Saturday, 18 March 2017

A blog on the run! Housedean to Eastbourne

All my blogs are generally written retrospectively. Today I thought I would put my thoughts down as I go. Having flogged my legs at the gym on Thursday I was concerned today they would be dead; I would get 1/2mile into my run and drop to the floor crying like a child who has been told they can't have any sweets.

My plan was to head out of Housedean and run the SDW into Eastbourne. Once there I will run to the Marina where my wife's parents live. Setting out on the run things felt great. I am wearing a weighted pack. Probably 2kg heavier than it needs to be. I am trying to follow an even effort level and not concern myself with pace. This definitely keeps the ego in check, but I'm finding the run that much more enjoyable. So as I tackled the climbs from housedean and on to the yellow brick road, I found myself in an uplifted mood. For the first time in forever it isn't mattering what my watch is saying. 10mm/11mm/14mm I do not care one ounce.

My normal preoccupation when running is time. How quick can it be done, can i press the pace a but more. Today is simply not about that. So as I ambled into southease I am now sat typing from the cafe. I'm am going to sip my coffee and enjoy the moment. Then I shall March up the "dreaded" climb and enjoy a run through into Alfriston. I may even stop there for cake. What ever I decide it's going to be fun.

My recent post is my lesson point. If we rush through everything we see nothing and in that absence I find there is a void that takes the enjoyment with it. So I'm going to enjoy the moment and I will get to Eastbourne in a good mood and probably ready for dinner :)

So it's all a bit too comfortable sitting drinking this coffee. Coats in the bag so hopefully won't need it when I get to the top of Southease. Watch says 6.5 miles and the centurion aid station list says it's 7.4. I always did like centurion. Right time to put the pack back on.

So as I march up Southease I am reminding myself for future runs that the climb is not so bad. You can all mock me post SDW100 blog when I'm complaining. The wind is picking up and mist is setting In, but it remains a stunning reminder of why I love running. The cafe is a distant memory and I am hunting down the hikers. I fear this live blogging may be sending me a little crazy ;) see you all in Alfriston.

I have now arrived in alfriston. That last section went really well. The weather definitely turned as I hit the peak. The wind was swirling around my head and the noise engulfed all thoughts and any indication that anything else existed. In truth it was bliss. It's is only bettered by the the sounds as I am typing. The wind has died away and been replaced by the chirping of birds and the bleating of sheep. I have my first sign of the climb out of alfruston. With no pressure on time and pace I am looking forward to it. I think the South Downs may truly be my favourite location I have ever visited. The photos below show the mist that closed in and is a reminder to anyone running the downs, be it on their own or as part of a race, the weather changes from hill to hill. Go prepared. Oh and yes I did chase down more hikers. Next stop Jevington.

In the spirit of this blog being "live" it seems fitting to capture the fact I nearly photobombed a wedding party. Coming through the village I thought I'd check in on the aid station of the centurion races, for a moment of reminicising. Turns out there was a wedding going on. Needless to say I didn't enter and I think I avoided the photo. Now the climb begins. During races this segment to Jevington seems to whizz by. I wonder if it will be the same today.

So the climb out of Alfriston is done. It wasn't too bad. The below pictures will give an indication for those not familiar with Alfriston. If you are racing in a centurion event then the arc of the climb makes it feel like it goes on forever. One foot in front of the other and it's not so bad. Enjoy the photos. I need to turn off phone for a bit as battery dying.

Just like that I'm in Jevington. I'm sure there is a time warp between here and Alfriston. Still during a race you will be glad of it. I'm stood by centurion final aid station. It's in the picture below. Sorry but for food you will have to climb the steps. Otherwise press on to Eastbourne. It's only a few miles. That is indeed my next stop. With only 6% battery I will have to finish this blog at the end of the run. 

So Jevington flew by almost as swiftly as the climb out if Alfriston. At the top is where centurion races leave the downs. I decided to pursue the SDW and then run the promenade back to the harbour. This gave an unexpected opportunity to reminisce on moments from Beachy Head Marathon. The wind picked up as I ran through the golf course. I was holding hope the golfers teeing off were better than i am at swinging a bat. I'm relieved to say they were. 

Climbing towards the seafront is an interesting experience. Lots of social people saying hello and enjoying a shared experience of trying not to be blown to Oz. Then i descended off the downs, along the start finish straight.

Thanks South Downs it was a great day. I trundle along the promenade back to the harbour. I noticed how few people smiled or said hello compared to whilst out on the Downs. This had been an excellent run. A confidence boost towards the upcoming 100milers and a great way to clear my head after a manic few weeks. 

The finish was an opportunity to reflect and drink milkshake :) More importantly though the clarity gave me an appreciation of the life I have. I am super luck to have a beautiful a d healthy family and a fitness level that allows me to spend 6 hours out on the Downs. I needed an end of day reminder then checking in on my children after their bedtime story showed me that.

Happy running everyone!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Hello.... it's been a while.

So with only about 6 weeks until the start of the grandslam I became very aware that's it's been a while since I have done any meaningful or consistent blogging. Why? The short answer is I have been bloody busy. The more complicated answer is that for a period I have lost focus. Not focus on running. This isn't another blog about mojo.

My focus just generally went. I became so busy that my mind was either overwhelmed by what I hadn't done or what I had yet to do. This was at work, at home and everything else in between. It started to feel a bit like I wasn't living, but with the horrible consequence that I still had lots to do. This in turn meant lots of projects being put on the backburner. Blogging being one of them.

I have 7 blogs half finished. This includes gucr from nearly a year ago. I will get that finished next. I have numerous private contracts on the go and a regular contract that takes up time. Two gorgeous children and a wife who also need quality time. The fact was things were piling up and paralysis setting in. Something had to change.

