Thursday, 10 April 2014

Keep it stupid, simple

I can't help but think sometimes that we have a habit of over-complicating things. Take for instance this natty little device - the SmartFork. For the low, low price of $100 (plus shipping, plus a $10 yearly protection plan), you can get hold of the latest innovation in food-mouth-interface devices. Have you ever looked at your fork and thought, "well, it does poke food and let me cram it into my gaping maw - but it doesn't have bluetooth"? Well then this is the device for you! Okay, so the idea is that it is used to aid in weight loss, and allows you to track what you eat and how fast you eat it. In particular, it encourages you to slow down to allow your body's natural "I'm full" message to actually reach your brain, before you pile in another pie.

I'm sure that conceptually it is a useful product. I just can't help but think that it's massively over-complicating a relatively simple (although obviously very important) issue. For $99 less you could just buy a smaller plate so that you don't overdo the serving sizes. Or just, y'know, slow down when you eat. Do you need a glowing fork to do that?

But this got me thinking about how we, as a species, like to over-complicate things. "There's an app for that" - there's a worrying verisimilitude to that statement these days. Despite what old people might tell you, kids these days probably aren't dumber than in the good 'ol days. A well-supported phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect (after it's main proponent James Flynn) suggests that our overall intelligence is actually increasing by about 3 points a decade. When people from different generations take older version of IQ tests (as well as tests in semantics, cognition, memory, etc), they always do better than previous generations. The most plausible reason for this effect is the increase in complexity in our lives since the dawn of the industrial age - kidz [sic] today need to be aware of much more stuff (even useless stuff like Twitter) than people from past generations. There's a good TED talk on the subject from James Flynn last year here.

There are counter-arguments of course, like this recent study which suggests that intelligence has decreased about 15 points since the Victorian age. The suggested reason is likely "dysgenic fertility" - i.e. smarter people have fewer kids. You know, like in that documentary Idiocracy. It is very possible that both are "true" of course - humanity is getting dumber on average from a genetic stand point, but this is masked by the fact that people are having to become more cognitive to deal with posting photos of their lunch on Twitter.

In particular with running, we do all sorts of weird and wonderful things to over-complicate what is, at heart, a pretty simple endeavour. As the immortal Bill Hicks once said:

Now what do you fucking write about jogging? Right foot, left foot... Faster faster... Oh hell I don't know... Go home shower. Pretty much covers the jogging experience I do believe.

And yet, follow threads on Facebook for a while and you will see that it is ostensibly much more complicated than that. There are bitter and never-ending arguments about what is the perfect part of the foot to land on. There are arguments about whether we should be coating our feet in tonnes of soft squishy stuff, or running barefoot like God intended (if God had wanted us to run barefoot, he wouldn't have invented Hokas...). There are arguments about what supplements we should be taking - multi-vitamins, beetroot juice, spirulina blue-green algae, goji berries, et al.. GPS watches. Compression gear. Trekking poles. Bottles or bladder. And so on. And so on. And so on...

Now, I am not for one minute casting aspersions on the use of any of these things, and of course use many such bits and pieces myself. But my contention is that the correct piece of gear to use is whichever suits you personally. We are all different - what works for me will not necessarily work for you. But I just wonder how much of it we actually need versus how much we have just convinced ourselves we need?

I personally would rather run with as little as possible. I do use a GPS watch if I need to navigate quickly, or if I am working on speed and want to make sure that I do not drop my pace. But generally I leave it at home, and I certainly don't track my runs (which is odd given how much of a stats geek I am). I care about my pace whilst I am running, and the time that I finish in, but after that I couldn't care less. Its on to the next run. If I am not heading out to do something specific like intervals, I will normally just run to feel. I run at a pace that feels like I am working hard, and tailor it based on how far I have to go. I do the same when I race longer distances - it's not worth pushing for a particular pace if it feels too tough 10 miles into a 100 mile race.

The socks that I wear, I chose not only because they prevent blisters, but also because they are pretty lightweight and minimal so there's not much to go wrong. I used to wear twin skin socks, but just prefer the fact that I can pull these on and not really worry - no rucking up of material to worry about. The clothes that I wear were mostly bought from Sports Direct about 3 years ago. They are now falling apart and I am upset that I am finally going to have to replace them. Now sure, I could pay a lot of money for some high-concept, incredibly well designed running clothes with all sorts of bells and whistles with silly sounding names like "sweat-sucker 3000" technology. But my experience is that my cheap Sports Direct stuff works just as well. To be fair I prefer to run in as little as possible anyway. Some of my favourite runs have seen me out in just a pair of shorts and some trainers. The people I run past tend not to share my views though...

I wear my shoes until my toes poke out of the bottom, and in fact my "road shoes" are actually trail shoes that have lost all of their grip. A lot of my running friends are obsessed by running shoes, and buy every new pair that comes out. I seem to be an oddity, as I try and avoid buying shoes whenever I can. I do have a lot of pairs, but that is largely because I refuse to throw old ones away. I can always find a time to wear my old ones, for a training run or something. I generally buy the same type of shoe, and tend to wear either Salomon Speedcross or Sense Mantra. But I have also tried out the Fellraisers for times when I need a bit more grip, and New Balance MT110s which are nice and minimal and good for working on my form. The important part for me is that I very rarely pay more than about £50 for a pair these days. Shop around! But all I really care about from my shoes are that they don't rub, don't squash my feet, and give me a bit of grip when coming downhill.

Then there are things like kinesiology tape and compression gear. Now, this is a slightly contentious one (as are many things in running) and you will find people with very fervent views on both sides of the fence. Personally I doubt that they work to enhance recovery in the way that they claim, although it's a very difficult thing to design a decent scientific study for. However most studies that have been done suggest there is no real benefit in to using them in recovery. One thing that they probably do however is offer support, in the same way as wearing a knee brace. The only thing is that I do t really believe in using such things. A knee support may well help you to run without pain, but it is not solving the problem. More likely it is masking the problem and allowing you to run on a dodgy knee when you really shouldn't. It's the same reason I don't use Ibuprofen - pain is your body's way of saying, "I'm broken, don't run you idiot!" You're better off not running until the problem is fixed, otherwise you will be stuck in a bit of a never-ending cycle of injuries.

