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 www.run247.com. 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 www.run247.com . 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.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Autumn 100


As someone who blogs regularly about races it was a first for me not to write a blog after North Downs Way 100. Why didn’t I? In part because i DNF’d, but more specifically because i had nothing new to say on the subject. I was on for the Centurion Running Grandslam, the day had been relentlessly hot, I stumbled in the dark, turned my anke and DNF’d at 76 miles. Yes there is more substance to the day than that, but in essence that was my race. The DNF was the right call for me, but could it have been avoided? Totally! So rather than write a blog to justify the DNF and how i would learn from it, I wanted to actually reflect, get strong and then comment with substance.

So after NDW i looked closely at my running right through from training to racing. The stress points for me and my family, but further what was i doing wrong? You might consider the fact that I had already finished two 100 hundred milers this year an indication that I wasn’t really doing anything wrong but i knew better than this. I have always gone into races feeling ok or like can scrape through. Stubbornness can get you a long way... A really long way, but for me it was starting to taint my joy of running and in turn my motivation. It was time to try something new and for me that was a running coach.

Firstly let me be clear that I have always been highly sceptical of running coaches. On the way to South Downs Way 100 I had that very conversation with Bryan Webster about how expensive they are and not being sure i could justify the cost. I could not really see what they could input into my running that I could not offer myself. It seemed someone else was going to tell me to run. Well yes i could do that. Granted that is a slightly simplistic summary of my initial thoughts on coaching, but it gives you the idea. After NDW I was a little dejected, but more out of frustration with myself. I had not run enough in the build up to that race. It really was that simple. When push came to shove i was not strong enough. I decided to speak to a few people who I know that have used or use coaches and those who have not and would never. I had a pretty balanced analysis of the option.

Just before North Downs Way 100 I took the decision after speaking to a good friend of mine, Nici Griffin, to have an initial call with Edwina Sutton. I had been following Nici’s running journey and despite her own complaing ;) I was impressed with the support and plans that Eddie would create for her. I was really impressed with Eddie when I spoke to her, but still slightly undecided before NDW. I spoke with her again after the race and I was convinced.

After 5 minutes into my post NDW conversation with Eddie I was sold on the benefit of coaching and that this was something I should definitely try. Eddie was fab and reassured me that really it was just consistency that was the key. She was sympathetic about my DNF, but accepted my own acknowledgement and ownership of this without trying to massage my ego (dont have Eddie as your coach if you want your Ego massaging.) I felt reassured by Eddie and unpressurised: more importantly i felt motivated. There was still part of me that queried whether the novelty of coaching would be a fad, with that said it was something I had not tried before and i figured would be worth a shot.

Fast forward 8 weeks from the conversation and i find myself on the phone to Eddie the night before Autumn 100. This time I am talking to her well and truly as my running coahc. My training up until this point has been consistent for the 8 weeks. I had noted progress in myself and my attitude towards running. Further i felt more able to mentally dial into a run. I had a good understanding of what my comfortable pace felt like and what the messages from my brain were really telling me. It had been stressed to me by Eddie throughout that consistency is key. I have trained with that attitude and even with a 2 week holiday in Florida i had managed to run and more less to a plan during that time. I can confidently say that over 8 weeks i ran the most consistently i have ever run and put some really good sessions together. I had also had some really positive strength sessions and on the whole was feeling stronger. So there i was talking to Eddie about the goals for the race and how best to achieve them. I have to say i love Eddie for this. From a family perspective she is about a year or two on from me and so has a very real understanding of the demands of family life and the balance to be found. My wife i think has also noticed the difference as well. It means my training is realistic, challenging, progressive and consistent. I am no longer sitting on the sofa saying “i should have run” and then spending hours procrastinating over how far I will run later or the following day. The added bonus of Eddie as a coach is I can’t message her and say i haven’t trained without a good reason. You can picture the scene of me texting her and trying to come up with a good excuse, knowing that she has not long had her third child and is still training. I think I would rather make sure I got my run in.

