Friday, 28 April 2017

Here we go. TP100 is upon us.

Well this moment seems to have come around quick. I left the office still with a massive to do list and a variety of things I will need to do next week, but right now I don't care. I am on the train and making my way to a Premier Inn in Chiswick. It now feels like a race weekend. I realise in this moment how long it has been since I have had the chance to feel the nervous energy of a big race. I can't quite believe TP100 is already upon us.

So many people thought I was joking in the office when they asked what I was up to this weekend. Eventually I just stopped telling people; having grown tired of being asked what was wrong with me and being informed most people go to the pub for fun. Truth be told I love my job, but I've been flat out with my main role and my business. Ultras have always been a sanctuary for me and the build up to this one is no different. This race affords me a space to clear my mind and just enjoy my surrounding. I know it will be tough and I know I will be exhausted, but I also know it will rejuvenate me. To quote Faithless "this is my church. This is where I heal my hurt."

I am sat on the train and the removal of traffic stress is absolute bliss. Moments from my childhood (or maybe the reading of Harry Potter) always makes train rides feel like an adventure. An adventure within an adventure... that may be a theme for the weekend.

Leaving the family is always tough. I miss them whilst away and both the kids are growing in cheek and are full of life. I hope that my challenges and strength of character show them a lifestyle choice that will allow them to have the confidence and courage to chase their own dreams in life.

Big shouts of thanks to my wife. I could not do this without her support. She is awesome and I am very aware how fortunate I am with my family and the life I have. So when I am running they will be with me in spirit and then when I turn in to that field on Sunday, I know they will be there to conclude part 1 of this grandslam adventure; another example of an adventure within an adventure.

I have no real targets for the race other than to finish and be in one piece. A sub 24 would be lovely, but I will not be upset if it does not happen. I am hoping that the experiences and mental fortitude of GUCR last year, will enable me to press harder and endure longer. If it has then anything is possible tomorrow.

The bags are packed and I have realised, the more races I have done, how little I need to take with me. I ended up second guessing myself and almost adding more because I might need it.

Giant shout out to the running community and army of volunteers. I will thank you all at the weekend, but having been the other side of the line I know what a hard job you have and the support is invaluable. No offence to those sweeping, but I sincerely hope that, unlike 2015, I see none of you!

I have opted for road shoes. Hoka Clifton 3's to be precise and after much panic my petzl Nao is up and running. It's all fitted in my UD AK 3.0 pack (I am sure UD are building towards an affiliated runner where they can have an R2D2 pack). There is tonnes of room to spare. I find the single back pocket is not segmented enough and so I have split kit into dry bags. One with kit I only need if I DNF and the other for stuff I will only need if temperature drops significantly.

My final tip for runners and something I am carrying... sandwich bag. I have a habit of ramming food down my throat at aid stations and then the volume of food making me feel ill. I will be putting it in my sandwich bag and walking and eating as I leave the aid station. It saves time and means I don't force high volume calories in a short window.

So to the volunteers thanks.

To the experiences ultra runners, you know what to do, just don't get complacent.

To the 1st timers, relax, enjoy and get some sleep. The race will take care of it's self. Focus on the moment and take it one step at a time.

TP100 is flat, but hard. Set off too fast at your peril.

See you all in Richmond.

Grandslam Take 2 begins... Now!!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Grandslam Take 2 and basic advice.

I can't quite believe that it is nearly 2 years ago that I first attempted the Centurion Grandslam. So near and yet so far. For those of you who regularly read my blog you will know just how close i came and how devastated I was at having to pull out of NDW at 76 miles. It wasn't long after that race before I had decided that I would be making another attempt at the Grandslam. The Grandslam feels like an itch that still needs to be scratched. I have pushed others to finishes and now I am pushing myself.

The plan for 2016 was all focused on GUCR. As I have recently blogged about this race you will be able to see just how much that took out of me. The demand of the training and the race itself left my mental fortitude some what depleted. I have spent a lot of time getting my focus back. 2016 was full of highs. Having had the privilege to sweep a lot of runners home to finishes at TP100 and A100 and attending to runners needs at NDW100 I enjoyed remaining part of the community. Of course GUCR remains my personal highlight. See others achieve dreams, and playing a small part in that, was a very close second.