That's another thing that people are often a little guilty of - running when they really shouldn't. I'm absolutely guilty of this, but again over time I have changed my views slightly. I do have a bit of a training plan, but I don't stress out if I miss a run, or if I cut it short because I'm not feeling well. In the long term, it's not worth forcing myself out for a run. This is why run streaks are no good for me; I don't want to feel like running is a chore. As it happens, I very rarely don't want to go for a run these days. I really try not to over-complicate my training. I do a few different sessions, sometimes aiming for speed, sometimes for endurance, but I don't really plan things out too much. I'm not suggesting that it's not a good idea to plan things, and having a schedule can certainly help to give you something to work towards, but it's very easy to over-complicate things. Just stay flexible for when life gets in the way.

I'm the same with racing. I don't put a huge amount of thought into races. For shorter stuff, I go out fast and try and hold on. For longer stuff I go out at a more manageable pace and again see how long I can hold on for. Occasionally I might plan some split times for certain checkpoints, but the problem with that is that you can end up pushing yourself too hard too early trying to keep up with these plans. I tend to just go by feel. I remember feeling like I was massively under-prepared for the Spine Challenger because everybody else
appeared to have lived and breathed the race for the whole year leading up to it. I had barely looked at the route, and had scrabbled together my kit about a week before it began. But it went fine. I also don't have the issue of the post-race blues, usually because once one race is finished I don't really dwell on it.

Nutrition is an incredibly important part of ultra running, but this is another thing that I have simplified over time. Nowadays, I don't eat when I run if I can help it. This started mainly as a way to save money - gels are expensive! - but now I have found that I cope very well burning predominately fat when I run. When I race, I eat mainly gels, aiming for one every hour and a half or so, and this seems to do the trick (along with some fruit at the aid stations as a treat). Similarly, I don't drink more water than I need, and typically won't take anything unless I'm running for a couple of hours or more. Again, if I can avoid having to take anything with me I will.

My diet is also pretty basic, in as much as I do not follow any particular diet with any fervour. I'm generally healthy, don't really drink alcohol, eat lots of fruit and veg, and generally try not to eat too many carbs (although I'm currently stuffing my face with Easter eggs, so I'm not overly prescriptive about these things). I really can't be bothered stressing out about what I eat, and I never want to be that guy who you don't want to invite for dinner because of my weird eating habits (there's plenty of other reasons you wouldn't want to invite me for dinner). I eat healthily, but I'm not overly strict about it. It's not rocket salad...

One thing that I definitely don't take is supplements. There's plenty of random weird and wonderful things that you can take to improve your running - Spirulina algae (yuk), beetroot juice, vitamins, amino acids, etc. Now, because of my epilepsy, I have to take medication every day anyway. For this reason, I try and avoid having to take anything else if I can help it. I get everything I need from a balanced diet, and don't even take pain killers or anti-inflammatories unless I'm forced to by my wife. It's not like I'm someone who thinks that "drugs are bad, mmkay", or that the drug companies or out to get us, or anything like that. I just prefer to save things like that for when I really need them. A lot of the supplements available revolve around some pretty shoddy "evidence", and typically involve a pretty hefty dose of vitamin p(lacebo). Which is fine of course - the placebo effect is an amazing oddity of human physiology, and if something feels like it's working then that's great. But some of these things seem so insane to me that there is no way I am taking the dosages that are recommended to see "benefits". The amount of beetroot juice you need to drink is enough to turn your urine bright red, and runs the risk of causing nitrite toxicity. If you were to take Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP), you should be taking 20 a day, or 30 when competing (and at $50 for 120 tablets, they can fuck right off). Spirulina is another one where you need to take a stupidly high dose of incredibly expensive tablets to see the same benefits that you would see from eating red meat and spinach. I used to take multivitamins, but even those seem a pointless expense to me now.

I was involved in a discussion on Facebook recently where the idea of bathing in magnesium salts was suggested as a way to aid recovery. Personally I recover pretty well without doing anything like this (I don't even stretch), and my recovery has improved as my training has. But some people were very adamant, and one guy suggested that we should read up about Dr Mark Sircus, who is an expert on the research behind the use of magnesium in recovery. The thing is, I did read up on him. He's a "doctor" (small 'd') of the Gillian McKeith variety. He's a a quack. His 'doctorate' was obtained as an honorary degree in Oriental Medicine. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on natural medicine, but when it comes to medical advice you shouldn't be taking it from people with credentials similar to those that Ben Goldacre once obtained for his dead cat. He might well know what he's talking about, in which case he should undergo scientifically rigorous hypothesis testing and publish his findings in peer reviewed journals with a decent impact factor. If any of his treatments prove to work, then they will no longer be considered alternative medicine - they will just be medicine.

Don't trust somebody just because they call themselves a doctor. I'm a Doctor (big 'D' - I did a proper degree, although I'm still a step down from a real medical doctor), and I'm an idiot.

The use of supplements has always seemed a little off to me. The idea is to improve your running by taking something extra. Isn't that exactly what EPO does? MAP in particular is a little too close to the effects that you get from taking steroids for my liking. What makes taking EPO cheating, but drinking litres of beetroot juice to lower your PB by 10 seconds just good training? I can't help but think that there's a very big grey area where training supplements are concerned. I'm not for one minute suggesting that people who do use supplements are in any way doing anything nefarious (it's not against the rules after all), but personally I would rather improve my PB by running harder. Not a popular opinion perhaps, but my opinion nonetheless.

It's not that I think that I do running the right way or anything. In fact in many respects some would say I do it completely wrong - I don't eat, don't drink, don't stretch, don't stress about DNFs, etc. And yes I have plenty of expensive bits of kit (bags, waterproofs,etc.). But in general, I will try and get away with as little as possible. If I can avoid using something, I will. Part of it is just preferring to stay as unencumbered as possible. Part of it is not believing a lot of the bullshit claims of some of the companies and not being willing to pay a premium for a small perceived benefit. And part of it is just being a stingy bastard and not being willing to spend money if I can help it. Granted, when you look at longer distances, and particularly events that occur in inhospitable environments, it inevitably becomes a little more complicated as you need to have certain things to make your life more comfortable and to avoid dying on top of a mountain that you just don't need on a 10 Km.

But over the last few years that I have been running, I have gradually reduced my reliance on what have proved to be unnecessary additions to the most important running kit I have - my legs. I like to think of it as "running stupid"; if I'm too dumb to know any better, then nothing can go wrong!

South Downs Way 50 Race Report

I hadn't planned any races between the Spine in January and the Grand Union Canal in May because I half expected to still be in traction. However, when I inexplicably managed to survive without going the wrong way and running off a cliff, I decided to take up one of the last few places in the Centurion Running South Downs Way 50. This was a chance to get a longer run in before the GUCR, and also was a good way to recce the last half of the SDW100 in June. But more importantly, Centurion events are also one hell of a party.

