CRUK London Winter Run 2018

My plan for the start of 2018 was a simple one. I’d start with the Ashbourne 10K, the Reading Half, and then finish off with my third attempt at the Greater Manchester Marathon. Like everything, plans change.

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I’d planned to be in London on Saturday 3rd February to visit the British Library, but had no plans on staying for anything else. When the Winter Run was advertised it reminded me that it’s a race I want to do sometime as the snowflake medal design is one I like the look of. A friend said I should do it, and after checking the date I realised it’d be the day after my visit to the library – there was no reason not to do it. In fact it would be a great opportunity for me to race in London again for the first time since I did the London Marathon in 2015.

It’d be a race earlier into training than planned, so I had no intention on putting pressure on this run to be a PB or anything like that – it’d just be a tempo training run, and a chance to meet up with Emma-Joy.

Pre-race Day and the History of Magic

I was in London to see the History of Magic exhibition before it left the British Library for overseas adventures. To get there meant an early start, though I’d miscalculated and got to the library an hour before I needed to. I wandered around and snapped a few photos of the building, and looked around one of their free exhibitions that has a copy of the Magna Carta on show. The exhibition I was there to see however did not allow photography which wasn’t detailed on their website. I mentioned this to them, and was told it says so on the ticket – I shown them my ticket and pointed out “no it doesn’t”. It was disappointing, but I looked around the exhibit anyway. Unfortunately it wasn’t that good, and many of the exhibits were difficult to see even though the numbers were limited.

I spent the next hour getting back out of London to where I’d be staying overnight so I could check in. It was a B&B, and I was led into the neighbouring property and given the code for the room. I was told I’d be able to leave my car there whilst racing in the morning, so I dropped my things off and after a quick shower headed in the direction of Southwark. This time I got off at Goodge Street and walked to Westminster from there, so I could take a few photos and look in a few shops along the way – there’s some great bookshops on Tottenham Court Road. It hadn’t yet stopped raining since the sleet started when I left home, and was really cold so having a few hours to kill turned out to be pretty miserable – but I tried my best to stay positive.

I met up with @EmaJoyC, and we walked to Vapiano for some food as night fell on the city. This place is different to any Italian restaurant I’ve been to before, but reminds me a little of Mongolian barbecue restaurants. You decide what you want, and then they make it in front of you – and to keep track of what you’ve had you’re given a smart card to use. It’s a clever idea, but doesn’t work if you lose the card! If I’m honest, this was the best part of the entire day – not just the great food, but the great company as well.

Afterwards I headed back to the B&B. I bought a cup of tea on the way as after buying some tea bags I had a sudden realisation that the room didn’t have a kettle. The room although it looked reasonable, was actually pretty awful. I could ignore the spatter of something that looked like dried blood on the all next to the bed, and the rickety trestle table, but entire place smelt of something stale. There was also a lingering smell of smoke despite this supposedly being a non-smoking property. The heater couldn’t be turned off either so I had to leave the window open which meant I could hear the constant traffic of the dual carriageway – but this was almost drowned out by some noisy guests.

Race Day

The noise had carried on until midnight, but I could still hear the traffic, so an hour later I closed the window – deciding it might be easier to cope with the heat. This brief reprieve was only short-lived as the other guests started shouting, banging around, and listening to music at 03:45. It seems they couldn’t close doors without slamming them, and their attempts at singing “New York, New York” at 05:00 was not appreciated either. This noise carried on until I eventually got up for breakfast – the usual pre-race tradition of crunchy nut cornflakes. No drink this time though, as I hadn’t brought a mug or kettle with me.

As sleep had eluded me, I was incredibly tired and had a feeling this race would not be going well. I’d still try and put some effort into it as for this tempo run to be on target I wanted between 40 and 42 minutes. I wasn’t sure I could still do it, but I guess things like this make for good training.

When I left, the guy that had been drinking beer and smoking in the kitchen was still there in the same seat, and still drinking beer. He shouted “I hope you had a good stay!”. I grumbled a “yes, thanks” as I left. I wasn’t too confident about my car being safe at the B&B so I drove it to Stanmore and took the tube to Westminster, seeing a few other runners along the way. Despite the organisers saying there wouldn’t be many portaloos for runners, I noticed that there was actually more than there were for the Brighton Marathon – they needn’t have been worried about the numbers too much. From there I went for a warm-up jog passed Horse Guards Parade, and along The Mall to Trafalgar Square. There was already a lot of runners around, and with the roads closed it gave a completely different atmosphere to the area.

I stood around, waiting for Emma or anyone else to arrive, but no one did. I’d planned on dropping my hoodie off to collect at the end, but I was that cold (it was 1C) I decided that I’d run with it on – so a base later, shorts, and a hoodie. To get to the start you have to walk around the outside of the Canadian Embassy as snowpersons blast fake snow over the crowds. By the time I got to the start there was already quite a crowd so I’d be starting quite a way back. I got about as far forward as I could manage, and got a call from Emma – she’d been running late and was making her way to the start. I then felt a tap on my shoulder, and at first I thought she’d made it – but turned to see @albowk – a pleasant surprise as I’d not seen him since Manchester Marathon last year.

For the first couple of kilometres of the race it was incredibly crowded. To start with I couldn’t even get to a sub-7mi pace, though every now and then had a burst of speed when I found a gap to get through. It meant my pace was all over the place, and I was probably expending more energy than I needed to, but eventually after the first U-turn at St. Giles, I was able to settle into a pace. I got through the first 5K in just over 20 minutes, and thought to myself that wasn’t too bad – the second half was bound to be slower, so would possibly sneak under the 43 minute target. Maybe it didn’t cover the best sights of London, but it was certainly an interesting route.

It’s not every day you run passed high-fiving penguins and huskies. At a few points there was live music, and in a few places there was some playing over speakers. It was a fairly uneventful race really, but I enjoyed it. In the second half, I actually picked up the pace unintentionally and had to ease off after accidentally hitting a 6:10/mi split. I thought to myself that I needed to slow down – the sooner I finished, the longer I’d need to wait for post-race pizza. Towards the end there was a cave filled with dancing yetis – a phrase which you don’t expect to find yourself saying. From there I figured it didn’t really matter too much if I picked up the pace as I started to recognise buildings – I was certain I was near Trafalgar Square.

Eventually I saw the square ahead of me and decided that I’d go for a sprint finish – I just needed to time it right.As I rounded the corner I saw the finish a little further ahead than what I was expecting, so held back until the last minute. It’d been a fun race, which isn’t something I often think about when running 10K – it’s usually one of those distances I want to put everything into, but by holding back a little I enjoyed it that much more.

At the finish there were polar bears giving out hugs, and volunteers handing out finishers medals, coconut water, still water, chocolate protein bars, and soreen. Once I’d collected mine I did a quick cool-down run to get back around to Trafalgar Square so I could see Emma finish. I wanted to thank her for having made it a good weekend.

I finished this one in 40:16 so managed it withing the target time frame. I hope this puts me in a good position to treat the MK Winter Half as a tempo run in a couple of weeks time. At least my first race of 2018 is now done, and I can get on with enjoying training. This was a finish in position 216 of 16444, so this time in the first 1.3% of finishers.


Nottingham Christmas Run

Of my five goals for 2017 I’ve so far achieved two of them. This left me with three I’d not yet managed, and one of those was to get a sub-19 5K. I’ve been close to it, in fact I’ve been close to it a number of times now: twice at Milton Keynes for their Rocket 5K, and once at parkrun. I’ve always been just a few seconds from dipping under that milestone though.

As the year sailed by I found my chances for doing parkruns were diminishing. I figured that what would now be a muddy section of parkrun would slow me down anyway, so I thought a race might be in order. A quick look around, and I found the Nottingham Christmas Run which offered 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon races. Quite a selection, and usually I’d tend towards the longer races, but just this once I went with the shortest as it was exactly what I needed.

This race then turned into a meet-up with several friends as well, so when I got back from a “lazy” trip to Morocco I was really looking forward to the race, and hopefully ticking off another goal. The closer the race day got, the more I wondered if I’d lost much speed during my week off running, and then I was told that Holme Pierrepont (the venue for the race) is notoriously windy.

By race day I found myself thinking that with strong winds I didn’t stand a chance of getting a decent time, let alone meeting the goal I’d set. In fact, because of what I was told about what it’s like there I found myself not believing the weather forecast and a few layers with me to the race, just in case. Unusually, I’d not even got any kit ready the night before this race.

At Holme Pierrepont it was £5 on entry to the road to the car parks. I guess it’s probably the venue that charges this rather than the race organisers. The car parks at this time of year aren’t great though – they’re muddy, and the staff there were directing cars into rows so tight that after getting out of my car I realised I was going to be blocked in.

The race HQ wasn’t too far away, probably about half a mile from the car park. There I quickly collected my number, and saw both Amy G (@treb91) and Amy E (@amy_everett_) there. The plan had been to see a couple of other friends as well, but unfortunately they couldn’t make it. In this time I’d decided that shorts and t-shirt would be enough – the area near the start wasn’t that windy so I could at least start without the need for a base layer and so I took that back to my car and got a bit of a warm-up in.

One lap of the Regatta Lake is not quite 5K, and so for this race the start isn’t quite in the same place as the eventual finish. The race started on time, and from the very start I found myself not far off the front. I realised why this was though – I’d set off running at 4:33min/mile pace, which is ridiculous. I can’t run at that speed for too long, so I reigned in the speed and settled into a pace of around 06:00 min/mile. Perfect. That’s where I wanted to be, so would just need to hold it for the full 3.11 miles.

Running on an almost completely flat surface is a pretty new experience for me. I say almost flat as there was some slight elevation changes in places, but it’s as flat as you’ll get without being on a race track. I think small hills actually makes a course easier – get up the hills quickly, and then for the inevitable downhill you can ease off a little to let your legs recover.

Here there was no hiding. The weather conditions were perfect; whatever I did here would be what I’m currently capable of. For the first half mile I was in fourth place, and by the time I reached a mile someone had caught me up and was running just behind me, panting from breathing in twice before breathing out. I’d never heard anyone doing that before, I thought it strange.

Someone walking around in the opposite direction asked me what distance I was running. I replied, but then thought to myself that it’s not something you see every day – spectators don’t normally ask that sort of question. I was a little surprised I was okay talking at that speed as well.