So during my conversation with Eddie I was absolutely ready for the race and excited. I had no excuses (apart from jet lag) and felt able to give this race a good crack. In Eddie’s words the plan for this race were “to finish with a big cheesey grin.” In addition i was to eat 500 calories at every aid station and constantly ask myself how i was feeling and adapt wherever required. We agreed that pace was irrelavent and i was absolutelly not to look at pace on my watch. I confess to being one of those historically that can get consumed by minutes per mile. This one would be a challenge but i was prepared to go with it. The final point was all too crucial and that was to remember we do this for fun and enjoy it. I was touched by Eddie informing me that she had been looking into trying to come and run with me for a bit. She couldn’t make the logistics work, but with a young baby i fully appreciate even the consideration. I pointed Eddie in the direction of the Racedrone app that I woudl be using and mentally added her to my list of stalkers for the race.

With a start time of 10am this race has the perfect location for me. I was able to stay at my sister and brother in laws with the family. I got a good night sleep and on the morning of the race my wife drove me over to the start. Registration was its usual smooth Centurion process. Over the years the number or runners I know has grown massively and by the time I had my race number my wife had asked me if i knew every single runner in the room. Of course i didn’t but there times when it feels like this. After dropping of my bag I bid the wife farewell and started mentally preparing for the race. I had agreed to speak to a guy from Radio Five and where a GO Pro for Audio recording. His day had obviously started worse than mine as her forgot the GO Pro’s. In truth I was a little relieved as less worrying about swearing now. I had a chat with him about why I run these types of races and it had the added bonus of getting me even more excited about the race. I really love the 100 mile races and the adrenaline in the atmosphere. I made my way to the start and caught up with friends. Some were going for the Grandslam, others were going for super fast times, whilst others were aiming for their first 100 mile finish. The thing we all had in common was an enjoyment of getting to experience this together. The weather for the race was pretty much perfect. No forecast for rain and the ambient temperature was very pleasant for running in a t-shirt.

So I lined up at the start and knew i would see everyone again at least once. The beauty of this race and something that i think makes it very special is the fact it is four out and backs. This means you get to see the front runners coming back and also encourage runners that you may be ahead of. It was nearly time for the off and I had inadvertently found myself near the start of the race. As good as my training has been I am not yet a front runner. So after a catch up with Sam Robson I stood ready to get going knowing that this would be the only time David Barker would be behind me during the race. I spoke with Sam Clack from Radio Five again and happily agreed to chat to him later. I could see he was being absorbed by the atmosphere of the race and at this moment everyone in Goring was part of the affair. James Elson gave his speach and confirmed who the Race Directors were for this weekend. James had recently confirmed he would be running. There was some speculation as to whether he would be racing for the win or to experience his event. I maintained my view that if he was running he would have to be running to the best of his ability and thus going for the win.

The countdown to the start took place 10...9....8.....................3...2...1 and just like that a flurry of runnners were departing Goring for the very first time. I was absorbed in the atmosphere. Two or three runners said hello and I confess to needing a minute to remind myself of who they were. Paul shortly after introduced himself and we chatted for a bit. Friend old and new this was going to be a very special race. I could that the day was going to be great. Plodding along i felt my leg were moving well and I was in a good rythmn. Running alongside the canal it brought back memories of Thames Path 100 and how much more prepared i felt today. There was a brief moment where I felt it was a shame that it was not for the Grandslam, but I knew i needed to run this race for me. I looked ahead of me a few miles in to see Bryan Webster. I have known Bryan for a few years now and would consider him a good friend. He is normally much faster than me, but I thought it would be fun to share 20 to 30 minutes together, whilst I was feeling good. Of course he would dart off into the distance and finish 5 to 6 hours ahead of me. I think it is fair to say what happened over the rest of the race suprised us both.


