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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Plans for 2014

Audrey by ultraBobban
Audrey, a photo by ultraBobban on Flickr.

Ok, so they are not definitive and this depends on 2 things that are not my health; Baby health and taking the piss between work/life/running balance.

Jan: Winter Tanners 30 mile
Feb: moonlight challenge 50k
March: Steyning Stinger
April: SDW marathon
May: 3 Forts, Bewl marathon, NDW50 course marking, Weald Challenge 50k
July; Osmotherley Phoenix 33

From then on...unsure but will definitely be running:

Founders Marathon
Gatliff 50k

Any advice, guidance and 'will you come and run this event' will be taken into consideration but for me this is a consolidatory year of shorter races. I managed not to run an event under 26.2 miles this year. Long may this continue and welcome to the world to my beautiful daughter Audrey Yei Min.

More ultra coverage

I was checking the race calendar for 2014. Now for 2013 it was a case of....."I'm going to do a 50 miler next week, OK?" or "I've got a cheeky trail marathon coming up on Sunday" with which the beautiful Mrs UB would reply...."OK, as long as you are home by 2 as we have people coming for lunch......and pick up some milk on the way back"

Now 2014 is about to start with a promise from 2013...."Of course you can do the Winter Tanners" to something more abrupt in reply. I am planning my races and events around the 3 of us now. There are a couple of Blue Riband events I would like to squeeze in; those that I have done before and cherish, those that are on my bucket list and some new events too.

It was a surprise to see my good running buddy Ultra Ewan and myself Spread across the front of Stu Mills website as I was checking out the inaugural Weald Trail Challenge 50km race. It looks like a good race mixing up some old territory and new trails for me. Nice to see that I'm getting some coverage despite my up and down year. This race was the highlight of my calendar with the 2nd place podium.

Looking at the photo in this lead group at CP2 was eventual winner Johnny Melbourne but the others were dropped fairly soon after this and eventual 4th place must have overtaken them as he doesn't appear in the pic. Nor does the nutter French fella who despite being dropped from this lead group 3-4 miles back, was ALREADY AT CP2!!

Good memories!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Running review of the year 2013

So here we go......I would like to add a longer version at some point but this has been a year of HIGHS AND LOWS

2012 was all about the recovery from the broken leg at the start of 2011 and my first 100 miler. 2013 was sustaining and improving my endurance and times at ultras.

The year commenced with the Winter Tanners being cancelled and then a couple of events that were either not attended, cancelled or me being ill led to not having run an ultra for some time. Luckily Rory Coleman agreed that I could sweep for the London Ultra 50k and that was a comfortable but nice long start to the year. Again, following this in Feb and nothing in march owing to the weather, I whizzed up to Northampton at Easter to throw away 2nd place in the last 500m of the race around the reservoir after taking on copious amounts of coke instead of my race drinks and finding out the this was sugar free and bombing the last mile and dropping to an agonising 4th place.

Then a glut of runs that demonstrated that form and flow had returned....Slowly first and a windy and wet course for the Bungay Black Dog marathon was not the most auspicious of conditions, especially as I arrived about 30s before the start, parked my car and ran to the start line as the field were out of sight. Bewl marathon on the saturday was 2 mins quicker than the previous year and conditions were atrocious. I followed that with a 27 mile 3FM race the day after and blasted the last 10k in mega quick time leaving me perfectly poised, although potentially a little short of miles for the NC50 miler in late May. this is where I hooked up with Ewan Dunlop and from mile 18-43 were in 1st place and looking for my first ever podium. Being overtaken in the last 7 miles was heartbreaking but we were beaten by a worthy winner. On that day I realised that Ewan has out-and-out speed (something that I can't yet compete with) but I have a good navigation strategy, positive mental attitude and when the going gets really tough, an efficient run-walk strategy. Most important out of these was the nav work. Very very few mistakes made meant that we clambered over the line in joint 2nd place.....actually I had run much further but this was the first 50 miler I have ever done. This also was one of my favourite races.....not for the piss poor organisation and lack of checkpoints, but the way that I pushed myself despite the pressure of leading a race, the scenery and the company.

Pride comes before a fall and fll I did just a few weeks after the NC50. Mile 38 of the SDW100 (aptly named Cocking Down) and I face-planted the rough chalk and flint downhill landing on my face and arm and knocking myself out. Garmin shattered, claret on the white chalk and concussion, I limped to mile 48 and then DNF'd on a race where helen and I were 2 hours ahead of last year's schedule and well on course for a 21 hour 100 miler. Helen incidentally finished in 21 hours

After some wound licking and trip to A&E I got back on the horse too quickly. Just 3 weeks later the Croydon Ultra 30 and I was chatting to 2 chaps about falling over and then fell straight down a manhole at mile 15.....race over.

Fast forward to 30 degree heat in July and the Heart of the Weald XC race. Eric, Phil and I set off on this inhumanely hot day. Perhaps the most technical XC race in a long while. Phil dropped down the 21 mile course to 'win' that event. Eric and I continued the full distance to claim 11th place. Hard work.

Summer hols and a new event the Vangurd way marathon. Not a nice course from Croydon out past the M25 and back. Phil had the mumps as we found out later and was very ill but I arse kicked him to the finish and we limped over the line in well over 5 hours. I'm really glad he finished and for him, I hope he learned that if you push yourself and your body is not falling part, you can pretty much do anything.

Then another low. The (Thames Gateway Ultra) TG60 miler was abysmal from the start. A transit van of refreshments at the start that looked awesome but never made it to any CP and piss poor organisation meant the entire field of runners lost 6 miles in in the pouring rain. My hamstring had been tight but 18 miles in it was hopeless and I couldn't get any power from my right leg. DNF whilst leading a race....bugger.

Autumn was a much better season, with 20 mins quicker on the Farnham Pilgrim than the previous year and a good day out, despite still limping around with that Hammy. Then, the Founders. I had been having nightmares about this race since I got lost leading the event in 2012 with 1.5 miles to go. I invited Ewan D to race with me and fresh from a fast ultra, he obliged. Not realising that we were not to run together again, he blasted off, leaving me to enjoy the day by myself. Quite quickly my nav skills saved me. Ignoring the big group of guys leading the 2nd place pack, I told them I knew the way but they didn't believe me. on I went, thinking a top 10 might be bout do-able. Mile 11 I heard Ewan drawing up behind me....'you're in the lead mate' he stated as he go back on track after being lost. We blasted the next miles out and then he went on to win the even with me coming 2nd by 14 mins, still, faster than the previous 4 years'winning times. Another 2nd place podium.

Final race of the year is one of my faves. Gatliff 50k. This year it was 'only' 54km. Sue Byrne and I ran this together, nice easy pace and I came in 19th in a good strong field. Hard as nails race that never ever is straightforward.

So, looking back, I didn't do enough quality races and I only peaked twice in the year. I have run 3075km so far, much less than last year and importantly, far less ascent.