It seemed that the first mile took forever. My pace was all over the place, but I was glad to have averaged 06:00 min/mile. I was on target, and all was good at least I thought it was. Realisation I’d only done a mile mad me think that maybe I was going too fast to sustain, and I eased off slightly. The panting runner passed me, and then one or two others did as well. I could already see the lead cyclist rounding the corner at the end ready for the return journey.

The runners at the front were doing incredible – it almost looked like this was easy for them. I on the other hand was thinking that my pace had dropped to around 6:20min/mile and at that speed I wouldn’t even make sub-20. I was wrong, but when you’re working hard your maths isn’t always spot on.

1.5 miles in. I was around the end of the lake and now heading back. I couldn’t see the next turn ahead of me, and suddenly I found myself thinking that a mile is a long way to be going at this speed. It wasn’t true though, I’d dropped down to my 10K race pace.

2 miles. I’d passed the half marathon starting point, and started to think to myself that it was on the opposite side to the marathon runners to give them some time to get going before they started lapping each other. I think the second mile had been the quickest to pass though, probably because I was focusing on keeping going. It’s amazing how often I have to tell myself not to walk. So far I hadn’t.

I could now see the far end of the lake though, and I knew that as long as I focused on that I might just keep on going. I knew if I walked at all I’d be annoyed at myself, especially if by some miracle I got close to my goal. I did notice at this point though that I was starting to weave a little in order to pass people walking around the lake, presumably to their respective start positions.

It was a relief to finally reach the other end of the lake, I knew at this point that I’d finish it and not walk as I’d feared. The ground there was slippery though from being constantly wet – this is where the boats enter and exit the water.

When I reached the last corner, it was the 3 mile mark, but my way was blocked by a lady pushing a pushchair across the path. I shouted “coming through” in hope that she’d see me coming and would reduce the risk of a collision. I ran around her and the push chair and was then onto the last stretch.

At this point I’d often sprint to the finish to make sure I’ve put as much into the end as I could. I did speed up without actually realising I had, but never really sprinted. As I approached the finish the timing board there read 18:20. Impossible. I couldn’t have finished in that time! I slowed, a little confused as I crossed the finish line.

A finishers medal was put around my neck, and I sat down for a minute and checked my watch. It looked more likely that I’d finished the race in 19:13. After the race I saw Alison Fox (@alisonleighfox) and Amy G finish, and then ran over a mile so I could get around to the half marathon start to wish the other Amy and her sister good luck in their race.

What I’d forgotten though was that race finishers could get a free turkey baguette. I wasn’t sure where from, but by the time I thought about it I’d long been home.

When the official results came out I found my time was 19:21. It was 22 seconds slower than I’d wanted, and I knew that at best I could have only shaved 5 seconds or so off that if I’d pushed at the end. Today I wasn’t good enough, but hopefully it’ll have been good practice for next week’s half marathon. I can always try another 5K at parkrun when I’ve got more time.

I finished 7th in the 5K. Amazingly this made me the 3rd in my category due to four of them being from the U20 category. I suppose it’s not too bad for a day that wasn’t my best.

The Home Run


All the way back in July, a friend (@EmaJoyC) asked me if I’d like to take part in a 30km run she was organising to celebrate her Dad’s business being 30 years old. Without question or hesitation I agreed, and added it to my calendar. I’d not got anything else booked for that late in the year – it’d be a nice way to end 2017. Though since then I did book another two races for December…

A little later into the year I heard another friend had organised the PHPEM Unconference for the same weekend; though to me it was more important I keep my promise to do the 30K so accepted I’d miss the conference yet again. There’s always other conferences, but a 30th anniversary run only happens once – I needed to make sure I’d be there for it.

November came around, and I was off to Morocco for ten days in the mountains. It meant that when I got back I’d not really run much since the Thoresby 10 and would now need to be running almost double that. It’s not really a problem though, these days I’m happy to run a longer distance at short notice – it just might not be a good performance. That’s okay though – my plan was to hold back and keep my legs fresh for the following two weeks of races.

On the week of the run I mostly took it easy, with my biggest run being a 6:50 min/mile average run over 5.5 miles. Faster than I’d be aiming for at the weekend, but would keep the legs going. I probably covered about a half marathon in training runs during the week, so lighter than I’m used to as well.

On the morning of the event I got up at 06:30, had breakfast, and then found I needed to clear my windscreen of frost. Fortunately I’d factored that in as a possibility so wasn’t short on time, but was surprised by the sudden sprinkling of snow that started as I was leaving. By the time I got to the motorway it was coming down heavy.

It could have made for an interesting run, but by the time I reached Grantham the sun was out; but the temperature had only risen to 1C. I parked up at a car park near the church where they offer all day parking for £2.

The start of the run was on a bridle path which started opposite the Brewers Fayre. Emma’s Dad announced the start of the race, and blew the horn to signal those of us doing the 30 kilometres to begin. I’d decided to run at whatever pace Emma set so that she’d have company for the event she’d organised.

For the first 5K the route followed the Grantham Canal along a nice hard surface that was perfect for running on. I held back and enjoyed talking to Emma, whilst Chris and Daniel were running a little ahead of us. They both dropped back frequently to make sure we were going the right way.

This first bit had a few stops before we started to find a rhythm. One of these stops was when Emma found her Camelbak was peeing down her leg. Maybe in this cold weather it’d have been okay if it was warm water – but I imagine cold water would not be nice. It was sorted, and we carried on running.

Eventually we left the canal behind and started running along a muddy trail. For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but there was one little section that was so muddy it was slippy. Fortunately holding back meant I wasn’t going too fast, so was able to tackle that section carefully before carrying on along the mud.

It was amazing how quickly time was passing – before we knew it’d we’d done five miles, and a couple of miles later we’d left the trail behind and were now running on the road through Harston. That time having passed so quickly did at least mean we were having fun, and I was sure the run would be over before we knew it as well. We talked about running, about music, and literally anything. We’d originally started talking on Twitter due to #ukrunchat, and as always it’s nice to get to know another runner – especially one so full of life!

Reaching Harston meant a small incline afterwards, and then again as we ran up through Knipton. For a while I ran on ahead and talked to Chris whilst Belvoir Castle could be seen across the field to our right. It’s always interesting to hear about another runner’s experiences – it could inspire you, or give you ideas for other races to try out.

As we rounded the far side of the loop we started running as a group of four. You could tell everyone was enjoying themselves, and we even stopped for the occasional photograph – such as when we could see the other side of Belvoir Castle. This run wasn’t about position or pace, it was about being there to support a friend and to have a good time. I think we certainly were.

Between Belvoir and Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir I’d stopped making a conscious effort to hold back and found my speed had started to creep up to my natural 07:30min/mile pace. When I realised Daniel and Emma were a few hundred metres behind I started walking to let them catch up. When they did we’d reached The Dirty Duck Pub where the 10K runners had started just a minute ahead of us reaching there. From there the route was back along the canal we’d ran along earlier.

The temptation to run on ahead and try to finish the remainder in 40 minutes was strong. I held back and carried on running with Emma and Daniel, whilst Chris disappeared off into the distance. He’s a much faster runner than me anyway so it’s unlikely I’d have kept up anyway.

We passed some of Emma’s friends who were doing the 10K, and then caught up with Amy whom Emma had been friends with since high school. As there were now a few of them together I decided that for a while at least I’d run on ahead to try and get my heart pumping faster. When I reached the end of the canal path I realised I didn’t know where I was going so had to wait for them anyway.

When they caught up we then ran back into the Grantham town centre, towards The Castlegate – Emma’s father’s business. I still wasn’t sure where I was going so didn’t want to get ahead of them so kept looking back to make sure they were there, and occasionally side-stepping instead of running. This became a bad idea though when I managed to run into a bus stop with some force – enough to bruise my forearm. It provided a bit of entertainment for the others!

 Not long after this I was running alongside Amy and found we’d gotten ahead of the others. She did know the route which meant I wouldn’t get lost so carried on, and had a little chat along the way.

When we reached McDonalds there was a major road to cross, and after doing so we held back to make sure we could see the others before carrying on. We continued on, and every now and then I looked behind me in hope I’d see the others, or at least Emma behind; but I could not.

When Amy said that The Castlegate was at the end of the road we were rounding the corner I asked if she’d mind me running on ahead. I quickly got up to sprinting speed so I’d be able to keep the tradition of finishing with a sprint.

I finished 19 miles in just over 3 hours. For me that is considerably slower than I’d normally be, but as I said – it doesn’t matter. It was all about the experience, and supporting a friend. I did want to finish with Emma though, but I messed that up a little.

I walked into the pub and most people had already finished. I couldn’t see how busy it was to start with though as coming in from the cold meant my glasses had steamed up.

Emma and the others finished not that long after me, and the celebrations continued. Emma’s Dad thanked everyone for being there, and then Emma took over the microphone to call people up one by one for her sister to present them with a medal – a nice touch I’d not expected!

They’d put on plenty of food, but I needed leave so said my goodbyes whilst the others carried on the celebrations which would last into the night. There was also the ability to donate to Macmillan Cancer Support – a charity which is very important to her. I’d not got my wallet on me at the time, so decided I’d support this online after getting home.

A big thank you to Emma for organising a great day, and I hope her Dad’s business celebrates many more years. She definitely hit a home run with the day – it was a Joy to run with her.

Thoresby 10 2017

Having a race the weekend after two weekends of marathons may not be the greatest of ideas. To make matters worse I decided to increase the distance for this race from the 10K option, to the 10 mile option. Excellent. At least after this I’d have a few weeks without races.

When booking the Thoresby 10 I pictured an off-road trail that’d be muddy, and slow. I thought it’d be nice to give it a go, but thought that ten miles of it might be a but much. When I realised I hadn’t run a ten mile race this year – that’s when I decided to increase the distance I’d be running.

On the day of the race we were at the tail end of what had been dubbed “Storm Brian”. Our weather is nothing like what they get in the US so it seems silly we’ve taken to naming them. I think perhaps the UK was just feeling left out. Anyway, this meant it looked like we were going to have a very wet and windy day.

By the time I got to Thoresby, the rain had stopped, but the wind was still howling. I made my way in shorts and tee to the registration tent and collected my number and timer. I couldn’t figure out how to do it, but fortunately someone there was showing people how to strap it to their legs. Mine kept coming loose, but I figured as long as it didn’t come off then all would be okay.

