make me faster, it would also enable me to enjoy it more. I knew that I’d learned from the experience. I knew that I had to get ready. I booked the LDWA’s Punchbowl Marathon and Centurion’s SDW50, both to run with my friend John Pickup. With the NDW as a massive hilly horror show, I booked the TP100 thinking that it would be a straightforward way to get the distance in my legs and then later apply the hills. How wrong I was.

The Punchbowl went badly; I don’t think either John or I were happy with our performance there. 30 miles of hills in about 7 hours, something bad going on there. Together with James Elson I worked out that two of the major things I’d been getting wrong were hydration and nutrition: the former signified by crusty salt deposits on my face after each long distance run; the latter by crushing lows and long slow death marches when I should be running. If I learned to drink more and to eat more methodically, I could improve.

With more suitable hydration and nutrition the SDW50 was fantastic. I worked out an A, B and C race schedule, with the A race getting us both in around 10 hours 50 minutes. We both finished in some style in 10 hours 8 minutes, and it felt relatively easy. I was buoyed. And then came this race, the TP.

Crushing, relentless flatness.

James had warned me that this race is deceivingly tough because of its lack of hills. 2,500 feet of elevation, and I couldn’t really see where even that much ascension could come from – running along the Thames, surely that’s flat. Isn’t it? I needed to find out. Sarah offered to help me recce some of it a few weeks earlier, and we chose Henley to Whitchurch, a 14-mile section just after the halfway checkpoint, when during the race it would be dark and require a diversion away from the river. The recce went well, a very dry day and I realised that the biggest problem would be the severely rutted fields which had dried and toughened, and defined a really challenging and potentially ligament-damaging surface on which to run.

The day before the race I was still unsure on kit choice. I decided on road shoes for the first half, having heard that it was mostly tarmac and hard-packed dirt; and trails for the second half because it had been raining for a solid week around Reading and I didn’t fancy Torvill-and-Deaning my way over muddy fields at night in road shoes. The rest was easy, just warm tops and leggings, and more dry warm clothes in drop bags. Just in case, you know… it could be cold during the night down by the river. Or I might fall in the Thames.


On the day of the race I drove Sarah and my two children down to Richmond Park, and they went to park while I went through registration. I checked in my drop bags, and then I saw my fellow Boshers Luke Ashton, Shawn Timmons, Tremayne Dill Cowdry, Helen Gittens and Sunday Odesanya, and had a… well, I would have had a nice chat with them, except that I realised my bladder had sprung a leak. No, not that bladder. The Hydrapak in my Salomon vest. The vest was sopping wet, and I traced it to a small hairline crack near the valve in the bladder itself. Shit. I’d packed an old spare Hydrapak, but it was in the drop bag I’d just put in the sodding van ready to be transported. Panicking a bit, I wasn’t sure what to do; Tremayne and Luke persuaded me that running with it like that wasn’t an option – what if it split during the race? “Get and sort yer bladder ahht,” the laughing voice of Helen rang in my ears as I raced inside and started registering, all the while looking for James Elson. Eventually I found him and, amazingly, he had a new Hydrapak bladder for sale. I’d have paid anything that moment. Handily, because this particular device has a removable tube I only had to transfer the water into the new bladder, which I did with Luke’s help, and jam it inside the vest. I was all set. My family and I decamped to a local café for tea and pastries, and then I kissed them all goodbye and went to the race briefing. The only thing of note there was the fire alarm, which kept going off as someone in the corner kept opening a fire door. It would repeatedly go off to accompanied groans, then that person would slam the door to silence the alarm and cause a hearty cheer from the 200+ runners squeezed into Richmond Town Hall. That happened maybe three times, and then after James had done his spiel we all headed down to the start line where I gave Sarah and the kids a kiss again and they, along with a couple of hundred others, waved us all off on our little journey to Oxford.


The first thing I remember was the track narrowing to single file, and the runners ahead slowing to a walk before stopping altogether. Some people were heading to the left and right to hurdle a fence, and then I could see why – a kissing gate at the end with 200+ runners trying to simultaneously squeeze through it. No chance. I ventured to one side, climbed over the fence, and was off. Within a couple of miles I was already hungry and, determined to eat right from the get-go according to my plan, I whipped out a ham sandwich from my pack… and promptly dropped the little plastic bag it was carried in. James had described littering the trail as “second only to abusing a volunteer,” so I was keen to head back and pick it up – but a kind runner picked it up for me and handed it over. One of the little touches that marks out Ultra running as one of the friendliest sports, someone – a ‘competitor’ – picking up your rubbish to save you having to do so.


The first few miles were great, I fairly quickly started to recognise this area as I live near Walton (CP 1) and I’ve run as far as Eel Pie Island before, which is in Twickenham and only a mile or two from the start of this race. Heading through Kingston was busy with people as expected, and then passing Hampton Court Palace was lovely as always, with the golden gates glinting in the sunlight. Approaching the bridge just after the palace there was a bloke in a leather jacket with a clipboard, who consulted it before shouting to me “Here’s another one, COME ON ANDY!” I’ve no idea who he was or if he was in any way official. I thought to myself maybe he’s the Ultra running equivalent of a trainspotter; downloading the runner details and heading to cheer them on – quite a cool idea really  J


I felt good just burning through the miles, knowing that Sarah and the kids would be at Wraysbury. I texted her to ask if she could bring my Montaine lightweight trousers for the halfway point, already thinking that this temperature could really drop at nighttime near the river. Still feeling strong for the moment, I arrived at the Wraysbury check point about 20 minutes ahead of my schedule. Sarah and the kids were sitting outside and I gave them a hug each, with Billy commenting how sweaty I was. I went inside and grabbed a few bits of banana, cookies and sandwiches and threw away all my rubbish; then went to the loo – a luxurious aid station, this one. I went outside and kissed the family goodbye, and ran on towards Dorney. I was now only 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and slightly annoyed with myself for dawdling, but it was lovely to see Sarah and that gave me an extra lift as I set off towards Dorney.

As we passed the Dorney CP at mile 30.5 the volunteers there were talking in hallowed terms about Ed Catmur, who had been through there in, I think, about 3-and-a-half hours, and at that point was about 20 minutes ahead of second place. This was about hour six for me, and I wondered idly if they’d been talking about this to all runners for over two hours, would they keep that up for the next couple too? I didn’t really mind, the leaders in races like this are so far ahead of me as it makes no odds.

Onwards towards Cookham at mile 38. As I headed up Sutton Road I saw a face I recognised, Luke Tillen who I’d met doing The Wall last year. He runs a small charity called THHN that helps disadvantaged children to have a holiday, and we ran together for a while and compared fundraising notes. He was looking strong and it was good to catch up; I think both of us are pretty determined, so we drew a bit of extra resolve from each other and it was clear that, barring injury, we’d both finish this race.