For me blogging has been a way to not only be accountable, but to stay connected and hopeful post things from time to time that others can relate to. In taking back control everything needed to become purposeful. If that was watching a tv show then that is what would be done. If it's writing a report then that is what would be done. Distraction needed to be parked and I need to act with more purpose. I have left several Facebook groups. Simply I realised I was putting more into them than I was getting out. The negative energy was without a doubt affecting my mental health and yet every time I turned to my mobile device I was looking at the notifications button. That dreaded button became some kind of indicator to my value for the day. What a shit thing to do. I am not and will not be defined by a Facebook thumb, a star? A heart or any other emoji that so global business deem appropriate to associate with popularity.

The only way I could turn things around was to be in control. Changes to tax law and other matters meant a review of finances and how to proceed moving forward, but it was also a time to review actions for the future. I have ended the use of a running coach. Eddie is great and I have learnt so much from her about running and what it means to me. I have learnt what works and what will achieve success. It's now time for me to plan and take ownership of my training in a more exclusive way. I can do this and I will do this. I have rejoiced the gym and been using this to mix my training up. It's a challenge to put my own plan together and stick to it, but the need for focus has been very needed.

I've realised when things are frantic sometimes a run has to take a back seat and at other times it is the essential thing to fix or put my day into perspective.

Generally the Twitter community are a great source of support, jokes etc, but largely because the group I communicate with all have similar interests. It does not have the same negative effect as Facebook where groups have a subject repeatedly bumped to the top by yet another comment. Topics in Facebook stagnate and drive me mad. Similarly the time wasted on mindless tapping of games has probably added up to more than I care to admit.

I'm determined to press on with my running and to limit time I give to stress and worry. I hope that by giving work a limited space I will also free up space for family time and more focus on them.

So from here I am going to press on with things that are helpful to me and enjoyable. This should result in more blogging and more efficient training, but generally a fitter and happier me. Hopefully that will also result in those around me feeling happier.

For all your runners doing a centurion 100 this year do come and say hello; even if we have never met before. Social media should be a conduit for human interaction and not a substitute. I love the ultra running community and catching up with people at races is half the fun. Hopefully you will be saying hello to a fitter, slimmer and happier me. All being well in October you will see me sporting a massive buckle to accompany a suitably sized grin.

More blogs to follow!

Monday, 9 January 2017

2017 - One Week Down.

So with the first weeks training done, there is a long road to TP100. 110 days (at time of writing) until TP100. The biggest task being the need to be grandslam ready. There is no real room for progressive training beyond TP100. With recovery and taper there is perhaps a 2 to 3 week window for purposeful running. These periods are going to need to be about fine tuning. My view is that if you are chasing grandslam fitness beyond TP100 then you won't be finding it.

This first week has been great and with the second week just beginning, there is a long way to go. Strength work today and I think that is going to be key to success. The stronger I am then the better I will cope and the quicker I should recover. Beyond that a healthy diet (bye bye fast food and haribo) and plenty of rest. I currently get no where near enough sleep... must try harder.

So as week 2 begins the motivations high. Now to resist the office Christmas Junk food clear out.... salted caramel mince pie anyone?... seriously!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

2017 - The Road Ahead

So after the first week of 2017 is done I am minded to what the next few months will offer up. In reality it will be a lot of hard work and probably repeated tests of will power. I'm ready for that, but with every year there comes the unexpected. It will be those moments that need to be pushed through.

2016 feels like it was a bit of a rubbish year. Truth is that on reflection the first half was pretty epic. I used SDW50 as a training run and gained a 50mile PB. I went on to complete the GUCR in hot conditions and then from there training really slipped. I took a rest and lifted my foot of the gas. But certain behaviours that I told myself were because I was "recovering" fell in to being bad habits. I was eating rubbish food and flippantly consuming whatever sweet substances were available at work. My training became a case of incredibly hit and miss. I knew that whilst I was ticking of mileage, I was missing sessions and not giving strength work the full attention it needed. I began to drift back and settle my weight at the top of end of my too high average. I had not kicked in from GUCR. Training for and completing Grand Union Canal Race had shown me what a runner I had the potential to be. The reality of course being that to achieve those level you have to commit to training, to diet and transform your way of life in to a much healthier one. Where the Grand Union Canal was concerned I had certainly transformed my training, but even then my diet was poor. I had not started that race at a weight that would allow me to achieve a speedy time.

At the end of 2016 I came to realise that work was overtaking life. I was leaving for work at 7am and not returning until 7pm. I was sometimes not seeing my children at all during the day. Politics at work was taking over many of my thoughts and my team were becoming busier and busier, but with no personal benefit to them or my emotional and physical well being. I came to accept that this could not continue. It was time to make some changes. What came next I could not have hoped for much better. I got a possible contract in Huntingdon (15min from home.) This would cut my daily commute down by 2.5hours. It involved a pay cut, but as a family the improvement in quality of life was too good to resist. So I handed my notice in to my current contractor and have been mentally preparing for my new job. I shall be returning to an element of my job that I love and only 0.5mile from my gym; I will be able to resume a purposeful lunch time routine. Since starting this preparation I have been reflecting and realising the impact of long and hefty commutes. This year I had crashed my car due to fatigue and that was the start of me reviewing my position. I always thought the commute was a good way to wind down, the truth being it was winding me up and exhausting me. So as of 16th January I shall be undertaking a new contract and pushing my business forwards. Life is too short to unnecessarily lower ones quality of life. My whole family are excited for the new contract and my children are delighted that I won't be working "where all the traffic is." No more calls to family to say I'm stuck in traffic and will miss bedtime. No more work issues overtaking my time to train. Onwards and Upwards.

So with distractions being removed I have a number of blogs half finished that I shall crack on with. This includes GUCR and Beachy Head Marathon. I will finish them for personal posterity and they will I hope still be of interest to some.