My training has been up and down, but overall I'd rate it a solid 7/10. I am a different runner physically and mentally from 2015 and I can't wait to get back out there. Some how having a race looming seems to have reignited a spark that I had not even realised had gone out. The missing spark was the charge that was getting me up at 5am regularly in training for GUCR. The missing spark caused me to hit snooze one too many times in build up to this race. I am committed to a successful race at TP100; a finish that doesn't skirt with cut offs and I come away unscathed from will constitute such a success. Following on from this race I feel that business truly begins. My plan for recovery and training into SDW100 is challenging but purposeful. It is all with the focus of peaking for NDW100. There is a good period of time then until A100 where I hope to be in the position of running for a giant buckle.

I have weight to lose (My great nemesis) and for sure I can gain pace this way. I can get physically stronger as well. With that said I am ready for TP100 and there will be no excuses. Whatever the weather, whatever happens on the day I will remain focused and will press for a finish. I am not underestimating this race and I am ready to give 100% effort. Too many people underestimate this race, after all its flat and fast. The reality being of course that many people set out too fast and just don't manage a running plan; the result being a DNF.

The Grandslam is gruelling and I am ready for that. It makes you question your ability and I am ready for that. 

For those running their first 100 and for those on their first effort at the Grandslam my advice is this... Enjoy it! Be prepared for pain and be prepared for this at early points. That is ok. Hurting at mile 30 does not mean you won't be feeling good at mile 60. A 100 miler is like the waves of a sea. You will go up and down and sometimes feel overwhelmed. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will get to the end. NEVER underestimate the value of running 10meters. If you can only run 10metres in every 20 then by the time you have done 10km you will have run 5km. My point being find your way, but never underestimate how much the little things add up over this distance. Address any niggles early as well. That tiny stone in your shoe that you don't want to lose 2 minutes taking out, well it's now a rock 10 miles later and has grated your foot. Be smart and be responsible. A death March for 14 hours is no fun!!! Trust me on that.

I'd also suggest strongly to pack your kit on Thursday. Have it all done and put to rest. Friday night needs to be about unwinding and letting the nervous energy keep contained. Sleep Thursday night and Friday night will pay dividends on Saturday. Hydration in build up to the race is also something not to overlook.

I guess the key thing to maintain is self belief. I am not special, but I do consider myself tough/stubborn. If I can finish then so can you. Just maintain that belief even in the darkest moments. Turn off notions of quitting. I didn't at NDW100 2015 and I got beat. If a volunteer spurs you out of an aid station they feel you are safe to go on. Trust them over yourself. They are usually right.

Don't underestimate the euphoria of the finish. It will always be worth the suffering.

For me I am so excited to get this started and embrace the weekend as a runner. This ultra running malarkey can be as lonely as it is sociable. I will be catching up with Phil Bradburn on Friday before he commences his grandslam journey as well. We will be at the Chiswick premier inn. If you are staying there and see us in the restaurant then come and say hello. I am rubbish with names so if you see me do come and say hello I love the festival feel to these race weekendS and am always happy to chat.

As part one of this four part saga begins I need to thank my family. I know Zoe kills me when I don't warn her that I'm mentioning her in my blogs, but all thanks and gratitude are well deserved. I can only do these things because of her. She never argues or complains. We do argue, but normally this is when she keeps me in line and reminds me I need to be committed to my training. I am minded to a point I made in my wedding speech 6 years ago... I am a better version of me, because of her. I am so proud of my wife and our little family. They ensure I remain focused and appreciate life. I love them more than I tell them and hopefully completing these races continues to show my children to set their own limitations... and then go and smash them. Their strength and determination always feeds into my race weekends. Knowing they will be at the finish is all the inspiration I need to get there. I seem to be watching my children grow up through the finish line photos by Stuart March. 

If you have read my blogs then my alien from 2015 has survived and will be on the back of my pack, hopefully until the end. It's a good way to recognise me. Although in 2015 I think he was more popular than me.

This is going to be a heck of an adventure this year and one I get to share with so many people from the Centurion Running family, my friends and my family. Lets hope this first step goes smoothly.