Just after the Cookham CP we passed a pub on the left and a bloke sitting having a pint shouted encouragement to us and told us that we should be careful not to miss the bridge coming up. Yes, yes, I’m sure we’re capable of reading some signs old man, and it should be all marked. But, me and my big mouth, Luke and I settled into a rhythm of chatting again and, next to the aptly named ‘Cock Marsh’, we ran about a quarter-mile past the bridge in question. We would have kept going too, except an old dear seated next to another pub told us that other runners had crossed an earlier bridge. I turned around and could see the bloody thing and a bunch of runners who had been behind us were now crossing it, and we kicked ourselves for missing it. I called back another guy here who was 100 yards in front of us and in his own zone.


Arriving at Henley dusk was approaching and the temperature was already dropping. As well as meeting Sarah I was also looking forward to hot food and my drop bag, and I expected to find a warm building, but instead the Centurion sails revealed a large open-sided tent. I couldn’t see Sarah yet so I texted her, grabbed my drop bag and sat down to open it. Ah, dry socks and shoes, and a fresh top. Sweet! I peeled off my road shoes and marvelled at the vast quantity of mud that had permeated them and turned my white socks a deep brown colour. Why doesn’t Hilly make black Twin Skin socks any more? Who the hell wears white socks anyway? Not trail runners, for sure. My feet were looking OK so I grabbed my Inov-8 gaiters and put them on as well, imagining there would be a lot of crap to be kept out in the coming 49 miles.

For some reason I really struggled to put my shoes on and tie them up. My fingers were cold and a bit shaky, while my left foot was swelling a bit at the top. I had a job tying it tight enough to not get sucked off in a bog (ooer missus) but not so tight as to prevent my foot from ballooning. Sarah arrived and explained they’d parked quite a way away and the kids and my mate Iain were waiting to make sure she’d found me. After a quick kiss and a hug she went to get me some pasta and a cup of tea, and then shot back to the car. I made myself busy with my new top (over the old base layer, which I’m now thinking was a mistake as I was a bit sweaty) my water/windproof jacket and a Buff. I started to feel incredibly cold and I just wanted to get out of there. I tried warming myself up with the tea and that helped a bit, but the pasta was cold by then and I only ate about three pieces, even though I’d been looking forward to it for so long. I felt a bit glum because of that, and looking back on it now I think, nutritionally, that was the time when the wheels started to fall off my wagon.

Sarah and I started running then, both with head torches turned on and Sarah skipping along the twilight trail. She’d never run at night before and I think she was relishing it and running well, intending to run for three miles and then meet up with Iain and the car. We chatted about what they’d been doing during the day, and I told her (through viciously chattering teeth) that I’d been going OK but really needed to warm up now. The trail at this point was lovely; fairly solid and flat mud, nice and wide so it never felt like we were in any peril from the drop into the river. The Thames itself looked inky black, exactly the sort of effect you get when running up high in the hills at night and look down a ravine; all that black could easily have been a few hundred feet of drop.

After a seemingly really short time I realised we’d reached Shiplake railway station, the intended meeting point with Iain; and there they were, all smiles and waving out of the car windows. My Garmin said 1.8 miles. Some bad Google maps plotting on my part, I think. Bugger. Kindly Iain offered to drive on a bit further so Sarah and I could run on a bit. Now this was strange; we were running in a small group along a narrow lane, and I could hear our car behind us, following at a sedate pace. It was actually really useful as the headlights picked out a much wider area of the dark road than the head torches would. In a few minutes we reached a gate that needed to be crossed, so Iain and Sarah swapped, and after kisses goodbye she and the kids drove off to their lovely warm hotel. Well, the Days Inn, which sometimes passes as a hotel.

Then it was Iain’s turn to run with me. I was grateful to have the continued company as it was pretty dark by now, and I hadn’t seen him for a few months so we had a lot to catch up on. We crossed from the road through a gate and down into… a quite boggy field. Honestly, I’d barely seen mud up until this point, and within about 10 yards of Iain starting to run we were ankle deep in it. Welcome to the Thames Path 100, Iain – you who primarily run on roads and had never run with a head torch before! We had too much to talk about to be bothered with the mud though, and I think he quite enjoyed it (I’m always quite mystified when runners are suspicious/wary/afraid of mud; running’s a great excuse to be a kid again, to go stomping through puddles and fall over in mudslides, and then just hose yourself down when you get home. A literal and figurative connection with nature. See Richard Askwith’s new book ‘Running Free’ for a much more detailed and astute description of this than I could wish to give). Iain had no idea where he would run to, he just wanted to start and then when the time felt right, he’d get a cab back to his car. I was happy for the extended company. We ended up running about 10 miles together and then eventually, just after we climbed the bridge near Tilehurst, he decided he’d have to head for civilisation in Pangbourne and a possible cab company, and we said goodbye before I disappeared down the steps back to the river and headed for the Whitchurch CP.

I was still run/walking at this stage and felt OK, but eating was still nagging at the back of my mind; I just wasn’t taking in enough and with around 33 miles to go I knew that meant problems. I had a gel for some instant calories and ran on. Walking felt good and strong, striding out, but running was getting less and less strong all the time.

I walked for a while with a guy called Martin, and feeling good to have the company of someone who seemed happy to be moving at my pace, and also seemed assured of the route having recced it all over the past few weeks. Nice guy, wish I could remember which of the several Martins in the race it was!

At Whitchurch I left ahead of him and ran on up a bridleway at a slight incline, wondering that because this was uphill and the Thames wasn’t in sight, if this was in fact the right way. But a glow stick and a couple of reflective red/white tape strips confirmed it for me, good old Centurion. Further up the bridleway I saw half a dozen head torches coming the other way though, and my first slightly disorientated thought was that they must be walkers or runners in a different race; but then as they came into focus I could see they were wearing TP numbers. They said that the two front runners had gone quite a way further on and that it didn’t lead anywhere. I was pretty confident that it must be the right way, given the recent waymarkers, but they were insistent on heading back. Martin caught me up at this stage and I explained what was going on – and he was very happy that it was the correct route so we strode on. I called to the others to come with us but they were intent on heading back down the hill. Martin and I got to the top of the incline and went through a marked gate – I felt a bit sorry for the other guys at this point because those front runners must have been disorientated or otherwise distracted, the marking was really quite obvious. But they were long gone, so we marched on.

The incline continued and became steeper, quite a decent climb which made my leg muscles almost sing with joy after the repetitive running/walking across flat ground for the last 15 hours or so. I knew at some point that the uphill would turn into a downhill, and my goodness it did – a really long slight incline downwards that seemed to go on forever. This is absolutely my favourite type of running; a downward incline, occasional twists and turns, rough ground, and a bit of company to share it with. A neutral observer watching us, 70+ miles into a race, would probably see two slow guys plodding their way tortuously down a hill; but in my mind’s eye we were Kilian Jornet and Geoff Roes, fleet of foot and really going for it, taking huge advantage of the slope to gain speed and ground, all the while thinking that around the next corner it would be flat again – but there must have been at least a couple of miles of this rapid descent and it felt GREAT to be running again.