Perfect morning on the Thames Path


 Running through the first Aid station and onto the end of the first half of spur 1 the time seemed to be passing really quickly. Bryan and I were running well. We both stuck to our plans and occassionally he would disapppear and then I would catch him up. As I hit about mile 10 the lead runners came blaring past in the other direction. They all looked really comfortable, some in their own world and others giving a cursory “well done” or “keep it up.” This was all except for one, a certain James Elson. In about 8th at this point he screamed “looking great Dan, awesome effort.” He looked ridiculously comfortable, was chasing the win in his own race and yet still found that moment to briefly become engrossed in my race and not his. This is why i love Ultra Running and the Centurion Family. Soon after this I could see a mass of runnners and it suggested to me that the Aid station could not be far. Sure enough there was the Aid station and with a quick grab and run i left armed with food (remembering Eddie’s instruction of 500 calories) and a sense that i was in control. At this point Phil Hall was just ahead of me and seemed to be in a good run/walk strategy of his own. The running conditions were good, i was in a rhythm and had covered this part in a little over 2 hours. A real highlight as to why I was not looking at pace. Previously if i had been on this pace i would have slowed down and convinced myself it was too fast. In truth previously it would have been, but today it felt comfortable so i went with it. I was falling into a run for 15-20 minutes and then walk for 5. This gave me enough time to feel I had a break and also feel like I had a good chunk of running covered. The strategy was certainly eating into the distance.

Bryan had run ahead about 10 minutes before i hit the checkpoint and i assumed that he was long gone. It was to my surprise that i saw him again at about mile 14. He was approaching the road crossing and just ahead of him I saw Ashley Hurd dart across the road. I half expected the screach of tyres, the pause of Suunto’s and Garmin’s everywhere as we scraped him off the road. Thankfully it must have been my perspective as he had made it across the road fine and was running into the distance. Bryan and I started running again. After about another mile we chatted about training and plans. I noted I was just out to enjoy it and see what happened. We were both feeling good and Bryan acknowledged that i was obviously stronger than at NDW. I really felt it. Yes my legs could tell that at this point I had run 16 or so miles, but I felt like it was a sustainable pace that i could keep going for a good while yet and so I plodded on. I decided this was not a race where i was chasing times so i would take some pictures and send some tweets. It was turning into a bloody beautiful day. At about mile 20 Bryan was a little ahead of me. It seemed my run/walk strategy was working well and I was holding pace with him. This was at least 10 miles further than i would ever have imagined being in contact with Bryan. He was running with Ashley and so i plodded on. Eventually i overtook Phill Hall and gave him some encouraging abuse that i believe included a mild threat of violence if he DNF’d. As we approached a gate that would bring us back on to the bridge into Goring I was back running with Bryan. As surprised as i was he continued with a conversation we had left off about 40 minutes prior and we plodded into Goring together. It was about 4hrs 25 minutes into the race. To put this into context my previous PB for a marathon was 4hrs 35minutes. I definitely felt ok though. I had to run through a mental check to make sure i was not doing anything stupid. I text Zoe to confirm i was ok. I could tell she was a little worried that i was running too fast and that i would be blowing up later in the race. Bryan and i set off on the second leg on the ridgeway. With the woops and cheers of Natasha and Jon Fielden in my ears was feeling confident, but a little apprehensive of the hills that would be awaiting us. “Sod it” i thought. Its all part of the fun and i have nothing to lose.

Bryan had left just before me with the comment “catch me up.” There was no sarcasm in this comment, i think he genuinely expected that I would catch him up. As i left Goring Allan Rumbles and Chris Mills were in flow of conversation to which i heard “ask him go on” and “no i will ask him at the end”. I simply replied “whatever the question the answers yes.” As i ran off i heard Allan say “i should bloody hope so.” Both clearly on the wind up, but these moments of humour all add to the enjoyment of the day. So on to my first experience of the Ridgeway. It was not long before i was back running wiith Bryan. We made good time and were overtaking runners. I started to realise that a big difference between my running now and before is that i was running on some uphills. Those that know me well will know that i am not normally a fan of hills. Normally Bryan would shoot of into the sunset and this time on one occassion when i broke into a walk on a hill i heard Bryan say “thank fuck for that.” It was clear this was affective mutual support as we pulled each other along the Ridgeway at an efficient pace. Moving through the Aid stations we continued to run together, pull away from each other and soon run together again. Entering into the Aid station that would later be the 46 mile aid station i saw Graham Carter. We had a catch up and then just behind was Phil Hall. Another mild threat of violence if he DNF’d and on i carried. Not long after this James Elson came haring down the Ridgeway. Clearly he was in the lead and moving well. Armed ready with congratulations and encouragement i had no chance to furnish any of it as the shouts of “Legend, LEGEND, LEGEND!” Left James’ lips. I am sure as well that he meant it and that he lavished all other runners with the same encouragement; That or he was high on GU. Nevertheless it left me on a high and i powered along the route.