The wind wasn’t letting up, and was making me feel colder so I eventually decided I needed another layer. I thought I’d get my skins top, but I bumped into Nic and Emma on the way to my car and they offered to keep hold of my extra layer whilst running, so I decided my #ukrunchat hoodie would be even better!

When the time came for the race briefing I noticed that the canicross runners were starting with the 10 mile runners. I hadn’t realised they’d be starting in the same wave, but they were all moved to the front. This seems pretty standard for races where there are dogs running. It’s just one more thing to be mindful of on on the course.

I set off far faster than I intended and covered the first quarter of a mile at 5:05min/mile pace. Too fast. I’d let myself get caught up in the pace of the race, and not the pace I wanted to be at, so I eased off a little. I settled into a 6:40 to 6:50 min/mile pace, which is what I wanted. I was still overtaking a few people, including someone who was wheezing very loudly. I asked if they were okay and they nodded, so perhaps that’s just normal for them.

The terrain varied a lot between muddy trails through trees, and bits of gravel. The only bit where I found I had to really slow down was when I encountered these really large pebbles that had been used to fill in a hole in the path. We’d been warned about them in the briefing so I knew they were coming, but I thought it might have been some overly cautious notices (such as warnings about the lake before doing Braunstone Parkrun). It really wasn’t overly cautious – I’m glad they’d told us. As well as slowing down considerably I tried to run on the outside of them in hope it’d reduce the risk of rolling my ankle.

On an area with a wide open field I felt the strong cross-winds of Storm Brian the most. It felt like I was being blown to the side, and found it difficult. I was glad once we were back amongst the trees.

I started to pass a number of the canicross runners, and these were in places difficult to pass – especially those that had multiple dogs. Some were good and were calling to their dogs to move over, but some had very little control over them. I always get slowed down in events that double as a canicross – it never fails. It’s just the way it is though, and seeing the different dogs can be fun!

When you’re out on the course it’s easy to forget things about the course, but then that’s why there are marshals there. They volunteer to make sure the event is safe, and that people are going the right way. When I got to four miles I started to think about when it was we were supposed to be turning left onto an inner loop before repeating a section. I’d got it in my mind that it was sometime around mile 7. All I could remember about that from the briefing is that we’d be directed the right way by a marshal, and if we went wrong then we’d be doing 13 miles. Well… that wouldn’t be too bad, as with the pace I was averaging it looked likely I’d have done a half marathon in 89 minutes.

On this section that is repeated there’s a water station (I didn’t bother with this – in these mild conditions I don’t need fuel or water) and a couple of hills. One of the hills was a little tough, and on the first pass I did think to myself I’d struggle with that the next time around. I’d dropped in behind a group of three runners at this point, with one of them just pulling away from their group to take the lead. Their pace suited my needs, so I stuck with them for a while.

Eventually there was a sign that said sharp left and once around this corner I said a sign that just said “10 miles”. It seems I’d passed the fork and was now on the inner loop.

As I exited the inner loop I found we were joining other runners. I couldn’t tell if this was the back of the ten mile group, part of the 10K group, or a combination of the two. Not long after this I overtook two of the three people I’d been following for the past few miles.

From that point on I was eagerly looking out for the sign where the fork was, as I’d not seen one on the first time around. Eventually I saw a sign that pointed the 10K runners to the right, but couldn’t see one for the ten mile runners – I think the marshal directing runners might have been standing in front of it. Oops. The marshal was now shouting “10 mile runners to the left, 10K runners to the right”.

The remaining runner I’d been following for sometime, I followed as he went in the direction of the 10K. Behind me I heard someone shout to the marshal “is it to the right for second lap?!”. When I heard her reply with a “yes” I knew I’d gone the right way. Excellent.

After the race I was told about a few 10 mile runners who had been sent around again, despite the pre-race warning, and had ended up running 13 miles instead. That’s then problem with lapped courses: when you’re tired you do what the marshals say, so if they send you one way, then you do it.

As the grass changed to concrete I saw Nic and Emma standing on the side of the road so waved as I passed. My legs were aching incredibly by this point and I knew I’d slowed down a lot as the two runners I’d overtaken were now not too far behind me again.

After that it felt like I was running into the wind all the way to the finish. I didn’t want to walk, even though it’d have been nice to, as I knew I was now so close. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the two runners closing in on me so I pushed harder, but was unable to get up to a sprint – the wind was pushing back.

When I reached the final straight I didn’t bother to sprint as I thought if I did I might just vomit so instead took it easy for those last metres. Just as I crossed the finish line the other two runners crossed at pretty much the same time. We shook each others hands, and then I went to remove the timers from my ankle.

I joined the queue to get the finishers medal, and after that got a bag, a bottle of water, and a packet of crisps (I didn’t feel like a banana). I walked over to the results tent and got my time – I’d finished in 68:18 in position 12 (6th for my age group) of 315 (first 4%). Sure, it’s not my fastest 10 mile time as I’d recently set a new PB, but for the conditions and the course I was extremely pleased with the result! I’m now left feeling confident again about being able to set a half marathon PB this year. It was tough, but I enjoyed it very much.


I then walked over to where Nic and Emma were so I could join them in waiting for Amy to pass. This was her first ten mile race and did fantastic.

When I got home it was pointed out to me that I’d been given a medal for the 10K and not the 10 mile race. Apparently later on in the day there had been two queues, one for 10K and one for 10 miles, but when I finished there was just one lady handing out medals. She’d given me the wrong one. I have no idea how as when there’s multiple events going on at the same time they usually check your bib. It seems this one didn’t. I can only assume I got a 10K one as the person in front of me had been running that one, and she hadn’t noticed the next runner wasn’t a 10K also (she was busy talking to someone about curtsying).

It’s not really a big deal, but after a great day it felt soured initially. Before it was pointed out to me I was happy with the day, blissfully ignorant of any issue. Fortunately, the organisers for the event are really good at listening, and are correcting the problem. It’s a lesson learned for me as well though, as when I run Ashbourne 10 I’ll check the medal at the end to make sure it’s the right one and won’t assume.

Next year I’ll  be returning to Thoresby to do the course in reverse as laps for Longhorn half marathon.

Birmingham International Marathon 2017

One week after the Yorkshire marathon it was time already to run another: the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon. It’s not the first time the city of Birmingham have had a marathon. From 1980 to 1985 the city played host to the People’s Marathon. The return of a marathon to England’s second city meant it was a race I had to do, even if it only gave me a week of recovery time after the last marathon.

In the week between marathons I barely ran. I did a slow 3.5 mile run with some walking breaks, and a marathon-paced four mile run later in the week. It seems I didn’t hydrate as well as I should have though as the afternoon of the day before the race I got a migraine that meant I needed to sleep early. Sleeping early meant I didn’t sleep well at night, so wasn’t as fresh as I’d have liked when I got up at 04:30 the next morning.

Originally I’d thought the race was going to start at 09:30, but they eventually split the waves into two start times with the sub-3:45 runners heading off at 08:30. The start and finish were different parts of the city and miles apart too so I’d booked a shuttle to take me from the finish at 07:00. I’d need to be parked up at least 15 minutes before that, depending on where I could find for parking.

I knew people doing the half marathon in the afternoon, but I couldn’t think of anyone I knew doing the full 26.2 miles in the morning. I did however meet up with @albowk and @1SteveMac, and bumped into Paul Addicott who was on pacing duties. He was there a little early as his wave didn’t start until 09:30, but it was nice to meet. I got to the race village myself just before 07:00 as it seems they’d overestimated how long it’d take to get to the race start from the bus stop. I felt I could have had another hour in bed, and left later.

I set off having no real goal in mind, other than the hope of another sub-3:30 marathon.

For the start of the race it was along the running track of Alexander Stadium. Personally I think it’d have been nice to have had a stadium finish, but was still nice to get a bit of track time. Out of the stadium, the course quickly joins the A34 – a bit of dual carriageway to run along to get to the city. This part of the course is a little undulating, but none of the hills (mainly the underpasses and flyovers) are really that bad. At least not at this stage of the race.

There was a fine mist of rain for the first few miles and had to wipe my glasses a number of times to make sure I could see where I was going.

Around mile 4 the course went through the Aston University campus. Being held back by police there were some protesters, though they were far enough away I couldn’t see what was going on. Miles 5-7 were then probably the most boring of them as the course zig-zagged through what is probably the most rundown part of Birmingham.

The first few miles had been tough on my legs, a reminder of last weeks race, but things started to ease off after this. I’d long since overtaken the 3:15 pacer and as my legs eased I thought that maybe I might actually do better than I’d expected.

Just after mile 7 the start of the two lap loop begins. Every step I took on this I’d be repeating, more tired, later. For some of this loop people were setting things up on the side of the course – perhaps not expecting anyone to run passed them until later.

Cannon Hill Park was a nice section of the course, though I found my legs were starting to tire again already, so tried really hard to reign in the pace. After  the park it returns to the road and it looked like later we’d be seeing runners on the other side of the road. This was a long straight section that lasted for almost 3 miles. Views that far in front can be a little depressing, but I found looking down at the road helped here.

So far the loop didn’t seem too bad. Perhaps I could run the entire marathon for a change. No. That wasn’t going to happen. On the way into Bourneville, a place famous for chocolate, they’d sneaked a hill into the course that was a lot of effort to run up. I kept going though. I wanted to finish at least the first lap without walking, but after reaching the top I thought it unlikely I’d manage it a second time.

I was thankful though that I was now passed halfway, and some brief respite with a down hill section passed the Cadburys (formerly Bourneville) factory. At the bottom of that hill it was a return to a road I’d already along in the opposite direction. This time I could see oncoming runners and spotted @albowk!

After that I was concentrating on keeping moving. I really, really wanted to walk, but I also really wanted to finish the first lap without walking. That was enough to keep me going until the “decision point” where I could finally begin the second lap.

On this second lap I soon slowed to a walk once I hit 16 miles, and from that point I accepted that I’d be walking frequently. Sure enough, although there were sections I’d run for longer periods, I did walk extremely frequently.

When I rounded the corner at Bourneville again I didn’t even attempt to run up part of it, I just started walking immediately. I just had no inclination to run up it. The 3:30 pacer passed me a little later, and it didn’t really bother me. I just wanted to finish and didn’t really care what my time was. When I ran Brighton the week after Manchester and Canalathon last year, I’d been far slower. So it wasn’t a complete failure.

What was a failure was that I my goal for a sub-3:15 this year was an impossibility. I’d only made it half way from where I was to where I wanted to be. It’d have to be a goal for 2018 instead.