After Streatley my memory turns to mush for a while, a combination of tiredness and the dark, and the hypnotic rhythm of watching my headtorch pass the otherwise pitch-dark ground. At some stage I remember walking with two or three others, including Gary Kelly, a guy with a distinctive grey moustache that I’d seen before at races. We talked about everything and nothing as we made our way across muddy fields and through seemingly dozens of gates. It was great to have company through this very dark and lonely section. I also remember leaving a CP, possibly Wallingford, and chatting with an extremely loud-talking, confident American guy – nice enough, but gosh he sounded assertive as he we chatted about something and nothing. I remember seeing him later too, just coming into a CP looking a bit worse for wear as I was leaving; I hope he finished. I also remember mostly gobbling gels at this stage; Gu gels are not my favourite, but I grabbed two or three at each CP and went through at least one if not two per hour in absence of any quantity of real food.

At CP mile 85, Clifton Hampden, this is where I was to meet my final crew member, so I had a little spring in my step (not literally, I couldn’t do anything physical but walk). I made it into the little room in which the aid station was set up, and there was Rod Densham, my pacer for the last 15 miles and fellow SpecialEffect Ambassador. Rod and I had run, together with four other guys, from Marathon to Athens in late 2012 to raise money for the charity. The run was over Mount Penteli, unlike the official Athens marathon route; none of this running along closed roads for us, we chose to brave the traffic and run directly over the mountain just as, we thought, Pheidippides would have done. Well, not the traffic, but you know what I mean. It was an extremely eventful and enjoyable trip and we got to know each other quite well, the six of us. I’d barely seen Rod since so we had an awful lot to catch up on.

I knew the next 15 miles were going to be slow and tough, and I explained to Rod that I was walking the whole time now, and he was fine with that – kept saying that it’s my race, and he’s just along to support me. Every time there was a photo opportunity he’d move to one side so the photographer could snap me, and at every opportunity he’d tell anyone applauding us that he’s “a fraud” as he’d only been with me for a few miles. Soak it up though, man!

As we headed towards CP MILE 95 I spotted a familiar face waving at me and calling my name: Ruth Finnie, a fellow member of the Bosh running group and with whom I’d spent the final few miles of The Wall run last year. It was great to see her managing the aid station and we hugged, I was really happy that there was only five miles to go and another friendly face reminded me that there would be more of the same at the finish.

Rod knows the Oxford area really well, but I’d asked him not to say how far is left unless he’s absolutely sure. A pet hate of mine is when someone – even a bystander trying to be supportive – says something like “not long to go now” when actually there are several miles, or – worse – “Just a marathon to go now” when you’re 24 miles into a 50-mile race. As we quickly walked the path he pointed out some of the sights and the relative position of local colleges. Fascinating history, how the Oxford colleges amalgamated to form part of the University. I was pleased at this point that I’d brought my second Garmin, as I could count down each mile covered since the CP at Lower Radley (95 miles). It was a beautiful warm morning and there were plenty of people about, again an astonishing number of whom knew what we were doing and how close we were to the finish.

I get really emotional thinking about completing these races, especially when my mind drifts back to previous finishes, but at the time I find it a fairly straightforward experience. Maybe not an anti-climax – I know that I’m finished and it’s a great achievement each time – but I’m not in floods of tears as I expect to be. I just get to the finish line, get congratulated, have my photo taken and shake a bunch of hands. I’m just too tired to do anything else.

As we passed a University playing field with just over a mile to go on my watch, a couple called some encouragement to us and told us that the finish is “just around the corner.” My natural suspicions raised, and I called back, with a smile on my face (I think) “is it literally around the corner, or are you just being encouraging?” to which they replied “No, it’s literally around the corner.”

I said to Rod for the first time since he’d joined me, and for my first time since about mile 70, that I feel like running. Ordinarily I’d say that, for me anyway, the process of not running during a race is mostly mental and less about actual physical fatigue. Instantly I started running this time, though, I felt dreadful, like I was forcing a rusted old machine into life for the first time in years. But I always want to finish strong, and in this case with the number of friends and family meeting me, I was desperate to. At first I saw my in-laws, John and Sandra, who were waiting on the path and who were cheering and clapping and pointing me in towards the playing fields and the finish line. I loved John’s face at that point, he looked like he knew that this was an achievement. That made me feel great, and spurred me on a little bit.


Rod gave me the SpecialEffect flag to hold, and I imagined that we’d hold it together when crossing the finish line – but Rod insisted I carried it myself. “What do I do with this?”, I wondered, and then I did what any runner would do, I took a corner in each hand and held it above my head, like Mo Farah after winning Olympic gold. It felt good, like a little sail blowing in the wind. Then I saw Sarah, and the emotion on her face was clear. I gave her a hug on the way past, then I heard Billy calling me, and I shouted to him to come and join me. I couldn’t see Daisy for a moment but then I saw her too. Running along with the SpecialEffect flag, with my son, over the finish line of this race, to incredibly loud cheering and clapping, is something that will stay with me forever. Honestly the applause was startlingly loud, and because it was from so few people (compared with big half marathons) it felt quite personal and it was probably the proudest I’ve ever felt from a running achievement. I was met with a hug first from Nici who gave me my buckle, then from Stuart the photographer, then Sarah again, and then I saw the SpecialEffect people – Dr Mick, the founder, and possibly the kindest most generous man on earth, along with Nick and Ali. Nick had brought a bottle of beer – Car-Beer-Etta – which is created by a local Oxford brewery especially for SpecialEffect, and which had been signed by the SE crew. Ali had baked a cake and she gave it to me, really apologetically because the message that she’d written on in icing had gone a bit fuzzy. She seemed distraught, that I might somehow feel massively let down by this, so I just gave her a big hug too and thanked her. It was a wonderful cake, as it happens.




Just before I finish let me give a big shout-out to the Centurion crew and volunteers, particularly Nici and James for stunning organisation as always, and to Rich Cranswick for standing the whole day at various CPs in a chicken costume. But honestly, these runs will not work without volunteers, and they don’t come any more thoughtful, sharp and helpful than in a Centurion race; they always all seem to be Ultra runners having a day off! Congrats to Tremayne and Shawn for brilliant runs despite plenty of hardship, and commiserations to Luke and Mark Griffiths who didn’t make it this time.