Having said that I have run far more training runs and far fewer races this year. Those training runs have fallen into a number of catgories:

  • Long runs by myself. Time for contemplation and exploration. I have really enjoyed these trips out on the train from London and then a run home.
  • Stress busting mind-blowing fast miles very locally after dealing with the daily coronary of school leadership. These have been very effective in preventing an enforced lobotomy at the Maudsley and also for racking up some 6 and even sub 6 min miles.
  • Local exploring runs. Thought you knew South London better than a Cabbie? Not any more. Every alley, gitty, gennel, snicket and cut-through I have navigated South of the Thames and I am getting to know East and North East London even more. 
  • The best runs though.....the long runs with FRIENDS. With the exception of the Lea Valley navigation route into London where at 8 miles in, I reluctantly gave in with a tight hamstring, much to the continued piss-taking by Eric, every run I have bonded closer to my good friends and made even more. Running with Sue B, Eric, George, Tom P and in the last 10 months or so, the legendary Phil B. Each run has been epic. mainly long, mainly on new territory. Each one I have really enjoyed the development of our friendships. 

 Next year fatherhood is the most important thing, but I will be on the scene to run events, although might be more marathon focused owing to time constraints. Lessons to learn will be to not start a race I think I can finish if I am injured.

A year of ups and downs. What will next year behold?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Last blog post before fatherhood

Only 2 of us in this pic. The next 24hrs will be the dawn of a new era and we will have a new addition to the family. For now, womankind's own ultramarathon is now well underway

Monday, 16 December 2013

Out into Kent and back

Central Park pathway by ultraBobban
Central Park pathway, a photo by ultraBobban on Flickr.

Now not wishing to go far as the bby is now 3 days overdue, Phil came over for a no-nonsense run out to Kent and back. I decided on no back-packs as we might have gone much further. All said, when you head out of London, you lose the luxury of not worrying about where to get fed and watered as there are so many purveyors of coffee, sugary snacks and thirst quenching drinks. We headed on the steady incline through Beckenham, Wickham Way and West Wickham. After a steep descent of Corkscrew Hill it was up to Layhams and a quick decision not to go on the winding country road in the drizzle left us a cross country path to Keston Common. I had opted for road shoes so was in a bit of a tizz as I slid around in the wet, claggy mud and drizzle. After a mile or so we hit tarmac again and up to Nash, past oncoming horses.

We took some steep options up to keston ponds and then a quick refuel at Keston. Had there not been a potential birthing to prepare for, we would have gone on to Sevenoaks and taken the train back. The only issue was sunday service, work on the lines etc and neither had phones so could not anticipate any delays. Opting again for as much mixed trail as possible before sub-urban mundania we managed to cover 17.5 miles in good quick time. The downside of this was a tight hamstring. I said goodbye to Phil and then had a long hot bath and a stretch.

After Sunday lunch had gone down and afternoon chores were done, feeling virtuous, I returned to the pavements of Crystal palace and Forest Hill for my second run of the day, this time in the pouring rain. It is just nice to get the miles in at the moment and the hamstring is feeling less tight.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Logging the miles - South London Style

hoodie on the rec by ultraBobban
hoodie on the rec, a photo by ultraBobban on Flickr.

I don't really want to veer too far from home as the 'bump' aka mini-UltraBobban is due this week. There will be no December races or longer runs but I am happy to keep myself ticking over in terms of fitness, albeit the miles are fewer and I have definitely developed some Xmas extra insulation, being 4kg greater in mass than in the summer months.

Getting out midweek is not really more that 7 miles at a time and usually far less. Work is making sure of that! This morning was nice to get out for an early good paced run with Eric, Tom P, Mark, Chris and Gareth. Eric was first to cave in (freshly hungover) and dipped out early. With a run to Dulwich Park, then over Crystal Palace hill again, I knew that we would pile in some hills this morning. Down to Beckenham and round to South Norwood Country Park and up Crytal palace hill for the 3rd time meant a nice fat 800ft of ascent in 14 miles.

Great to catch up with the boys and also to be able to give 'Erica' some stick for being a big bed wetter!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

December Canal Run

Acer palmatum red fire by ultraBobban
Acer palmatum red fire, a photo by ultraBobban on Flickr.

I wasn't really expecting to be running as an expectant father-to-be, but yesterday at a nice boys afternoon down the pub I avoided brain-hemorrhage cider (well for the first 5 pints anyway) which seemed to set me up for the rest of the day with Charlie who had come down from Oxford and the running club crew for an afternoon of proper drinking. Needless to say we concocted a nice 20 mile run along the canals for 9am the next morning which meant getting up to run up and over the hill from 8.30am.

Cokkie, Tom P and I met up with Mangioni and we took the back ways to Greenwich foot tunnel. Half anticipating a hungover bimble I was taken by a 7.30s surprise as my heavy legs struggled to cope with the 9 pints from the day before and the 56km odyssey at Gatliff the previous Sunday. I soon warmed up and then the banter on the way down to Greenwich started. Good craich.

Mang turned back and we hooked up with Phil and Harley. Harley was on a 3 hr run prepping for the Big Sur marathon in California in a couple of months so we ran with her for a bit, then after a banana/donut/coke break we took Limehouse Basin and up the Regents canal to Islington. It is utterly ace to run in London for 10 miles and not cross a road. lots of runners use the towpath but bidding good morning to EVERY SINGLE RUNNER became farcical as about 3/4 TOTALLY ignored us! Possibly the reason I moved from Islington to 'dirty-South' in 1999. Nevertheless, we progressed, only to bid farewell to TP and Cookie at Haggerston. PB and I cruised along up to Islington and across the City where we hunkered down for a coffee and then continued via some bad trains towards our own homes. Cutting short a long run was necessary, albeit not for long-dissipated hangovers but a need for house chores and off to an Xmas party at our good friends Andy and Mike's. 19 miles in the tank was enough although it has left me fresh for the week, ready for a good week of running before hopefully a smooth birth of UltraBaby-1

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Race report Gatliff 50km

There is only one word in the race calendar that conjurers up thoughts of chaos and maelstrom and that is 'Gatliff'. Billed as a 50km race, it in my every attempt has never been 50km and has always thrown up the most bizarre conditions of either mud or cold and always far too much water. The route changes every year and the instructions (the race is a self navigate route with no map, based on Bletchley code-breaking instructions that are never as good as LDWA events in terms of ambiguity and randomness) never fail to throw up serious question marks on whether the organisers had purchased crystal meth off Methodist Bank Chairmen. Having said, it is a must in the race calendar and any time inside 9 hours is considered respectable, 8 hours good and anything less, well, that is sterling work on the day!