I have two other blogs that will give an indication of what to expect. The first from 2015 and the seconds as sweeper in 2016. Good luck everyone.

Final advice.... stop checking the weather forecast ;)

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Grand Union Canal Race 2016

I remember for a very long time being told by so many this is the "best" ultra race on the UK calendar. In fairness many will still make this bold statement. Regardless of the validity of this statement it grabbed my attention and so I entered the race. This story, however, does not begin in 2016. It begins in 2014 with a DNS. I was under trained and ill prepared. Even I'm not foolish enough to try and blag 145 miles. Instead I supported a friend and ran the past 45 miles with him. Many reading this will see 45 miles as inconceivable, but having run further and subsequently finishing the GUCR, I can safely say the difference in the two distances is massive. If you can eat one slice of pizza you don't suddenly assert that you can eat three large pizza's... well not without vomiting, maybe passing out and possibly ending up in hospital. By this virtue very similar to the difference between running 45 and 145 miles.

Having been part of my friends experience I understood the buzz around this race and the desire of so many to complete it. During 2014 I shared many highs and lows with runners. There was a huge camaraderie and sense of a united front trying to slay a beast. 145 miles seemed impossible and in so being drew many to try. Those that fell urged others towards the finish. The course for the most part is also beautiful and develops an aura of a world separated from ordinary life. In 2014 I remember being delighted and very proud when my friend finished, but also very envious. This race was firmly logged on my bucket list.

So it came to be that 2015 I would try the Centurion Grandslam. I got close, but to no avail. Now under the watchful eyes of Edwina Sutton I changed my approach to running, not my love, just my approach. I was to be purposeful in my training and consistent. In entering the ballot for GUCR I hoped by virtue of having a crew that I would secure a place, but in my mind I readied myself for making other plans. Following the draw the results went live at about 1am. I was in and I could not resist a message to my crew. They were equally delighted. My focus now increased further and specific training was now in total dedication to running a flat 145 miles.

Week in and week out I stuck to plan. My love hate relationship with sugar meant my weight was not falling off, but everything else was going great. So the race got closer and plans became real. I was hitting personal checkpoints in my training and then BAM! I get a message from my crew. 2 out of 4 could not help out. No animosity as it was for health reasons and I would never want someone to jeopardise their health on my behalf. I was worried that i would not be able to source alternative crew. Bloody hell what it did next was energise everything. I became aware just how much people believe in me and supported me. So many who would have helped but were out  of the country. It did not stop me rapidly sourcing crew.

My best friend Sam Robson pretty much dropped everything and at the risk of a disgruntled wife he sought her approval (Thanks Jen), was then on my car insurance and on the crew. Bryan Webster and my wife Zoe were already planned to be supporting at certain junctions of the race. I really needed one more person... in stepped David Barker. Now this is a man who ran A100 in under 16hours and then went and helped at the Reading Aid station. On this day he would be finishing work and then leaving Kent at 3am to get to the race start. He would then support until 4am and then look after his children whilst his wife went to her own race (thank you Sarah.)

So with a revised but in no way compromised crew I was ready for race weekend. Conditions looked favourable if potentially a little hot, but heck I was going to be running over 2 days, anything could happen. So on the Friday i packed my gear and got on a train to Birmingham. I could not get as way as early as i would have liked. It became a little bit of a rush to the premier inn and then registration. There was a buzz around town and i recognised a few runners all displaying the nervous energy. As i approached the Premier Inn i bumped in Tom Garrod. He was in fine form and clearly ready for the race. I always love catching up with Tom, he is an absolutely inspiration to anyone over coming adversity. The registration is without a doubt the most understated registration i have ever experienced. I collected my Hoodie, T-Shirt and canal key and my name was ticked. That was it i was registered and good to go. I made a vow that i would not put on the Hoodie or the T-Shirt until i completed this race. It felt like i had not earned them yet. I took the decision to head back to the Premier Inn, rather than join the crowd. I caught up with a couple of runners and then proceeded to bed. A quick chat with my running coach, a review of kit and a panic of whether i had anything and then lights out.