So there we are. Another race over, and what had I done? Well, what I hadn’t done is made it in 24 hours, which I was secretly disappointed by. But I had done it in 25 hours 13 minutes, which beat my previous (and only) 100 mile PB by four hours. I’d finished in 101st place, from 227 starters of which almost 80 had dropped out. I’d battled some demons around the cold second half, when it was dark and often quite lonely, and come through fairly strong. Apart from knackered muscles, a couple of small blisters caused by water ingress from the early morning dewy grass, and some chafing around several areas (some quite private), I had no real physical problems. I’d raised more than £1600 for SpecialEffect. I’d made some new acquaintances, reacquainted myself with some old friends, and I’d learned some stuff about myself and what to do/not to do next time so that I do it in nearer 20 hours, never mind 24. Most of all I’d really enjoyed myself; getting through the really low points truly is part of the fun. And while after the NDW100 I didn’t run another step for four months, this time I was already thinking forward to my next Ultra. Guess what it is? The NDW100, 2014. I’m coming for ya.

Repairing Trailroc 255s

I bought a new pair of Inov-8 Trailroc 255s the other day, and they look like this:


I love my old pair to bits. Literally. They’ve been with me for nearly a year and in that time they’ve helped me see off the Norman Conquest 50, The Wall Ultra (69 miles), half of the NDW100, the Punchbowl Marathon, the SDW50 and various shorter races – and of course hundreds of miles of training in-between. But honestly, apart from some (quite even) wear in the soles, there’s not a huge amount wrong with them. Just some holes in the uppers.


The holes are quite small and regular, but they look like they will get much bigger until eventually the uppers will split. So I’m going to try to repair them and eke out a few more miles from my old friends.



Sugru is a rubber solution created for repairing pretty much anything, and a mate of mine had used them to patch enormous holes in his Inov-8s, so let’s have a go. First I select the sachet of black Sugru – in the pack there is also blue, yellow and red.


Then I work it around in my hands a little bit, like using Plasticene or Fimo modelling clay. I don’t use too much, just a pea-sized ball. I press one into the inside of the hole, and one into the outside.


I press it around and work it into the mesh of the cloth, so that all the frayed area around the hole is covered with Sugru, and there’s a good amount beyond that so that it gets a good grip. It won’t win any prizes for looks, but if it means me keeping my ol’ faithfuls for a bit longer then I’ll be happy.


I do the same with the hole in the other shoe.


Then I leave it for 24 hours to set. And now, they’re very wearable; I’ve only worn them for 20-odd miles of running so far but there’s no rubbing or any other ill-effects. I’ll keep you posted with the condition of the repair, but I reckon I have another couple of hundred miles to go in these now.


I bought this multipack of Sugru from Ellis Brigham in Covent Garden, London. It cost £9.99 for 5 sachets.

Race: Norman Conquest 50

Route: Crowborough, Sussex to Rye, Kent

Event Organiser: Saxon Way Ultra Trails

Distance: 51.3 miles (actual 54.5 miles)

Date: 18th May 2013

Finish time: 11 hours 58 minutes

Finish position: 9th

I’d been planning for, dreaming of and apprehensive about this day for a few months. I knew at some stage this evening I’d be in Rye, in a village hall, with a sleeping bag ready to bed down for the night, then wake up and go running. A long way. Longer than I’ve ever run before. Other than those facts, I had little idea of what was in store.

The purpose of this run was to reach 50 miles in my training for The Wall, a 69-mile run across Hadrian’s Wall in June. My plan had called for a 45-mile run with full pack at around this date, so I had a look on and found this 51.3 miler. I considered that although it was much longer than my plan needed, it did have one big advantage – that I wouldn’t be running 45 miles into the unknown on my own, unsupervised. I signed up.

Sarah and the kids were to travel down to meet me at the end, in Rye, and drive me home, so I decided to get the train down from work. I left late as work’s pretty busy right now and we’re dealing a lot with the US, so I had a marketing call to sort out before I left and it dragged on a bit. I felt like a bored schoolkid watching the clock in a history lesson, waiting for the school bell. I left about 6:30, knowing that I had to get to Rye by 9pm before they closed the doors of the hall. The journey was via a Javelin train on the HS1 line, so after some unpleasant yet expensive food from some Whole Foods-copy store at St Pancras, I sped quickly towards Ashford and a simple linkup afterwards left me in Rye by about 8pm.

It was a short distance from the station to the Village Hall where we were to meet up, on Conduit Hill which was to become my focus several times when returning to this spot, not least at the end of the race! The hall was very quiet when I walked in, and I said hello to a lady behind a trestle table before noticing a bunch of guys sitting eating and drinking tea on the other side of the room. The lady, Pam, turned out to be Mike The Organiser’s mum, who was there with Mike’s dad to help organise and man the aid stations the next day. They must have been in their 60s, so good on them. I got my race number and pack, and realised that I had the pick of the hall floor pretty much in which to stash my gear and bed down for the night. I chose a spot just next to some power sockets so I could charge up my phone overnight and start with maximum power to give Runkeeper a chance of lasting the distance. I fully expected to take nearer the max 15 hours for the run, but I was secretly hoping for 12.

I went over to say hi to the fellas drinking tea, and one of them poured me a mug from a gigantic metal teapot. We got chatting, and it was as I’d hoped – a good mix of newbies and seasoned runners, some doing the 50 and some the 100. So I wasn’t alone in my novice status! We chatted about all sorts, particularly the exploits of some of the big races the guys had done before, and then started to bed down for the night. I went about getting my gear together for the morning, squashing my gels, S! Caps and so forth into my race vest and checking off kit against my list. I gave up halfway because I sensed the guy near me was trying to get to sleep and I kept rustling packets and paper. So I texted Sarah then went to sleep myself. Some runners came in at about 11:30, they were pretty discreet but it did half wake me up, and I felt a bit annoyed; but not as annoyed as I was when I realised I’d forgotten my inflatable pillow. That will be the first thing I pack next time. I’d rather run with no shorts than suffer another night with my head on my race vest.

I woke up at 6am having got some sleep, but nowhere near enough. Lots of people were already buzzing around, as the NC100 was due to begin at 7. Some of the guys were already kitted out and eating breakfast. The brekkie was pretty decent, lots of variety but the bacon sarnies and tea were my immediate choice and after them I felt much better. I got dressed and sorted out the remainder of my kit, again checking carefully against my list. I was desperate not to forget anything – even the smallest thing can ruin a training run, never mind a race. The weather was pretty cold so I decided on a cap, Buff, light jacket and running tights as well as the usual gear. I have an UltrAspire Surge pack which isn’t the biggest in which to stow stuff, but I figured I could always tie my jacket around my waist if it got too warm. After listening to the NC100 briefing and waving them off, we had 15 minutes to do final checks and prep before boarding the bus for the start line. The NC50 route is identical to the second-half of the NC100, so the bus was to take us to the NC100 halfway point, effectively, and we were to run back to Rye from there.