Pressing on this year I have started the year weighing 14st13.1 and my target, through healthy eating and regular training, is 12st. I want to do everything I can to improve my health, well-being and my running in turn. This last week has been one of the most consistent training weeks I have had in months and probably best week since GUCR. I shall blog about more frequently about interesting moments in my training and progress. I am revisiting the Centurion Grandslam this year. After a narrow miss in 2015 (DNF at NDW100 at 75miles) I have had pleasure this year of sweeping final leg of TP100  and A100. Seeing other runners complete their lifetime goals was a huge privilege.  I am glad I didn't finish Grandslam in 2015. I was scraping through races and I don't believe would have deserved a giant buckle. This year will be different. I will work my arse off and every finish will be deserved. So focus now turns to TP100 and a sub 24 attempt.... it's going to be a fun ride.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Aspire to Inspire. What can be gained from the Mark Vaz Farce.

It seems of late the media storm around Mark Vaz has yet to finish running its course (pun intended.) Sadly Mark appears to have been very quiet on the subject. Aside from a few comments thrown into the abyss, that is social media. It appears he has no substantive comment to make. For reasons commented on in depth in my blog titled “Sex, lies and video tape: do the ends justify the means?” I think this is a sad error of judgement on Mark’s part. Given his audacious claims i perhaps should not be surprised at this further error in judgement.

Many people have questioned whether perhaps there are mental health issues contributing to this bizarre tale, whether it is a man who just got carried away or in some quarters whether he is just a bit of an arse. I don’t propose to offer a comment on that, but what i do find sad is that the charity suffers. They don’t suffer in status, after all anyone can set up a charity page and its not for the charity to check the legitimacy of the challenges the creator is proposing. Where they suffer in this case is that had Mark come forward with the evidence of his run then surely media coverage would be through the roof and no doubt in turn the charitable donations. I think had he come forward and apologised, but explained his reasoning then his donations may still have gone up. Despite some of the audacious counter claims of trolling and abuse, i believe that people are inherently good and would have paid credit to Mark's belated honesty. I also believe even if it impacted on donations, exposing his lies was the appropriate action to take.

This story has been “newsworthy” amongst the running community and by virtue of the definition of “newsworthy” it must be of sufficient interest to the public. Several years ago i completed a dissertation on the media and this very term. The research showed that generally “newsworthy” is also things that are out of the norm. Sadly in most cases this means the newspapers covering vast arrays of negative and often catastrophic incidents. The shock factor of such incidents generating a high profile response. The presentation of them in the press then only serves to perpetuate the fear or moral panic that such issues are on the rise and we should all fear for our lives. Often the reverse is actually true. I am not suggesting that we should all fear for our lives because of Mark Vaz, but we should not perceive his behaviour as common place. The day we as a society accepts actions like that of Mark Vaz as the norm would be the end of a society i would want any part of. As i have previously commented though when people inspire through lies and shortcuts the negative impact on those inspired can be great. This is why such behaviours should be discouraged. Knowing that Mark had the audacity, just prior to his 'run', to see a child and family involved with Make-A-Wish makes my blood boil. Invariably the parents will likely have followed his adventure and have been hoping to tell their son all about how he finished. I hope she didn’t have to explain to her son the reality. When we invest in people and their challenges and allow ourselves to be inspired then we also run the risk of being let down and disappointed. For people in vulnerable positions this disappointment can have massive ramifications. What stands true is that we all need to be aware of the greater sense of responsibility we have for the words that leave our lips or via our fingers on a keyboard.

There are so many astonishing and awe inspiring achievements going on in the world that we should be giving greater focus to. It is the courage of the human spirit and people investing time to achieve things others see as impossible that is of greater interest to me. For this reason i would have been much happier to see Mark’s story to have been true, or see him really try and fail, or just have finished in a much longer time. That indomitable spirit would promote far greater inspiration and a much better story to be told. It is a sorry story of the often insecure that they believe world records, course records and fastest known times are the only way to grab attention or inspire people.

I believe that the vast majority of the running community would want Mark to have genuinely smashed the record and be able to produce the evidence. Look at the positive response to Nicky Spinks and her double Bob Graham Round or the ongoing inspiration of the likes of Mimi Anderson. Ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. I am inspired by these people to continue to make my own positive influence on the world and to better myself and my capabilities. I am inspired by the likes of my wife who looks after my children full time and having suffered with SPD during pregnancy has embraced the challenge of running and is stretching her ability every day. She is inspiring our child and in turn inspiring me. That's the kind of real world inspiration that we should hold on to an seek to replicate. There will always be charlatans, but if we can all focus on inspiring others through positive actions then the charlatans will be seen for what they really are... a sorry minority.

So moving forward lets ensure we draw out the positives from those who achieve and dare to place themselves outside of their comfort zones. In my blog TP100 - A volunteers perspective i comment on the trials and tribulations of the back of the pack runners. Simply put you do not have to be winning or particularly fast to show the determination and indomitable spirit that inspires people. Had Mark remembered this then he could have reached and inspired so many more people. For the rest of us though it shows how the masses can have a far greater impact. In the facebook Ultra Running Community alone there are more than 10,000 members. I am sure a vast majority of them have an inspiring story to tell and one that is far more noteworthy than a man who foolishly thought he could drive a van from Lands End to John O’Groats and portray he ran it. Lets not let one man and his delusions detract from the credibility of people stretching their personal boundaries and raising money and awareness of good causes.

I often myself question when running long events whether to raise money for charity and in the beginning i would, but then started thinking every time i ran a race people might get a little bored about me asking for money. Mark’s story caused me to revisit these thoughts and to try and draw some good from an otherwise rubbish situation. I had been thinking about raising money for Make-A-Wish for some time. Having two young children of my own the concept of them being poorly or worse terminally ill makes me sick to my stomach. The courage such children show in the darkest of days absolutely deserves for their dreams to be rewarded. Such human courage inspires me and i figure if i, or someone else in the world, can then absorb this inspiration and go on to inspire others we can create a perpetual cycle of inspiration; each and every one of us using the inspiration of those around us to go on and do things that inspire and so on and so on. This will promote a positive attitude that has the potential to consume all media platforms in a far more positive way than the actions of Mark Vaz. Perhaps if the likes of Mark Vaz then see the positive reaction the “ordinary” person receives they will not feel the need to find a way to elevate themselves to a position of false superiority.