The alarm went and blurry eyed i woke up. It was 4:45am and the start of a very long period of time awake. My mind was clear and the training was done. Everything i could do to prepare had been done and could no longer improve my chances of completing this race. A call from Sam to check i was awake and the dawn of what i was about to undertake was washing over me in droves. I gathered my kit and covered my feet in anti-chafing powder, before getting dressed. Now i should at this point note that the powder is brilliant stuff, but slip and it may look like the aftermath of a party hosted by a Rock and Roll band. For future reference i will apply this stuff to my feet in the bath, in order to reduce such aftermath. So once again probably like a party hosted by a Rock and Roll band.

This is not what it looks like.

Willing, ready and hopefully able i headed downstairs. Sam was patiently waiting for me and then the gloom of the rain was visible. Seriously all signs had pointed to no rain and already it was chucking it down. Forecasts were for this to progressively clear as the morning progressed. I put it to the back of my mind and decided that what would be would be. Nothing was going to stop me from crossing that finish line. I dont think i have ever been so determined to complete a challenge. If it was going to rain then so be it. The iron being, as this report will show, not long into the race i would have killed for it to rain just a little bit.  

At the start line i was relieved to know that David had arrived and he and Sam would now be together to assist as my crew. The start was awash with nervous energy. I caught up with Rodrigo Freeman and Mark Haynes. Both were well prepared and ready to get going. After the race announcements, cautions and advisory's we were released upon the canal. Truth be told it was all very anti-climatic. Imagine the 100 metre start line of an olympic final, everyone crouched low in their blocks, the gun goes off and all bar one runner of eight stands up and begins a casual walk. Magnify these proportions to 150 runners and this was in effect how the start would have translated to an outsider. Inside though i was running to a plan. It was a case of slow and steady and leave enough running for the final 45 miles. Oh sure i will just take it steady for 100 miles and then run the last 45 miles. Bloody hell what was i thinking. Who considers this a normal way to spend a weekend. Well truth be told i saw nothing about this weekend as normal, but i did see this opportunity as a blessing, a peaceful one and something i would grab with both hands, until i reached Little Venice. i trudged along with Mark Haynes and watched Rodrigo disappear into the distance. 

Super excited to get going.

There i am "whizzing" by.

The rain was a distant memory and rapidly the world was heating up. I say world as nothing beyond the canal and the rhythmic pounding of my feet seemed to exist. I was becoming encapsulated by the melody i was creating on the tow path. I was losing any concern for the stresses of my daily life. I was focused, i was calm, i felt positively in control. I arrived at my first meeting point right on schedule. 10.7 miles completed in a little over 2 hours. I was feeling good as i took supplies from my crew. All was going smoothly, yes it was heating up, but everything was in working order. It seemed on the surface like it was going to be a lovely day of running. I even had the chance to laugh off an error when i realised my crew had passed me the spare bread i forgot to tell them about. Yum sandwiches with no filling. Well at least i made some ducks happy. Cruising in to mile 18.1 at 9:32am i was 4 minutes ahead of schedule and not feeling too bad. By this point it was hot though. I could sense the danger that the heat was going to be a problem. As i trundled away from my crew i was feeling warm and the naive optimism of "what could possibly go wrong" was being replaced by "you fucking idiot, its 145 miles of course it was going to be brutal." In any event i decided the best course of action was to ignore myself. 

Collecting my bread with no filling.

I had an opportunity to run a little with Ashley Hurd. He was keen to complete the race. I left him around mile 15 where he was supported by his wife. I did not see him after that and was sorry to hear he DNF'd. At about mile 18 i saw Phil Bradburn and would frequently see him along the course. Time was drifting a little for me. Nothing to panic about at this point. I was well under the cuts offs and not too far shy of my A race pace plan. With that said i was feeling increasingly worse. The heat was bloody appalling. I was left with indigestion and a sense that my body was slowly imploding. I was drinking regularly, but some how could not quench the first. I wanted to eat and project everything from my stomach in equal measure. Both options held little appeal and i was slowing as a result. A furiously hot day with the sun bouncing off the tow path causing increased intensity. At mile 30 i looked like shit, I felt like shit and my ever honest crew told me i was looking great.... lying bastards. I still had loads of running in my legs, but i could not muster the energy. I was not prepared to contemplate a DNF, but it felt like the body was failing my mind. At mile 34 on the verge of frying my body i saw a safe haven, a utopian vision of tranquility. I could not have asked for it to be better placed to save my race. Now truth be told it was a break in the hedge that created a space completely enclosed. Beautiful shade and a swing hanging from a tree. I was in no mood for a swing, but i did force some calories in and sit down and close my eyes for 10 minutes. Maybe i could cool down, hit reset and get moving. Well reset is about right. My body temperature dropped and as i stood up had a massive head rush. I felt nauseous, but was keen to get moving. One step... two step... and we were playing anything but "round and round the garden." I toppled to my knees and vomited violently into the canal. I have since been informed that a number or runners passed me and assumed i would be DNF'ing. The little voice in my head decided that i 'only' had 110 miles left to race so i may as well press on to the finish. 