I get very easily travel sick, particularly on coaches, so I shot quickly to the bus and sat at the front. The others must have thought I was an idiot, trying to win the race to the coach, but I knew what I needed to do – all those coach journeys as a kid, all those queasy feelings and the knowledge that the vom was coming. And then run 50 miles? No thanks. I intended to keep my lovely tea and bacon exactly where it was, and sitting at the front did it for me. After half an hour I started chatting to the guy sitting behind me, who was wearing a battered old Spartathlon hat. He’d done it 13 times, with 9 finishes, apparently. Hard core. The journey was mostly uneventful until the end, when the driver couldn’t find the start line and shockingly didn’t have the phone number of the organiser. It was a fairly barren area of Sussex to be fair, and one field did look very similar to all the others; but still, black mark for the organisation. Cue a hilarious scene on a moving bus with a dozen runners jabbing at maps and GPS devices, all trying to locate our current position vs the start, all believing they knew exactly where we were, but all pointing to different places. Nightmare. Eventually we saw Mike and his van, and parked up nearby.

Ashdown Forest (0 miles)

A few of us had a quick wee, it had been a long bus ride. Then I had an S! cap to make sure I started  as I meant to go on with nutrition (I often suffer terribly with cramp at long distance so I’d recently been upping my electrolyte and water levels, which seemed to be doing the trick).

It struck me then how remote the place was, and how small the event was; I’ve done some small, low-key races before but I’ve never been to one that doesn’t have a start line or a clock. Mike asked us to follow him down to the start, and we walked behind him for a couple of minutes before he stopped us in the middle of a field. I was expecting him to then continue for a while, but it turned out that we were in fact at the start! He pointed up the trail and said something like “Rye is 50 miles… well, that way” and then counted down from 3 before we started running. I did appreciate the eccentricity of it, and knew I was going to love the next few hours as long as I didn’t get lost. Oh, dear, did I say lost?

About 10 minutes later a group of us were running down a trail following a guy who looked like he knew where he was heading; but it transpired he didn’t and we should have turned off the trail five minutes earlier. Cue an about-turn, a bit of grumbling, and a sprightly jog up a tarmac road to rejoin the real path as described by the GPS route. I’d decided that I was to use my Garmin 310 as a timer, to mark out run/walk intervals as I’d been training recently: 1 hour running, followed by 5 mins run/1 min walk, repeat until dead or finished. But after this early mishap I decided that relying on other people to navigate might not be the best option and switched to the course on my Garmin so at least I could be semi-independent! At this stage I didn’t think about consulting the map or directions provided by the organiser; of course now I would do either or both, but this was my first race of this kind and I really had no idea; I just trusted that everyone else would be going the right way. This thinking was to get me in trouble a few more times during the race.

After rejoining the Weald Way trail, following the ‘WW’ markers through Furness Wood, I felt a little better about things and settled into the run, regularly drinking water and generally enjoying it. A month earlier I’d been here and recced the first 7 miles of the course, so it all felt comfortable. I chatted with some of the other runners around me, the Spartathlon chap and a guy called Tom Sawyer, whose wife was also running but was likely some way behind us. We may have chatted a bit too much, and I may have got a bit too comfortable/complacent, as just after we tore down a hill (me imagining I was Kilian Jornet for a few seconds) we realised it was off the Weald Way, so we had to trudge back up the hill again. A little embarrassing and definitely quite frustrating this soon into the race.

We soon found our way again on the Weald Way, finding a rhythm to the run and taking in the innumerable stiles and the changes in terrain without too much trouble. At around 5 miles I knew we were about to cross the A26, an extremely busy road, and during the recce I’d lost the trail here and it took me a good 20 minutes to find it again (although 15 minutes of that were taken up with finding a small shop with great pies, and the consuming of a pie and a packet of crisps). I felt a bit smug that I knew the way here, so I was disappointed to find that all the other runners around me seemed to navigate it with no problem J

Uckfield (6.0 miles)

The first CP was stocked with water, biscuits and sweets, so I grabbed a couple of biccies and a couple of cups full of water (and, ok, a handful of cola bottles) and walked on quickly, esting as I walked. I think the fact I was esting a biscuit and looking quite chipper, it’s likely this was the point where a chap took the photo here. I later found out it was Stuart Miles, a very good Ultra runner who’s won a ton of races – I felt quite honoured to have my photo taken by him, and even more so to see what he wrote on his website: “As I watched the leaders of the 50 mile race pass through the drinks station I took a few photos.The leaders. Get me!

At the 1 hour mark I started to run and walk, as planned – 5 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking. My Garmin was taken up with navigating the course so I got a bit nervous about the timing here – I’d been quite strict about the 5/1 ratio in recent training runs. I fiddled with it for a little while walking, and worked out that I can set time intervals while it’s still navigating. So it beeped every 5/1 minutes, which I thought would be ok.

The next 6 miles were fairly uneventful, in that I continued to feel strong and navigated the way quite well.

East Hoathly (12.6 miles)

The St John Ambulance crew was in force here, and nobody needed any help so they were sitting and enjoying the sun while chatting to us as we stocked up on water and snacks. I was surprised to see a bunch of guys who had been running strongly take some rest here, one of them phoned someone to let them know how they were doing. I grabbed a pack of Hula Hoops and half a Mars bar and set off walking quickly down the lane. Jamie Elston caught up with me here, and we walked and chatted for a while before he ran on ahead, and then shortly afterwards a bunch of others, including Martyn Turner, arrived and we ran together for a while.

As we headed towards Hailsham, a group of 6 of us, some following the map, others directions, and others (like me) GPS, we headed confidently through Ashburton Estate, only to fond that our apparent route was blocked by some serious-looking ‘keep the f**k out’ fencing surrounding a vast building site. There was no apparent way through, yet four people from our group decided that breaking through the fence and crossing the land would be the best course. I figured that was taking GPS tracking a bit too far, so me and Martyn decided to carry on to find a main road. We stopped and asked a local who advised us that the main road ahead wasn’t very runnable and could be quite dangerous, so we hot-footed it back the way we came and took a longer but safer detour. (Note: afterwards I checked on the map and the main road ahead was the A22 towards Eastbourne, and that really would not have been a pleasant run!)

Shortly afterwards just as we had found our way out of the maze-like Ashburton Estate we spotted Jamie again coming the opposite way! I felt annoyed that we’d lost so much time fannying around in a bloody housing estate. I ran with them both for a little while, then gradually pulled away as I wanted to keep a slightly higher pace. I always find this a quandary; on one hand invariably ultra runners are solid, decent people and nice to chat to, but on the other hand I rarely go the same pace as them – I’m either faster or (more likely) slower, and in which case something has to give. It’s a measure of my increased confidence as a runner that I can pull away from people knowing that I feel strong, and just go for it.

Hailsham (21 miles)

Reaching this aid station had seemingly taken forever; the road approaching it looked quite short on the map but I think this was the first time my mind played tricks on me, and I felt like David Byrne on the Road to Nowhere video. I think this was the first aid station that had sandwiches, and they were plentiful but unfortunately all were peanut butter. I don’t like peanut butter. I decided I was feeling well enough to keep going on crisps, sweets and gels. I was hungry by this point though, and a nice bit of bread and butter, or a ham or jam sandwich would have gone down a treat. The four guys who had gone a different way at Ashburton were here, and we left at about the same time.