Knowing this didn’t really motivate me to keep running, but I did find that deciding I wouldn’t walk again until I’d counted slowly to 100 helped. I did actually run for that entire stretch, and started walking as soon as I hit 100. Oops. I’d only got 4 miles left to go, but I didn’t really feel like dangling that carrot again to keep me running.

Finally I reached the decision point again, and this time was very pleased to be going straight on, back towards the city. It was hard going, but I ran as often as I could force myself to but with an uphill finish it was hard work. As I got close to mile 26 I found that my path was blocked though by people crossing the road en masse so had to weave through them. I heard one of the marshals shouting at the pedestrians, “let the runners pass!”. Well, I slowed to a walk to get passed.

I sprinted from the “200 metres” to go sign and finally finished the first Birmingham International Marathon in 3:35:38 in position 565 out of 5202 finishers.

Not a great time or position, but it’s okay. I never expected to do well in this race, but I still think I should have tried harder in Yorkshire last week. In the finishers bag was:

  • Finishers medal,
  • Finishers tee,
  • bottle of water,
  • Crunchy Peanut butter Cliff bar,
  • Rowntree’s Randoms,
  • Sanex,
  • Omega-3,
  • Foil blanket,
  • and a packet of milled flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds, and goji berries.

Next weekend I’ll be doing a ten mile race in Thorseby, so hopefully I can recover enough for that before then. This race took more out of my legs than last week, but by the evening they’ve eased enough to keep me hopeful.

Yorkshire Marathon 2017

I’m not really sure what led me to enter this marathon. I like to make sure I have an autumn marathon to do, even though I don’t like speed training in the heat of summer. This time I was training through the summer for big ultra marathons so I had the added incentive to find a marathon to do to see if training for ultras made any difference this time.

Training was going well to start with. I gradually built up to 18 miles, but then I took a two week break to do some 10K races so I could work on my time for those. That’s when training went wrong – the following week I was supposed to run 22 miles in training, but due to needing the loo I didn’t make it passed 16 miles. My taper then lasted two weeks due to having a half marathon race, which didn’t turn out too well either. It was unlikely I was going to be setting a PB, especially with the hills I was expecting in Yorkshire; but I’d give it a good go at getting a sub 3:30.

On the day before the race I drove up to York for a bit of tourism, and to see some friends I’ve not seen for almost a year. I walked around the Minster for a while, quickly saw Nic and Emma, and then I checked in to the hotel. That evening the three of is went for food, so I had the usual pre-marathon meal of spaghetti bolognese. It was a good day, and we even got to visit the Harry Potter shop – The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Was really pleased to have seen them. Emma would be running her first marathon, and I think this was Nic’s fourth – a seasoned pro!

That night things didn’t go according to plan. I couldn’t sleep.

The people in the room next to mine stumbled down the corridor at 2am, with one of them making sounds like he was about to vomit – and the other was shouting “Don’t be a d**k!” at him repeatedly. I think I got a few minutes here and there, but I was awake long before my alarm went off. Oh well, I’ve run after a bad night’s sleep before. It might still be okay.

I got to the Elvington Airfield around 07:30, just before massive queues formed to get in. I took off my #ukrunchat hoodie and headed over to the bus which would take around thirty minutes to get me to the race village. It was a little cold standing around in the race village, and if I’m honest I should probably have used that time to find the loos and locate the start. I didn’t though, instead I waited for the next forty minutes for the #ukrunchat tweet-up.

Although there had been quite a few in the group that was doing this race, only a few of us arrive before 9am. On my way to find the start I did bump into two more though – Darren and Jen, who were getting ready for the race. They’d had a hard time finding the baggage drop as they’d arrived at the other side of the campus and found the signs to be lacking.

It wasn’t really that far to the race start, but it was slow as the people I were following to get there were encountering a bridge that was acting as a bottle neck. Even when signs appeared they weren’t that clear – it said the zone 1 start was straight ahead, but that was zone 5 – I should have gone to the left instead. I did however reach the start pen with about ten minutes to spare.

The race was started by Dickie Bird OBE, a retired cricket umpire. First off were the wheelchair athletes, and then the elite and masses followed on behind.

I was aware that the first bit would be repeated in reverse at the end of the marathon, so made a mental note of the incline on the way down. It may be easy sailing now, but I knew it’d get harder.

My plan had to go for a steady and consistent pace, but due to the downhill it meant my first three miles were all sub-7:00 min/mile pace. Maybe that’d work in my favour though – I’d “banked” 90 seconds of time which would make up for what I knew I’d lose on the eventual uphill.

Just before the second mile the route goes passed the Minster, and then out of Monksgate. This bit had been familiar from the day before’s wanderings. At least I knew it was flat. The crowds were great, and I think in part they may be why for the first 15 miles I continued at a pace that was ahead of my target.

Fairly early on the city is left behind and for the majority of the race after that it is through the countryside and small villages. I didn’t really notice the support as I was concentrating heavily on the running, but it seemed like even the quietest of places had a few people cheering (even if only for Macmillan runners in some places). That’s okay though, I didn’t feel this was a race that needed it as it was pleasant enough.

At mile 5 the ten mile runners would no longer be on the same course as the marathoners, but their start was an hour behind us. We’d got over twenty minutes until they’d be coming through.

At mile 6 I high-fived two vicars, which is not something you can say every day. Further along the course the Archbishop of York was also high-fiving runners.

For a while my stomach didn’t feel great, and was making noises like a steel drum. This subsided, but did come back around mile 17. The miles in-between went by fairly well, and I’d been doing a reasonable job of keeping focused. I’d found that imagining where I’d be on my usual long training run routes was helping a great deal, especially when easy parts of the course matched up with where difficult parts of my training routes would have been.

Of course it’s not exact though – I just was just picturing myself running around Leicester. This was York, and for the most part is considerably hillier. Whenever I felt it was getting tough I slowed the pace down, and then slowly returned to my target pace once a hill had levelled off.

There were a couple of “out and back” sections, and this practice of controlling pace had worked well for the first one, and I thought perhaps I could make my tenth time racing a marathon be the one time I don’t walk. However, on the second “out and back” around miles 17-19 the return journey up hill was enough to finish me. No matter how much I slowed it was still hard work, and eventually I succumbed to the need to walk.

Up until then I’d had one jelly baby every few miles, but had been forgetting to eat some as the miles ticked by. I was however staying hydrated having had a gulp of water at miles 9 and 15. I do wonder if I’d fuelled more whether I’d have managed to hold out along that mile long hill, but I didn’t.

As the end of the hill came into sight, I could also see mile 20, and got running again and found that over the next 6 miles I was managing more running than I expected, although at a slower pace. There were times during these six miles I thought I might just run the remainder of the race without walking, but further walking still crept in there. It’s possibly the best I’ve felt on the last 6 miles of a marathon ever though.

One of the runners had someone cycling alongside him for the last few miles. I overtook him several times, but was overtaken every time I started walking – including in the last mile up the unforgiving hill to the University. I knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

When I got near to the top I forced myself to start running again, and then picked up the pace for the last half mile – I reached 6:40 min/mile with 0.4 miles to go, and then increased my stride so that along the finish straight I could come close to my top speed. I crossed the line running at 4:05 min/mile and then immediately had to stop due to runners that had stopped entirely just passed the finish line.

It was a very tough race towards the end, mostly because of the hills I think. It was a fun race though, and I’m glad I did it. I finished with a time of 3:20:18 (position 304 of 4139 finishers- first 7%) which might not be a PB, but it was better than I’d hoped! For a lot of the race it was looking like I’d got a good chance of 3:11, but I saw that slip further and further away from my grasp. After I’d slipped passed 3:15 I think I lost a lot of interest in keeping going.

At the finish you can grab a bottle of water, and will then be passed a bag containing a few goodies, before they hand you your finishers medal. At the end of this I had a quick lay down on the ground before taking a look at what was in the bag:

  • Finishers tee,
  • ASDA Caramel chew,
  • ASDA Nutty bar,
  • High5 Energy Gel,
  • ASDA orange energy drink,
  • ASDA Sports Nutrition Protein bar (Cookies and cream flavour),
  • ASDA Cashew, Raisin & Cherry shot,
  • ASDA Strawberry cables.

It’s understandable most of these were ASDA branded goodies – they were the principal sponsor for this race.

After the race I got to catch-up with Gen Huss who had been running the 10 miler. She didn’t get the result she’d hoped for, but I think considering the course elevation she did really well. I also heard that Nic and Emma did really well – which was very pleasing!

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017

If you’ve read my previous blog posts then you might know that I’d got a few ambitious goals for 2017:

  • sub-19 5K,
  • sub-40 10K,
  • sub-89 Half Marathon,
  • 3:15 marathon,
  • and to complete my first 100K event.

My first attempt at breaking the half marathon goal was off the back of a minor niggle that had resulted in reduced training at the start of the year, which then led into a marathon PB – but missing the goal I’d set. Over half of the year had passed by the time I ticked off my first goal – completing 100K at Race to the Stones in July. It’d been a tough race, but I hoped it’d help me work on the remainder of my goals.

I unofficially broke sub-19 in an un-timed race just before Race to the Stones, but I’d not yet been able to get it as an official time. A couple of parkruns later and I’d got my parkrun time down close to my 5K PB, but still hadn’t managed sub-19. It was time to move on and start focusing on building up for a marathon once more. I could always go back to working on the 5K after my other races were out the way. I got a couple of long runs done, and then managed to get sub-40 in a 10K during races two weeks running. The first of these had put me well on the way to sub-39 as well.

The week after these two races I did a 10.1 mile training run averaging 6:41 min/mile pace which if I’d maintained the pace for another three miles would have gotten me a sub-89 time (in fact sub-87 was in sight of that!).

My hopes were now high that I’d be able to tick off another of my goals at Robin Hood Half, but a failed 22 mile run (where I only got to 16 miles for reasons I won’t go into) put this in doubt. For the third year running, during the week before the race I found myself surrounded by people with colds and I was concerned I’d get one before the race. There were points where I was convinced I was getting a sore throat.

On race day I got to the Embankment for 08:15, about 20-25 minutes later than I would have had I not got lost on the way due to the bright sun being so low it was making it difficult to read road signs. I had 75 minutes until the start of the race, and only thirty minutes until the planned #ukrunchat meet-up so after a quick walk around I went for my warm-up run.