Lets promote a mantra of “ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.” Lets focus on those stories. Where issues of lies and deceipt appear then they should be exposed, but lets give them only the time and coverage necessary to do that. This will deter others from taking shortcuts to “fame.” It will also ensure they do not overshadow the positive actions of the majority.

In my bid to promote the positive i have decided that for my next race i will be raising money for Make-A-Wish. I will not raise money every time i run, but this race has been significant in my life and i think is significant enough for me to seek to raise money for a charity. I am running Grand Union Canal Race on the 28th May. For those that don’t know, this is a 145 mile foot race from Birmingham Gas Street all the way to Little Venice in London. I have been training for this race for the last 10 months. I have invested hours in my training and averaged about 50 miles per week or a total of around 2000 miles of running. I have loved the training, but it has been a challenge at times balancing this with family life (the way many, many others also do.) There will be highs and lows in this race and inevitably a great deal of suffering. No doubt there will be plenty of pictures to demonstrate my suffering. A few people have said to me that running 145 miles is impossible. The truth of course is that running 145 miles is not impossible and many people have run further and faster than i have. Many people will have completed the Grand Union Canal Race far faster than i will. For me though this is a mute point. The fact i can inspire those around me to improve their own lives and stretch their perceptions of what is possible i hope builds in to creating the perpetual cycle of inspiration i referred to earlier. If any children or parents involved with Make-A-Wish see my story and it inspires a child or family to stay strong and fight a little harder then my suffering will be a drop in the ocean.

If i can raise a small amount of money in addition to promoting the ethos of validating the good and dispensing with the negative then so much the better... “ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.”

If you would like to sponsor me, or more specifically donate to Make-A-Wish then you can do so by clicking here.

Perhaps we can raise some money for a good cause. If this comes out of doing something i love then great. The over riding message really from me is for us all to hold on to remembering that just because one person can so dramatically and publically lie and cheat doesn’t mean the majority of us do. We can all be part of a much bigger and positive picture and inspire each other along the way. Sponsorship for me would be a bonus, but promoting this ideal is the real message from this blog... ASPIRE TO INSPIRE!

I would love to see more blogs of people doing amazing things and stretching themselves. Reading these things will be a far more enjoyable use of my time than the ongoing saga’s of the likes of Mark Vaz and a far greater facilitator of change. Maybe you have your own story to tell that can inspire and maybe you have your own cause to raise money for and promote the awareness of. That is a far more enjoyable community to be part and a far greater message and example to set our children and others around us. At the time of hitting publish on this blog my little boy has just said "i want to be just like you daddy." When i asked why he said "you are big and strong and make us all happy." That is worth more to me than any course record (obtained honestly or otherwise) and the kind of inspiration we can all provide on a daily basis. If we remember this then the next time a Mark Vaz appears we can be sure to treat them for what they are... a single, sorry individual from within a vast community of genuinely good people.

Lets keep false idols and lies easily uncovered to a minimum; we will all be happier for it.

Monday, 16 May 2016

TP100 - A volunteers perspective

Volunteering at the TP100.

The alarm went off at 1:30am and jumped out of bed with a spring in my step. Ok so lets not start this blog with a lie. The alarm went off i half opened my eyes, grunted, knock my phone off the side and then my wife pushed me out of the bed. With all that said once i was awake i was genuinely excited to make my way down towards Oxford. I had agreed to volunteer at the Thames Path 100 and was excited to be volunteering at Clifton Hampden Aid station (mile 85) and then to be sweeping the final 15 miles of the course. I have never swept a course before so there was some nerves there, but i knew that from my own experiences and battles i would be able to relate to the runners at the back of the pack. It would also be a good chance for me to stretch my legs with Grand Union Canal Race looming, plus a good recce before i revisit the Grandslam in 2017.

So after a quick coffee and ensuring i had all my kit i made my way out of the door a little after 2am. The beauty of this time of day is that the roads were quiet. It is always a strange concept to think that the runners had been going since 10am the previous days and for some the race was finished and yet for many there was a very very long way to go. Getting closer to Clifton Hampden the sleep demons took over and so i pulled over and got myself a very large cup of coffee. That was all i needed and rejuvenated and now properly awake i made my way on to Clifton Hampden. Upon my arrival the volunteer crew were in full swing. It was quite quiet when i arrived, but new that in the latter stages of the race there would be times where it resembled more a field hospital. It was cold outside and toasty warm inside; great for the volunteers, but bloody awful for the runners. Amongst the volunteers were Claire and Graham Smedley and Cat and Keith Simpson. It was a great opportunity to meet these people in person and not just from behind the mask of social media. Everyone else had already been going for hours, but still full of smiles. I found my way into their rythmn and we were off and running. Such is the community spirt that within minutes of being there i felt like i had been part of the crew for several hours. It wasn’t long before the first of many runners (arriving during my stint) walked through the door.

The spectrum of emotions on a 100 mile race is massive. We saw everyone of them at Clifton Hampden. Some runners charged in and charged out, happy but focused. We saw other runners struggling to stay positive, but willing to push on. We had injuries and we had people whose minds simply fell out of the game and they could not get back in it. Having ran the race in 2015 i remember arriving at this aid station cutting it close to the wire and in turning powering out the door. I now remember why. Runners who stayed too long became acutely aware of how much nicer it was to be warm and this in itself finished them off. It is always a huge priviledge to play a small part in other people’s races. The dedication and commitment needed to run a 100 miles is enormous and at mile 85 most people are approaching the need to draw on their reserves. One runner arrived at the aid station panicked he could not get home in under 24 hours. A previous 21hour 100 mile runner he had severely underestimated the challenge of a flat course and was running close to the wire. He could still have got under the time, but after 40 minutes walking up and down the hall he left the aid station only to return and then subsequently retire. After this there was a serious of runners who were spurred on by rounds of encouragement and positive vibes. I am very proud of the team and knowing we got several people back out the door who told us they were going to quit. They didnt and i later discovered that everyone who had said “i am done” and went on to leave our aid station did indeed get a buckle. This may have been more to do with the injection of caffeine we gave them, but hopefully our support also motivated them.