Shortly after leaving the CP, just past the Lookers Cottage, there was a real “FFS!” moment. After climbing a few stiles we crossed a river, and I was just about to hop over a stile to the right and run to the left of a small river when I heard a shout. The other guys were pointing back another way, saying their GPS was pointing there. I made the mistake of taking their advice. Their route took us, comically, over a gate, through a field, through another field, then over another gate, only to find that it was the same place again. About a mile round in a bloody circle! I resolved that this was the last time I’d follow anyone else. Bah!

I was annoyed and the adrenaline was coursing, so I ran on a bit quicker than the others. The trail moved from the Weald Way to the 1066 Country Walk, which we would remain on until back at Rye. It didn’t feel much different, to be honest; still pretty trails, just the signage was a bit different  J

And then I got lost. I was traversing a field and I could see from my GPS the place I needed to get to, but it was across a fairly wide stream. Jamie and Martyn were about with me, but the others had gone a completely different way. I took the lead in trying to get the three of us out of the field, heading alongside the stream to try to find a way across, past some interested cows. As I came to a trail across the river I saw a signpost and ran on, confidently, leaving Jamie and Martyn behind. Another sign on a weird stile in the middle of a field, where presumably there used to be a fence.

The trail then took me past Herstmonceux Castle, a very pretty structure with a giant moat. Mental note to pay a visit there when I wouldn’t be in such a rush. I took out my route directions at this point because it looked like a big pile of fields and stiles ahead and the route through didn’t look obvious. I found my current position relative to Herstmonceux, and found that I had to zig-zag diagonally across 6 fields, taking the stile in each opposite corner. Thanks to the organisers for providing those directions!

However, the quality of the instructions hit a blip when I reached a road, they weren’t easy to follow and my GPS pointed me along the trail, and there’s no way they’d put a CP 100 yards the opposite way from the trail, would they? Of course they would. No matter, I only ran half a mile in the wrong direction before realising I wasn’t going anywhere and took a asked a local where Reid Hall was, and he pointed me back the way I came. Bah!

Boreham Street (26.6 miles)

Marmite-only sandwiches at this CP. A massive pile of them. No solid food again except crisps. Rubbish. Mental note to pack sandwiches next time.

I ran again down the A271 Groundhog Day Road, as it shall now be known to me, and tried to make up some lost time. A few miles down the road I saw Martyn up ahead, running quite slowly, really laboured. We chatted for a bit and he said he’d missed the Boreham Street CP altogether, and he was really hurting. I sort of knew he was done for. Just up ahead though I could see Jamie, and he looked strong. I caught him up, and chatted about Martyn for a bit before we reached Ashburnham – 2.7 miles from Boreham Street. I’m still not sure why they put on both of these CPs.

Ashburnham (29.3 miles)

The chap here was just really handing out water, surrounded by massive bottles of the stuff. I thought I’d ask him how many people had gone ahead of us, thinking that we must be almost last after all the missed directions. He said he thought we were probably 9th and 10th place. That, to put it mildly, gave me a lift! Jamie and I ran for a little while, and then he said he was going to walk for a while and I should run on. This was about 31 miles, just about the longest I’ve ever run (previous longest was 30.37 miles), and I felt really good. I couldn’t quite believe it. 9th place, 30+ miles, and feeling good. I thought I could at least tell my grandchildren one day that I’d been 9th at one stage in an ultramarathon, and that thought kept me going all the way to the next CP!

Battle (35.9 miles)

Still 9th! The guy and girl at Battle CP were really helpful, pouring water into my backpack and helping me stock up with crisps and sweets. I asked the chap to pour me some cola. “Of course, sir!” he beamed, and did so. I drank it in one go, and asked for another. I knew it was a risk, because I’m not used to fizzy drinks while running, but it just felt like the right thing to do.

Before I left I sat down on the ground to retie my laces, and while I was sitting there I heard voices. It was the four guys! I quickly finished, and ran off while waving hello to them – and they waved back with a cheery “hallo!”

I really felt a buzz now, with people on my tail. I’ve never felt like this before, a proper rush, so I did what I felt was right and ran – right up to a level crossing just as the barriers were going down. Bollocks. I paced up and down, trying to keep moving and look much less annoyed than I actually was, all the while glancing back up the road expecting to see the 4 blokes following me appear and all the good running I’d put in go to waste. A chap in a van shouted out “What race are you running mate?”. I shouted back “Norman Conquest”, and he looked nonplussed. Not sure what he was expecting me to say – the London f**king Marathon? Anyway, the barriers went up shortly afterwards and I celebrated by pulling the half-Mars bar out of my backpack and eating it while walking quickly on. Feeling strong!

This was a really long section, 9.8 miles total, and so a good one to be feeling good in if you see what I mean. I knew that at the end of it I’d be 45 miles to the good, and then coasting in to the finish at 51 miles. In fact, honestly this was a FANTASTIC section. I remember undulating fields, a golf course, and beautiful woodland. I can see from the instructions now that I crossed a giant trunk road, a horribly rutted field, a big pile of stiles, some more roads, yet pretty much all of that is lost to my memory, replaced with all the wonder of nature. Amazing, I think this might have been the best case of runner’s high I’ve had, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I exchanged texts with my wife Sarah along the way as well, and she and the kids were heading for the Icklesham CP – I think that added to my enthusiasm for finishing this section too  J

Icklesham (45.7 miles)

I saw Sarah! I saw the CP first, a small trestle table with a bored-looking young guy behind it, and I looked around for her car. I couldn’t see it at first, but then there she was, running towards me. I noticed Billy, my 9-year-old son, getting out of the car too. Big hugs and kisses all round, and “well dones”, and Sarah apologised because Daisy, my 3-year-old daughter was asleep in the car.

I had another couple of cups of cola at this CP. Maybe that’s the secret of good running – fake Coke! Sarah helped me drop a bit more water into my pack (good job, the disinterested guy probably wouldn’t have) and then they waved me on my way and told me they’d see me at the end.

Then starting to run again, I realised I was on the last page of instructions too. I did a little mental dance. The people behind me were nowhere to be seen now, even though I’d been a good five minutes at that CP. Natural doubts appeared, like “what if the guy had been wrong, and I wasn’t 9th after all?” Seemed like a reasonable question, but hey, I only had 6-odd miles to go, and I’ve done that distance a hundred times before, so let’s just go for it.