Half-way through the warm-up I passed Sherie and Scott, so picked up the pace and caught back up with them on their way to the meeting point. I waited there with them for others to turn up. I noticed it was getting warm already, almost enough to make me sweat and my throat was dry already. It was looking like we might not get the cool weather that had been forecast.


Photo by @sheriamore1

It got to 09:00 and Amy hadn’t been able to find us so I went off looking for her and her sister. After ten minutes I gave up looking as I was running out of time to join the toilet queue before the race.

I decided I’d wait in the queue until 09:20, but was nowhere near the front so thought I’d give it another five minutes. The queue just wasn’t moving so I gave up and had to run for the starting line – hoping I wouldn’t regret it later.

I got to the yellow starting pen with less than a minute to spare before the race started. The pen was a lot busier than I remember it from previous years and was a slow start. Once out onto the main road it started to ease up a bit, but I found it difficult to get up to my target pace.

One runner ran straight in front of me without looking and almost tripped me up; I shouted “jeez” to make sure he knew what he’d done. He looked over his should and just made a “pfft” sound. I think that’s the big difference between the pens – the closer you are to the front, the more likely it is to encounter inconsiderate runners. It’s not a blanket rule of course, there were many considerate runners who would also make sure others are doing okay. There’s always the odd few though, and it seems I encounter one in about 30-40% of the races I do.

The first two miles went more or less to plan – both of them putting me on target for a sub-87, but then I encountered the hills. The hills start at around 2.4 miles and carry on until 3.2 miles before a sharp descent. At the pace I wanted, going up those hills in the heat that had risen to 20C with 71% humidity was too much. I was ahead of the 90 minute pacer, but I found myself walking long enough to be overtaken by him.

I overtook the 90 minute pacer again on the descent and then stayed ahead for a while. I grabbed a water pouch from the station at mile 3 and squeezed a few drops of water into my mouth. I hate those pouches, but as they sponsor the race each year they have no choice but to use them. Unfortunately I couldn’t pour any of the water over me to cool down as I might have down with a bottle. I couldn’t really get enough water out to drink before I discarded it.

Before I reached Wollaton Park I was walking again, and the 90 minute pacer had overtaken me. I didn’t want to lose sight of him so I pushed on when I could, but it was a lot warmer through the Park than it ever has been on previous years I’ve been through there in a race. This area was well supported, and to be honest I think the majority of the race was, but here I noticed it the most as I struggled up the hill through the park.

I’d got a few jelly babies stashed away in my Flipbelt to use mid-race, but with how slow I was going due to the frequent overheating, I didn’t both eating any of them. Even by the end of the race they remained untouched.

After leaving the park, the route headed back towards the road we’d run down before so we could run back up it in the opposite direction. I started to look out for people I know in the oncoming stream of runners, but had a complete mental block of who was there. I was sure I’d seen @designrach – but it couldn’t have been as she wasn’t running this one!

The course then does an “out and back” with a tight turn at the end; one of the ones from last year I think. By the time I reached one hour of running I was at around 9 miles. The 90 minute pacer was still in sight, but I knew at this point that if I wanted to still manage sub-90 I’d need to maintain a pace much faster than I’d prepared for. In this heat I wasn’t going to attempt it though. My lips had dried out and were becoming sore, and it felt like you could cook bacon on me.

When I got to 10 miles it felt like a bit of a milestone – as I knew I’d not long PB’d at that distance, but I was already 4 minutes behind that time and I was walking. Over the miles that remained I walked a lot for each mile – it became like a slow interval session where each split was incredibly short.

As the train station came into view I knew from memory that it wasn’t that far left to go. It was far enough though. With about 0.7 miles left to go I saw Sherie on the corner so gave her a high five as I passed. It was probably about the seventh one I’d given as after 8 miles I decided it didn’t matter if I expended the energy – I wasn’t going to be using it.

Not long after, as I passed through the gates into the Victoria Embankment, I started to walk again. Then I realised Sherie was running along the pavement and shouted at me to keep going. So I did. At least until I’d crossed the start line again anyway.

I walked again briefly and then decided I needed to run the entire grass section. I wanted a sprint finish, and figured that with all the rain we’d had over the past few days that if I went for that last “kick” from a walking start that I might just slip and faceplant in the grass. I pushed on to the last corner and then picked up speed immediately after so I could sprint at at least a 4min/mile pace.

On the way out they passed me my medal so I threw it around my neck as I collected a water bottle. I was then passed an empty carrier bag, not sure why, and the a finishers tee (first time this year!), and a Boost chocolate bar.

I’d finished in 94:14 so was a lot slower than I’d intended. I’d started the race thinking I might just get an 87 minute time, but was hoping for at least sub-89. In the end I failed at this goal for the second time this year, and for the second year running. I’d like to get an 85 minute half in the next couple of years, and I think to manage that I need to run another half marathon this year – otherwise I won’t be racing a half again until Reading in March 2018.

I think it’s okay to fail, it’s how we learn to be better, but it’s important to keep trying. This race was warm, it was humid, and it was hilly. It’s not a great combination for a PB attempt, and I heard afterwards that a lot of people were struggling in the conditions. I hate to think how many would have had to DNF because of the conditions today.

My friend Gen Huss was up in Edinburgh doing a half there and encountered similar conditions as well. She did of course run faster than me, but then her training has been really strong. We’ll hopefully get to race each other again soon.

My time still got me a finishing place of 264 out of 6,149 half marathon finishers. It put me in the first 4.3% which I guess isn’t too bad really. Maybe that’s one positive I can take away from the race. Oh well, onto the next.

Stratford’s Big 10K 2017

Just one week before this race I ran the Leicester 10K during my last few weeks of training for the Yorkshire Marathon. I’d had a slow year, mostly in the build-up to the longest races I’ve ever done, but marathon training wasn’t going too badly – even though it was greatly condensed from what I’d normally do.

Even though I knew my training was so far exhausting, I wanted to try and PB at 10K. For this I booked Leicester 10K, Stratford’s Big 10K, Thoresby 10, and even the Ashborne 10 for 2018 should I need it. Although my hope, and my training was aiming for Leicester, I wasn’t that sure I could do it. My goal was to go sub-40 and tick off my first pace related goal of 2017 even though the countdown to the end of the year had begun.

I did it though. I ran sub-40 and even took off a good chunk of time to get me closer to a sub-39 goal. I hadn’t expected that, and I hadn’t expected it to be sub 39:30 either. This left me with a question of what to do for Stratford’s Big 10K. The way I saw it, I had the following options:

  1. Take it easy and enjoy the scenery, and then maybe follow it up with a 7 mile recovery run,
  2. Try to get another sub-40 time to prove the last one wasn’t a fluke,
  3. Go off at sub-39 pace and see how long I can hold it for knowing that I’d burn out early and not manage sub-40 either

I liked the idea of option 1, but I didn’t think I could do it. I like to work hard and to keep pushing, so that meant realistically it was going to be one of the latter two options. Which of them though I decided I’d figure out on the day – to see what the race conditions would be like.

Car parking for the event is pay and display, and isn’t as expensive as it has been for some events. It cost me £3 for three hours parking which I figured would be enough to wait for the event to start, run the 10K, and get 5 or 6 miles recovery run done afterwards.

I made my way to the 30-45 minute pen, and was the first one there. One of the organisers joked that I might win it – though of course that’s still an impossibility, but he repeated it over the speakers later to get more people to assemble in the pens. Great. Now people are going to be thinking I’m fast – all I want to do is put in a reasonable effort, not destroy my legs. At 09:30 we were led from the pens to the starting line on the road – some Kenilworth Runners were already there having skipped the pens.

The start was up hill to a roundabout, and the along rolling hills through the countryside. I wasn’t sure what the course as going to be like, so I just ran without really aiming for a pace. Running at a pace that felt good was a refreshing change from last week, but some of the hills did cause me to slow fractionally.

In the first couple of miles I also found my progress blocked for a while when I encountered several runners that were side-by-side and not letting anyone pass. I think it’s fine to run alongside a friend or two, but I really think they should have had some consideration for others – particularly when there were five or six of them.

Eventually I passed them by running on the grassy embankment, and caught up with a couple of other runners who had managed to pass them a little earlier. One of them was actually the first lady (as in the front-most lady in the race, not the wife of the President) and the other was a guy who was being very energetic. Every time he saw someone walking passed, spectating, or marshalling he would start shouting and waving his arms crazily. I found it amazing, but I realised one of two things:

  1. he’s that fast, that the pace we were going at was just an easy run for him so had all the energy to burn (this was the most likely),
  2. he was underestimating the energy it’d take and would crash before the end.

Those two were fast, but I decided I’d try to keep up with them – just for the motivation. A little after the 4km marker we cut through a car park onto the Stratford Greenway near Milcote. The Stratford Greenway is a bridleway that is surfaced with crushed limestone – a similar surface to the Tissington Trail I’d raced on earlier in the year. It’s better than running on grass would be, but it’s still a trail that gets waterlogged and muddy. What it does mean though is that it’s fairly flat and a chance to either speed-up or try to recover from the hills that had preceded it.

I found myself slowing and adjusting my strides to try and clear each puddle rather than run through them, and also jumped over the odd muddy patch as well. It carries on all the way until about 5 miles when you run close to the racecourse. I remembered seeing a water station with water bottles too, but I ran straight passed it.

Every time we passed a marshal they cheered the first lady and made sure she knew she was first. The energetic guy that had been running a stride behind her was starting to slow though so I caught up and ran alongside them briefly. Eventually the energetic guy seemed to go quiet and dropped back, so I had no idea how he did in the end though I suspect it was well. The lady who had been running strong up until this point suddenly cam to a complete stop just after 8km.

I slowed down to check she was okay, and it looked like she was just trying to catch her breath. As she was okay I carried on running, but tried to encourage her by shouting “you can do it!” whilst running backwards before turning around and carrying on with focusing on my own run. I’d still got a little under 2km left to go.

I realised I’d got quite a bit left in my legs but decided not to push. It felt like a steady pace so I maintained it as I ran uphill along along an alleyway, and eventually alongside the River Avon. It goes passed the church, the Courtyard Theatre, and the RSC building.

When the route cut into the park alongside the river I thought the race was about over, but I couldn’t yet see the finish line. I was careful not to run too fast around the bend as it crosses the river, and then ran along the bridge until the final corner. From there I was tempted to sprint, but instead I just upped the pace a little to make sure I’d still finish in under 40 minutes.