  So I ran this today with my good running buddy Sue, who incidentally ran the first ultra with me in 2008. Fresh off the back of Dublin marathon she was ready for a beasting session. Fresh off the back of Founders and a hangover from the running club quiz night where we came in last place (fix) we set off on a cold but clear Kent morning. There were some very familar faces at the start but also a few notable absences; Ewan D who was nursing an injury, Dave Immune who has traded spikes for bikes and Jezza who was on Winter 100 duties. That being, the first few miles were punctuated only by the need to walk for a while as Sue had some heart palpatations which required looking after. Both of us had partaken in cider and wine related activities on Saturday eve so this was going to be a bimble and a laugh and a chance to catch up and have a good long run. The mud was the talk of the day though. It was thick, gloopy and absolutely everywhere.

CP1 at Holtye was further than the billed 9.6km, without a foot wrong was more than 11.6km which meant that we were outside of Imperial and Metric and on Gatliff measurements. Seemingly exact measurements were way off and seemingly vague were frightfully accurate. We passed a walker at 16 miles where we needed to check the directions as they were not making sense. "I know where I am going as I wrote the damned thing!" He retorted, and I promptly called him a BUGGER! CP1 to 2 was a longer stretch and with a reasonable clip, we manufactured a decent run. That said, it was interspersed by leg-gouging gorse and some very dubious pathways that turned into 'route 1'. There was more stop-starting as we huffed and puffed over the instructions but we were not as misfortunate as some who had gone way way off-piste. Scenery was gorgeous and the new route up over the Ashdown Forest was unforgivingly hilly but with vistas and 'big sky' was awesome.

This was at the top of the Ashdown Forest at 730ft high

Up to CP2 at 'Piglet' car park and a chance to rehydrate and then crack on. The Ashdown Forest is naturally a well drained area so running was quicker but as soon as we got to '100 acre wood' (Pooh fans will be well aware) we were ensconced in thick beastly calf deep mud of the very stick variety. This first 'half' to CP3 was definitely the most challenging. The terrain and mud were really slowing us down, but also giving us the chance to chat to Chris from Croydon and Dave from Brixton who had run 10 marathons in the last 10 weeks. Lively! So the next miles were grinded out and with the mud and hills the CP at Hartfield was very welcome. Sue had the need to take on food and fluid so we made the most of it, but ended staying 23 mins at the hot food CP! It was time to get a move on. We blasted out through mud......more mud......and a bit more....

.....and even more

We were able to get some quality miles in and the second half certainly was quicker than the first. We bumped into Matt Biggin prior to CP4 and ran together for a while. I have a drop in sugar and confidence for miles 27-30 so a little slower to CP5 until I could recuperate with tea, crisps, biscuits and cola bottles. Then it was about blasting the last 9km. We did. During this time we overtook about 20 runners. Speed was of the essence as we wanted to go sub 8. Now sub 8 sounds like a 50 miler and not a 50k, but the conditions and about 200 styles today was not going to be a quick time. Slip-sliding around we blasted out some miles and with the finish in sight, knocked out some awesome miles. 7.50 for the round and well inside the 9.30 that Sue did last year and a really good run. Gatliff is never a race to be underestimated. Marathon #45. Done.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Scally run

I love going up to Liverpool to see Mrs UB's family and have amazing chinese food. I did need to get out and blow out some cobwebs so went into the countryside outside Liverpool to Knowsley Safari Park and Croxteth Country Park. Arrr-ehhh our Kid.....Perma-tans and shell-suits aside this was a good mix of trail and road in an unexpected way. I hailed a few local runners and found that here were a few people out and were defoo more chatty that our London types. A couple in 'Croccy Park' were keen to know how far, min per mile and hydration strategies for my 10 mile run. No food, no hydration and a Congee breakfast of Rice Porridge and mushrooms and 'thousand year old eggs' for brekkie. What a great run, pan flat, muddy and very wet.

Then we went out for Dim Sum and watched lost of Scallies running up to 'Jimmy Corkhill' off Brookside for autographs while we ate and ate and ate.

I deffo needed trail shoes today as my roadies are soaked!

Yorkshire Dales Peaks run

The plan for the midweek run was to allow Mrs UB to relax and be pampered whilst I hit the trails during the 'big storm' that was raging down south but had not really hit up North.

I scouted out some runs on the OS Explorer map and decided that Monday was the day for this. The winds down South had died down to nothing but the constant gales on top of the Dales were still harsh. Our digs were salubrious to say the least. Awesome duck down duvet on a superkingsize, big bath, Ipod dock accouterments, robes, free beer and the smell of wood smoke wafting though the converted mill almost prevented me from delving into the Dales. Waterproof on and rucksack incase with OS map and then a drop of probably 25 degrees from shelter of the house to the cold reality of the Dales.

This was the plan.....The Cam High Rd which is a Roman Rd  stretching from Hexam down through Bainbridge to some Southern soft town. It literally went over everything. I didn't meet anyone on this road for 10 miles. Not a soul! Why? well the 50 MPH wind over the first 5 miles and with 400ft-2014ft of ascent, nothing crept remotely near to 9 min miles.....mainly in the wind, the odd glance of the watch was a scary 11 min miles.....and I was running this hard!!!!

The tops of the Dales look inviting but actually fail to deliver in terms of vies and experiences. Mainly the tops are flat so offer a view of more of the same and not a vista one would come to expect from the Lakes or Snowdonia. The flat tops are boggy, wet and full of Sink Holes. Grim. Here is the top of Wether Fell and then I ascended the 300ft higher Dodd Fell.

Then I was blown off my 82kg feet. Holy shit! This was not good. The wind was hard but this took me right out. It was back down some scree and a Lee Side return to base. 'Fonze' hairstyle in tow, a lovely 3 hour run to blow out the cobwebs

Hadrian's Wall run

I've been to Hadrian's Wall a number of years Housesteads and Chesters.....both markedly large parts of the wall. I was now in between Corbridge and Hexam, near to Newcastle and there was an 18 inch high brickwork structure where it could be assumed that thieves and housebuilders had scoured the lovely wall for their own......Nevermind. It was time to run and I have to choose my words carefully as my good friend Matt is a Major in the Artillery and we were running on MOD land, land that normal runners are not even allowed to go near. After our miles along HW, we circumvented the country lanes and byways, bridleways and farmland before we entered the airfield and camp to discuss Batteries and Nuclear armaments. Awesome to see some BIG ballistics and Artillery plastered around the base and also mindful of the intense security around the place as we stayed in the Commanding Officers' mess.

Now these chaps are kitted up in the most unusual post Newcastle night out running gear but between us we managed enough kit for a run. Matt, Robster and Karl, leaving the leadaing ladies to chit chat and plan our next jaunt!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Race report: Founders XC Marathon 2013

This event is definitely not for the faint hearted. 3600ft of hills, 3 checkpoints of which the first 2 are at 8 miles and 18 miles and with the heavy rain this last 2 weeks, a quagmire ensued.