After spending 2 hours driving the half hour trip back home after work (grr), I had to head straight out to brave the wonders of the M25 on a Friday night. I made it to Worthing just in time to pick up Bryan Webster and Dan Park from the station and order food from the pub before they closed. We met up with Sue Albiston, her daughter Becky and everyone's ultra-mum Nici Griffin who were patiently waiting for our arrival. After eating and talking b*llocks for a while, we headed off for a surprisingly good night's sleep at the Travelodge. Well, I had a good night's sleep anyway. But then I had a double bed to myself, not a teeny tiny single bed in the corner of the room like the other two. God bless shotgun rules.

We turned up bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start line to be greeted by the usual slick Centurion machine. Nici had recently joined the crew and had brought along her trademark panache for efficiency, and despite everybody's best efforts kit check and registration went without a hitch. It was great to see so many friendly faces, and I spent the whole time before the start chatting away to anyone who would listen (surprisingly I wasn't left talking to myself). It always amazes me how close it's possible to get to people that you only actually see about 4 times a year!

And they're off! And I'm already chicked... Photo courtesy of Pete Aylward of

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Ultra Marathon Raffle to Raise Money for the Epilepsy Society

Last year I was hoping to arrange a weekend holiday event for ultra runners at CenterParcs toward the end of the year, but unfortunately it never really took off. One of the events that I had organised was a raffle of various ultra-related bits and pieces in order to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. I have been sitting on the prizes that were kindly donated and have been waiting for a good time to set it up again (but this time as a standalone online event). In the interim, Neil Bryant organised a similar raffle for the Facebook Ultrarunning Community page so I didn't want to step on his toes. But I think that enough time has passed that hopefully people will be interested in taking part.

Some of you may know that I suffer from epilepsy myself, although I am very lucky that it is kept completely under control through medication. Other people however are not so lucky, and the Epilepsy Society work tirelessly to help those for whom epilepsy can have a terrible effect on their way of life, as well as funding cutting-edge research to try and understand the disease. Whilst it is one of the most common neurological disorders in the UK, with around 1 in every 100 people suffering from the disease, we don't really understand much about it and a quite frightening number of people still think that it has something to do with demon possession! Very sad.

Anyway, it was actually raising money for the Epilepsy Society that got me into the world of ultra running in the first place, so I wanted to have another go at raising some money to help them in their work. I have been contacting as many people as possible to get as many awesome prizes lined up as possible, and have some pretty cool stuff including lots of signed gear from ultra elites like Mike Wardian, Ellie Greenwood, Mike Morton and Robbie Britton, as well as signed copies of some fantastic ultra-running books and free entries to some of the top races in the UK. There are more irons in the fire, so hopefully this prize list will only get bigger!

If you would like to enter the raffle, simply go to the Just Giving page above (or click on the Just Giving button on the top right of the blog page) and donate towards this amazing cause. For every £1 you donate we will put one ticket into the draw for you. Winners will be drawn on Saturday 21st June, and will be announced in the next edition of the free online ultra running magazine Ultra Tales (due out in July), as well as on this blog. 

There's a little bit of small print to be aware of, but it's nothing too concerning! Firstly, please be sure to leave your contact email address so that I can contact you after the draw to let you know that you have won. Also, please note that where applicable delivery of prizes is limited to the UK only (as it's all coming out of my pocket). But if you are from outside of the UK and would like to enter, I have no issues with sending things overseas if you are happy to put in a contribution for the delivery. Feel free to email me at if you have any questions.

The most important thing is that, if you would like to be included in the raffle, we will not be able to take Gift Aid on your donation, so please do not tick this option.

If you have any questions, or if you would like to donate a prize (the more the merrier!), then please email me at

Prizes currently up for grabs include (please note that more prizes may be added as we approach the draw): 
  • Signed men’s running gear from 4-time USATF Ultrarunner of the Year Mike Wardian 
  • Signed Mountain Hardwear Race Vest from 2012 Ultrarunner of the Year Ellie Greenwood
  • Signed goodies from 2012 Ultrarunner of the Year Mike Morton, including the singlet he wore in his 1997 win at Western States (it's been washed, honest!)
  • Signed running gear and one month’s free coaching from UK Ultrarunner of the Year Robbie Britton
  • Signed copies of ‘Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons’ by iRunFar creator Bryon Powell (one of the best intros to ultra running around)
  • Signed copies of ‘Running and Stuff’ by James Adams (an incredibly funny story of an ordinary guy competing in an extraordinary race)
  • Signed copies of Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run’ by Dave Urwin (an incredibly moving and funny story of Dave's battle with addiction through running)
  • Free entry to South Downs Way 50 or North Downs Way 50 miler from Centurion Running
  • Free entry to the Challenge Running Stort 30 miler 
  • Free entry to the Inov8 “Plague” 100 Km Roseland Trail Series Race from Mud Crew Events
  • Free entry to the Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Top Shelf Ultra Mags

In this world of instant connectivity through the internet, it is very easy to keep up with the whacky world of ultra marathon running. If anything, it is possible to get overloaded by the amount of information available through blogs, websites such as IRunFar and Ultra168, and podcasts such as Ultra Runner Podcast and Talk Ultra. But if, like me, you can't get enough of it, here are a couple of magazines that you may find of interest.

First up is UltraRunning magazine, possibly the original source for all things ultra. Since its inception in 1981, UltraRunning magazine has given comprehensive results and reports from the US ultra scene, as well as reams and reams of stats and articles from some of the most knowledgable people in the sport. It is definitely American-centric, possibly making it a little less interesting to people from outside of the States, but there is still a tonne of information in there for anybody looking to improve their running. Plus many of the most well-known races are American anyway, so you can read all about your Western States and Badwaters in there. Until recently, it's been pretty difficult to get hold of in this country, but now you can order it directly from Ultra Marathon Running Store. The January/February edition of the magazine contains interviews with American ultra runners of the year Rob Krar and Michelle Yates, as well as a fantastic article from Ian Sharman about how to finish your first 100-miler and a great review of some of the latest trail running shoes on the market. The March issue is available now.