A beautifully scenic route

Hot and feeling like utter trash.

The next phase of the race was spent trying to ignore the heat and watching other runners also rationing their water. I seemed to struggle to compute a simple bloody lock on the canal tap. Thankfully a Canal Boat resident took pity on a sweaty salt ridden runner and showed me what i was doing run. He was very friendly and i think resisted patting me on the head and telling me it would be ok. I filled my water bottle and set back off. Approaching Braunston Locks i was anticipating seeing my crew. I knew they were due to appear and probably would just be relieved to see that i wasnt dead. It transpired to be a downhill stretch to my crew and at 44 miles there was my crew with fresh coffee. I sat down and took in the view. I was not feeling great, but was revising my targets. This race was about achieving and showing myself that the seemingly impossible could be done and reassuring myself that the only boundaries that apply to me as a runner are the ones i set myself. I was down, but far from out. I was over a 100 minutes down on my planned pace. Apparently vomiting in a canal and sitting on the side of a canal wondering what the fuck is going on takes up a lot of time. I knew i had stopped too much with my crew. I was wasting time, but i needed to get myself focused and this was the only way of keeping me in the race. On the plus side the stretch down to my crew saw the first of many running friends appear, Nick was full of encouragement. I am sincerely always touched by the running community and their happiness to give up time and support. 

My crew worked tirelessly from start to finish.

After a bloody good cup of coffee, thanks David, i felt a lot of better and was determined to get into a rhythm. I may have felt shit up until now, but i was NOT going to get myself timed out. 

"Could murder a cuppa."
Feeling like trash, but a cracking cup of coffee worked wonders.

Now in this race whilst the cut offs are very generous the cut offs up until CP4 force you to keep a reasonable pace. I was finally in a good place. By this i mean i was resigned to feeling like crap and was able to turn my brain off to this. I ran safely and for decent periods of time. I was struck by the surprising beauty of the course. It was proving to be a very scenic route and the heat was reducing and my pace increasing. I was happy i could make it through the cut off at CP4 with plenty of time. I was trading places with a few runners. Glyn Raymen reminded me we needed to get a bloody move on or we would be timed out. Shit.... really... you mean i fell asleep in a bush, vomited in a canal and demonstrated my ineptitude to open a basic lock... all to get timed out. Bollocks to that. I picked up the pace. This was a liberating moment. I reminded myself no matter how bad i was feeling i could and would still run. I ran a few good miles, but Glyn and other runners were still panicking. I then asked them what time they thought the cut off was. "7pm" was the response i got. For those unfamiliar with the race the cut off was 7:30pm. The relief in that moment is hard to describe. I had grinded to this point and would come in to the checkpoint with plenty of time to spare. I saw my crew briefly, clambered over the lock at Buckby Top Lock and jogged down the steps. I was ok and fast realising that Mountain Dew was settling my stomach. Yep so the influx of the caffeinated ghost buster coloured bottled substance began. I continued the run to CP4 and came through there at 6:55pm. I was 35 minutes under the cut off and could now relax into the race. 

There are not many races i can think of where 53 miles and 13 hours in i can comment that it was time to relax into the race. With that said i was relaxing and feeling in control. I had planned to arrive at mile 53 by 4:54pm. So yes i was 2 hours down, but heck i was in the fight and this fight was not going to be won by knockout. It was going all the way to the 12th round and i was going to need to win this fight on points. From this point you approach Blisworth Tunnel. It was a very pleasant evening and still light, although the sun was fading fast. Climbing up the hill i took a comfort break and in the process discovered a dropped digital camera. This was handed off to my crew and i believe successfully returned to its owner. It is worth noting that this section has a suprising bit of incline, but it doesnt last long and is definitely runnable. Do not be deceived into thinking you have to walk the hill.
The inspiring Tom Garrod in top form.