I invited my good running buddy Ewan as I had not caught up with him since our 2nd place podium at the NC50 earlier in the season. I think this West Country chap is a talisman for me as you will find out. We had a chit-chat at the start and watched the first couple of waves of runners go off at the start. This marathon was a low key affair and essentially what we would call a 'training event' but it was for me a chance to exorcise some demons from last year as nearing the finish, slipped from top 3 to mid-table obscurity. It was also a chance to test the recent injury to the limits and see how things would pan out. I decided to ditch the OS map as Ewan had a GPS. Little did I know that after about 30 seconds from the start, with the steep climb of Pitch Hill up to 780ft in the first 2.5km I realised this was a man with the bit between his teeth. I initially rued leaving the map at base!

I lost sight of Ewan after about 2k and found my own rhythm up the slope, nestling nicely in 2nd place about 300m in front of a group of about 8 chaps. Around the top of the hill I was quickly caught by the guys behind and we started a bit of banter. Jeff, who I had run with for about an hour on the SDW100 and Darren who I have seen but not run with before and a couple of other guys and a girl. These fellas also had the bit firmly between their teeth and there was a bit of bravado and shoulder shuffling in that initial phase. I know races are not won up to CP1 but are definitely lost. We hit the base of St Marthas Hill at 573ft and these fellas wanted to go in a different direction. Darren stayed with me for about 100m and then after being unsure, turned and caught up with his group.

I felt confident in my own directions as I usually do. No self doubt had even penetrated my cerebral hemispheres so i carried on to CP1 on my own, confident that Ewan was way, way ahead by now. CP1 was a stock up on bread pudding and juice and off down to the next 10 miles of 'bedding in' to CP2, which was 10.5 miles further away. Dropping down into the Mole valley and then up to Newlands Corner along the NDW gave some light relief from following the paperwork. I was shocked at 11.5 to hear panting behind me the one and only Ewan, who had veered off course for about half a mile and was behind me. This was the 'race radio' that I needed. Ewan had passed Jeff and the others about 5 mins back and we realised I was in the lead! Now, dear readers, I have been here before and pride comes before a fall. I maintained race focus, deep breathing and removing any possible negativity from my brain. What else could I do anyway with the LEDG Ewan D blasting along Blatchford Down by my side. Anyway, enough about man-love and onto the race. Ewan clearly had some legs today and stated that he didn't want to be beaten. Some of this rich vein of form rubbed off on me and with the exception of 15 mile wobble, toys out of pram....then back in again, we traversed the undulations of the NDW and also had more man-love hugs for Johnny Cripps and Mal (early wave starters) on the way.

Blasting down to CP2 at about 7s, I couldn't keep up with Ewan and this way HIS time and time for me to enjoy my own running. Back with a BOOM from injury. Keeping my race focus and breathing I navigated without error and had an occasional sneaky peak behind for the BIG BOYS who had told me that they were in this for the podium.

I had one of those runners high moments for about 2 miles. No looking at the watch, focus, energy and totally aware of everything.....yet kind of nothing. A small nav error onto the 'old' course by 1/2 a mile snapped me out of this and after CP3 at Friday Street, one more 850ft hill (Holmbury) and it was a 500m brain off-brakes off descent to the finish.

Arms aloft. 2nd place! Awesome! Ewan was at the finish having some refreshments having completed the round 14 mins in front and winning the event. This was the fastest winning time since 2009. My second place would have won the last 3 years!!!!

After a cuppa and then a run the cars to change in the torrential rain we sank a pint of cider. Ewan stated he felt a little guilty that I had invited him to an event and he had beaten me into second place. Not so. Had he not been there for banter and for running so much better and beasting me, I probably would have settled back in the pack. So thank you Mr D for my 2nd place podium. Next time your batteries are low on your GPS, you deffo know who to trust with mapwork. I reckon we should do a LAMM or KIMM for podiums, ciders, shits and giggles. Great to catch up again. Cheers

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Urban Thames and Canal run with Sue B.

Great to catch up with Irish Sue on the run this morning that nearly didn't happen. With 2 hours sleep Sue had been on call delivering babies in the night at Kings and with the rain lashing down this morning, an extra hour in bed followed by 2 coffees and a bacon butty was enough to get me going. We paced at 8.30s-8.45s the bck way to Greenwich and through the foot tunnel. From Poplar the headwind and horrible rain led us off the river, diverting us from our intended route to Victoria along the Thames Path but instead to Limehouse Basin and along the Regents canal, a lap around Victoria Park in Hackney, through to Islington and Kings Cross. We stopped for some much needed sugar and with a number of stops for falling about laughing and being silly, took a turn for home, intending London Bridge but upping the miles and pace to 8.11s-8.20s with some dipping to 7.45s after the coke kicked in, instead to Canada Water for a warming coffee on the Overground back home.

The long and the short of it is that my hamstring feels a little tight but OK. 21 miles in the driving rain is not funny....but necessary as with rain and being wet, it is nothing that a hot bath can't cure. Looking forward now to the marathon next Sunday, whatever the weather

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

BOOM! It's back

So, would you believe it? The last 3 weeks I have bemoaned an injury and then prior to this, a miserable summer since the awesome 2nd place at the NC50 miler. So what has been the problem? Massage did not sort it. Rest did not sort it. Apart from a broken leg nearly 3 years ago I have not had a running injury since I switched to forefoot running 4+ years ago.

The culprit? Well. There has been a titter on Twitter amongst my running buddies about the one thing I have changed earlier this year. Compression shorts. I have had an issue in the past with a pair of Salomon S-Lab which went on Ebay pretty quickly. This time, a pair of Nike compression shorts (well 2 pairs actually) that presumably altered my gait cycle in some way to cause this issue.

As a good scientist I always experiment but there are those Eureka moments that come from time to time from pure serendipitous activity. Here was mine. Both sets of shorts were in the wash. I wanted to go out for a quick run a few days after my Lea Valley breakdown with Eric. I chose an old pair of v thin undershorts instead and behold; no problem at all. Good science is about repeat-ability and on 5 subsequent runs, chose non-compression undershorts as my sartorial undergarment, found that there was almost no issue. Slight tenderness in the hamstring led me not to run the Downslink 38, something of which I was gutted about, but a 20 mile run and a fast 10k on Tuesday, followed by BOOM, a 6k run to de-stress after a 13 hour day at work and after the first 2 miles at 7.09s, a 6.29 mile!!! UB is back.

As C3PO once famously stated...."thank the maker!"

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mrs UB back from Bulgaria and a run up the Palace

Mrs UB flew back in from Sofia this morning from a wedding that work commitments wouldn't allow my attending. 3 days away from a heavily pregnant wife is not so good. However this pic of 2 days after our wedding at the Olympic torch relay cheered me up no end as we were off on honeymoon last year 2 hours after this shot was taken!