For me there were a couple of very special moments and one DNF that really got me. There was Steven who came into the station looking shattered and relatively unwell. We provided him a cup of coffee and he promptly fell asleep. After setting a timer on my phone i went to check on him and hand another cup of coffee to him. To my relief after he woke it appeared his head had got back in the game. He got up and left the aid station and powered on to the end. During my entire Saturday and then whilst at the aid station i had been tracking Mark Thornberry. I first met Mark at Beacons Ultra and have since ran along the Downs with him. Mark was in the grandslam, but had been struggling from the outset with knee and foot pain. Mark is a great guy with substantial determination, but i could see he was flagging. After a few hours between updates he trudged up the path to the aid station. I am sure he wont mind me saying that he looked a broken man. I could see that Mark’s mind was leaning towards a DNF. We set about a military operation that had been fine tuned with other runners. I sat Mark down, Claire got him a coffee and then we spoke about the issues. Mark told me he hurt and his feet were in bits. At this point the aid station was looking like a field hospital and it therefore seemed apt to get the “medi kit.” In this case some kinesio tape, padding and gauze. I removed Mark’s socks and expected to fined the feet falling of his ankles, but they were not too bad save for a couple of blisters. I think what had happened was Mark had bruised his feet. I taped up the blisters, covered his feet in padding, shoved his socks back on and basically told Mark to “sod off.” I didn’t want to see him again. The last reference being that i knew it would not be long before i would start sweeping the course. We went through a routine that was well established with other runners. I reminded Mark not to undervalue the short sections of running. 10 metres of running every 50 metres soon adds up. Mark ran out of the aid station looking determined. For all those who questioned their resolve and ability to finish let me tell you Mark finished. Mark has not been running Ultras all that long. Mark is in his mid 50’s. Being old is a state of mind and Mark’s attitude reminded me further of that on this day.

The drama was far from over. As we began to approach the cut off their were families crewing for wives, husbands, children, grandparents etc. A few times they told me that they did not think their runner could finish and what should they do. Mine and Graham’s response.... “LIE”. They will finish and even if there is a chance they don’t if you tell them your doubts then the DNF is likely to become inevitable. We had runners in great spirits, runners dead on their feet and one runner who looked like she was about to punch her pacer square in the face. Fatigue does strange things to people. The drama ramped up at about 7am when it looked like we were going to run out of coffee. An SOS call went out and thankfully as we counted down 4 cups left, 3 cups left.... 2 .... with literally one cup left coffee arrived at the aid station. Panic over we continued to support the runners. The sun was up and things were beginning to warm up.

Marc then arrived into the aid station with an enormous crew all determined for him to finish. His mind was gone and it seemed he had talked himself into a DNF. Claire and i tried to tag team and get him out the door. This had worked up to this point for no less than 7 or 8 runners, but not this time. He shared some deeply personal reasons for why he was running the race. These are not for me to share, but safe to say i know how much the DNF would hurt him the following day. Sat down for so long he perpetuated his own belief in not being able to finish as he siezed up. Marc’s friends came back into the hall to help him to the car. They had waited outside whilst we tried to convince him to carry on. Watching them carry their fallen friend out of the hall reminded me what i love about this sport. There is too much shit in this world, too much panic about our status and whether we are accepted, too much pressure of bills and survival rather than living. Well in the moments of a 100 mile race i find myself in a space where i feel most alive, the most free. As a volunteer watching these friends carry Marc to his car i felt that same sense of living and freedom. Humans are at their core inherently good and in challenges like this those characteristics rise to the top. Next time i am sure Marc’s friends will be lifting him onto their shoulders at the finish line.

With a matter of 20 minutes of so before the cut off Andy plodded up the path. He was with his wife and declared the infamous words “i’m done.” They were also met with the automatic response of “sod off.” I told him that he had to come into the hall and let us check he is ok first before we could take his number. This of course was a complete an utter lie. Both Claire and i could quickly see that Andy was far from done. We talked through the race and the fact he had “only” 15 miles to go. With discussions of the fact he was going to hurt tomorrow regardless and would he not rather this was with the sense of success and a buckle to show for it. A few minutes of pep talks and calculating the minutes per mile that were needed to average for a finish and we could see ... belief returning. I told him i would be sweeping and if i didnt think he could make it i wouldn’t let him go. After all if i got him there just after the cut off Nici Griffin and Natasha Fielden would kill me. I had guaged in this short moment that Andy just liked to be told how it was and his wife was clearly of the same mindset. So i decided to ask Andy a crucial question. He pepped himself to answer really seriously. The conversation went thus:

Dan: Does it hurt when you run
Andy: Yes
Dan: Does it hurt when you walk
Andy: Yes
Dan: Well fucking run then

At this point Andy burst into laughter and the dark cloud over his head evaporated, his words were “FUCK IT” and up he stood, went to change into cooler clothes and with 7 or 8 minutes left to cut off he was out the door. Andy had the perfect support from his wife who basically ranted postive thoughts at him and was no doubt far more instrumental in him carrying on than any of us at Clifton Hampden were.

So the time ticked down and i knew the second phase of my role was about to begin. I didnt think i would be as nervous as i was, but suddenly i felt a huge responsibility to the runnners and the race. I changed into my running kit and thanked my fellow aid station members and plodded along the route. It really was a glorious day and i was now feeling the priviledge of sweeping the final leg. I just hoped that those runners i had convinced could finish were not going to be found scattered along the path or dnf’d at a subsequent aid station. Stopping intermittently to remove tape and signs i was aware that the runners would have a little bit of time before i caught up to them. I was about 3 miles in when my bonus experience of the weekend occured. I stopped to take off a piece of tape from in a tree. Holding off from swearing about needing to climb through the stinging nettles as i saw a young child in ear shot. The child started asking me what i was doing. Keen to spread the word about our sport and the event i started to tell him all about the race. His father seemed genuinely interested and started asking all sorts of questions. He seemed very familiar, but i had only had 3 hours sleep. After a short conversation I politely said “you are Matthew Pinsent?” to which he politely said “i am.” I then did the very un-British thing of asking for a photograph and he kindly permitted. One of my sporting heroes and a British legend had just made my weekend. Of course at the end of the race when i recounted my chance meeting to Nici Griffin the response i got was “who?” Guess he should have won a 5th Olympic gold then he might have been more well known ;) Anyway i said goodbye and pressed on down the trail.