This section is honestly pretty hazy. I remember the following:

  • Running into a churchyard by accident instead of the path down the side of it. I was a little scared of being caught so I hoisted myself over the chain link fence at the far end of the graveyard, after apologising to the souls I’d just stood on. I got stuck, and realised my previously watertight Stuff Sack had snagged on some barbed wire and I just wrenched it loose. I could always buy another! Onwards.
  • Crossing a railway line via some gates. I’ve never been across a rural crossing like that, it wasn’t a level crossing, it was right across the rails and up to me to worry about the presence of a train or not. I looked left, then right, then left again, and (to paraphrase Wells from Assault on Precinct 13, “I got this plan. It’s called “Save Ass”. And the way it works is this – I slip through one of these gates and I run like a bastard!”
  • Two miles of cycle path heading into Rye. More David Byrne. Unbelievably long, like being on a dreadmill.
  • It was getting dark, and I *really* didn’t want to have to get out my headtorch.

But then I could see the lights of Rye, and I was on Wish Street then Cinque Ports Street, looking at all the people not at all bothered by my presence, nobody waving, nobody cheering, and I wasn’t the slightest bit bothered. I was only happy to have done it, to have got there in about 12 hours, to have gone 56.7 miles in the pursuit of a 51.3 mile goal, and to have lived to tell the tale. To find Conduit Street made me very, very happy. I burst through the door of that village hall, and was greeted by cheers.

Rye (51.3 miles)

The cheers were from Sarah, the kids, Mike’s mum who was still behind her table, and the St John Ambulance people in the corner. Mike’s mum confirmed I was 9th (YESSS! GET IN! TOP 10!) and then went off to get me a bowl of stew and rice. Which Daisy, now awake, proceeded to eat with me. Bless her, she had no idea what I’d just done. I almost wept when I saw the medal, a good chunk of metal, and a nice T-shirt too. Lots of hugs and kisses. I waved to the St John people, saying I didn’t want to disappoint them but I probably wouldn’t need their services this evening. I did, as it happens, have a small blood blister which they helped me pop, but otherwise I was feeling great. In this ‘training run’ I’d kept to my plan, I’d stuck with it despite getting lost a few times, I’d avoided my usual cramps, I hadn’t had any downers or ‘walls’, it had just gone well. My training run had just become my best ever race, probably my best ever run. I was an Ultra runner, and I had the bug.

30-mile Test Run, Thames Path from Addlestone to Richmond

What a difference a week makes.

On Friday night I determined that I was going to run 30 miles on Saturday morning. I’d been thinking about it for quite a while, it had been on the plan for weeks, but now it was almost time I found lots of excuses why not. First and foremost, time away from family. I thought if I took 6 hours then even if I started early it would be lunchtime before I got back, and those Saturday morning breakfasts with my family are so precious – I barely see them all week. Secondly, I was a bit scared of what I might find out about myself. I haven’t run further than 27 miles before, and that was the YORM last September – which took almost 7 hours (but it was in the Yorkshire fells) and so I’ve signed up for a bunch of ultras without every really knowing if I could run one.

But like I say, Friday night I steeled myself, got my kit ready, and set the alarm for 4:45. Sunrise was pegged at 5:55 on Google, so I thought if I got out around 5:30 I might make it back in time for a late breakfast  🙂 I signed up for Runkeeper Live so that Sarah would know where I was, as I wasn’t quite sure the route I’d be taking yet – I knew it would be the canal towpath but I wasn’t sure which direction. I measured 15 miles towards London and saw that a turnaround would be somewhere around Richmond. But that would mean at some point I’d be 15 miles from home, early morning, and that sounded a little scary.

Saturday morning came around, I got up after one snooze, kissed Sarah goodbye, and went downstairs for some porridge and got dressed. Raceready shorts, compression top, Surge backpack, Kinvaras, Inov-8 buff, Garmin, iPhone, my trusty green hat, Bosh wristband. Clipped my toenails. I always suffer with cramps at long distance so I decided to take a pocket full of S! electrolyte caps and a lot of water. I filled my 1.5L pack, and also an 800ml bottle, and stowed that in my pack too. A mix of nuts, raisins, flapjack and Jelly Babies, plus six or seven non-caffeinated gels, and I was ready. I resolved to drink more than usual, so a big gulp every five or six minutes, and I also set myself (and the Garmin) to run the first hour, then alternate five mins run/one min walk for the rest of the way. Bizarrely I set 20 reps of this, obviously early morning I was mathematically challenged because 20x (5+1) minutes is two hours, and I’d be running for a lot longer than that!

Running towards the canal lock that’s around 1/2 mile from my house, in the twilight I noticed there was a low mist hanging over the big pond nearby. Quite a lovely sight. I considered taking a picture of it to show later, but thought it was too early to stop running and get my iPhone out. So I ran on, and decided to head towards Walton and see how far I got. I started calculating what I could do to cut the switchback short and stay a little closer to home, so maybe I could do 10 miles away, 10 miles back, and then 5 miles the other way on the tow path before returning home. Or maybe 13.1 miles out and13.1 miles back, and then make up the other 4 later in the day.

I started drinking water early, trying for a mouthful every 5 minutes or so. I had an S! cap in the first few minutes too, just in case of later cramp – as far as I know once you feel cramp it’s too late to do anything about it, so I thought prevention (within reason) to be better than cure. And the running was great. It was a lovely cool morning, so heading through known territory (the streets of Weybridge, then joining the Thames path to Walton Bridge) felt pretty easy. I kept it deliberately to around 9:30 pace to start with, and tried to take in as much of my surroundings as possible. The sun was just coming up as I got to the bridge, lighting the mist over the Thames, and it just felt like the best day I could remember in which to run.

In-between Walton and Molesey I spotted the low sun between the trees, and the sight was too incredible to leave unrecorded so I stopped and got out my iPhone and took a picture. I tried to take another in case the first was blurry, but I was out of memory so that one would be it for the day. Heading along the path I passed a rowing club where a bunch of people were already paddling around, some people in boats with megaphones, and others taking massive boats out of the HQ and down towards the water. I thought for a moment they weren’t going to see me running along and move the boat directly into my path, but they stopped and I managed to dodge around it, just. This happened a few more times in the next two or three hours, and I could have taken umbrage but I preferred to think that it’s because I was still quite light on my feet so they couldn’t hear me coming!

Through Molesey, a lovely looking village, where my Garmin told me I’d been running for an hour and completed 7 miles, so now it was time to switch to 5 mins running/1 min walking. Felt good to make this switch, although I determined that I wasn’t going to dawdle – I’d use these brief periods of walking to have a good drink, take on some fuel, and stride out my legs. On through Hampton at about mile 9. I had to cross the road at the giant bridge that goes over the Thames there, and I could see paths on both sides continuing along so I chose the most likely looking one, a nice bit of parkland, and ran down it. Five minutes later the land ran out and I realised I must have chosen the wrong side. As I was running back I asked for directions and was told that the other side goes to Kingston and beyond. Wow, Kingston, that felt a long way away at this point, but I was still feeling pretty good.