Monday, 17 March 2014

What to expect in 2014

Good grief. It's March! That's, like, a quarter of the way through the year. I've only just gotten used to writing "2014" instead of "2013". There's only 283 shopping days to go until Christmas! Okay, ignoring my histrionics, it is still a little late in the day to be writing a post about my plans for the year, but in fairness the season is only just starting really. Plus nobody cares anyway. Still, it's good to get this stuff down on paper, if only so I don't forget.

2013 was a bit of a damp squib running-wise, mainly due to an injury at Transvulcania which awkwardly occurred slap bang in the middle of my main series of races. Add to that the whole "having a baby" thing, and my running kind of fell by the wayside. Probably for the best to be honest. The end of the year was a case of getting rid of the remaining niggles and avoiding making things worse, which unfortunately resulted in pulling out of the Piece of String so close to the end. Still, it was all good fun, and I have had an amazing year getting to know my little girl! She's almost walking now, and is definitely not a baby any more. Her cheeky little personality should keep me on my toes in the years to come - I can't wait!

But now we're into 2014 and I have some plans. Things have settled a bit in my home life, in particular with respect to sleeping. She's still not sleeping perfectly, but it is a million times better than it was last year. And being able to sleep more than an hour at a time does wonders for your ability to run. Rehab on my knee went well last year due to some sensible decisions on my part, and some great work on the part of my physio, Chelsea Harding. So the only issue is that I have started the year in worse shape than I started 2013. It's not terrible, but I have definitely lost some speed. It's on the mend, and there's plenty of time to get myself sorted. But it will require not eating quite so much cake. Damn.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Obligatory "Why I Run" Blog

I started writing my blog purely to document my first ever ultra attempt - running home straight after the London Marathon in 2011. It was mainly for the benefit of my wife and family, so that they could see my progress and check that I wasn't lying dead in a ditch somewhere (you bet I would have blogged about that). This wasn't just my first ultra, it was my first marathon. So at the time I had no idea whether I could actually do it, and entirely expected to end up collapsing somewhere along the way.

My blog has evolved over the last few years into what I hope is an interesting and informative set of rambling diatribes into various aspects of running which have caught my attention over the years. And yet at no point have I covered that age old question - "why do I run"?

Or, more precisely, why do I run so far?

I'll say this first of all; up until a few years ago, I hated running. I did it sometimes in order to try and keep fit, but I didn't really enjoy it. My sport of choice at University was Tae Kwon Do, where I helped out as an instructor whilst finishing my PhD. Whilst I didn't enjoy running, I did enjoy dragging the more committed members of the club out on an early morning beast of a run every week. We would intersperse interval training and hill work with hardcore exercises like knuckle press-ups on the gravel (all in the age before Tough Mudder). By the end we were normally utterly destroyed. I loved that feeling! I was still pretty fit back then, although was a lot bigger than I am now - pure muscle of course...

Fast-forward a few years and we had moved to a new city for me to (finally) start a job. But my PhD had taken its toll somewhat as I was looking pretty chunky. I don't think I'll get away with saying this was muscle. Spending my life sat trying to write a thesis, with virtually no exercise, snack food rather than meals (my wife, Jen, used to have to "remind" me to eat when it got to midnight), and no sleep will do that. When we first moved to Cambridge I was working long days in my new high-profile post-doctoral position at the Sanger Institute (home of the Human Genome Project), then coming home and having to write my thesis until 3am to try and finish it. Man that sucked, although never getting out of that studenty lack of sleep mentality proved to be quite useful for both running and having children.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Spine Challenger 2014 - Part 3: Kit List

As promised, here is a relatively (maybe) brief run-down of the kit that I used in the Spine Challenger. Now, you might be wondering why you should take advice from somebody who DNF'd, but whilst I never managed the final few miles of the race, my kit choice allowed me to get through the distance that I did cover in comfort and with almost no ill after-effects. Of course, I say kit choice, but really I took what I could get, borrowing large amounts of gear from my brother-in-law Trevor. Luckily he is awesome, and that kit proved to be excellent! Right, here we go:

In My Pack

Backpack: Osprey Talon 33

This 33 L backpack is a relatively lightweight pack for a race like this. I wasn't sure at first that I would fit everything in there, but it is incredibly roomy with lots of additional pockets for secreting all of your gear. I put my roll mat, stove, sleeping bag, dry bag filled with spare clothes and dry bag filled with miscellaneous gear in the main compartment, my micro spikes in one side pouch, head torch in the other, mobile phone in one front waist pocket (for photo opportunities), lots of gels in the other front waist pocket, maps in the rear pouch and food in the top pouch. This kept everything nice and easy to find when I needed it.

I used the 3L bladder that came with it (although only used 2L at most), which has a very neat magnetic system for holding the feed tube across your body and out of the way. I used an insulating cover on the tube (stolen from my old-style Salomon running vest), and was sure to blow water back into the bladder to help prevent water in the tube freezing. The final weigh in came in at about 7.5 Kg without water, so I was probably carrying a maximum of 10 Kg. As the race went on, I ended up wearing more of the clothes from my pack, so it got a little lighter as well. All in all this was a pretty good weight, and I did very well to end up with such a light pack without having to spend the earth for some of the über lightweight gear.

I was a little worried that I would suffer from chaffing issues, particularly as the race was in fact the first time that I had ever run with it (it was borrowed from my brother-in-law). But actually it was very comfy, and didn't ride up or rub at all. If I ever do anything similar to this race again, I'll probably buy myself this pack.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Spine Challenger 2014 - Part 2: In Soviet Russia, Spine Cracks You!

I woke to the sound of my alarm an hour later, feeling groggy and not at all well-rested. In hindsight, I wish I had slept a little more at this stage, but I wanted to just crack on. In general I was feeling good. My feet were blister-free, and my legs were surprisingly not utterly trashed from the hills of the previous day. I seem to do surprisingly well with hills considering that I live in one of the flattest areas of the country. The closest I get to hill training is running upstairs when my daughter starts to cry. I was glad to have gotten myself clean and dry, and felt ready and raring to go.

The next section was going to be longer than the first, with about 60 miles to CP2 at Hawes. This would be the finish for runners on the Challenger, but less than halfway for those on the full Spine Race. Race Director Scott Gilmour told me that the forecast for the next day was going to be wet, windy and cold, so I should be prepared with all of my best gear. I wasn't going to make the same mistake as I made at the start, and got suited up from the beginning with several layers including my warm Montane Fireball Smock. Toasty warm! There would be no faffing with clothing once I headed out, no siree.