Bryan and i were running together again. We came past Richard Stewart down one of the hills. Bryan asked him how long until the aid station? The response was 5 minutes. Well i am sorry Rich but even James Elson would not have made it to that Aid Station in 5 minutes . In fact sod that he would not have made it there in 10 minutes. So it was 20 MINUTES later we arrived at the aid station. We got to the turning point... eventually ;) and made our way back to Goring as the light began to fade. Still feeling like there was running in the legs i was happy that as i moved through mile 40 the race was still enjoyable. I kept to the agreed plan i had made with Eddie and kept reassessing where i was at and ensuring i enjoyed myself. I found this section of the Ridgeway the toughest section of the race. Not because of the climb, but the twist and turns in the paths and the narrow trails. Even with that though i was feeling good and pushing forward.


By the time Bryan and i entered mile 46 it was dark and i was hungry. Bryan had been joking about getting a cheese and jam wrap. He had been, safe to say, a little perplexed at the choice of combination on the way out. So on the way back he jokingly asked for one from Graham Carter. As with all Centurion Crew Graham dutifullly obliged whilst also making me a jam wrap. I am still not clear to this day whether Bryan felt obliged to eat the Cheese and Jam wrap. I was grateful for my jam wrap. I find it a real struggle to eat bread whilst running, but wraps seemed to be going down a treat. Bryan and i ushered each other out of the aid station. Necking a couple of cups of coke on i went. I had a quick chat with Sam Clack from Radio 5 as he ran along with me through the church yard. I probably spouted a load of tripe to his questions, but he was clearly engrossed in the magic of the Centurion Race Weekend. We chatted for a few minutes in the dark. Sam thanked me and left me to get back to Goring. After some banta from Bryan about being a celebrity, he then piped up with a really pertinent question about Sam... “Did he have a torch?” my response was something along the line of “I aint going back to help him.” Thankfully i saw Sam later so i know he didnt trip on a gravestone.

Beautiful sunset

Approaching Goring i looked at my watch and realised the time still started with a 9. I turned to Bryan to converse on my surprise at the time. Training had obviously gone well, but given my 50 mile PB to date was 10hrs 45, at TP100 i had left the 50 mile point after over 13 hours, SDW 100 afer about 12 and NDW in around 13hours. So here i was approaching Goring as the elapsed time ticked just over 10hours. I phoned home to have a quick chat with the wife. The comment “what the bloody hell are you doing” was met with the reassurance that i felt fine and was not sprinting off. Given my year to date i could see why my wife had been concerned. Allan Rumbles was at Goring and why my back had turned ‘kindly’ brought me a plate of baked beans. As i sat prepping for the second trip on the Ridgeway i was very polite about the beans.... Ok no i wasn’t, but i was only rude to myself. I fucking hate beans... sorry Allan the plate of beans left behind were mine. With that said what was to come made the beans look delightful. I was ready to kill Bryan for the McDonalds that Jonny had left for him. Burger and Fries (BIG TICK), but then we entred “shit shake gate.” I am not sure if it had curdled or whether Jonny just pranked Bryan and wanted him to drink... well a cup of shit. The shake was very much not appetising and Bryan decided against the drink. So off we set back out on to the Ridgeway. I really enjoyed this section. It was hillier than any of the other spurs, but the terrain was very runnable and Bryan and i were working to an estimated time that we had said to Allan we would be back at Goring. The undulating terrain enjoyed its own mind games as we kept thinking about the fact we were going to be running back up those fricking hills.
The weather remained cool although the wind started to pick up. The aid stations out on this section were all out in the open and i was keen to get to the turnaround point and back off the Ridgeway. The final hill climb on the way back seemed to go on forever. I am left with little choice but to mention very little of that section as i think Bryan and i just called the climb evey expletive under the sun. Still we got to the final section of descent. Earlier in the day we had seen David Barker here and i remember thinking that it would be nice to get to run down. So Bryan and i picked up the pace and ran back into Goring. So 75 miles done in just over 16hours. As i got my bag and started to prep for the final spur i glanced to my right and realised it David Barker talking to me. What do you mean you are bloody finished. An epic run had seen him home in under 16 hours and even more impressive was James’ sub 15 hour run. Spurred on by their achievements i got myself ready to start the final spur. Bryan left Goring with Allan pacing him. I was given the instruction of “catch us up.” Sounds easy, but with 75 miles in your legs those three little words make for an interesting challenge. One that on this occasion would allude me.