I finished in position 29 out of 1,036 finishers (putting me in the first 2.8%) with a time of 39:50. I’d proven my result from Leicester hadn’t been a fluke, and had done it with enough in my legs to go for a 5 mile run straight after. Next week I’ll be doing a 21 mile (or maybe 22) training run, but will be back racing the week after at Robin Hood for my second go at their half marathon. My hope is that it’ll be a chance to tick off another of my running goals for 2017.

At the race finish they gave me a finishers medal, a bottle of water, and from Nuffield Health there was a tote bag and banana.

Run For All Leicester 10K

So far this year the only goal for 2017 that I’ve been able to accomplish is to complete a 100km race. That is something I did at Race to the Stones once more than half the year had passed by. I still had goals to improve my 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon times.

Leicester 10KI came close to reaching sub-40 minutes at Leeds last year, so I decided if I booked a couple of 10Ks during the lead-up to my autumn marathons, and one for after then one of them would hopefully get me there. The first of these was the Leicester 10K – a new event for 2017 which starts and ends in Abbey Park.

What I couldn’t understand is why Run For All would organise this event for the same day as Leicester’s 10 mile county championship – race 7 of the LRRL summer league. A lot of the local clubs would be concentrating on that race – one which GB athlete Gemma Steel has won twice, and is the course record holder for. I could only assume it’s the only date they could agree with the Council for, or that they didn’t know about the league race.

Unlike the 10K organised by Tempo Events, this one does not organise any parking for competitors. The closest I could find was the John Lewis multistory car park which is one mile from the exit to the start line in Abbey Park. It’s not really a problem though as it acted as a nice warm-up before the race.

When I got there I talked to @BillAndrews and his sister for a while until they needed to drop their bags off. I even saw @amy_everett_ and her sister pass by before I made my way over to the starting pen. I noticed that the sub-40 was quite small, so as I was the first one there I thought I’d stand near the middle of it – I could reposition myself later. In front of this pen was a very small sub-35 pen; there was nobody there at the time, but I thought to myself that one day it’d be nice to find myself in that pen – starting at the front of a big race.

Time passed and two others joined me in the pen though nobody had entered the sub-35 pen. I imagined those that could do that were doing league races. I hadn’t spotted a single person in Wigston Phoenix or West End Runners  tops. We were then asked to move forward to the front ready for the warm-up to start at 08:45.

As is usual I didn’t take part in the warm-up, but whilst it was taking place the 40 minute pacer joined us in the pen. Once the warm-up was complete they then announced a ten minute delay in the start time whilst they secured the route. Those that had warmed up now had plenty of time to cool down. At last though, the race was about to begin.

It seemed weird, but I was on the front row and shoulder to shoulder with another runner who was hoping for around 36 minutes. When the race started I darted forwards and for the first few hundred metres I was leading the Leicester 10K – my home city. I’d been nervous about not being good enough yet to go sub-40, but I was at the front. It distracted me that much that I realised I’d not started my watch but had already covered about 200 – 300 metres. I started my watch and dropped the pace a little to something a little more sustainable, and the guy expecting a much faster time slipped into the lead.

By the time we left Abbey Park there were three runners in front of me, with another two about to overtake. That was okay though as I was hoping the 40 minute pacer would catch me up soon and I could follow him for the duration. There was no sign of the pacer so I carried on assuming that I’d see him at some point.

The route then goes along one side of dual carriageway, but then turns off before the end to go through an industrial estate and loops around to go down an underpass beneath the dual carriageway we’d just run over. I did drop my pace briefly for the uphill section as I didn’t want to tire myself too soon. I was wondering if I’d overdone it a bit with the quick start.

The route then rejoins the dual carriageway, but on the opposite side. As we rounded the corner onto the other dual carriageway near the Highcross shopping centre I spotted @amy_everett_’s parents on their way to cheer her and Lucy on. I decided there and then it’d probably be best if I didn’t hang around after the race to talk as no doubt she’d be busy!

We were then directed from one side of the road to the other so we could run down the side of the Highcross on Highcross Street. This felt like a bit of a climb, but so far the only real uphill effort had been the underpass. As the miles ticked on though even the gradual inclines would likely feel tough. I then got to Saint Nicholas Square where the route goes around the outside of the park on the brick floor, and around passed the front of Leicester Cathedral – the burial place of King Richard III. So far things were going well, and I was thinking about the last time I ran around this area – the Sunrise City 5K.

The route continues passed the Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe and the neighbouring champagne bar,  around passed the market, and onto Gallowtree Gate – one of the main shopping areas in the city. At the Clock Tower we continued onto Belgrave Gate to leave the city centre behind.

Along this stretch of road I was starting to tire. A lot of it is uphill and a few people overtook me, one of which I overtook again not long later. It felt to me like this was one of the hardest parts of the course and I was certain I was going so incredibly slow. I’d just passed the 5K marker and I considered walking. I didn’t though, I kept going and I’m glad I did as the reality was that this mile was on par with my fastest mile of the race. I’d only glanced at my watch a couple of times so wasn’t entirely sure how I was doing – I knew the delayed start of my watch would probably throw me off if I looked.

Eventually we left this road that seemed to never end, and even though I was even more eager to walk I kept going as it felt like this was homeward bound. Each stride now was taking me closer to Abbey Park, not away from it. My head kept telling me to walk, and when I reached a housing estate I convinced my legs to keep on going at least until I was passed the houses. It’s amazing what lying to yourself can do. I didn’t actually want to allow myself to walk as I knew that if I walked then every second beyond 40 minutes I was out running for would be a second I would question if I could have managed my goal.

Just passed the houses and the bridge was the second water station, and again I ran straight on through. Whilst my legs were still moving I didn’t want to slow down. Some of the runners in front of me nipped to the side to get some water on passing, but didn’t slow by much. I couldn’t really think what the local support had been like – I was focused on running too much, but I did notice that for most of the race up until this point I’d been on my own with the exception of the brief times when faster runners overtook me. As I turned onto Abbey Lane another runner started to catch up and eventually ran alongside me.

This helped keep my mind off wanting to walk for a while  and I thought it was cool to be running with the same strides as someone else just for a while. Abbey Lane seemed to go on forever, but I know the area a little and I knew the turn would be coming up eventually. On this turn, as with every other, I took it wide to try and increase my distance so that my watch would better match the distance – I wanted to make sure it was going to record 10K even though in reality I was running a little more than that. This was the opportunity the other runner needed to overtake, but we’d not long passed the 8K sign and I wasn’t going to slow down now.

I decided this was it – I’d keep on running and pushing until it hurt, and would then keep on running. Nothing was actually yet hurting, but I could feel the tiredness in my legs. I pushed on and overtook the runner again before crossing the Grand Union Canal (which also passed by where I live!). I’m sure when you’re working hard that some roads become longer. That’s what it felt like for Abbey Park Road; I was having to keep telling myself to focus. If my legs don’t hurt then there’s no reason to stop. Keep going.

Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime, I was back in Abbey Park, passed the 9K marker and on my way to the finish. I was that focused on running I didn’t even notice that to my left it was possible to see the race village and the finish across the field. I knew at this point that no matter what I wasn’t going to walk. I’d walked briefly at the Leeds Abbey Dash and missed out on my goal by just a few seconds. It wasn’t going to happen here. I looked at my watch and saw it was something over 36 minutes. I wasn’t sure how far I’d got left, but I thought that maybe I could just about get to the finish in under four minutes.

With only 400 metres remaining two runners sprinted passed me, one after the other. I wasn’t going to bother trying to catch up with them but when I saw the timer hit 39 minutes I decided to sprint. I passed the first runner quickly, and then caught up with the other. He pushed harder to keep up, but I managed to push harder – I wasn’t yet at top sprinting speed, and snuck passed him to finish.

I stopped my watch, and for a second thought I was going to throw up. Perhaps I’d worked a little harder than I thought. I was pretty sure I’d done it though – I couldn’t imagine my time having crept passed the 40 minute mark. I hadn’t seen the 40 minute pacer since before the start though. The sick feeling subsided as I walked to get some water, and then collected my finishers bag. Inside there was:

  • a finishers medal,
  • a finishers technical t-shirt,
  • a bottle of Arla Protein Tropical milkshake,
  • an ASDA Nutty Bar,
  • a packet of ASDA Cashews, Raisins, and cherries,
  • and an ASDA sports nutrition protein bar (cookies and cream flavour).

After a quick sit down on the grass to look at the medal, I headed over to get it engraved whilst I checked out my time. My watch said 39:17 which I knew was about 10 seconds off, but I’d more or less added on an extra 10 seconds of running from weaving in order to make up for not starting my watch at the start (so had actually run just over 10K). Whilst waiting for them to engrave the medal I got an SMS come through to confirm my official time was 39:27.

I’d done it. I’d finally beaten another of the goals I’d set for 2017 which was one that had hung over from 2016. To make things even better it wasn’t just a marginal amount I’d beaten my target by – it was enough to put me in sight of my next goal – sub-39. Surprisingly though they engraved my medal with “3-9-17”. I thought it was supposed to say “39-17”, but still, somehow they managed to get the time wrong. It didn’t matter to me though, as I was happy to have had a run I was pleased with. I later realised I’m an idiot though – it may have looked the same as the time on my watch, but it was in fact the date they’d engraved on the medal.

I finished 8th out of 1404 runners which put me in the first 0.5% of runners. I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it, and managed a top-10 finish in a big event. I know the usual local club runners were missing due to league events, but it was still a result I could be happy with.

I was also happy to see the guy I’d started next to had finished in just over 36 minutes as he’d hoped – and won the race. The marshals on this course had been great, and overall it was a very well organised event that I think went pretty smoothly. After the race I walked and then ran some of the last 2K of the course in reverse so I could cheer on friends along the way.

Next up for me is Stratford’s Big 10K in a week. I’d planned to make it another sub-40 attempt. Now I’m thinking I’ll either take it easy and enjoy it, or push hard and see how long I can hold a sub-39 pace for before exploding.

Race to the Stones 2017

Of all my races for this year, this was the one race I most had my doubts about. For a while I’ve been keen on one day doing the Marathon des Sables, and I thought doing some longer races would help see if I could cope with that. My original intention had been to enter Race to the King and Race to the Stones, both as two day events. When it came to booking I decided to book Race to the King first, and changed my mind to do it all in one go – it’d be the bigger challenge. When I told my Dad about the race he called me stupid, so I almost didn’t enter Race to the Stones – this being the longer of the two races.