The three miles it took to get to Kingston bridge were really pretty, with Hampton Court Palace and its park on the left pretty much the whole way, so always something to look at. At the bridge I crossed the busy road that I’ve seen so many times by car, and really couldn’t find a way down the other side. Again asking directions, I found that near the large John Lewis store is a staircase that leads down to a large paved area, that subsequently led to the path. No signage of any note. I’m glad I asked the way, or I might still be there now.

I thought at about this time, mile 12, that I might just carry on and do the full 15, then turn back. I felt great, I still had loads of gels, caps and food, a little water left in the bladder and a full bottle. So what the heck, I went for it, passing through Ham and on to Eel Pie Island where the Garmin told me I’d done 15 miles. I carried on a little way because there was no real landmark around, and I usually like to turn around somewhere memorable. But there was just a towpath as far as I could see, so I turned around and headed back. I texted Sarah at this point to let her know where I was, and that I’d be back around 11:30 (adding on half an hour thinking that I’d be bound to slow down from here). She texted back soon afterwards, reminding me that we had to drop Billy off at a tennis club in Weybridge at 12:30 so they might be out. I had an idea – could I make it back to Weybridge for, say, 11, and meet them all there? Starbucks seemed like a reasonable option, and Sarah agreed. I quite liked this idea of texting while running, checking the phone during the walk phase and replying while having some food and drink; it all seemed quite civilised and under control.

At Kingston Bridge again I knew the way across this time, so after dodging the traffic I continued along the river to Hampton Court at mile 22, where I decided to stop at a little shop and get some more water. I grabbed a 2-litre bottle (making sure it wasn’t sparkling) and handed over the 20-pound note that I’d taken with me. I knew the change would get annoying, rattling round, and so it transpired. I stopped just outside the shop, opened up my pack and bladder, dropped the change into a zipped compartment and tipped three-quarters of the water into it. After doing it back up I wondered what to do with the water, and I noticed a cafe nearby with a lot of people outside soaking up the spring sun. An elderly couple had a dog with them, and they gratefully accepted the water for him. I ran off, and I was pleased that they had a sort of amused look about them – I imagined them wondering where I was running from and heading to. Actually, they’d probably not thought anything of the sort, but the thought kept me cheerful.

With the coins rattling with every step, I knew I was on the home straight now with about eight miles to go until home, so probably six or seven to Weybridge. The landscape seemed different on the way back because the sun was out and everything looked bright. I took off my hat and buff, and stowed them in my pack. I felt a slight niggle for the first time, and it was at the top of both my feet by the shoelaces. I’ve had cramp there before so it worried me a bit, but it didn’t feel crampy this time. Nonetheless I had another S! cap and some extra water just in case. While I was running along here I thought of Boston, and the Twitter hashtag #RunforBoston where I’d seen a number of people run for 4.17 miles in support of those who got hurt or lost their lives. I wanted to show support for them too, and also for all my Bosh friends who were running the VLM the next day. I thought I’d try to stop my Runkeeper at exactly 30.37 miles (26.2 in support of VLM runners, 4.17 for Boston), which at the current pace would put me in Weybridge at about 11:05. Perfect, as long as I could keep going.

The sight of Walton Bridge was pretty welcome, as was the foot bridge over the canal soon after that signalled I was close to Weybridge. I got to the church near the town centre at about 29 miles and 10:50, and did a couple of loops around and stopped it exactly where I wanted it. Weirdly the last half-mile or so were by far the hardest – it really is all in the mind!

I was quite proud of myself: I’d done my longest run without any real problems, I’d finally done an ultra distance, I had my little story for Boston and VLM, I’d had a few little moments along the way to remember (like the couple and the dog),  and I was outside Starbucks where Sarah was buying me a tea, juice and a bacon sandwich and the kids had lots of kisses for me.

Distance: 30.37 miles

Duration: 5:11:50

Average pace: 10:16 min/mile

Climb: 757 feet

Training w/e 12th April

Not much to report this week. A bit of a washout week following illness, and chest infection continuing. I took the weekend off and rested, and then Tuesday tried my little 4.68 mile loop. Wasn’t too bad, but a couple of times I had to slow down because my lungs were coughing up some horrible gunge. Felt good to clear the tubes, and I did it at around 9 min/mile pace so not altogether bad. Rested again Wednesday, with still another four days of antibiotics to go, and then went to the gym for a little run on Thursday. I forgot my trainers so ran in my socks, and cut it at 2 miles as my feet hurt (at the top, oddly) and stretched for a while.

And that was that! Back stronger next week.

Total miles planned: 45

Total miles actual: 6.68 (!)

Training w/e 12th April 2013

Whoa. Sick week, again.

Started off well with a B2B – a 13.5 mile road run late Saturday night, and an 11.6 mile hilly run with Alick at 6:30 Sunday morning. All good, the road run particularly so and managed it in around 2 hours which was pretty good time for a training run. Just a giant loop made up as I went along, aiming for around 15 miles but cut it a little short largely because that’s when I ran back past my house. But… really heavy legs in the hilly run, walking all the steepest hills, and I was glad when it was over and I could have a tea and a bacon sarnie from the little cafe at Newlands Corner on the North Downs.

Rested Monday, and then Tuesday banged out 7 miles on the treadmill at the gym. I don’t particularly like treadmills, but they serve a purpose from time to time and this was one of those times. A good tempo session, lightly uphill, always close to 8 min/miles.

Then… crashing to earth. On Wednesday I felt a bit of a sore throat and a slight fever, just like a couple of times recently where a cough/chest infection was starting. I went out for a curry and a few jars on Wednesday night, sticking to some fairly healthy stuff (Goan fish curry to be precise), but I felt pretty nauseous Thursday morning when I woke up. I planned the day off as holiday to spend with my son Billy, we’d bought tickets in the afternoon to go see The Croods and we thought we’d stay in and play games the rest of the time. Good dad and lads day. I didn’t feel like breakfast but we all went to the local cafe before Sarah left for work, and I ate something but 20 miinutes later I was in the cafe toilet throwing up. Not pleasant. I took my daughter to nursery and then Billy and I went home, and I promptly went to the toilet and my body purged itself over the next few hours of pretty much everything it had. I spent the whole day, from 10 in the morning until early evening, either on the toilet or lying on the floor near it. I dislocated a finger fainting and falling off the toilet. I bruised my knee at some stage. Billy came up every hour or so to see if I was alright, and I told him I was, but I really wasn’t. My whole focus was getting out to see that movie at 3:40, and as 1 and then 2pm approached I realised we weren’t going to make it. There’s nothing like disappointing a child to make you feel low, regardless of how low you already are. But he was fairly philosophical about it, good lad.

I slept OK that night, and immediately I woke up Friday morning I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to work, but my next thoughts were to wonder if I’d be able to make running that weekend. I have big mileage plans at the moment for training, and although that week I’d clocked up 32 miles already I wanted to add another 10 on Friday. No chance of that, honestly. Just too unwell. A pattern seemed to be forming.

Total miles planned: 41

Total miles actual: 32.2