Finding some rhythm in the heat.

I was feeling ok, tired and fatigued from the heat of the day, but generally in good spirits. My next mental goal was Navigation Bridge. It felt like it would never appear and whilst not exactly half way it felt to me like this was my midway checkpoint. About 4 miles out i found myself running with Ian Shelley and Jay Close. I was very grateful as a couple of silly navigational errors could have caused me undue distress. They kept me on the straight and narrow and as we came up to the top the hill i stopped for a quick coffee. I then pressed on into the darkness and the descent down the road. Navigation Bridge was looming. In my haste i crossed a road and plodded down a hill. Something didn't seem right and after about 400 metres i checked my map and could only assume i should have turned left at the crossing. I saw a flash of light that appeared to be trying to attract my attention. I retraced my steps and at the junction i could see nobody. Maybe i had made the flash of light up and then there it was again, but slightly further down the road. I ran down after it, hoping that i would not becoming like that crazy dog chasing the ice cream van. As it was within about 50 metres of the runner i heard "thank fuck for that." It was Ian Shelley expressing relief. It turns out he had seen me drop down the hill and was worried i would not realise. We chatted for a bit and then he pointed me to the point in the village where you access the canal. I pressed on and it was apparent that Ian sadly was approaching the end of his race. I am for ever grateful that he appeared to instill his last amount of energy into motivating me to get to Little Venice. For this who will run the race remember to turn left at the cross roads and when you head down the hill you cross the road and there is a gate that lets you back on to the canal. 

Running along the canal, in the dark, i was reflecting on what i was trying to do. I was knackered and nearly 18 hours into my race. Then from the darkness appeared the well lit bridge. I heard my name, well i thought it was my name. Oh that's pleasant i thought and then it became a scream and a cheer and a whoop and a holler. Finally i had made it and there was my crew, my friend Anne and her partner and my wife. Anne appeared drunk on the energy of watching all these running loons coming through for several hours. Zoe was genuinely concerned for me. I was cold and exhausted. I went to the car and slept for 10 minutes. BIG MISTAKE! i strongly advise anyone undertaking this race to resist sleeping in the night. I got bloody cold, bloody quick. I was not making sound judgements and failed to make a sensible decision to put on running tights. Yes i added layers, but the quickest act would have been to wear running tights. After a limited effort to eat something i took a few hugs  and some swigs of Mountain Dew and pressed on. I now had running support with me and only 85 miles to go. Sounds so simple when written on paper. 

At this point in the race my crew excelled. I could not have done this without them and my sincere thanks to them all. Bryan Webster joined us at about mile 80. It was good to see another friendly face. When i received no sarcastic banter i knew i must look like shit. Photographs and crew accounts would safely verify that i looked like garbage. David left us at this point to get himself home, huge thanks to David for nursing me through 80 miles. 

Yep looking brilliant.

We pressed on to mile 85 and what was CP 6. I could not keep my eyes open and i could barely put one leg in front of the other. I decided i needed another nap. Naomi Newton-Fisher was at this checkpoint. I was so tired i could barely must a hello, so apologies if i was in any way rude. I bolted for the car and reclined the seat. The plan was 15 minutes and then really make progress. With this plan in place Zoe came with me to have a power nap, in truth i think she was more worried that i may swallow my tongue. After somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes i sat bolt up right and was ready to crack on. I knew that if i didn't get moving it was game over. I caught Bryan on the hop, but he responded admirably and chased after me along the tow path. For the next few miles things were going ok, but i really needed a shit. Yep the glamour of ultras is the reason i got into these things. Any way after a couple of failed bush visits i decided it was pointless trying and just pressed on.