Tonight was a do I or don't I run after a nice 10k slow with Irish Sue last night. I have a theory as to the root of my injury issue. I will keep this close to my chest for the moment but changed one thing and headed up to the top of the Palace (I have avoided hills for 3 weeks now) and hit this run hard. Very little issue even up at the top of the hill which is a 15% incline. What joy...and then a sub 8 afterwards. Baby steps are needed here but a real breakthrough. The change is small and from an unlikely source but as a true scientist I am going to repeat my experiment tomorrow to see if there is a pattern in the results. I'll let you know what it is in due course. Fingers crossed please!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A pain in the arse starts subsiding

Sue texted me this morning wanting some miles so I thought seen as she ran 20 on Sunday and wanted a recovery run, I would tag along as she ran to mine, rather than the usual me to hers. Tentatively at 9s on the flat we bimbled along and had a good old catch up on the gossip.

5 miles later and we had dipped to 8s and the hamstring felt OK. I can feel it now a little but it is just uncomfortable rather than a pain. I'd rather be in the form I was in for this photo with Tappo where I ran sub 7s on the Green Belt Relay for 7 miles. If only!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Downslink 38 unlikely

After the trainer wars by ultraBobban
After the trainer wars, a photo by ultraBobban on Flickr.

Just got back from what was billed to be a nice 16-18 mile run with Eric. After running 2 miles to Forest hill station i met up with Eric and we took the tube to Tottenham Hale, allowing us to run back through London on the River Lea Navigation Channel. This meant crossing no roads until we arrived at Limehouse Basin. I had told Eric that I would be a little slow as was on a recovery which was fine by him. First 6-7 miles were fine. We ran past the Big Breakfast house, stopped off to take some shots along the route, chit-chatted about cars, wives, holidays and social stuff....funny that we never really chat about running when we are running. Then I felt the strain in my hamstring. What is frustrating is that the drive part of my gait cycle just isn't happening.....I can't turn on the beans, not a bit. So we slowed down around Limehouse and ran the Thames Path back to Wapping and tubed it most of the way back with a mile-and-a-bit recovery warm down back home.

I am now 90% sure that the Downslink 38 is not going to happen. Gutted.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

That Sinking Feeling

Normally I have a positive disposition, a glass half full type of bloke. I'm getting the feeling that the next few weeks are going to be baby steps forward and that sinking feeling when recovery takes a step backwards and the wheels fall off.

This week I ran. Last week I had a total week off. Monday was 3.6 miles, Tuesday 5 miles, 10k on Weds and this morning, 2 miles. Each time the first mile has been a stiff slow 9s plus. Like an old car cranking up and spluttering as the tired pistons slowly warm up, my legs gently creaked into action. Wednesday was probably the better of the runs as by mile 4, I was comfortably at 8.45s and dipping lower. It is mighty frustrating to not be cruising around at 7.45s and putting in sub 7s for tempo runs, not travelling far and keeping away from my beloved hilly runs. A little at a time dear readers.......and on reflecting on this while I am writing this, I have returned to a glass half full type of bloke. There are 3 races on my radar before the birth of baby UB, 1 marathon, 2 ultras. Will I be ready in time?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Race Report - Farnham Pilgrim Marathon

I arrived at Farnham this morning in high spirits. After a quick drive down through traffic-free London on a Sunday morning, I walked from the car park to the start and Paul Ali of Ultra Tales magazine hailed me. It took me about 20 seconds to work out that it was him as my brain was still not yet awake. At the start, after the usual 'race admin' I bumped into Peter Bowles, Helen Smith and Dave Ross for a bit of light banter before the start..........and then we were off. Helen and I ran together for ages and we caught up on the usual races and in-between race stuff. Helen, as I have found out today, has an extraordinary memory for random things and asked me some questions about stuff I probably say when I'm tired and sugar-low so it is always good fun for her to recall my ramblings.

We set off at a good clip, 8.30s on the hills and 7.50s on the flats and maybe a bit quicker on the downs. Farnham is a lovely course and extremely well signposted and even better marshaled. In fact, the number of water stations was advertised as 9. I think that the world and his wife had come to man a few unofficial water stations and save for a section where it clearly stated 'no water for 2.4 miles' Were every 2 miles or so. I ran with just a bottle and a couple of the Second Surge double espresso gels from Keith Godden's which was the first time I had tried them out and Keith, I'm going to give a 'thumbs-up' as they are palatable, easy to carry, easy to open, although does need a swig of something afterwards to wash the gloop down.

So the first few miles was quick and I felt good. I spied George Fairbrother and was mid-way through a catch-up and he stopped for a piss-break so our conversation ended abruptly. George....a man of few words! We approached St Martha's Hill and my high hamstring started playing up. This took me by surprise as I had put some miles in last week and not a sniff of a problem. I did a quick calculation in my head; walk home back to the start, or finish the race. No question of what I was going to do. However, the pace had to drop. I told Helen that i was going to walk the hill and I saw her keep looking around to check if I was behind, which I was for about 2 miles to the halfway point. Paul Ali trotted past looking in awesome shape for Spartathlon in 2 weeks time. I then decided that damage limitation was the only solution. I was going to finish this but knew that a competitive time was now out of the question. To describe a high hamstring tendinopathy (HHT) is like describing a pain in the arse, as that is exactly what it is. As a biologist I am acutely aware of injury and recovery, however as a runner I'll always push myself beyond that. The uphills require the hamstring in particular, and so it was that to conserve my body for the Downslink 38 in 3 weeks, I walked the hills and ran the flats and downs, albeit tentatively. Fueling was fine, hydration was fine, I just felt a lot like Robert Krubica who I had watched on the WRC Rally of Poland on Saturday night before bed, coming in to the finish, nursing a lost wheel for the last 12k of a 25k rally stage, trying not to cause too much more damage, whilst leaving himself ready for the next stage.

The best bit of the course, a little lap around the ruins on St Catherine's Hill. Hilarious! So damage limitation needs to have positive outcomes and I strived to achieve these to keep my PMA on the positive side. Normally I am a back of the front runners or a front of the middle runners, call it what you wish. The damage limitation meant a new group of runners were there to chat to. A few were very chatty and I gravitated towards these, but here, in the back of the middle were quite a few moody fuckers. None more so that the utter arsehole that shouted and abused the awesome marshals for going the wrong way. Now with signs, marshals and orange spray and tape it is pretty impossible to go wrong. I took great offence to this idiot who unnecessarily shouted abuse and profanity at the lovely marshals because he couldn't follow some simple signs. He then ran off in anger, fueled by some adrenalin and vented spleen at about 7s......overtook about 10 runners and then (happily for the rest of us) burned out and then walked the last few miles. It was only when I was happily tucking into my pint of cider at the Barley mow, that I saw him limp past. Tosser. Hooligan. Gives us lovely runners a bad name.