So you can imagine my annoyance when half an hour later, heading back up the winding forest path to the road, I found myself sweltering like a whore in a butchers shop. It was about 1:30 am and was actually a really pleasant night. The sky was clear and the stars were out in force, and whilst there was a crisp chill in the air, it wasn't nearly chilly enough to necessitate 4 arctic condition layers of clothing. Sigh.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Spine Challenger 2014 - Part 1: Where's a chiropractor when you need one?

I first heard of the Spine Race last January, when social networks were ablaze with stories of woe and suffering from the hardy soles taking part in this 268 mile jaunt along the Pennine Way. The route starts in Edale in the Peak Distract, and makes it's way north through the more interesting bumpy parts of the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District and southern Scotland. Being January, and being Britain, the weather is normally wet, cold and miserable. Add to that the fact that you have to be pretty much self-sufficient, with checkpoints spaced up to 60 miles apart, and this is one tough proposition. Sign me up!

One for James Adams there
As the race approached, I realised that I was woefully underprepared. I hadn't even looked at what I needed to get for my kit (apparently shorts and t-shirt weren't going to cut it), had done no form of recce of any description, hadn't tried running yet with the sort of heavy pack I was going to need for all of the required gear, and hadn't really run any long distances at all due to an injury earlier in the year. I wasn't really relishing the idea of being away from my family for a week either, so decided to split the difference and do the easy version instead - the Spine Challenger.

Sorry - "easy" version.

The Spine Challenger is 108 miles, and is essentially identical in all things (required kit, start time, support on the course), except that you finish at the second checkpoint in Hawes.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

2013 Review (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run)

Well that was 2013. From a personal perspective it has been an amazing year, with the birth of my gorgeous baby girl in February being the absolute highlight of my life so far. Watching her grow over the last 10 months has been incredible, and she is now a little person with her own (incredibly cheeky) personality. I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us over the years to come!

But from a running perspective? Meh.

It's been okay, but not the year I was hoping for. My training through last winter was great, and I came into 2013 feeling stronger and faster than ever before. My diet (by which I mean "what I was eating in general", and not that I was only eating a stick a stick of celery every day) was pretty good, so I was in pretty good shape.

But obviously with a baby on the way, this was interrupted somewhat to concentrate on the more important aspects of my life. That being said, I was still able to get a fair bit of running in, which is largely due to having such an amazing and understanding wife, and also due to being an early morning runner and getting a lot of miles in through commuting.

Since we didn't really know what to expect from the first few months of parenthood, my first race wasn't until the Viking Way at Easter. As it happens, the first few months were relatively easy, other than a severe lack of sleep. Obviously this affected how much I was able to get out for long runs, but since a lot of my running is done as commuting to work this was unaffected.

I hit the start line feeling pretty good, with a good finish in my sights. It started well, with Mark Cockbain telling me off for getting to the Aid Stations too quickly for them. Unfortunately some issues with navigation left me making some serious cock ups resulting in finishing second despite being over 2 hours ahead at one point. C'est la vie. You live and learn. That being said the race itself went brilliantly for me, and in particular was the furthest I had ever run. I recovered quickly and was back running a couple of days later which was a great sign for my conditioning.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hoax email and website on "how to avoid cancer"

This is nothing to do with running, but I feel like the following is worth highlighting.

I was a bit disappointed yesterday to see this blog post being posted around Facebook from some of my friends. The blog purports to discuss new research from Johns Hopkins that essentially says that eating healthily and exercising is an effective alternative treatment for cancer than chemotherapy and radiotherapy. To quote:
There then follows a point by point description of why cutting out sugar, milk and meat from your diet and exercising can replace nasty cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Now believe me - I hate cancer. Like many of you out there, it has touched my life on a personal level, so much so that I actually moved fields while studying for my PhD to enter into the field of cancer genetics to try and help find a solution. And that is why articles like this really piss me off.

To be clear - this article IS A HOAX.

It is not just wrong advice. It is dangerous advice. Your first point of call, and the advice that should trump all others, is that from a medical professional. However, it is inevitably an incredibly difficult time, and of course anything that you can do to help is obviously encouraged. Complementary treatments are used by many people. But these should always be in addition to and never instead of medical treatment. 

One thing to remember is that a lot of research and testing has gone into chemotherapy drugs and the like, whereas alternative medicines have essentially zero regulation, and sometimes no credible research either. Research that is published in some back-woods journal that nobody has heard of might cut it in a relatively underfunded field like sports science, but I'm afraid that in this field any radical conclusions had better be based on research in a high impact journal.

This particular article is based on a hoax email that has been doing the rounds, and Johns Hopkins have released a press release specifically to combat the false claims made in this article. This rebuttal is very clear and succinct, so if you want a full run-down on everything that is wrong with this article (almost every single one of the "facts" is incorrect), then please read it. 

But I found myself making my own list of corrections for one of my friends when he was genuinely interested to find out what was wrong. I have copied and pasted my post below, which was written in haste to just cover some of the basic points to clearly show why you should not trust this information. There are probably some errors here, but I haven't bothered to correct it because I feel like there is a good lesson to be learnt here:

Please do not take medical advice from a blog!!!

First of all their interpretation of what a cancer cell is is very naive. Cells show mutations all the time, due to mistakes in the DNA replication machinery, or brought on by environmental factors like UV radiation, smoking, etc. But the body has an amazing system in place to check for errors and either correct them or remove them. If something happens that prevents these checkpoints from working correctly, cells can grow unchecked which leads to tumours. What we call "cancer" typically is a tumour which has also developed the ability to spread to other sites in the body by a process known as metastasis, where cells break away into the blood stream or lymphatic system. This is why it is so difficult to fight because they are not localised to one place, so chemotherapy is used to attack the cells throughout the blood/lymph system. So this idea that "cancer cells occur 6-10 times in your life" is erroneous. Mutations occur millions of times but generally don't do anything. This article follows the very basic idea that cancer is a thing. Cancer is a catch-all term for many, many diseases that result in uncontrolled proliferation of cells. 

The immune system is not really involved in fighting cancer - it's nothing to do with how strong it is. Cancer cells are not detected by the immune system because they are not invading cells. That's kind of the point - they bypass the intrinsic checkpoints so the body can't detect that there is a problem. 

Whilst diet is a risk factor for cancer, and obviously eating healthily is a good idea, there's no evidence that "when a person has cancer it indicates multiple nutritional deficiencies". 