As i ran on along the trail i knew the last 15 miles are very runnable and i could see a runner in the distance. In my mind i thought it would be Andy I looked at my watch and did some calculations. Yep he was on track to finish, but it would be close. I got closer and quickly realised it was another runner and not Andy. Even better for him as he must have really sped up. I approached the runner who i later learnt was Garfield I asked him if he would like some company or whether he would like me to hang back. I was minded that a fresh running gently jogging next to you may be more disconcerting for some. He politely asked if i could hang back while he focused and so hang back i did. We plodded along the trail under glorious skies. I would keep an eye on my watch and the time that was ticking away, but Garfield kept a steady march on. I was very impressed by his relentless and consistent pace. I fell into a rythmn of hold back, stopping to collect some tape and/or rubbish (general public rubbish not runners) and then jog back to my holding distance. As we approached the mile 91 checkpoint i caught up to Garfield and told him what a great job he had done on pace and that at this rate he would make the finish. Simple maths is no ones strong point after 91 miles and so Garfield seemed assured of the gain he had made to the cut off time.

At the 91 mile checkpoint there was two runners contemplating dropping at mile 91. 91....91.... sod off!!! You dont have 9 miles left and flipping well drop; not without a very good reason and being tired is not a good reason. So Garfield marched out of the aid station a little bit before Chrissie had darted out of the aid station. Phil got to his feet in two minds. I told him that all he had to do was stick with me and we would get under the finish with time to spare. Phil agreed and on we plodded. I didn’t tell him at the time, but i was pretty nervous. I had encouraged him to get up and now was invested in his finish. We chatted a bit and Phil shared he had not finished a 100 miler before. I repeated that he would finish this one. Phil seemed less confident and truth be told at the pace we were moving we would finish in 28 hrs and 7 minutes. Simple maths is much easier with only 6 miles in your legs.

I decided to risk seriously pissing Phil off. I figured that he would thank me later even if he decided i was a dick. I started talking about not underestimating the importance of running even short distances and that when he wanted to start walking to just press a little more. We then also discussed walking with purpose. To Phil’s enormous credit he took this on board and his pace went up and he was moving with purpose. I kept drilling these thoughts home amongst our other conversations and the eta began to come down. We were on 28hours 3 minutes. Still not enough so i gave another push and suggested we chase downGarfield so that we could all run together. Phil pressed on and held some good running. We crossed over the lock and carried on towards the next checkpoint. With steady walk running the pace was still good... eta 28 hours 1 minute... Over the next mile Phil caught up to Garfield Who asked what pace he needed to be doing. I decided it was time for honest y and so i explained to them both they needed to keep pressing on.... eta 27hours 54 minutes... both were getting to a good place, but one bad mile and it could be blown. I knew that the next aid station was approaching and sure enough Mark who i had met last year, when i was the runner trying to avoid the cut offs, appeared. He was offering superb encouragement to the runners. I started prepping them to think about what they wanted from the aid station. They didnt have time to hang around a matter of 8 minutes and they would be timed out. Phil and Garfield were both getting that adrenalin kick that being so close to home brings. Both whizzed in and out of the aid station. I went to go with them and then the horror news that we were missing one runner... Chrissie. Damn it she had headed off just before us, but we had definitely not overtaken her. I tracked back through my mind and the only place she could have gone wrong was crossing over the river. As it later transpired she had gone straight on, rather than crossing the bridge, before realising her error. She arrived a matter of two minutes after the cut off time for the aid station. I was so impressed with the efforts of the centurion staff who tried to contact her on her phone. When we realised she was missing the military operation to locate her was intense. I could imagine Chrissie realising her error and trying to press on to get to the aid station. I am gutted for her that she could not make it and i am sure that she herself would have had that massive sense of frustration and blind panic. Sadly as well when an error occurs at that point the sweeper has removed the tape. I remember myself missing a turning in 2015 and only just getting back to a bridge before the sweeper removed the tape. I am sure Chrissie will be back to rectify the DNF.

Once the cut off time passed i pressed on down the trail. The lapse in time meant i had the chance to pick up the pace for about ¾ mile at 8minutes per mile. I could see that the rutted land of the previous year was in much better condition and i was pleased for the runners. Soon enough i could see the runners in the distance. They were being consistent and had built up some time again on the cut off. By my calculations they were on for a 27hr45min finish. Yep my 2015 finish time. I was nervous and excited for them and then very guilty for the stress i must have put my friends and family through the previous year... sorry. What was impressive was the support the runners were offering to each other to drive on over the last 4 miles.

