Friday 25 September 2015

North Downs Way 100 Race Report - Putting the "end" back in NDW

Well, I have to be honest - I had almost forgotten what the finish line of a Centurion race looked like. I seem to have a habit of DNFing these particular races, despite the fact that they are some of my favourite races to run in the UK. Previously this has been due to injuries or not wanting to ruin myself for other A races for the year. This year, I decided to have a crack at the 100 mile Grand Slam (Thames Path, South Downs Way, North Downs Way and Autumn 100) to polish them all off in one go, but as you may have noticed that didn't quite go to plan. Dysentery on the TP100 (Sophie Ellis Bextor's follow up hit) and a sense of humour failure on the SDW100 quickly buggered up any chances of that Grand Slam buckle.

There wasn't much I could do about the TP100, but I sacked the SDW100 with only 8 miles to go. I could have walked in for a sub 24 hour finish, but I was just taking things too seriously and trying too hard for a PB. I got so annoyed with how whingey I was being, especially given how hard everybody else was working out there (not just phoning in their attempts like me), that I decided to pull out until I got my head back on straight.

So I hit the NDW start line with two aims in mind - to have fun and to reach the Centurion Running finishing arch in Wye. Well, I say hit the start line, but I actually managed to miss the start due to an urgent call of nature that I figured would be best taken care of sooner rather than later. I wasn't too bothered though, as I was in no hurry - a very different approach for me. I was chatting to Dan Park and Bryan Webster (who were both on race 3 of the Grand Slam) when I heard the horn go, and said good luck before heading off through the field.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Oxfam Trailwalker 100K Race Report

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from one of my Facebook friends, Bryce Alford, who was looking to find somebody to join Team Jersey for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100 Km. There was only about a week until the race, so it was very short notice, but one of his team members had pulled out at the last minute to go and run 363 miles without sleep. The race follows the South Downs Way from Queen Elizabeth Country Park (right round the corner from my parents), and finishes at the race track in Brighton. I know this route very well, particularly having run most of it only a few weeks previously. Given my poor (non-) finish at the SDW100, I thought this would be a good way to put a few demons to bed, so I decided to go for it with an aim to just enjoy myself! That is, after all, why I do this. 

This wasn't just a little jolly however, as we had a mission. The team put together by Bryce was aiming to beat the current course record of about 9 hours 50 minutes. This is about the same pace that I ran the first 100 Km of the SDW100, and that was a race that didn't go particularly well - so I figured that it was eminently doable under the right conditions. All we needed to do was hold a relatively steady pace of about 8 minutes a mile when we could, hike the uphills, and try and avoid spending a lot of time at the checkpoints. 

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Running Stupid

The following is an article that I wrote last year for the rather splendid running magazine Like the Wind. If you don't already subscribe, and you have even a passing interest in any type of running (if not, what on earth are you doing here?!), I thoroughly recommend giving it a look. It's not all idiots like me writing - some people know what they're talking about!

Running 100 miles in one go is a really stupid thing to do. I know this because people tell me so on a regular basis:

"I wouldn't even drive that far!" 

"Pheidippides died after running only a marathon y'know!" 

"Isn't it bad for your knees?" 

You know the drill. Everybody knows these things. Nobody could possibly run 100 miles. Except that they do. All the time.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

South Downs Way Race Report 2015

Eurgh. Okay, I wasn't really planning on writing anything about this race, but decided to use this post to get my thoughts in order and to record it for posterity. This blog is predominantly for me to look back on after all, and I don't want to introduce a publication bias in my own work! I'll try and keep it short, but I think that we all know that ain't going to happen!

The South Downs Way 100 was the first 100 miler that I ever ran, doing it way back in the heady days of 2011 before it became a Centurion Running event, and was run in the opposite direction. It was a bit longer back then (about 107 miles I think), and started up Beachy Head and along the Seven Sisters (which was a bit of a shock given my lack of hill experience). I did pretty well, and in particular I pushed right the way through despite feeling like crap, and despite having a dodgy knee from about 80 miles in. For about 10 miles over night, limping along, being taken the wrong way by my Dad who met me to pace me, I felt like there was no way that I could I finish. But I pushed on - "one leg in front of the other", "run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must". Pick your cliché. The point was that I bloody wanted it. I was hungry to feel what it would be like to push through the barrier and do something that many others couldn't (or wouldn't). And do you know what? As the sun came up, as I got back into the rhythm, and as I smelled the finish line for the first time (I think the drains had gone...), I suddenly found that I could run after all. In fact, the last 5 miles went bloody well. "It never always gets worse", and as anyone that has done these kinds of races before knows, if you just keep making relentless forward progress you'll likely get a second (or third, or fourth, or fiftieth) wind and suddenly feel great again.