On the final leg i was tired. I mean really tired. The jet lag was biting and biting hard. I could barely keep my eyes open. I honestly had not started this race with a goal target in mind, but severall comments on twitter had made sub 24 a real possibility. I felt this fading away fast as i struggled to stay awake. Plus i had forgotten how hilly this section of the Thames Path is. Even the trees may have blushed at some of my language. Anyway its a short stretch to the first aid station. As i arrived to the detour point on the path i made my way to the aid stations. Allan and Bryan were leaving. I was still within touching distance, but knew i was slowing. My legs felt ok, but i was really tired. So i necked a coffee and a couple of glasses of coke and powered out of the hall. I had to reassess what i was going to get out of this race. I needed to work out how i was going to continue enjoying this last section and finish in a manner that i was happy with. So i pushed on and in the darkness Sam Robson came flying past. I have known Sam for 15 years and so even in the darkness was able to discern it was him. Sam was going strong and was probably as surprised as i was that i was 80 odd miles into the race already. The next 8.5 miles of the race were the toughest. I knew this section and what was to come, but kept slowing to a cruel. I would have spells of clarity, feel awake and be able to power on at a good pace. Suddenly the fatigue would hit and i would be all over the place. I sat against a bulding and closed my eyes for two minutes. I rested against a tree for two minutes and on three occasions i rested my head on a gate for a minute. Yes all this time would really help me feel wide awake (sense the sarcasm). Then i would have a lucid period and question what the fuck i was doing. I mean all i really did in this spell was waste probably 15 to 20 minutes on the route to Reading. Worst still my mind warped back to Goring where i could visualise the bottle of Mountain Dew and can of Red Bull in my bag. How the bloody hell had i rushed out and left them behind. It gets better though as when i unpacked my bag a few days after the event i realised i had pro plus still in my pack. So the mind was knackered and i had forgotten about or left behind all my caffeine options. Bryan and Allan soon came past me. I was about 5 or 10 minutes out from the Aid station and so not that far behind at this point. The bridge i had been waiting for appeared and this meant the Aid Station was a matter of two minutes away. Sure enough there it was and success i had not fallen asleep and dropped into the canal. I took the decision at this point to have a 20 minute power nap. I could have drunk a heap of caffeine and hoped it sustained me, but i wanted to be enjoying this race and so chose a sleep. Overall sleep/jet lag i think had impacted on my race by around 45 minutes.

I set an Alarm and also expressed my intentions to David Barker(yes the same David who had finished the race in under 16 hours and was not helping at Reading.) so i knew he would wake me if my phone failed to. Just like those moments at home when you hit snooze and then the alarm speeds time up and goes off just seconds later. Well thats how it felt. I stood up and felt a bit more awake. I was still drowsy, but not to the level of passing out. I grabbed some food and a few cups of coke and departed down the stairs. The cheers as i left Reading was just what i needed. I bounded down the steps... ok i walked down them... and back onto the Thames Path and the last stretch home. I passed Phil Hall on my way back to Goring. Phil looked strong and i felt confident that with Jon Fielden pacing him i knew Phil would be finishing this race. So i plodded on. The race had got in my head a little and i slowed unnecessarily. It took me about the next hour to really pull my head back. It was my wife encouraging me to push on that snapped me out of it. I knew i had lost over an hour now through jet lag and being a bit of a fool. 24 hours was probably gone now, but Zoe was right press on and see what happens. For the first time in a while i ran and got back into a walk/run combo. My brain had not woken soon enough at Reading or i would have realised then that sub 24 was still a realistic goal. With that said the time was not the primary focus of this race. The timing element really sunk home. I was doing everything i had been advised to do and was still feeling like i had running left in my legs. My training had obviously proved more beneficial than i appreciated. I was supposed to be focused on adapting, enjoying and conquering. So i considerd where i was, checked my watch and revised my plan to sub 25hours.