I passed through the gate and caught them up. Phil and Garfield were now joined by Ian and they were pressing on. Phil and Garfield appeared to have replaced their self doubt with an all consumed sense of self belief. They pressed on with the walk run strategy. Sadly Ian was clearly grinding this out. I could see he was slowing, but he was too close at this point to be crossing the line behind schedule. So i started my “risk pissing him off tactic”, after all it had worked for Phil. At this point it was for the greater good. Ian was zoning out and in doing so slowing down. New calculation was a finish of 27hr 52. The pace was slowing and Ian’s head was dropping. I encouraged him to run where ever he could and Ian summoned up the energy to run, but with every run i could see him suffering a little more. 27hrs 56 would be our finish and i could not see a way to avoid this, but i knew that if Ian could just press for a little longer then he would have a safe finish. Come on Ian not too far to go. About 2.5 miles to go and we would be done. I reminded Ian he had come too far to time out. Estimated finish time had slipped to 28hrs 2mins. Shit i did not want to have to tell Ian this and then the question came, “how am i doing?” My response was not a lie, but i may not have been entirely honest in saying “Lets just be safe and press the pace a bit and expand our running.” Ian didn’t question me and i could see every running step was causing pain. I encouraged him to drink, but i think his brain was focused on one foot in front of the other. We were not too far now from the paved path. The sun was shining and plenty of people were out. Ian must have asked me four or five times how far to go. I knew we were close and in spite of his pain he was clawing time back. The clock would be close, but we would make it if Ian kept his walk run up. Then there was the bloody lovely bridge. I remember it well from my own Race and there in an act of deja vu was Drew. He told Ian just how close he was. It was a pleasure to see Ian’s family and they looked so relieved to see he would finish. I was tracking social media and could see Nici was counting down the runners left out on the field. Ian was the last one and knowing he would make it was a great feeling. Ian through his suffering got the honour of closing out the show. We had now grafted out the time and Ian could walk it in over the last few hundred metres. The clock ticked as we turned on to the grass. I stepped back and Ian broke in to a run to the finish and crossed with about 4 minutes to spare. A heroic effort and one i was chuffed to see. His spirit and determination will live with me for my own future races.

So that was the race finished. At the finish line i could see all the shattered but elated runners. Each and every one not regretting for a second the decision to get up and leave Clifton Hampden. Flipping heck was that really only 4 hours prior. It felt like days ago. I was about to catch up with Jon and Natasha Fielden and then i saw Andy, I had known him and his wife for a matter of 10 minutes of our lives and yet a hug seemed the only way to express our mutual joy for the guts he showed to stand up and be counted. Then through the crowd of runners i could see Mark. Such an emotional moment where he gave me a knowing look and just pointed. I pointed back at him and went over to share a hug, with a tear in my eye. I saw the pain this guy had been in and the challenge he had faced; A bloody heroic performance from Mark had seen him finish well under the cut off. I have every faith that this near miss will stand Mark in good stead for collecting his grandslam award. Wandering around the finish this was the first time i had been at the finish of a 100 miler and not been the one dead on my feet. I caught up with Phil and a few others who i had played a very small part in their days. I can say confidently that not a single one regretted carrying on and pressing to the finish. A firm reminder that even the darkest moments never last forever, but they make the triumph all the sweeter.

I absolutely loved the role i was given in this race and can say that to date this is the most fun i have had at a race. This includes the races where i have been running as a competitor. I looked forward to volunteering at the South Downs Way 100. The South Downs is the route i know the best and if i get the good fortune of sweeping again i would absolutely be thrilled to support runners in making it down “death gulley” and onto the infamous track. If you are running SDW100 and dont yet know what “Death Gulley” is well.... thats another adventure that waits to be told.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sex, lies and video tape: do the ends justify the means?

Sex, Lies and Video Tape: Is it ok to lie for the greater good?

I admit that until a couple of days ago i had never heard of Mark Vaz. Perhaps that is to my own discredit, but the fact of the matter is i did not know his name. I did not even know that he was attempting the astonishing feat of running from Lands End to John O’Groats. The added fact he was attempting to take on the course record means i am further surprised that i had not heard of him. This record has stood for 16 years and regarded as a record that would stand potentially for decades.

The UK Ultra Running community is really supportive and also likes to gossip; so it was unusual to hear this had happened completely under the radar of a vast number of experienced runners. In the time that has since unfolded it is seriously questionable that Marks audacious claim of 7 days 18hours and a few minutes is true. This record would have beat the previous record by some 31 hours. This would undoubtedly make Mark currently the best UK Ultra Runner and one of the best in the world. Highly unlikely someone that would not have been heard of before by a large cohort of the Ultra Running circuit would be capable of this. It would be the ultimate Rocky storyline. Sadly it appears that this questionable run is beginning to unravel before Mark’s eyes and there is no Rocky script to be played out on the big screen. It seems far closer to a Walter Mitty spin off.
Gary Kiernan wrote an article for In this article it highlights the questionable nature of the run and the improbability of the claims being staked. Richard from Beyond Marathon has also noted that the facts of the matter are Mark would have had to run 156 miles in a little over 24 hours having already ran 600 miles. This calculation is taken from Mark’s very own social media publications. Both Gary and Richard have welcomed the opportunity for Mark to prove his claims and from Gary’s perspective a right of reply on . For someone who wanted to promote the charity and inspire others he has gone remarkably silent. There has been no offer of explanations or evidence. The closest has been a picture of a garmin forerunner 305 and a facebook comment that he would provide the total distance of his run once he had added it all up. These facebook posts appear to have been subsequently deleted (or i am now blocked from viewing them.)I may be a jaded cynic, but if you plan such a feat and are doing it for charity then on both stages you publicise the shit out of it. You want the world and his wife to know what you are doing. The act of globalisation means that the world is now literally your stage if you want it to be. It seems to me that Mark over reached, wanting to be a player on a stage that he hadn’t even auditioned, let alone rehearsed for. Mark made a statement, a proclomation and it backfired. He started with stating he would break the record and complete it in 8.5 days and then smashed this further. At the point the mirror was turned on him the blackout has started. Calling those who question him trolls and seemingly indicating to provide evidence is more hassle than its worth appears to be very much out of character for someone who has been invested in promoting a charity and running over 830 miles. The whole affair does not add up. I can determine a logical outcome based on an assessment of the known facts. On this basis sadly Mark is lying and the his time is nothing but fictitious. We can skirt around this view point, but to do so is simply sitting on the fence and offers up ambivalence. Mark can correct this by offering a collation of evidence and then further backing this up by taking anyone of a number of race directors offers to run their events (after all if he can smash a 16 year old record his presence at races will be, i’m sure, in demand.)