Whilst it's true that chemo and radiotherapy can also damage healthy cells (that's why you feel terrible and have issues like hair falling out), they are actually incredibly specific in their action. But improving recognition of the malignant cells in one of many areas of research in the field. 

I've never heard of surgery causing cancer to spread - I believe that this is entirely untrue. 

The idea that cancer cells respond in any way to the foods that you eat is ridiculous. What you eat can act as a risk factor to whether you get cancer in the first place, but the micro-environment of the cells themselves is not dependent on how much sugar you put into your body. 

Addendum: Whilst the idea of generally eating healthier having an effect on the micro-environment for cancer growth (as seems to be the point of the email) is largely bunk, a few studies that do show how diet can be used as effective cancer treatments have been brought to my attention by Andrew Jordan in the comments below. Whilst these are much more extreme dietary changes than simply not eating cakes, they are very interesting. A couple of examples are the works of Valter Longo et al who show that fasting can lead to cellular changes that protect them from the damaging effects of chemotherapy, and the work of Adrienne Scheck et al who show that switching to a ketogenic diet (almost cutting out carbs entirely and increasing fat intake so that ketones are utilised instead) can be used to treat some neurological conditions (e.g. epilepsy and brain cancers) since ketones are not metabolised as efficiently as carbs in the aberrant cells. 

Cancer does not "feed on mucus". 

It's "Johns Hopkins", not John Hopkins. 

It's "dimensions" not dimmentions. 

Again, exercise is good for you, but not because it makes you breathe more. You can breathe as much as you like but you're not going to create an oxygenated environment that will prevent growth of cancer cells. 

Believe me, I hate cancer as much as the next person, and it was my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer that made me focus my research on cancer research. I now work in one of the top epigenetics labs in the world trying to do what I can to help in the fight against cancer. But articles like this are not just unhelpful, they are downright dangerous. This is very very bad advice, that will unfortunately be taken at face value by some people.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Two-Time Piece of String Finisher? I'm a Frayed Knot.

Blimey, what a day! Another year, another edition of the World's Most Pointless Race (TM) as 13 hardy souls (aka idiots) turned up on a Friday morning in Streatley to run the Piece of String Fun Run. Last year was the inaugural race and was brilliant despite a few teething problems (mostly due to the horrendous weather). But this year they were going all out!

After a brief race briefing ("please don't die") it was left to one of the runners to decide the fate of the group - an "honour" which I was bestowed with last year for paying my £1.47 donation to the RSPCA by internet transfer rather than by postal order (a far more embarrassing prospect, particularly when it costs £1.50 to get the order made up and you're holding up an entire room full of people waiting to cash in their giros). Ian Brazier was punished this year for forgetting to pay his entry fee, and picked one of the 5 pieces of string - which ended up being about 6 feet long. Did that mean anything?! Who the hell knew! But our fates had been sealed. With that, we were rather unceremoniously sent on our way out along the Thames Path, and were told that we would be intercepted somewhere along the way. And we were...
A bunch of stringers. Photo curtesy of Nici Griffin.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Halfway to a String Quartet

Well that came around fast! Tomorrow morning I embark once again to try and find the length of a Piece of String. The brain child of Messrs. Adams and Elson, the Piece of String Fun Run - The Most Pointless Race in the World (TM) - is an odd little race. There are 5 potential routes of differing length - anywhere from 1000 meters to 1000 miles. Nobody but the race organisers (and I guess some of the volunteers) know the exact route, and runners basically run until they either die, or are told they have finished.

The idea is to make it kind of a mind-fuck; if you don't know how far you've got to go, how do you pace it? How do you cope mentally when you can't say, "Only 50 miles left"? Depending on how you look at it, it may be the most fiendishly demonic race ever created (mwa ha ha etc), or the most pure form of racing imaginable.

Just run.

No pacing charts, no nutrition plans, no worrying about other competitors - just run.

Last year, I was one of only two people who successfully completed the inaugural event. The second person was Wouter Hamelinck, who I think everybody would agree was the winner - mainly due to his amazing navigational skills (mine; not so great!). Some people claimed it was clear proof of the benefit of ultra beards over ultra sideburns, but I will just point out that I believe our tally is currently 3-1 wins in my favour. Not that I'm counting of course...

Nobody is quite sure how far we ran last year. Not even the RDs. With heavy rain in the weeks preceding the event, the River Thames burst it's banks and much of the Thames Path became impassable. Well, if you're particularly precious about getting your feet wet. And knees. And thighs. And bollocks. It's health and safety gone mad I tell ya! But I was running for about 36 hours or so. Estimates of 120ish miles are probably not far off, although don't take into account all of the dicking about going the wrong way.

So having survived once, why in the name of Satan's gonads would I come back again?! Glutton for punishment?!

Honestly no. I thoroughly enjoyed the race last year. I have genuinely fond memories of the event, and I'm really looking forward to hopefully seeing some of the same trails again. It was just so simple. I stuck my headphones on, looked at the map, and was off. The psychology of it wasn't too bad because I was doing what I call "running stupid"; not thinking about goals, and not worrying about what was going on. Just enjoying a good audiobook (Game of Thrones) and seeing some new areas if the UK.

Okay, there were a couple of things that I didn't enjoy.

First of all I was absolutely shattered. I hadn't slept well the night before, and the race didn't start until midnight. I was knackered before we started. By the time I got towards my third sunrise in a row, I was a bit of a zombie. Luckily, a quick nap in a car on the middle of the Ridgeway at Paul Rowlinson and Luke Carmichael's checkpoint saw me to the end (which annoyingly was only about 10 miles later). This year though, the race starts at a nice leisurely 9:45am. With a baby that doesn't sleep and having not sleep more than a couple of hours at a time for the last 9 months, I plan on sleeping like a baby tonight!

Well, not my baby, but you get the idea.

The second thing that I didn't enjoy was the conditions. It rained a lot! I actually don't mind rain at all. Running in the rain is one of my favourite pastimes. What I don't love is when the mud is so thick and sloppy that you literally can't run. Trudging through the rain in November after 30 hours of running is far less fun than running through it at a snails pace, just getting colder and wetter. That was the closest I came to dropping last year, as my map had turned into papier mâché (I had one suggestion for James this year - buy a laminator!) and I couldn't move fast enough to get my core temperature up. But James gave me a good talking to and I stuck it out - and actually really enjoyed the next section.

This year, however, the weather appears to be far more conducive to running. I'm not sure what deal with the Devil James Elson has done to cause this new trend in perfect conditions at his races, but it should be a very different beast this year. Frankly I think this year's batch has it easy!