On my way to my revised target i had run a little with Martin Bushell. He had ruled out 24 hours for himself but pressed on into the difference after a nice conversation about holidays and Disney. I later found out that Martin got unnervingly close to sub 24. Running through the fields the sun was back up and i was nearing the end. I knew i would be finishing and that helped ease things back. Then diving in front of me like a slightly strange photo bomber was Paul Ali. It was great to see him and he turned and ran with me for a little while. The catch up was a great distraction from the task at hand. Paul reminded me that no running was a waste, even if it was only 15 seconds. So i started running from a tree to a tree and then walking the same. This really improved my pace and sense of enjoying the finale of the race and my races for the year in general.

Birds of prey hovering
As i was approaching the end a few people had passed me. I could see them in the distance and decided i would try to reel them in. I was still loving the race and the journey i had been on during this adventure. Sure i knew i was going to have “what ifs?” floating around my head after the race, but i had to consider everyone in context. I had kept to race plan and the actions i had agreed with Eddie. I was adapting and enjoying. I had run faster to this point than i sincerely thought i was ever capable of and for the first 75 miles kept pace with a good friend of mine who had this year become a far quicker more competent runner than i. Best of all that 75 miles had been some of the most fun i have had on the trails. With all that in mind nothing about this race was going to be a failure regardless of time.

There of course comes the catch. 25 hours was now in my head. I wanted a time starting with 24. This became my new motivation and on i went. Then it happened i started to recognise the pathway and knew i was approaching the last mile of the race. Dog walkers were cheering and other runners were encouraging me as i passed them. I had one parting obscenity for the climbs and then glanced at my watch..... 6 minutes to go! I saw the distinct overhanging tree that my brain had mentally logged as the start of the trail on the way out. Conversely this meant i was about to hit pavement. So i ran and promised myself i would not stop until the finish. Then i saw the bridge in the distance... 4 minutes to go. So i picked up the pace again. I could feel i had a sprint in me, but time it wrong and i would be blowing up before the finish line. I could hear my little boy in my mind. Before he starts running he will always shout “booster feet on.” So i picked my moment and “booster feet on.” I started to sprint and sprint hard... 2 minutes left. I veered right at the bridge and pegged it. I could see my sun in the distance on his uncle’s shoulders. Normally i would stop and take him to the finish, but... 1 minute left. I legged it past them and turned through the door and stopped my watch. YES! I did it. Well according to my watch i had. I was relieved when Natasha Fielden and Gemma Greenwood confirmed that i had finished the A100 in 24hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds.



After the finish i was so tired, but elated. A massive hug with Nici and then my family and i was done. At the end of the race Nici and Natasha both shared that there had been some conversations about me running. Nothing negative but just a realisation that i was choosing to run only 48 hours after landing from Florida. I was running despite no longer contending for the Grandslam. Bryan had earlier said to me that he possibly would not have run. It crossed my mind after NDW100 not to run this race, but i felt i needed the finish and i wanted to see where i was now at going into winter training. The race gave me back more than i could ever have anticipated. I am not talking about the Centurion organisation and the brilliance of their volunteers, as that goes without saying. This race somehow has been a huge factor in changing my thinking in relation to running. Before i would look at other people’s finishing times and think that their pace was just unattainable and only gifted runners could achieve such times. During this race i felt strong and i felt capable. I realised that this was off the back of 8 weeks of consistent training. I was then left wondering what i can achieve with a consistent few months of training. I now saw the quality times of the fastest runners as something to work towards rather than be frightened of. No more glass ceiling in my mind of what i (or anyone) could achieve.

I spoke with James Elson at the end and he completely got why i felt the need to run and the outcomes justified that. So my finishing time was 2 hours 8 minutes off my 100 miler PB. It was also 2hrs 46min faster than any 100 miler i had done this year.


Nope not tired... Not one bit

So my Race calendar was concluded for the year. I didn’t quite make the Centurion Grandslam. 376 miles out of 400 was my final total. Its easy to lose sight of the achievements made. This year i have set a PB and completed 3 out of 4 100 milers. I am now being trained by Eddie Sutton and am inspired to see what we can achieve by May next year. I attribute substantial amounts of my progress to Eddie’s plans. I have a coach who cares about my running and my enjoys seeing me improve. Being the best you can be is her mantra and i truly believe this. With her help i am finding the balance of family and dedicated training. So next I will be running GUCR in 2016 and revisiting the Centurion Grandslam in 2017. With consistency to my training who knows what will happen at these races? But, maybe... just maybe........