So I trundled over the line in a pretty piss-poor 4.23. Second half was about reducing any longer term issues with the HHT and then there was the finish. Not a moment too soon. Medal, T-shirt, mug and goody bag and then off to the pub for Stowford's finest cider. Great to catch up with Pete, Helen and finally have a good chat with the legend Dave Ross, who came in 4th today, not so good as his 2nd last year. Nursing injury and forking out for treatment is the key to the next week. Marathon 42 is in the bag though.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A good weekend of recovery training

Recovery is coming along nicely. There are still plenty of issues with my high hamstring tendinopathy which will not get resolved overnight. There are 4 events; 2 XC marathons and 2 ultras (38 miles and 50km) to do until our first child is due on 14th December. If I can hold myself together until then, I will take a full break and have some healing time whilst daddy-duties take over my life.

This weekend was an unexpected boost to my training. Having decided to take some time to detox from the amount of alcohol consumed over the summer holidays, I have been feeling very positive. I was apprehensive about a longer run with Phil on Saturday as I had not run over 7 miles in any session in 3 weeks since the TG60 DNF. Parkrun was my first hurdle on Saturday morning at Crystal Palace. I ran up the hill to the start and felt rusty......

So with a 1.5 mile warm up and a little stretch at the start line, I relaxed (and for the first time at Park Run, didn't know anybody) and waited for the off. I was wary of the niggle so set off conservatively knowing that the 2.5 laps of the 5k course would reveal 240ft of ascent and some tight corners. I decided not to look at the Garmin and focus on my breathing, which I never really felt was near its limits, possibly 85% ish. I did have a sneaky glance at the top of the first climb feeling OK and thought that anything sub-24 would be really good, bearing in mind my recovery. All of the way round I focused on my breathing and my foot strike and was pleasantly surprised to have knocked out a 21.47 for the course. The Parkrun stats show I was 13th (out of 103) in my 13th park run but was also my quickest of the year. Not bad. I hopped off up the hill to meet Phil and his little brother Richard (training for Royal Parks half) and ran with them in a parks and cycle routes way to Brixton for a coffee and then home. 14 miles.

 After an afternoon of DIY finishing off the bathroom and lots of other odd-jobs around the house, a relaxing evening and it was off again this morning to do more miles with Phil. This time his wife was competing in Run to the Beat half marathon around Greenwich. We trotted down to the start, saw her at mile 1.5 and then ran the back ways around Woolwich and Charlton, then the Thames Path before ending up at the Dome where I got the tube and then ran home. Great to have a bit of northern banter with Phil. 13+ miles done and although this afternoon the hamstring felt it, it was not uncomfortable. Things are looking better and as long as I can hold it together for about 10 more weeks, recovery beckons.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Removing the fail from trail

I've had a pretty rum summer in terms of running. Injury and some real junk miles and the DNF from the Saxon Shore Thames Gateway. I guess that I have just been busy with serious DIY over my school summer holidays and add into that, probably a bit too much socialising and I think that there were a number of events too far. I should have taken stock after the SDW100 and then had a bit of a break. Sometimes having a bit of time off can not only be good for the body, but good for the mind.

So it was with some trepidation that I even packed my running gear for a mini-break to the Pembrokeshire coast. Mrs UB and I were heading up to her sister's wedding in Monmouth on the Welsh borders and we wanted to add a few days to this before the end of the summer. I am so glad that I did. I only completed 2 runs and neither were greater than 10 miles, but both, especially the first, were jam packed with big ascents and jaw-dropping scenery.

Susie, now being 25 weeks pregnant was interested in an afternoon nap after our walk around the beautiful Manorbier Castle and late luncheon. After a sumptuous bowl of Welsh Cawl washed down by some strong tea, we drove to Stackpole Quay and she departed for the hotel. I ran up the coast to Barafundle bay.....arguably the best beach in the UK. (only reachable by a 1km walk) Once I had taken in the vista, I ran back along the Pemrokeshire Coast Path for what was a very hilly lung busting run but nonetheless beautiful.

 I stopped a number of times for photos and to get my breath back  and absorbed the scenery. This was my first run in nearly a week and the pain in my hamstring was not as bad as I had originally concerned myself over. There was a niggle, but this went after a hot bath and glass of wine. two more days of chilling and it was off to the beautiful market town of Monmouth for the wedding of the year and indeed it was. Prior to cooking the entire bridal party the famous UB fry-up on wedding morning, I popped out to sample the rolling hills of the Wye valley and its surrounds. I was in for a treat.

After an hour of continuous hills it was time to return to chef duties to provide the wedding breakfast! We would need it, based upon the copious litres of beers, wines and spirits that would be consumed over the following 20 hours or so! Over these two runs I then contemplated a good old fashioned detox and dry month or two. I have over-consumed cider and wine this summer and I have no doubt it has affected my running and a lot more besides. So it is dear reader that I inform you that I am having a long break from the booze to give my body a chance to get back to fitness and to also prepare for the arrival of small new UB to the family. Good friends will know that I have been known to over-indulge on a regular basis so this will no doubt come as a relief for them too. I will monitor the effects and report back.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Thames Gateway 60 Race Report

I woke up at 4.45am and proceeded to stuff my face with bananas, coffee and ready brek before getting into the car and whizzing down to Eastling in the deepest darkest North Kent countryside. A beautiful place to finish an ultra....but no doubt it would be in the dark. Arriving at the start it was clear to see that Race Director Mike Jones had clearly learned from the Norman Conquest 50 and there was a plethora of Coke, Water and an assortment of snacks and savouries that even James Elson of Centurion Running would be in awe of. Even the race brief, the notes, the atmosphere was far more professional than the NC50 which was really good to see. I was impressed by how different it was. Race briefing at 7.15am was a sombre affair, as was the hour-long coach ride to Gravesend, where apart from a few of us chortling at the back, the rest were silent.

Arriving at Gravesend we were greeted by a mist that set in, like a pea-souper. This was truncated by a realisation that we were about to run 60 miles and polite conversation ensued and some cameraderie developed. Then the rain set in. It was here to stay for the longevity of my run. The run that was to end much sooner than planned.