And then there's the distance. How far will it be? We won't know until later this weekend. I've either come woefully underprepared for a 300 miler, or this is going to be the most well-stocked 5K of my life! It may even be a completely different format to last year. I wouldn't be surprised to be bundled in the back of a van and driven out to the wilderness!

I'm just not thinking about it. I'm going to turn up, run and have fun. Of course this year hasn't been the best, training-wise, what with my gorgeous daughter being born, and various injuries along the way, so it will likely be a very different run to last year. So if you see me crying in a ditch somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, you have my permission to tell me "I told you so"!

So how long is a piece of string? I dunno - let's find out!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Too much running will kill you, just as sure as none at all (or so the Telegraph says anyway...)

Once again, we see another worrying study indicating that "running is bad for you". In this case, it is a story in the Telegraph with the title "Too much exercise as bad as too little". Ignoring for a moment the syntactic tautological verisimilitude of this statement, is there anything to this claim? Or is it a case of the media leaping on a piece of research and blowing it out of all proportions for a good byline?

The paper in question is this study in the journal Archive of Disease in Children, titled "Weekly sport practice and adolescent well-being". The study took a cohort of 1,245 adolescents (aged 16-20) and asked them to fill in an online survey asking them various questions about their exercise habits, socio-economic background, height, weight, and questions on their "well-being" (more on exactly what this means in a second). They split the individuals up into a number of groups based on whether they took part in:
  • A low amount of weekly sport (0-3.5 hours)

  • An average amount of weekly sport - the recommended 7 hours (3.6 - 10.5 hours)

  • A high amount of weekly sport - around double the recommended (10.6 - 17.5 hours)

  • A very high amount of weekly sport (> 17.5 hours)
They then show that, when compared against the recommended amount, doing a higher level of sport resulted in individuals being "healthier", whilst doing less resulted in individuals being "unhealthier" (as you might expect). However, when they did the same for those individuals who did a very high amount of weekly sport, they found that they were in fact "unhealthier". So not only are there diminishing returns to your health by increasing the amount of exercise that you do, but doing too much can actually result in a negative effect on your health. Hence the tag line of "too much exercise as bad as too little".

Saturday, 2 November 2013

"Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!" (to quote every ska band ever...)

I really enjoyed my run at the Stort30 this past weekend. It is a beautiful route, and it was really nice to see so many people out enjoying the fine weather. The fishermen on the river were probably wondering what in the hell we were doing, spending our morning running along a muddy river bank. But frankly I think the same thing about their hobby. So, y'know, horses for courses and all that.

But one thing that disappointed me was the number if discarded gel wrappers I found on my return journey. Littering is one of my bugbears, and I like to try and do my part to help when I can. I once really annoyed my wife by picking up and carrying a bin bag full of beer cans that some bugger had dumped in a bush. Sure I looked like a massive alcoholic (the dishevelled beard didn't help matters), but for the sake of a few minutes searching for a bin I was happy to act the bum.

But it seriously annoys me when people just dump their rubbish while they run. Sure, sometimes it is an accident; things can fall out of your bag. It may also not be due to other runners at all, as other people use the route as well, including cyclists. However the packets weren't there on the way out, and mysteriously appeared on the return journey.

I wasn't too worried about my time, so I picked up all of the ones that I saw. One in particular was half full, which was lovely to deal with. But I just dumped then in a pocket and got on with it.

If you've got room to carry a gel, you've got room to carry the wrapper. It doesn't take any extra time really to shove a rolled up wrapper in a pocket on your pack. If you're worried about the mess, just carry a little sandwich bag or something with you. At UTMB, they gave everybody a little pouch which could be clipped on to your bag somewhere convenient. The same effect can be achieved with a little plastic bag. Hell, the checkpoints were so close together in this race (about 5 miles), it really wouldn't be difficult to just hold onto it until the end. There really is no excuse.

Some people have suggested that the problem comes from road runners who are used to races where rubbish is cleaned up afterwards. But come on people. We're all grown ups. It must surely occur to these people that it's not nice for others (particularly people just out for a Sunday stroll) to see this kind of mess. It gives us all a bad name.

And it can potentially be very bad for the future of running events, never mind the environment and local flora and fauna. Permission has to be obtained to hold races on these trails, so if people are complaining about the mess being made by the runners then they may simply not allow it to go ahead the next year. All for the sake of shaving 5 seconds off of your 100 km time.

I put a post (or more aptly a "rant") up on Facebook about this, and it was great to see that generally people were also saddened by it. Some people thought instant disqualification was even the way to go. Too harsh?Maybe not. I'm certainly not the first person to talk about this problem, and there are various initiatives to help promote conscientious trail use, such as the RunTidy initiative in Wales. Please take the time to show your support and help keep our trails beautiful. There was even an article in the Guardian where Jeremy Paxman asked why more people don't challenge litter bugs.

Many problems in this world could be solved by people just not being dicks, and thinking about others. Litter is also one of those things that builds - if one person litters then others will be more likely to do the same. So I'm going to try and make it my business to keep the trails clean and tidy, and try to pick up any rubbish that I see while out and about. I hope that you'll join me. Let's start small and build up to world peace, eh?!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Stort30 Race Report - 27th October 2013

Last weekend I was all set to run the Caesar's Camp 100 miler. Caesar's is somewhat of a UK ultra running institution, and is one of the tougher events on the calendar - largely due to the Race Director, Henk, who likes to make things difficult for his runners. I worked with Henk at the North Downs Way 100 last year, and we had slightly different perspectives on how to run an Aid Station; I felt that we should be aiding the runners, whereas he thought we should be calling them all c*nts and kicking them out. Both perfectly valid techniques! But as we approached the race I was shitting myself.

Unfortunately, I don't mean that figuratively.

About two days before the race, I came down with a pretty nasty gastro-enteritis bug. Very unpleasant, and very much not the ideal way to prepare for running 100 miles. In the end, I couldn't even leave the house to go and watch and cheer other people on. The timing was impeccable, so chalk that up as another one in the "man, this year has sucked running-wise" column. Sigh.
There's a river somewhere, honest. Photo care of Karen Webber.
Determined to actually run something, I signed up for the Stort30; a 30 mile Challenge Running event organised by Lindley Chambers not too far from my house. The race is a 15 mile out and back route following along the River Stort Navigation Channel in Hertfordshire. Navigation is pretty simple (if you're not in danger of falling in the water, you've probably gone wrong somewhere), but temporary arrows had been painted on the floor at any point where you needed to do something other than "keep going straight", so navigation certainly shouldn't be an issue - a dangerous claim for me.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Stand and Deliver

In many ways I am a man of extremes. If I'm not running for hours out in the middle of nowhere, I'm collapsed on our sofa, vegging in front of the XBox. In this day and age, I just don't understand how people live without a recline function on their sofa! But the one thing that always bugged me is that my chosen career (computer geek) leaves me slumped in a chair in front of a computer screen all day. Since my wife won't let me quit to become a tree surgeon (I like chainsaws), the next best thing was to have a go at this "standing desk" malarky. 