Not a bad years haul




Monday, 29 June 2015

South Downs Way 100 - Grandslam Part 2.

So I survived the Thames Path 100. It's important to open up with this statement as I was worried after that race that my ankle was in bits. It's becoming very apparent that to complete the Grandslam there is a lot of self management required. The body needs to hold up as well as the mind. With this vehemently at the forefront if my mind I attended physio and got an exercise progranme for my ankle and had massage sessions to sort out my ankles. The issues appeared to flow all the way up into my hamstrings so I'm glad I appear to have got this addressed. I have followed instruction and increased my stretching and foam rolling. I feel this has paid of well. My legs feel less stiff and the ankles more stable. I'd put the effort in. I had not done any long runs between Thames Path 100 and South Downs Way 100, but it's only a 6 week window and I was keen to make recovery the priority.

Of all four races this year the South Downs Way was the one I was looking forward to. I love the route and everything about it.byte fact it finishes only 5 minutes away from the in laws is an added bonus. With the knowledge that I am comfortable with the route my excitement and anticipation escalated to an all time high. Never before have I been so excited and so on edge for a race day to arrive. The other runners and crews all seemed to be feeling the same sense of anticipation and the swell of excitement could be felt across social media. My Twitter feedback and Facebook all consumed by talks of kit, weather, pace plans, weather, nutrition, weather and then as it all settled down a few more conversations about the weather.

This year I had a host of friends running the route. My running family seems to be growing faster than the Brady Bunch and to this end it was probably inevitable that I would in some capacity know a chunk of the runners. This just made the build up all the more exciting and l knew from past experiences this was going to be like a travelling festival from checkpoint to checkpoint. With several friends running their first 100 miler in one way or another this weekend was going to be a big adventure full of joy, heartache and maybe a tiny bit of swearing.


The plan for the weekend was to stay in a local holiday in just down the road from the start line. Bryan Webster (@UltraDHC) and I were sharing a twin room and had planned to meet in Eastbourne and get the train to the start. A plan that would work well and keep the weekend relatively stress free. This plan was made even simpler when the wonderful Bev Navesey started offering her wonderful assistance. It was a true example of what is so wonderful about this community. Bev basically offered to pick Bryan and myself up from our hotel room on race morning. Fantastic no walking or taxi required. Then she offered to pick us up from train station and take us to registration and then to our hotel and then do the morning collection for registration... even better. Then she realised we were getting the train from Eastbourne and suggested we shorten out journey and she would pick us up from Lewes. Honestly the woman is a bloody legend. She had just single handedly catered to every remaining need Bryan and I had. The only thing left for her to do would be to offer to run the 100 miles. Bev fell very silent at this point... guess you can’t have it all.

So it was all sorted. Bryan and I met in Eastbourne and with my children waving us goodbye at the train station (Finley had wanted to see us get on “Thomas”) we were off to Lewes. Both of us were excited for the upcoming race, but equally disappointed in ourselves that we hadn’t bought an extra Subway. We arrived to Lewes and waited for Bev and Steve to arrive. We loaded all our kit and drove back to Bev and Steve’s. Steve had forgotten his running shoes, a piece of kit he seemed to think would be essential for the weekend. We passed the time to Winchester with general chatter and learning lots of hidden gems about Paul Navesey. Take it from me people don’t piss the boy off he could kill Chuck Norris. Bryan was slightly fearful that his twitter banter may now lead to a premature death. Apart from this though the journey was easy and before we really knew it we were at out hotel. Bev dropped us off to settle in and was to return later to ensure we were ready for an evening check in. I really am grateful when I can arrive for a race early and relax. The stress of having to rush around is not conducive to a positive start to a race. We were able to ensure kit bags were packed and race kit laid out. Then we watched some trash on TV. These including the quiz show “The Chase.” Bryan observantly pointed out that the Quiz Pro looked like a “fat James Adams.” So after broadcasting this to twitter we were off to check in.