A quick race briefing from Mike Jones and it was off at 9.00am through the mist and mirk and along the Thames estuary. The field quickly established it's top dogs. There were those who were bidding for glory and those who were biding their time. In just the first mile I had worked out the potentials in the field. My 2nd place podium at the NC50 was fresh in my mind and there were 2 runners that I had an eye on that were keeping their powder dry and a few that would go off hard and no doubt be reeled in after 25 miles or so. Navigation should be easy. Keep the bloody briny to the left and carry on to Faversham and then do a sharp right. No such luck. Punctuated along the coast were various factories, quarries, inlets, reserves and the like. All of the runners went off course around a sand quarry and with a map ref and recon around some hefty barbed wire fencing we were back on track through the pouring rain. A short Essex chap blasted into the lead, followed closely by a younger fella. I sat on their shoulders for 4 miles until they went off track and then decided it was time to get the map out and do my own recon work. CP1 at Cliffe came up pretty quickly and I was pleasantly surprised to see a chap who we ran with on the NC50 between miles 6-17. He worked the CP very well. A massive improvement on the NC50 where there were points with no CP (CP4) or a fella with a fag hanging out of his gob, on a phone and nothing on the table...CP6) Off then for the next 10ish miles to CP2. It was up through the RSBP range which was a climb of 150ft or so that the magic of the now good country trail faded to the grey that ensued and enveloped the estuarine course as my high hamstring woke up and shot a double espresso of pain up my nerves and into my brain. I had been happy as larry sitting early on the back of the front two guys. The pace was soooo comfortable I could have gone off like shit off a hot chrome shovel.......however.....up to the climb there were some sections where I felt some issues that began to manifest themselves in two ways: 1; in my upper hamstring (a big issue for forefoot runners as this is the trigger for the calf fast-twitch. and 2; in MY HEAD. Now my head is an amazing place normally, but with a baby on the way, things change. Things change a lot. So with that in the back of my mind the brain off, brakes off mentality now becomes subdued. The foot went off the gas and I slipped from 1st, to 3rd to 4th and then walked as the pain took over.

Happy face became angry face as I watched the lead, the glory, the podium, the trophy slip though my fingers. Then the angry face became forlorn as I took a £53 taxi back to the car and took a hit on the bank balance as well as the running prowess. However, I know when a man is down and I was certainly down. Walking was fine but this was an ultra and running was very very painful. Walking would have meant a disasterous 15+ hour 60 miler and not a lovely 10+ hour podium finish. I then DROPPED. Mentally this is a VERY VERY painful thing to do but with an injury, there is little choice.

So, after an eventful cab journey with what can only be described as (a lanky binman) an experience, I arrived at race HQ and spent some time conversing with the Race Director's sister who was utterly supportive and brilliant and hopefully did not see the bad side of my DNF. Evolution is a wonderful thing and I definitely think the the team around the Ultra-Trails brand have learned lessons from there issues around the NC50. I am now confident that this is a brand that will be a growing force in Ultra running. Race directions do need some work on but evolution is about moving forward. I have offered my services to support from a race marshalling point of view. I really appreciated that conversation, particularly as I was cold, wet and low after the DNF.

My hopes go out to the rest of the crews and runners and hope the event went as smoothly as it started. I arrived home to a hot bath and a lovely dinner party with some amazing friends that I would not have seen had I completed the race. However, I am confident that this would have been another podium had I not been race ready. Since I have woken up this morning the pain in the rear has subsided and I will be seeking out someone to fix the problem over the next few week. A DNF is a DNF and I've had a couple this year, but there are more races and it's not worth longer term damage.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Up and coming Thames Gateway 60

The last couple of weeks I have been quiet on the blogging front. Apologies to you dear readers. Since getting back from Kenya I have been busying myself with a paint of every surface of the house over the last two-and-a-half weeks, completing the garden office and untold other DIY issues that have been on my list. In the meantime, running has taken a back foot as I have the need to prep the house over the school holidays in time for the start of term and then the delivery of our new baby towards the end of the year.

Punctuate the DIY with a 3 day trip to Berlin and Potsdam to visit friends and with my running gear in backpack, I thought I might have a little run. Maybe not! Plenty of walking and sightseeing, although the only rain of the long weekend was during the walk to the Reichstag building in the centre of town. Now that Mrs UB has a large bump......

....we are not going for our City centre runs so I stuck to a few Weissbiers and chilled out. 135 miles in 10 days last week required a few days off. Let's call it a taper. I have run 11 this week at the club on Tuesday, preceded by the most painful massage ever on a messed up back and worryingly, an high hamstring strain. Rest, recovery and gentle stretching along with foam roller work will hopefully allow me to be ready for the 60 miler on Saturday. An odd distance at that, I am concerned that this is not a 50, but dependent on how I feel, could end up being 3 hours longer if I am below par. No matter, I am fuelled with some excellent goods from Keith Godden's and hopefully there will be some good news on Saturday afternoon/evening.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

NDW and Darent Valley run with Jezza

Yesterday @ultraKent or as is more commonly known under his Latin nomenclature Jezza ultraKenticus (var. necrohepatosis this morning) planned a small run as both of us happened to be on annual leave. Without hesitation over the telephone Jerry concocted a loose 20 miler that would likely be my last long run before the Thames Gateway 60 next weekend. As regular readers will know, I have had an indifferent mid-year so far with the following:

1 x 4th place at an XC marathon
1x 2nd place podium at the Norman Conquest 50
1 x DNF at the SDW100
1x DNF at the Croydon 30 (both through A&E, one for putting one's foot in a pothole talking about the A&E trip but not being fully recovered to participate)
2 x marathons in the heat since.

This run was not about the miles, more of a good old catch up with an old friend. Jerry and I ran our first ultra together in 2008. I think we need to celebrate in December with a 5 year anniversary which, correct me if I am wrong, is wood. Perhaps we shall celebrate by going for a run, in the wood? We have not hooked up for a while as usually our summer meet up is more of an inebriated affair with out good buddy David Hegarty (Ultra Immune) at the athletics. What I like about running with Jezza is that we think we are going to have a run and discuss running but we do everything but discuss running. I hope he will not be offended about the similarities (not in looks, but in the discussion of pure and utter bollocks and loose ends and perhaps in stature) to the gentile Deptford-born radio presenter Danny Baker. In actual fact, it was within a mile of home that we discussed running and albeit briefly.

I dropped down to Fortress Chislehurst at 7.45am and after some faffage, we cruised down tho Elmstead Woods station to get a coffee and a train to Sevenoaks via Orpington for another coffee, allowing Jezza to unroll his hepatic misreancy from the previous evening. Once at Sevenoaks it was quickly onto the Darent Valley Path (DVP) through a series of ponds and lakes.

Dropping from suburban to rural and then back to suburban it was then off road proper to the DVP where within 15 minutes, Jezza needed to sort out a race admin issue. Once deposited, we were back en-route and within a few miles of fields, paths with nettles and brambles and some great vistas, we were on the North Downs Way. It was clear that some ruffians from an unmentioned ultra running organisation had illicitly sprayed graffiti upon the pavements of Kent. I shall pen a stern letter to my Member of Parliament about these hooligans! Clearly the handwriting of a UK-vest  ultra runner who shall remain unnamed! It is highly likely that flashing and public urination was witnessed too over this weekend on said race!

Onward and back onto the DVP and the winding path along the river to Lullingstone Castle led us to stop for a cup of tea. How quaint. With a short stop we were once again on the way and the route took us up some big hills back over the North Downs and then continual undulation, first on trail, then on a 3 mile section of roads. We paused more than occasionally for fluids as it was a hot morning, race-walking the steeper of the hills and bimbling through the "forgotten triangle" between the M20, M25 and M26. As we were approaching the end of Bermuda as the bridge over the M25 appeared, a photo opportunity arose that had us tittering at its stupidity. Then it happened.