I mean bloody hell, that's the name of this blog!

Monday 4 May 2015

Thames Path 100 2015 Race Report

It was all going so well. Leading up to the race I had avoided any niggles from training, had managed not to horribly injure myself, and had even managed to avoid the stinking cold that had taken my wife out the week before. I was feeling pretty confident, so you can imagine my annoyance when I spent Thursday passed out in bed with some weird stomach bug. Shit. 

Pun intended.

Monday 27 April 2015

Thames Path 100 Preview

It's not long to go now until my first race of the year, and I'm really looking forward to getting going! This Saturday I'll be running the first race in the Centurion Running Grand Slam - the Thames Path 100 miler. I ran this race back in 2012, but pulled up short about 70 miles in with a sore hip (having fallen off my bike on icy roads just days before).

For the past couple of years my focus races (most notably Spartathlon, GUCR, Transvulcania and UTMB) have taken precedence over the Centurion races, and with early season injuries I have had to DNF or DNS a couple. This year I aim to put all four to bed in one go. They're always a fantastic experience, and are probably the premiere ultra races in the UK at this time.

With 5 days to go until the start, I'm feeling... pretty good actually. My daughter now sleeps (for the most part), so I haven't got quite the level of fatigue that has plagued me for the past 2 years (although 5am starts 7 days a week probably aren't helping much). I have (so far) managed to avoid any horrific accidents or injuries (there's still time though). The plantar fasciitis that hit me before Spartathlon is now under control, so hopefully shouldn't be an issue. So yeah; all systems go!

The last few months have seen a house move and a few changes to my work schedule that have shaken my training plans up a bit, so I'm maybe not as fast as I would like. I also like cake a bit too much, so I'm not what you would call "race weight", although I find that I skirt the line between being svelte and stuffing my face with chocolate with impunity. But the important thing is that running feels effortless and (more importantly) fun at the moment as it should be! I am currently running (sprinting...) with our new dog, Saphie, everyday which is a ton of fun! So the speed work is there, I'm just not entirely sure how I'll cope without the benefit of a wolf to drag me along...

I ran a 10k a couple of weeks ago which, while a few minutes outside of my best time, was actually not as bad as I expected. So maybe there is a little bit of residual speed hanging around in the old legs. 

Anyway, I'm feeling good about the race and really looking forward to getting going. All being well I'll have a good day out there, and a PB should hopefully be on the cards. I'm not stressing about pacing, so I'll just run and see what happens. 

I even have a crew to help out on the day. Well, a Nick. But he's as good as a whole pit-crew (well, he probably eats as much anyway...) so we should have a cracking day! I think he's going to live-blog his experience of the race as well, so watch this space!

Now let's just hope the river doesn't flood again...

Thursday 16 April 2015

If you want my body, and you think I'm sexy, it's probably because of my high 2D:4D digit ratio and ERR gamma levels

Well of course we already knew it, but now science has proven it - runners are smart and sexy. Well, according to a couple of stories in the Daily Mail at least, and as I always say; you should absolutely believe everything you read in the Daily Mail unequivocally. 

But what is the actual research leading to these completely believable and plainly evident facts? Other than, y'know, mirrors and common sense? Let's take a look shall we...

Running Makes You Sexy

I don't know about you, but I never feel more sexy than when I'm running. When I'm collapsed in a sweaty heap:

And coughing and spluttering:

With my toenails hanging off:

Having to deal with blisters:

And smearing vaseline around my crack:

I can't help but notice all of the ladies staring on with lust and desire on their faces. 

Thursday 26 March 2015

I've Bingoing round in circles all day, and all I got was a saggy ball bag

The other day, one of my work colleagues asked me for an example of an innuendo. So I gave her one.

True story (hi Cicik!).