For Race to the Stones it’s a 100km run along the The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road, from  Lewknor to Avebury – the site of the historic Avebury Rings. This neolithic henge was constructed in the 3rd millennium BC, but suffered a lot of damage over the years. Most of what can be seen today is a reconstruction created by archaeologists.

I’ve been to the rings before when sightseeing in the area, and have also seen the White Horse at Uffington which would be passed on this route as well. I knew they were a long way apart, and that wasn’t even the full distance. This would be long.

Thinking about it, 100 km is a little over 62 miles. Over the space of an entire week I’d never run more than this until a few weeks before Race to the King. Even during an advent run streak I’d not quite got to this. Though maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded – it’d be the same as doing a 7 day run streak of 9 miles a day. I could probably do that, so maybe that was the way to think about – 7 runs, just with them all happening on the same day, one after another. It might even turn out to be fun, though whilst running Race to the King I was regretting entering RTTS. I thought maybe it’s too much. By the time a full day had passed since the race I was actually looking forward to Race to the Stones – a complete turnaround. How soon the legs forget.

Towards the end of RTTK I’d started to forget about the end distance and was instead concentrating on the distance between pit stops. That had helped considerably so my plan was to do the same for this one.

For this race my only goal was to finish as that would be a challenge enough, though before training began I had in the back of my mind that twelve hours would be a reasonable time if I could manage it. I figured that I could run the first 26 miles in around 4 hours it’d still be a much slower than normal pace – this would then leave another 36 miles to cover in 8 hours. That would be 4.5 miles an hour pace – compared to my (almost) 4 miles an hour walking pace. It may be naivety, but it sounded like it might be doable. Of course though, you can never predict what is going to happen on the day. After RTTK I realised this was very unlikely if the hills were anything alike – three to four miles per hour would be more like it. In fact, chances of covering the first 26.2 miles in 4 hours also seemed incredibly unlikely.

It would be more likely I’d be out there for at least fourteen hours so planned ahead and figured out where the nearest pizza place was, made a note of their postcode for use with my satnav, and then what time I’d need to finish by to make it there.


The training for this one consisted mostly of the training for Race to the King – I only had a few weeks in between the events. This year I don’t think any training has gone according to plan as I’ve seemingly stumbled from race to race since I got back from Nepal in November 2016. To start the year off I built up to a marathon in Manchester and somehow, despite reduced training, managed to get a slight PB. Perhaps that wasn’t too bad a start, even if it hadn’t gone according to plan. Though I then had two weeks off running whilst I was travelling around a number of National Parks in the US. By the time I got back I had just two weeks until the Milton Keynes Marathon which I’d intended would be the start of ultra marathon training.

To start with I felt this went well – I did a 5K race on the Sunday and then ran back to my car afterwards (which was another 5K). On the Monday I then completed the aforementioned marathon. Every day that week up to and including the following Sunday I managed to complete at least a four mile run, and in a number of cases more than that. My legs were hopefully getting used to being tired at the end of this eight day run streak.

The following week I broke the run streak and switched to double run days – they weren’t all double run days though, but I felt that this switch in training would also help with training for Endure 24. On the Saturday that week I decided to do parkrun again for the first time since October 2015 – even though this was a parkrun PB I decided to follow it up with more running. By the end of the day I’d done four runs, though I had hoped to do a fifth. Sunday was a similar scenario – I’d intended to go out and run 26 miles, but after a tiring week I’d dropped this down to 20. This never actually happened though as I only managed 10.5 miles. I was getting in the runs, but I wasn’t getting in the mileage – it wasn’t going according to plan at all.

It’s okay though, we have to adapt our training to circumstances – it’s not advisable to be completely rigid. As this wasn’t my only big race of the summer it meant that by the time race day arrived I’d know roughly what sort of level I was at – Endure 24 and Race to the King would see to that. In fact, they’d act as training for this – what is likely to be the longest race I’ll ever do. Never say never though.

At Endure 24 I ran a fairly quick 5 miles on the Saturday and then did six back to back laps on the Sunday which should have been 30 miles – if the course had been measured correctly. Instead this was actually about 29 miles, and I’d walked most of the last 9 miles of it. This didn’t help with my confidence going into Race to the King at all.

When the time came for Race to the King I wasn’t sure if I could finish that or not, even though I figured there was time to walk most of it if I had to. The hills had been incredibly tough, and I’d heard that Stones would be a tougher one. I may not have run much of this 54 mile race, but I did at least finish it, so that was another step closer to being ready for Stones. In the weeks in between I barely ran, and didn’t do anything longer than 10 km. I did do a 5K race before work one Friday, and found I hadn’t really lost that much speed at all. I just needed to hope my endurance would be okay on the day.

Kit List

When I did Canalathon, my only previous “official” ultra marathon, there was a mandatory kit list that I had to comply with. I didn’t use everything I took with me, but I understood why it was necessary. With an ultra marathon you don’t know how long you’ll be out in the elements for, or what you’ll encounter, and it’s very likely you’ll be out longer than you expect. You have to be prepared for survival. For Race to the Stones I figured I’d be out for at least fourteen hours – that’s a lot of time to encounter issues, or for the weather to change drastically. I knew as much from my previous ultras. So after some deliberation, I came up with my own kit list:

  • Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,Salomon Agile 7
  • Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • #UKRunChat #oneteam technical t-shirt,
  • Nike running shorts,
  • More Miles running socks,
  • running cap,
  • Flipbelt,
  • buff,
  • waterproof poncho,
  • Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • SPF 50 sunscreen,
  • 2 x Compeed plasters,
  • 2 x large plasters (in case my backpack rubs),
  • a small mixed bag of cashew nuts and pretzels,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

This was a list that had mostly been tried and tested first at Canalathon, and then again in full at Race to the King. I felt this would be everything I’d need to get me from pit stop to pit stop. I’d reduced the number of Garmins down to one as well as I felt that would be extra motivation to keep pushing on to finish before the power runs out.

Pre-race Day

As I’d be racing on the Saturday it meant driving down to Avebury on the Friday. It’s a long drive, but it was better to be doing it the day before than on the morning of the race. This is even more true when long delays could be expected getting passed Silverstone due to it also being the weekend of the British Grand Prix. My planning for this day had even gone as far as to have the postcode of a Prezzo in Marlborough I could go to for pasta in the evening.

For this race I was checked in to an AirBNB place in Avebury Trusloe – not far from the rings. It’s the first time I’ve used this company so it was a completely new experience for me. The place was really nice though and had even left some milk in the fridge for me to use. The stones were only a twelve minute walk away so I decided it’d be good to get some photographs of them in daylight – next time I’d see them it’d almost certainly be dark.

There were more stones than I remembered seeing before in Avebury, but last time it was raining so I likely missed some of them. After the walk back I then drove to Marlborough for some spaghetti bolognese – the typical carb-loading meal. Parking here was free after 18:00, and I got lucky to get the last spare table they had before 20:00. I’d be able to get an early night.

Sleep isn’t always easy before a big event though – at 01:00 I looked at the clock, closed my eyes for a while and after what seemed like hours when I next looked only fifteen minutes had passed.

Race Day

I’d booked parking at the finish, and a shuttle to the start so had to be parked up before 06:00. This meant a 04:15 start to give me enough time to have breakfast, get ready, and to get to the finish. With rain being forecast I removed the sunscreen from my backpack as I didn’t want to carry unnecessary weight.

For breakfast I had crunchy nut cornflakes and tea – what I’d usually have before a race, but also decided to have half a banana. The car park for the shuttle was that close I should probably have walked it, but I chose to save my legs and paid the £10 parking. The shuttle then took two hours to get to the start – a journey I thought only took ninety minutes. During the early part of the coach ride I was talking to the person next to me who had run Marathon des Sables twice, and was preparing for his third time. He was also encouraging me to try the race soon.

The longer than expected journey meant that I missed out on the group photo at the start, but had enough time to collect my number, attach it, and get to the start. I saw the 8:15 wave go, and then saw @outrunninghills – we stood at the front of Wave E (8:30) all ready to go.

When we set off I was leading the wave, but soon lost sight of them. For the next six or seven minutes I was on my own – I could see nobody behind me. Nobody in front. Just as I reached the first mile I caught up with the last of the walkers from Wave D. Calling them walkers makes it sound like The Walking Dead… which by the end of the race would probably be appropriate. For the next mile I overtook more and more people, and accidentally did this mostly downhill mile at a sub-7:00min/mile pace. Not something you want to be doing during a 100 km ultra marathon.

At around four miles I must have overtook SophiaS1 (from Fitocracy), as she caught up with me and we talked briefly before I carried on running ahead. When I reached another hill, one which I walked up, I caught up with @shellmoby. I was walking up the hill too quickly though so didn’t get to talk for long, but wished her well and carried on.

When I reached the bit that people refer to as the “field of dreams” it was back down to single file. This was slow progress though as people were stopping for selfies which was holding up the people behind. Taking a selfie is fine but it might have been an idea to have done it at the start of the field, at the end of it, or to have stepped off the beaten track momentarily for it. Instead this bottleneck caused a queue.

The first pit stop was a little over 10K into the race, and at first I thought we had to go through it. When I found out I didn’t need to I ducked back and carried on running. Up until this point I’d not been overtaken, I’d only been overtaking. I knew it wouldn’t last, nor that it actually mattered, but it was a great source of motivation to keep on going whilst I could. I tried to drink from my hydration pouch as I was ready for water, but found the water wasn’t flowing at all.

During a walking break I took my backpack off, uncoiled the tube for the hydration pouch and put my backpack back on again. Fortunately that was enough to get the water flowing, and I could stay hydrated on this humid day. Though with the rain that was to come I could probably have just run with my mouth open.

At about 14.2 miles was the second of the pit stops – for this one I ran in, grabbed a cup of orange juice and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Rather than wasting too much time I grabbed a handful out of the packet, binned the rest, and kept on going. One of the things that really affected my time in Race to the King was wasting time in pit stops at points when I didn’t really need to. I’d not walked that much up to this point, but I had enough to mean that around this time I hit the two hour mark. If all went according to plan I’d be on my feet for another twelve hours. Half a day. That’s a long time.

I can’t remember when, but early on in the race we were treated to a fine mist of rain that was for a time refreshing. It kept me cool, and allowed me to push on for longer despite getting warm. At some point, it had stopped, but sometime after the second pit stop it returned as a more constant rain that instead started of being refreshing was causing the race to become more effort. I didn’t want to stop and get my waterproof poncho out so I kept on going, getting quite wet in the process.