There have been various articles of late about how sitting down all day takes years off your life, and more and more office workers are making a switch to using a standing desk to limit time on their arse.  In fact, I was surprised to find out how many of my friends were already on this bandwagon. So I thought hey, why not give it a go. 

A quick word with my boss and I was good to go. I eschewed the "stick the monitor on a cardboard box" approach in favour of the more tech geeky "buy a giant monstrosity of a computer stand which has all sorts of bells and whistles" approach. Luckily this Ergotron (great name...) sit-stand workstation was available through my work's suppliers for a very reasonable price. It is incredibly versatile, and has the added benefit of easily moving up and down if I decide that I want to sit down and work for a bit.

Next step is to fit a treadmill underneath

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Stour Valley Path - September 2013

It's no secret that I've been struggling with injury for the last few months since Transvulcania. I have been rehabbing like crazy, and things have gradually been getting better, suggesting at least that it was nothing serious. But with two big DNFs under my belt at the SDW100 and NDW100, and being unable to run longer than 10k without things starting to ache, I was starting to go a bit crazy. But with some help from my physio Chelsea Harding, September proved to be a good month. I had a whole week of "proper running", including some exploring down on the Monarch's Way and SDW near my parents. My first 70+ mile week in a long time - and it felt great!

So the following week, I hit the start line of the Stour Valley Path 100 km race (SVP100) with not a single niggle. No spasming calves, no painful knee, no plantar fasciitis. I was finally starting a race without worrying about something going wrong.

Okay, that's not entirely true. James Adams and Gemma Greenwood were helping out at the race and had come to stay with us since the race starts not far from my house. Since they would be there throughout the day, I had stored a bag of clothes in their car "just in case". But despite this I was going in with a positive mental attitude, determined to get a good finish in before the end of the year.

My previous 100k time was 9:57:26 at the Norfolk Ultra last year, so I figured that somewhere between 9 and 9.5 hours was doable. But I wasn't going to worry about pace, instead focussing on running to feel. At the end of the day, my main focus for the day was finishing and having a good time.

Every photo of me at the start has me checking my watch. Turns out I needn't have worried about pacing!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Does Green Eggs and Ham represent a suitable nutrition strategy?

So this year I decided to go two for two, and step up to the plate once more for another crack at the Piece of String Fun Run in November. Well, it was a lot of fun last year, so why the hell not. The 17 (un)lucky runners selected to run have just been announced, and I am in there. Huzzah! So here is a little poem that I wrote to describe this race. I think that perhaps I have been reading a little too much Dr. Seuss recently. Bloody kids! Anyway, enjoy!

I am Sam. 

Sam I am. 

I would like to run a race,
But I need to know what pace
To run it so I do not die
Or burn out early and start to cry. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ultramarathon Running Research Project - Thames Path 100 2013

This year, I have continued the project that I started last year with James Elson from Centurion Running, looking at various aspects of ultra running and how these relate to a runner's ability to complete the race. I still think that there is lots of interesting information to be mined from these data, and hopefully more people will take part in the surveys for the next few races. Anyway, below is the report that I produced for the 2013 Thames Path 100 mile race in its entirety. As ever, these are merely my own interpretations of the data, but I would love to hear from anyone that might have any alternative ideas. I hope that you find it interesting!


Following on from last year's pilot project at the South Downs Way 100 mile race (SDW100) last year, we have now upgraded the analysis to look at all four of the Centurion Running 100 mile events in 2013. The current state of research into the factors that may affect a runner's ability to complete a 100 mile event is still very open, with several key studies beginning to delve into the key factors essential for all runners to consider.

The research of Martin Hoffman and the rest of the Western States Endurance Run Research Committee has produced several key papers, analysing both the effects of running 100 miles on the body, as well as the demographics of the runners who choose to run such events. Recently, the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) study from Stanford University (which I recommend everybody takes part in if they haven't already by going to has begun to track a wide range of information for ultrarunners, which will then be tracked over the coming years with the hope of monitoring training styles and observing how these relate to injury rates.

Recently, more and more researchers have aligned themselves with race directors in order to obtain data on ultrarunners in the field. For many races, this may allow the study not only of runners' preferences and training styles, but also the study of the changes in physiology brought about as a result of running 100 miles. These studies will undoubtedly direct our current understanding of "optimum" training methods in order to ensure that running styles are tailored to specific physiological needs. Whilst I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as "the right way to train" (it is likely highly dependent on individuals), there are certainly universal truths that we can all benefit from fully understanding.

Our own study was a fairly simple yet powerful approach. We asked runners of the SDW100 to complete a pre-race survey (focussing on information on the runners themselves and normal training strategies) and a post-race survey (focussing on their approach to the race and how the race itself went for them), and combined these data with split times throughout the race. There were several goals with these data, but the main goals were to understand what sort of people typically take part in such events, what sort of training strategies are typically used, and how these relate to race-day performance.

In 2013, we will be performing these analyses on all four of the Centurion Running 100 mile races; the Thames Path 100, the South Downs Way 100, the North Downs Way 100, and the Winter 100. At the end of the year, we will combine these data into a single analysis to get a view of how runners have approached the different races through the year. These analyses are only possible because of volunteers choosing to take part in the surveys. But the more people who take part, the more interesting the findings will be. I hope that these results will encourage people to take part in the future studies and that we will soon have a deep pool of data to mine for interesting results.

On a personal note, my time for performing these analyses has been drastically reduced due to the birth of my gorgeous little girl. She's strong on her feet already so I'm sure she'll be a runner like Daddy! But unfortunately she also seems to have my lung capacity and ability to cope with no sleep... But I hope that you find what I have managed to cobble together between feeds interesting! These are entire my own opinions, but if you have any thoughts or comments feel free to contact me through my blog at As ever, all the best to everybody with your running, and I'll see you out on the trails!