The sun was up now and we were in for another hot day. Oh good, i enjoyed this so much the day before. As if to test my legs, or take the piss Bryan and i approach a swan along the canal path. It was blocking our route and there was no alternative way to pass. So i picked up the pace and jumped pass the swan. The swan swore and hissed and darted its head towards me. Thankfully the swan missed and now it was Bryan's turn to get past. So he lined up and ran past.. and.... nothing... nope nothing. The swan gave him no notice. So remember people Swans are evil and pray on the weak. 

Beware of the killer Psycho Swan.

Pressing on Bryan and i arrived at the 100 mile mark in around 27 hours. I got to use an actual toilet and felt significantly relieved. The joy was captured in a photo taken by Bryan. As we left the checkpoint Bryan and i discussed the fact that despite how bad i had been feeling i had still gone through the 100 mile mark in 27 hours. This moment and the rising of the sun gave me a sense of renewed vigour. I still had running left in my legs and felt able to press on. I reviewed the race to this point and realised there had been some seriously low moments, but i had overcome each and everyone. I was feeling better than i had felt at mile 30 and i was growing into the race. I had loved every moment of the race. Yes the near disasters were not pleasant in the moment, but the challenge of the race was why i entered. I did not go to Birmingham for an easy and unfulfilling experience.

Yes a poo can be this rewarding.

So running along the canal on the Sunday it did not get as hot as the Saturday, but it was a beautiful day and i was enjoying my running. I was struggling to eat anything and probably pissing my crew off as i rejected all things i had requested. I believe at one point Bryan suggested to Zoe that she just reheat the last set of noodles as i would not bloody eat them any way. I can't say i blame him as well as it transpired he was right. I am not sure at what point it occurred but Sam and Bryan swapped out pacing duties. I was tired, but running with a smile and growing in confidence that i would get the finish. I was bettering my revised target times and sustaining pace. At about mile 110 i felt like i was in a Rocky movie as various running friends appeared to offer their support. Paul Radford was out and in good spirit. In addition Phil Gatsky appeared. I had first met Phil when i swept Thames Path 100 and bullied him to leave the mile 91 aid station. It was a welcome period of support and i believe i ran the next 5/6 miles straight with no walking break. With power of others around me and my further consumption of Mountain Dew i was feeling good. Phil ran with us for about 9/10 miles and it was a huge element of support. 

Beginning to feel better and get back in the game.

My crew working super hard!

The clock continued to click and it was apparent that i was going to be out running into a second night. Once i accepted this the rest of day was great. At Springwell lock i knew there was just 25 miles to go. Yep only a marathon to go. If it were not for the 125 miles in my legs then this would be a doddled. I pressed on and Bryan jumped back in as a pacer. My body felt tired but ok. This was with exception of my feet. Every step made my feet feel like they were being dipped in lava. I am sure i was walking barefoot on hot coals. I could not run, i could barely walk, but i wanted to get to the finish. We had considered whether Zoe would run with me or not. At this point it would be anything but running. 

Only a marathon to go. NB: I am not sponsored by Mountain Dew.

As Bryan and i progressed along the tow path i started chanting "ow fuck, ow fuck, ow fuck fuck." For whatever reason this worked. Provided i continued to repeat the chant i was able to continue running pace. We ran past some highly diverse cultures. This included a barge bar and a man in a whacky top hat... oh the temptation to have a pint, but i would have passed out in the canal. Everyone was happy and engaged and even as the sun was setting the moods were lifting. I was on the look out for the famous left turn and the sign to Paddington. Honestly as i was chugging down more Mountain Dew i convinced myself that someone had moved the left hand turn. It was not there and i was convinced we must have missed it. Of course we had not and eventually the left turn appeared and so did more swans. These were more friendly than the previous swans and we passed without issue. Sadly this last section was littered with rubbish... sigh.. come on people.

The relief at the sight of the left hand turn. I promise i am not sponsored by Mountain Dew.

At CP9 I briefly caught up with many runners i knew, both who were running and those who were crewing. I sat down briefly to compose myself. I took on some fluid and some more Mountain Dew (i may have been glowing green at this point.) I wanted the race to be done and so got up and pressed on. We decided Bryan would continue to run with me rather than switch Sam back in. Bryan and i were in momentum and he was now zoning out my swearing and recognised that my body was telling me to sleep when it should keep running. Bryan appropriately forced me to keep moving. He rewarded me with limited rest breaks at appropriate times, but in general there was little break. We caught up runners and for the first time in hours we were overtaking people. This felt good and aided the miles being ticked off.