Running was becoming less frequent, but I was making sure that some of every mile involved running. It had become something a little faster than what the Rifleman Light Division would have done during their march to Talevera during the peninsula war. Their method of marching was to march quickly, and then light jog, and then back to marching. It’s what allowed them to cover 250 miles in just 6 days. I figured using a similar sort of method would keep me going.

Through Streatly I found it was beginning to feel like a miserable race. Unlike Race to the King this one hadn’t been as scenic so far, and was going through towns and country roads with quite some frequency. There’d even been a few points where I’d had to stop for cars that were messing around trying to half pass runners and then changing their mind and causing an obstruction instead.

For quite some time, almost from the start, it seemed like this race was lacking in the camaraderie of Race to the King. I hadn’t seen many people talking, people were walking or running alone, they weren’t helping others. It felt like a typical road race… just far more tiring. After 20 miles I started to notice that wasn’t entirely the case, and as the race went on this image completely disappeared – possibly around the time the rain eventually subsided.

After 21 miles The Ridgeway was back to being traffic free and was soon broken up by the third pit stop. At this point my iPhone started playing “Running” by James Bay. When it go to the verse:

I’ll keep running,

To the place where I belong

I laughed and turned the music off – and didn’t use it again this race. At this one I grabbed a cup of tea, decided it was too warm and didn’t want to wait for it to cool down so reluctantly discarded it to carry on running. Or at least, to carry on moving.

Eventually I caught up with @runningmiker and for a while we walked and talked. He was having a hard time with piriformis and was needing to take painkillers. Eventually we went our separate ways – both having our own plans about how to cover the remaining miles.

When pit stop 4 arrived I’d been hopeful I could carry on going through, I didn’t really want to have any long breaks in the first half – but at 27 miles it was now passed the marathon point and the next stop would be base camp. I decided I needed to stop for a bit. I grabbed a drink, and took my phone out to to go on Twitter for a while. I was careful not to sit down for too long though as I didn’t want it to become too difficult to get going again.

For every other pit stop I’d run into it but when pit stop 5 arrived, the half way point, I walked to it then when I realised I needed to cross the “finish” line and get snapped by the photographer I started to run at the last minute. Here I was told that I could go towards the tents and get some hot food, or loop back around and get a cold snack and a drink to carry on. What I hadn’t been told was this was where the Ministry of Cake was… otherwise I might just have stayed that little bit longer.

At this stop I sat on the grass for a while and spoke to a lady that had arrived at around the same time as me. I’d seen her at the previous pit stop too and she’d commented that she’d been needing to stretch. I saw her at pit stop 8 as well later, and at that point she’d said that she’d even had to stretch between pit stops (understandable – the distance between 7 and 8 was to be one of the longest on this course).

I walked from there, and started to have another go at “riflemans” pace. It didn’t go that well though as I was now very tired. At some point after this the route passed the Uffington white horse… though I never saw it. I’m not sure if it was because it couldn’t be seen, or because I was concentrating that much on the path in front of me. I did notice though that my clothes had dried off from the rain, mostly, though were now starting to be saturated with sweat instead.

The miles had long since started to blur together and nothing really stood out. The only bit I found particularly memorable was the point where the course takes an unexpected turn through a golf course (I think that was in the first half).

Pit stop 6 was only 5 miles after the half way mark and I realised I was quite hungry. I’d not used any of the food I’d got in my backpack, and so far all I’d eaten was a handful of crisps and a “Titan” chocolate bar. I decided, as I had before unintentionally longer-than-planned stops at 4 and 5, to have a proper break at pit stop 6. Here I took the time to make some tea, and then sat down on the floor eating a peanut butter sandwich whilst waiting for the tea to cool down.

After a ten minute break I got going again and found it difficult to get going. My walking pace was no longer a “march” but was around 17min/mile – far slower than I’d normally walk. I forced myself up to a run for several strides and that loosened my legs up enough to get walking at 13-15min/mile pace again.

I found myself thinking about Race to the King. That one had bigger hills, though this one seemed to have more of them – just not as severe. I was also thinking of things like calculating paces and times, and my estimate of finishing in 14 hours no longer seemed likely. I was thinking I’d lost about 2 hours of time somewhere plus whatever I was yet to spend in future pit stops. It annoyed me a little as finishing in 16 hours would mean even more nighttime running; but the main thing here was to finish.

At pit stop 7 I sat in a chair with a Nutella sandwich and another cup of tea. Once again I was wasting a lot of time – but over the past 8 hours I’d covered 41 miles. It seemed like I was going really slow, and I thought another 21 miles could easily take me 5+ hours depending on stops. I realised at this point my earlier calculation had been wrong and made an effort to keep on going, running when I could, and trying to make sure any slower miles I’d walked were compensated by a quicker mile from running. I heard that someone had tripped over at an earlier pit stop and wanted to carry on even though they now needed stitches in their head – sadly they were made to pull out. Understandable really.

This next stretch seemed to last forever though even though it was only about 8 miles. Halfway between pit stop 7 and 8 I had to stop for the first time between pit stops to get a stone out of my shoe whilst leaning against a fence. When I did it I thought my leg was about to get cramp so I quickly relaxed it and all was good. Just to be on the safe side I then walked most of the remaining distance to the next pit stop. This one couldn’t come quick enough. A long section of this, or at least what seemed to be, was on a busy road and the cars were not giving the runners distance meaning myself and two others were having to periodically hop onto the tight grass verge.

Pit stop 8 was a welcome sight. I had a bar of Cadbury’s dairy milk, and a drink and sat on the floor after finding that my legs didn’t like being bent on a chair. I sat and looked on Twitter again, and commented that even though it was less than half a marathon to go it felt like it was too far. I was tired and it felt like 12 miles could have been 1,000. When I tried to stand up my right leg got cramp and it was painful trying to relax it. Eventually I did though, and I managed to stand and hobble away from the pit stop.

For a while after leaving the pit stop it was very slow going, but keeping moving was easing my leg. Eventually I was able to run on it again which got me back to walking at a march. I wasn’t going to give up yet, I needed to finish what I’d started. The support on Twitter from the #ukrunchat community had been incredible and I didn’t want to let them down.

Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.

― Dean Karnazes

I got through 53 miles in just over 11 hours so thought I’d beaten my Race to the King time… though I’d forgotten that on that race I’d covered 54 miles and so in fact hadn’t. At least I didn’t realise that at the time though so was able to use that as a positive to keep on going.

Pit stop 9… the final pit stop before the finish with under 8 miles to go. Here I got a drink of coke and just sat and drank it slowly whilst replying to some tweets. I really couldn’t reply to them all as it was becoming difficult to concentrate. One of the people manning the pit stop commented that if I could do the remainder in under two hours that I’d be finishing without a headtorch. I hadn’t expected that – my assumption had always been that I’d be using it for some of the race since the sunset was around 21:20.

I was exhausted now, but tried to get back to running whenever I could. For the first few miles after the pit stop I couldn’t manage anything more than a walk – even when going through fields that were reasonably flat. After mile 59 the down hills became more frequent and I was able to get some long stretches of running in – it had been enough for me to catch up with @runningmiker again as I ran passed. The terrain was uneven, but I had no intention of slowing down whilst my legs were still moving.

With only two miles to go the end was almost in sight, but then the route goes passed the gate to the finish and disappears down a country road. I wasn’t sure of this initially as I could see the signs pointing in both directions so stopped briefly to look, but when I realised the sign on the gate said “1km to go” it must be the wrong way so carried on into the tree covered road ahead.

At this point the sun had been set for a while, and twilight was starting to fade. There was still enough light to see but it seemed possible that it may fade before I finished. The lady I’d spoken to at a few of the pit stops passed me in the opposite direction as she was returning to the gate following a brief loop. She yelled that it was just 600 metres to go until the return journey.

I eventually recognised the village in Avebury and was then directed off the road and through the Avebury rings. For the first time since the base camp there was a photographer waiting there for runners. He had a light shining on the grass with a remote flash set-up. He was shouting directions of where I needed to run, and then told me to slow down so he could take a picture. I slowed to half a jog, but apparently it was not enough as he told me to slow even more so I was barely doing more than walking. He’d had difficulties focusing his camera in the fading light.

Going through another gate I was back onto the road and heading towards the gate I’d seen earlier. Not long left, and perhaps not too many more walking breaks to go. The grass through the gate was uneven and uphill so I decided to walk all of that, and once I’d turned at the top I realised that other than some light from a farm building ahead it was now dark. I should probably have used my headtorch at that point – and would have had I any further to run. Instead I started to pick up pace down the long straight once I realised that the lights in front were the finish.

By the time I reached the farm I reached a sprint and was relieved to have finished the Race to the Stones. I don’t think the photographer was quite expecting people to finish fast as she had to run backwards to take my picture as I finished. One quick high five to the crowd there, and I was given my medal. I was done – and it was another 4 UTMB points. Never again would I need to cover 100 km on foot in a single day.

I was handed a voucher for free food and was told to go over to the van to collect it. I think I may have misheard though as it turned out to be a stall behind the van. They had a good selection of warm and cold food so I decided to get a hotdog, some pizza, and a doughnut. Rather than hanging around though I went back to my car and took it back to the AirBNB to microwave it and relax.

It seems that 961 finished the 100 km non-stop event, with almost 100 more not having made it to the finish. It was a tough event, and it could easily have caused many more DNFs over that distance. I was glad to have finished, and I’d done so in position 264 – somehow in the first 27.5% of the finishers. I’d lost 77 places in the second half as well!

After Race to the King I felt I could finish this race no matter the time, and at points during this day I did wonder if I would actually finish. I did though, and I managed to beat my predicted time too – I finished with a time of 13:24:26. Threshold Sports say “More is in you”, but I think after that run there’s nothing left in me.

None of that really matters though, as I can now say I’ve ticked off my first goal for 2017 – I’ve finished a 100 km event.

Post-race Day

With the AirBNB not having a bath it meant that my legs couldn’t recover quite as quickly as they normally would. This meant a very sleepless night, and a brief moment of further cramp in my leg. I decided on an early start though and went walking around the nearby Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow so I’d at least have some more photos from the weekend. I had to go back to the finish line as well though as I realised I’d forgotten to pick up the finishers t-shirt I’d bought.