The Bingo Race is rife for naughty punnage. Race Director (and possible psycopath) James Adams and his wife spent the week before the race gently fondling the runners' balls, making sure that their ball bags were nigh on full to bursting. And so followed a week of testicularly-focussed Twitter posts from the man himself, and much giggling from all of the immature children present on the day (i.e. me).

Ball bags swinging in the breeze. C/O James Adams

Scrotums-aside (which incidentally is a good tip for endurance running...), the concept of the race was another psychological mind-fuck from the same deviant mind that brought us the Piece of String Fun Run. Billed as the World's Most Unfair Race (TM), the concept is to put your race finish into the hands of fate. Each runner was given a race bib with three numbers written on it, which were randomly selected from our own personal ball bags the night before. I was reliably informed that said three numbers had been replaced for the race itself, but I did wonder... 

Friday 20 March 2015

Never tell me the odds!

Just a quicky. Being a bit of a stats geek, I was interested to see what the probabilities of finishing the Bingo Race looked like, and how we should expect tomorrow to pan out. As a quick primer, the plan is that we each have our own ball bag (giggle) with 30 numbered balls in. After each lap (about 2 miles each), we randomly select a ball. If it matches one of the 3 balls on our bib, it's ticked off (by which I mean a tick is physically placed over the number, not that the balls are somehow anthropomorphic and a bit miffed to be chosen). If not, we just run another lap and try again. Then we keep going until we have ticked off all three numbers. So we may be finished in 3 laps or it may be 30. Interesting stuff. 

Now to be clear - I really don't care about how many laps I will have to run from a racing point of view. Tomorrow is going to be fun, and in all honesty I would be perfectly happy running for the full 100 Km. I'm looking forward to a nice long run with some good friends, and I'll just run until I stop. Run Stupid (TM), and don't think about things as you go. However, it is quite an interesting question to answer - as you go along, what are your chances of the misery finally being over at the end of the current lap? 

So being a stats geek, I thought I'd have a quick play. I won't go into the details, but in a nutshell I treated this as a ball and urn problem - there are 30 balls in total, 3 of which I want to pick (green) and 27 of which I don't (red). I performed a random "race", where each lap I calculated my probability of pulling out the final green ball this time (using a hypergeometric probability distribution), then randomly chose a ball (using a pseudo-random number generator) and updated the numbers for the next "lap". I repeated this whole process a million times and averaged over all of them to get a good model for any given set of idiots runners. 

Simple. Got it? Good.

This figure shows the probability of completing your set of 3 numbers after the current lap. Obviously this is zero for the first couple of laps, and there is a vanishingly small chance of being done on the third. After each lap the odds improve, but really very few of us will be finished in fewer than 15 laps. In fact, if we look at this in a slightly different way and ask what percentage of finishers we should expect to see at each lap, we see that half of the runners will be running over 23 laps.

The odds don't look good for a quick finish I'm afraid, but honestly that's what I'm counting on! But to everybody else that's running and was hoping to be at the pub quickly - sorry guys! I'll be interested to see how tomorrow actually pans out, and how closely it correlates with these predictions. Obviously it doesn't account for people stopping for other reasons along the way, but I couldn't be arsed including a DNF coefficient in the model. 

Right. Let's play Bingo!

Wednesday 18 March 2015

New training partner

Phew! Well it's been a busy few weeks but it's starting to calm down a bit now. A couple of weeks ago, we finally moved into a new house after about 6 months of waiting, and it's been a bit hectic as you might imagine. But after a week and a half of decorating, ripping out bits of the kitchen, and "fixing" the electrics and plumbing, we're now just about sorted. This has slightly thrown off my training over the last few weeks, but now I can get back to preparing for the Grand Slam later this year. I have about 6 weeks now before the first race begins, the Thames Path 100 (the "easy" one), so should probably think about doing some training...

To be fair, my laziest week is still pretty active. Even on my laziest weeks I cycle about 35 miles a day for work and run 3 or 4 times a week. But it will be good to get back to being able to use my gym (once it isn't crammed with boxes) and not feeling like I can't get a good solid run in as I need to get another coat of paint on the doors. Is there any more thankless task than painting doors?! They replaced all of them which we thought was nice of them, until I realised I had 8 fucking doors to sand, prime and paint. Fun times. 