With extreme records comes extreme scrutiny and Mark must have anticipated this. I suspect he probably thought it was an obscure record that only a small handful of people would ever hear he had claimed to beat. Deferring sending evidence of his other “achievements” to Guiness World Records further perpetuates the myth; after all on this basis his records have not yet been refuted, but... and this is key... neither have they been validated. I feel for those duped by Mark and i am sure it will be hard for them to realise the truth, but i believe it is important the truth does come out. Mark can remedy the situation in a second. I always tell my children to be honest and say sorry when they have done something that the should not have done. I never say there wont be consequences, but that i will respect them. In an odd sort of way the same applies to Mark. In the face of such vehement anger and disbelief if he comes forward and explains and apologises then i will respect that and hopefully we can support him to realise that offering up your best is more important than fabricating the unachievable. Conversely if he demonstrates the proof then wow... i mean seriously amazing stuff, but i repeat my very firm position that he did not achieve what he claims. His silence should not be accepted as “avoiding the trolls.” He has made a bold claim and now has a responsibilty to that claim. Interestingly that at the time of writing this he has further locked his facebook status. As early as Lunch time today many of his posts were public and this included a post showing the time of his alleged completion of LEJOG. As of now you can see none of these posts. Such a silence is more than defensive. It strikes of a manner of building walls around himself in the hope that people will almost ignore his claim and go away.

So the real purpose of my musings is this... Does it really matter that Mark has lied (my assertion), who really cares? My simple answer is Yes it matters and we should all care and it. When you set out to inspire others you set a chain of events into motion that you are responsible for. I dont really care that he had endorsements and provision of kit. At the end of the day anyone who has endorsed Mark will make their own determinations on this whole affair. Where my gripe comes is what message does he send to those he “inspires”? These ramblings are not directly to Mark in isolation, but to every cheat on the planet who thinks its ok and no one got hurt.Some may say that Make A Wish have received a large number of donations and so no one got hurt. In this case the end cannot justify the means. On their website Make A Wish state “We can’t grant wishes without people like you.” They go on on their website to say the following:

We go above and beyond to grant very special wishes to very special children; their dreams made a reality at a time when they need it most.

Because a child’s life shouldn’t be about illness, hospitals and diagnosis – it should be about wonder, joy and hope.
We’ve seen the effects a wish can have on a seriously ill child: from creating incredible memories, building confidence and bringing happiness, to providing respite from the daily struggles that come with a life-threatening condition.
We know what wishes can give, and this is the driving force behind why we continue to do what we do.

I love this sentiment and whole heartedly agree. As a parent the thought of losing my children makes my head spin and stomache churn. The courage children with life limiting illnesses show is way beyond enduring the pain or i may experience running. Yet strangely the battles of the ordinary provides inspiration to people to keep fighting. For children and their families the knowledge that others care enough to take on amazing feats, pushing themselve to their limits and showing the impossible can be achieved is often an inspiration to keep fighting their own demons and illnesses. If even one person is inspired by something i or others do and this gives them the energy to fight a little harder, or a little longer then i am overwhelmed and priviledged that we get to help in that way. The same sentiment applies to Mark and others who claim to inspire, but in reality cheat. The consequence to those invested in his journey, when they realise the only way it was achieved is in a shroud of deceipt, may be catastrophic. Their own self believe may extinguish and the desire to fight that little harder may be lost.

We as human beings must not underestimate the Butterfly effect of our actions. The action to promote awareness and inspire carries a responsibilty for the better or the worse. If we lose faith/hope then all of us lose something in our ability to dream and believe in achieving the impossible. The world for me would be a lot poorer for that loss of hope and belief. I for one want to put in the sweat and the graft and know that what ever end results i get are because i earnt them. I want to show my children and those around me that you get what you give. I want those around me to know i try to be the best i can be. I want to be inspired by my friends and in awe of their dedication. The end results are a side product and not particularly the key element that inspires. I think this is where people like Mark get confused and i hope i am correct in this assertion. Posting a finish time is not what impresses. For the Ultra Community a well documented effort of struggle and determination would have inspired us all that little bit more. Our jaws would have dropped if the time claimed was evidenced, but outcome regardless we would have stood united to applaud an amazing effort. It is the journey that would have impressed and not the destination. I think this is the point that Mark has lost. That and the fact no one runs the claimed paces in a bomber jacket.

The future of all sporting achievements rest for me in the tenents of Taekwondo:
• Courtesy
• Integrity
• Perseverence
• Self Control
• Indomitable Spirit

Sadly in this recent controversy none of these qualities have been shown. I hope that in this particularly case the claim is so ludicrous and so quickly disputed that it will not impact on others faith in theirs and others ability to exercise these qualities. Yet we all know that if you are lied to enough times then distrust becomes ingrained. For the impressionable the act of cheating may be seen to yield rewards that validate the risk and for others it may simply dishearten them into ambivalence. A world full of ambivalent people void of passion and dedication would be a very bleak thing.

This world needs passion!!! We all need Goals and Heroes! Children need to believe those they see as heroes have superpowers. Children like those involved with Make A Wish need to believe that the impossible is possible. These emotions and beliefs are more important than a donation figure on a just giving page or personal charitable donations. When we lie, cheat and deceive (whatever the reason) we risk taking away the belief in ‘magic’ from people. That can never be a good thing and as such the end can never justify the means. For me therefore the greatest act of courage now would be for Mark to come forward and provide all evidence for scrutiny, or acknowledge and apologise for the lie he has professed. I believe he has lied (until i am convinced otherwise.) I would therefore suggest if he wants to inspire others the greatest act of bravery would be now not to hide away from social media, but to embrace it and tell the truth. I am sure in that act he would inspire more people than the proclomation of an unknown average runner taking down a 16 year old record believed by many to be largely untouchable. What ever happens the passion of the Ultra Running Community rallying round to ensure that the genuine record is not at risk and having the desire to promote integrity keeps my faith in humanity.

Step forward Mark as everyone deserves to know the truth. I urge others not to resort to mud slinging and remember what this is really about. Upholding our own integrity has to be also be ensured whilst seeking to challenge the ridiculous claims. If Mark comes forward then he can show children its ok to believe and that when you make a mistake its ok to say sorry.