The moment of oddness that could only happen in the "forgotten triangle" with the approaching of the elderly gentleman in the photo. "Errrr, where does that lane get you to?" Asked Jerry. As the pensioner with the dog replied, I struggled to stifle guffaws and Jerry did a double-take, then stared at the chap intently, focusing on his spectacles, also now stifling laughter. The gent was walking his dog wearing 3-D glasses. Outrageous! It only happens in the "forgotten triangle"

So it was off onto some gypsy path for the next few miles and a tour of what block-paving money is spent on with Southfork to our left and Beckingham Place to our right, the green lush countryside punctuated by the whiteness of large caravanalia. Jerry wasn't feeling so great so we stopped for food and also a hidden water tap to refuel and off again we went. We could have run all day but a mini-bonk by Jerry and it was the quick route home via a can of coke at the Homebase car park in somewhere that started with Cray. After much protestation we shuffled along until the caffeine kicked in and for me it was a nice opportunity to observe the cameo of a chap on his own running turf. Fleet of foot and happy as Larry, he scurried through the loose soft path of Petts Wood and Hawk Wood, along the train line and back to chez Smallwood. This nimble effort showed me that he did not need to scent mark his patch. He owned it. Great! It was good to see him running at his speed and not trying to blast it as I was around.

As we approached the road after the station, I knew the way home and let loose (probably the Coke's caffeine now in my veins) and it was a cameo 7 min miler up the last half mile and back to base. Wonderful to catch up with the most colourful and genuine runners on the ultra scene and a good friend. Perhaps it was fitting that we didn't go to the pub and ruin the rest of our day by misappropriating copious quantities of cider so that we would be able to remember and reminisce our 20 mile jaunt. Cheers Jezza.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Vanguard Way marathon race Report - A tale of Florence Nightingale

I woke up in the morning feeling less than refreshed having suffered from a stomach bug that had left me kind of empty since my return from Kenya. This gave me an instant niggle in my head for the race ahead. It is really difficult to find summer marathons so this was a Godsend and especially as it was only £10 and started just 9 miles from home in South London.

The Vanguard Way Marathon was organised by the 100 Marathon Club so I felt would be a well organised race. Phil Beecroft and I were using this as a training run for the upcoming TM60 on Bank Holiday weekend so it was also a good opportunity to discuss race strategy and the event. We didn't really do a lot of this as the event unfolded for reasons that will become clear. At the start it was nice to catch up with Peter Bowles (on his 99th marathon), Mal and James Elson who had just come back from running the South West Coastal Path that I ran part of in the winter. I was surprised not to see Jerry there as on our runs he often muses about the Vanguard way. Off we went, Dave Ross heading off the front like a bat out of hell, followed by a select group of others whom I did not recognise. Hilarity ensued as a lap of Lloyd Park in Croydon was followed by a screeching wail of "You've gone the wrong way!!!!" as all of the front runners ran the Park Run loop instead of following the signs for the VGW. Once over Coombe Lane it was time to follow the trails, firstly in and out of suburban roads and then onto the trail for real.

The VGW is not the easiest trail to follow. Never mind the 5 different signs that were to be followed but the location of such signs, on sides of bus stops or the infrequence of finger posts made it difficult to follow. Not to worry though as the trail was exceptionally well marked for the first 4 miles. Then nothing at all from Farleigh Down to about mile 8. Phil and I were bimbling along at 8.15s for those first miles and all of which were on an incline. We soon hooked up with a runner called Susan, once of Striders, now of Orpington who was well aware of those now infamous Union Jack shorts! We ran together for quite some time as, with a bunch of 50 runners all stopped at a 4 way road crossing with 3 paths to choose from, there were no markings, signs or finger posts to follow. 23 minutes (yes!) of deliberation, some choosing some path and returning and lots of huffing and puffing later and we chose our path with a group of about 10 runners. Wrong one. Navigation by compass and a really poor photocopied map found us back on trail, although 2 miles extra and a vitally missed check point 1. Low on water now on this 25 degree day. No matter, as we ran on, chit chatting along the way. Phil asked me to check the pace as he felt we were running too hard at this early stage. I had not realised it but I had been chatting away with Susan about the Croydon ultra and other events and Phil had dropped back. I then dropped back. The wooded trail opened out to the vast expanse of the North Downs at Limpsfield. A ferociously steep descent after another poorly marked turn and another half a mile out of the way was then met by the massive rise up to Botley Hill and on down to Oxted Down. This was the maximum altitude on the course of 875ft. Phew! We started meeting runners coming back at us on the out-and-back course through the Titsey Estate. The path underfoot was rutted, cracked and quite dangerous, so we slowed right down. The peaceful Surrey air was then punctuated by the evil snake of traffic commonly known as the M25. After traversing this, a gentle incline followed by a bizarre moment. "Run 20m past the check point, turn at the road and then come back" was shouted at the runners! I grabbed 3 cokes, a jaffa cake and a gel for later. Phil was about 5 mins back, so I waited for him and said farewell to Susan. I was met with a confused and almost concussed look as Phil departed for a nearby gate to puke. Oh dear. As we were on a training run, I vowed to stay with him. To be honest, he should have bailed at this point.....but there was no where to go, we were in the middle of nowhere!

I suggested a run-walk strategy. I was hoping of more run than walk but checking the Garmin this morning, 6 miles of walk and 7 miles of run enabled us to get home safely. He did look a mess to be honest, his eyes were rolling like some running fruit machine. There was no pinpoint as to the problem but I was not going to leave him under any circumstances. Phil then wanted to bail at the final check point, stating that I could bring his car back to pick him up. After a DNF for him at the Heart of the Weald (well actually he won the 21 mile race!) I was going to safely beast him to the finish. I think the banter worked. Well perhaps Phil was sick of my incessant cajoling and musings about all sorts of bollocks, suffice that he finish and be done with the sight of me! However after a banana and a water refill at the 20 mile CP, we managed to mainly run (slowly) towards the finish. I gave Phil the rest of my water and gel. A small detour through Selsdon woods on the way back added another half mile owing to not seeing the markers/markers removed by people/course not marked and it was nearly the finish. Across Lloyd Park again and to the finish, we crossed the line in 5 hrs 36 mins and 21 secs. Looking at the splits we spent 31 mins not moving (i.e looking for the route markers or at CPs) and about 6 miles of walking at 18 min miles. Slowest marathon to date but it was good to get Phil back to the living.

Peter Bowles managed a 4hrs 40 and he is a sub 3 so I didn't feel too bad. We caught up with other runners at the end and received a medal and a t-shirt. All of that for a tenner. We vowed to come back next year to beast the course and go sub 4. Possible? Maybe. All in all, a long day out on the trail and 2650ft, it was no cake-walk at 28.5 miles. We will return to this to exorcise those demons.