Anyway, it's all back to some semblance of normality now so hopefully I can get myself in some kind of shape for the race. Since we don't like to do things the easy way, we also got a new dog, Saphie, three days after moving. She has been rehomed from a family who were struggling to deal with her and 3 (soon to be 4) kids, which was perfect for us with our little girl. She is absolutely fantastic with Lottie, and seems perfectly happy to be hugged, cuddled, poked, prodded and ridden like a horse by her. She tends to get a resigned "sigh" look in her eyes that speaks to this being fairly standard for her, but at least she only has to deal with one little human now!

Also, being a husky cross, she is a big fan of running, so has become my training partner in the mornings. We start most days with a nice fast 5 Km run, and tried out a 10 Km run at the weekend which damn near killed the poor thing. She definitely needs to work on her endurance, but we'll soon sort that out! She's still only a puppy, so just needs to work on her pacing. My only worry is that it's a little like running with a weight bench or pulling a tyre, except the complete opposite; instead of it feeling easier when I take off the harness like with my tyre pull, I suddenly realise that it wasn't me that was pushing the 5 min/mile mark!

Anyway, I will be at the Bingo Race this weekend (The World's Most Unfair Race) which should be an interesting experience. It will probably not surprise you to learn that this idea comes from the same mind that brought us the Piece of String race. The concept is that you have three numbers on your race bib, and after every 2 mile lap you draw a new bingo ball. You finish when you pull out all three of your numbers from your ball bag (tee hee). You could be done in 6 miles, or you could be running for the full 10 hours. Knowing my luck though, I'll be finished in an hour! And where's the fun in that? If that happens, I think I'll carry on, or else go off for a long run nearby. It'll be good to see how my endurance is at the moment and what I need to work on over the next few weeks.

Last up, I am hoping to actually race these Grand Slam races and try for some decent times this year. The record for all 4 races is about 70 hours, which I feel like I should be able to beat if all goes well. I'm looking for a bit of help with crewing for some of these races, so will be hitting up some friends to see who fancies spending about 17 hours following me and forcing gels down my throat. I wonder if I'll have any takers...

Sunday 8 February 2015

2014 Review: Out with the old, in with the new

Right, well we're over a twelfth of the way through 2015, so I should probably do the obligatory look back over the previous year and see how things went. Looking from the running side of things, it's been an okay year I guess. I'm certainly happy with the performances I put in along the way, but there have been some things which could have been better. But on the personal side, it was absolutely incredible. My little girl is growing up so fast, and I just love the time we all spend together as a family. She runs around like a mad thing now, and her favourite things are running (complete with  crouching in the starting position and shouting "on marks, get set, gooooooo!"), eating, drumming and Batman. No idea where she gets it from. And now she sleeps! Huzzah! So much so that she actually told us off for having the TV on too loud, and slammed her bedroom door on us. Didn't think we'd be at this stage for another 12 years or so...

Anyway, the year started with a fantastic opportunity to run the Spine Challenger - the "easy" version of the Spine Race. The full Spine Race follows the entire Pennine Way route for about 268 miles in the middle of winter. The Spine Challenger only covers the first 108 miles, so is obviously much easier to finish. Ahem. I had a fantastic time out there, and it was an incredible experience. I decided to pull up short a few miles shy of the finish after injuring my foot on the way down one of the mountain passes in the rain and ice, since I didn't want a repeat of 2013 where an injury at Transvulcania early in the year threw off a lot of my racing calendar.

I always say that, when it comes to DNFs, I always try and think what "future me" will think when he looks back on it, and try to use this to decide whether or not to drop. I really don't care about having DNFs on my CV (as if anybody cares) as long as it wasn't just because I was being a pussy. Well now I am future me, and I'm still happy with this call. I had a great time out there, was able to have a sleep and clean up before a 14 hour train journey home, and was able to get back to training pretty quickly afterwards. If I had pushed on, I would have had to go straight to my journey home after about 40 hours running, and would probably have been limping for weeks afterwards. But I would have got a medal to put under my bed and never look at again. It wasn't a tough call.

Next up was the Centurion Running South Downs Way 50 in April. I originally hadn't planned any other races between the Spine and Grand Union Canal Race since I half expected to be a broken mess. But since I managed to avoid any serious issues, I decided to head off for a little jolly with a bunch of great people, and was able to catch up with lots of friends I have made along the way. It didn't go fantastically well, as some stomach issues cropped up making it a bit of a slog. And I lost a Buff. But let's not go into that. But hey, I had great fun out there and got to catch up with a lot of friends who I only see intermittently through the year.