A well earned rest break. Can you spot a theme in what kept me going.

The sun was setting but our pace was improving. I could not believe the miles were ticking away so well. Then before i knew it we were at mile 139. Bloody hell 6 miles to go. We had sustained such a pace that we were there 30-45minutes faster than anticipated. I took on some more Mountain Dew and Zoe confirmed that she was going to run the last 10km with me. I was overwhelmed by this gesture. 

A moment with my wife that i will treasure forever.

My wife and i have shared some of the most incredible memories in life that no one else will ever share with me. We have shared a marriage proposal in Spain, entering into a marriage, Zoe has walked in the last 9 miles of SDW100 with me, she has given me two wonderful children and here we were about to share the most amazing moments of this race. I couldn't  have wished for a better partner to finish this race with. Don't let this blog present our marriage as perfect, we argue, fight and disagree, but Zoe is my hero and the love of my life. I am who i am because of her and she inspires me to be a better parent and generally better person. I guess in that way we are a lot like the GUCR race. It is not always easy and there can be a lot swearing, but ultimately the journey is without a doubt worth the challenges. I prepared myself to walk in the final 6 miles. I knew Zoe had been training and was becoming capable as a runner, but my feet hurt. I held her hand and as we walked into the darkness i knew in that moment it was only about me and her. Yes there was a huge wealth of support and people i could not have achieved this race without and social media was bursting with encouragement, but in that very moment it was only about Zoe and i. The world was quiet and we pressed on. Zoe shared with me that she had been training up to  10km distance to run this last leg in. Oh come one Zoe with the emotional blackmail. Now i had to bloody run. So on we ran, and it was wonderful. We entered into banter and counted the miles down. I calculated that we could walk it in about 2 hours. Zoe's response was to tell me that we could or we could run and be finished in 70 minutes. Zoe was absolutely right and we ran. I entered into a facebook countdown. Zoe had found the Bryan balance of supporting me, whilst also ensuring i did not stop running. Mark Haynes had obviously found a second wind and passed me with about 3 miles to go. Zoe and i pressed on and the last 2 miles seemed to go on forever. I could have sworn that Little Venice would never appear. In that moment i did not want it to. I wanted this experience and the moment with the love of my life to last forever, it was a wonderful feeling. Then in the distance there was a flicker of a light. The light was dismissed by Zoe, but i became like a kid at Christmas... "Its a light a light... i can see the finish." It felt to me like a lighthouse shining its beacon. I could see the finish and knew the home straight was in my grasp. This whole journey had lasted for over 41 hours and in truth the real journey started months prior. I was happy, i was grateful and i was proud. As i crossed the line i felt so drained. Suddenly i had no more energy. There were other runners also sat, all looking broken, but all in their own state of reflective euphoria. 

We left the finish after i received my doorstop medal. I could barely stand with it around my neck. Nonetheless we got up. After many hugs and congratulations it was time to get a taxi. I had contemplated walking the mile and a bit to the hotel. Thankfully both Zoe and Bryan exercised common sense and informed me they would like to be at the hotel in the next hour. We got to the hotel and as i was signing in nearly fell asleep on the reception desk. Thankfully there were lifts, the rooms were large and the bed comfortable. I flopped on the bed, fell into the shower and then back onto the bed. I was tired, but elated. I went to check my phone and respond to some comments. My phone went crazy with beeping and updates. I was falling asleep whilst holding my phone. I was shattered, but peaceful and was experiencing a sense of fulfillment. I had achieved a bucket list race with wonderful memories and vomiting in the canal seemed a life time ago.

In reflection this was such a good race. The diversity of cultures that i experienced on the canal was like no other i have experienced. It was so much fun and everyone was friendly and interacting. On the whole the race was beautiful, genuinely beautiful with diverse scenery. I loved the different sites, although no site tops that of the flashing finishing beacon and the bloody big medal. I can put in a better performance and i am sure i could go quicker (i will be back,) but no finish will have the magic of this first finish. GUCR 2016 was magical.

GUCR is beautiful.

Very tired crew member.

A medal worthy of the experience.

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.