The Grand Union Canal Race was next up, and was one of my main races for the year. I had hoped to come into it strong and ready to actually race, having felt like I hadn't really raced for a while. Largely this was down to focussing my energies on my new family (so much more fun!), not helped by having a little girl who was not a fan of sleep. But leading up to the GUCR, things were getting much better, and I had had a few good podium results at local 10Ks that were a good boost to my confidence. My speed wasn't too bad, but my endurance was a little bit of an unknown quantity. 

I went into the race feeling good, but not as good as I had hoped. For a few weeks before the race, I had the onset of plantar fasciitis, something that I had never had to deal with before. It may have been a result of trying to ramp up my miles in too short a time to get ready for the race. In hindsight, running 150 miles on it wasn't a great plan. I went out hard and things were going pretty well for a good chunk of the race. Unfortunately, after about 120 miles my knee went out, probably as a result of overcompensating for my PF. Normally that would be it for me, as I've got to the stage where I can't be bothered risking months of injury for the sake of finishing a race. However, I decided to push on for two reasons: 1) I wanted to remind myself that I could push through adversity and run through pain if I wanted to, and 2) I had the Spartathlon coming up in September which was my main focus race, and wanted to remind myself that I could run that far. I knew that it would probably cause problems, but I figured I had a few months to get fixed back up again. 

The last 30 miles of that race sucked pretty hard, but I got dragged through it by my awesome crew of Simon, Liz and Tim. When I decided to push through to the end, there was no doubt I would make it, but having friends there to keep my spirits up made things much more bearable! For me at least - for them it probably sucked having to deal with my whinging. I just managed to hold out for a top 10 finish, but it wasn't pretty. However, I was still very happy with the race. Pacing, nutrition, etc. all went to plan. Running with an injury - not so much. You live and learn. 

I had some other races planned, including the South Downs Way 100 and Lakeland 50, but these got put to the side as I aimed to get myself fit and healthy for the Spartathlon. I really wanted to hit the start line in good form, as the last thing I needed was a niggle or even a full on injury to make me doubt myself in Greece. The PF continued to be a problem, and nothing I was doing seemed to work. With only a few weeks left until the race, I was not feeling happy. I hadn't run much at all, was putting on weight (despite cycling a lot more), and was starting to wonder if I would ever see the start line. I ended up taking a trip to see the fine fellas and fellettes at Profeet in London, who helped me with a new rehab program to work on. After a few weeks, it was looking like things were improving and that I might just make it after all.

Then I twisted my ankle. Sigh.

Regardless, this was my main focus race of the year, and I had already paid for everything, so I stayed off it until race day and hoped that would be enough to be ready to run 150 hilly road miles. Not the best preparation for an A race, but the worst case scenario was that I would get a nice sunny all inclusive holiday in Greece. Luckily all was well, the race went really well, and I got the finish that I had looked forward to all year. Huzzah!

Lastly, there was a sub-optimal Piece of String race, which was great fun but which I had to cut short at the end of the first day. As it happens I would have been done by about 10pm if I had hung around, but for all I knew it could have gone on until Wednesday - and I had plans with my little girl on Sunday. Easy call!

And that was that. Not the best results all told, but I had some fantastic adventures! So what's on the cards for 2015? This year I haven't arranged any big adventures or trips abroad, and am instead focussing on some more local races. I have entered in for all 4 of the Centurion Running 100 milers, so assuming I get a place on the Thames Path (I'm currently on the waiting list) I will be having a crack at the Centurion Grand Slam. I would like to get at least line good 100 mile race out of these, as I haven't really raced a 100 miler as a focus race for a couple of years. I'd like to see what I can do.  Hopefully by concentrating on some "shorter" races I can focus on some good solid performances. I'm also having a go at James Adams most recent ridiculous event, the Bingo Race (the World's Most Unfairest Race TM) in March. Knowing my luck, I'll only get to run 10 miles before all of my numbers get drawn though. Add in a bunch of local 10Ks and half marathons, and hopefully I'll have a nice fast injury-free season this year. And some sleep. That's not going to hurt matters at all!