At check in it was the start of a weekend of catching up with friends and absorbing the race atmosphere. So many excited faces all coming of the back of a taper and carb load made for an excitable atmosphere. Chatting to Mark, Phil, Tony, Gary, and several others it was great to be part of the gathering momentum towards a start. The registration was as seem less as ever, although Bryan did prick himself on a safety pin from within the pot (Health and safety report Nici?). A quick hello with Graham Carter (@GrahamCarterGC) and it was clear he was like a little boy at Christmas who had just heard bells and assumed Santa was on the roof. He looked ready and I had every confidence that Graham would be making it to Eastbourne. So with registration done Bryan manage to blag us a lift from Stew in what can only be described as a bloody fast car. It saved Bev one journey and we were very grateful to our smooth transition from destination to destination. After some food at the massively over price hotel restaurant and a chat with Bryan and Mark it was time for bed. The day had gone to plan and after a foam roll session (physio’s advice) and a final kit check it was time for bed. Bryan and I had succeeded in being in bed before 10pm and I was awake about 5 minutes before the 4:30am alarm. The other 7 alarms were not needed and it was race day. All the excitement and preparation had built to this day. The recovery from TP100 and the training before all of it was now focused on part 2 of the Grandslam. It would soon be time to run to Eastbourne and keep myself in this Grandslam challenge. I had taped my ankles, but it was an unknown how my Achilles would hold up.  The only way to find out would be to start running.

At the start I had the opportunity to catch up with some more runners, including Sam Robson (@stupid_drummer) and Fi McNellis. Fi is basically a bubbly ball of enthusiastic joy. Seeing her lifted the spirits and a brief catch up with Nici and James and I was feeling ready. Sam looked determined in the morning and I felt confident he may just be on for a good race. My mind switched from other people’s races and I lined up at the start with Ashley (@irunsalt), Graham Carter and Bryan Webster. The briefing was given and we were off. All with our own game plans and feeling ready. A lap of the sports field was the traditional start to this race. As we made our way round the morning dew was glistening and everybody could be seen to be holding themselves back like excitable puppies. As we exited the field it was time for a final goodbye to many people who I would not see until the following day in Eastbourne. Exiting the field I felt like we were leaving through the entrance to a secret garden. For the next 30 hours the South Downs somehow belonged to us and every moment and memory would forever be etched into the landscape, somehow rendering us all in some small part immortal.

I love this race and the environment generated within it. Somehow such races encapsulate everything that is good about the human spirit. We run for hours on end to be greeted by people equally happy in their space and mind to be topping up water bottles and catering to every runner like a VIP. I have served on both sides of the table and I can assure you that both are enjoyable and go for the soul.

During the first leg I was instantly into a rhythm and feeling good about myself and the day that lay ahead. It was relatively cool with a nice bit of cloud over and all was seeming right with the world. I was using Race Drone for the day (separate review to follow). This would use my phone’s GPS and plot my position on a map every 15 minutes. This gave Zoe the assurances that she required to know that I was alive and progressing from checkpoint to checkpoint. Not needing to phone anybody to provide updates meant I could focus on my race and nothing more than that. During the first leg I ran for a bit with Bryan Webster and Ashley Hurd. I was comfortable with the pace, but figured it was certainly a matter of time before Bryan would disappear into the distant. Everyone was hitting their stride and the field was beginning to spread out. I had set myself the weekend game plan of jogging the flats, running the downhills and walking the uphills. If there was a downhill I would run the entire stretch of it, but would hike the uphills. This way there would be regular breaks, but a constant focus on making effective progress.

After about 7 or 8 miles Bryan and Ashley disappeared off into the distant. I knew that Bryan would do this but had not anticipated Ashley steaming off. I think he runs about my pace and so it was a surprise, but this was his race to run and I had my own agenda that was not going to be swayed by that of others. Pretty much from this point in I would spend the rest of the day interacting with various people and a core group of people who I would leapfrog all the way to Eastbourne. The day was beginning to heat up. In my head I had figured given it was mid-morning the day would not get much hotter. Of course this was the distortion of having been awake since 4:30am. In reality it was only about 7:30am and the heat that was soon to set upon us could not have been envisaged. The humidity was soon to take a vice like grip on the competitors and for much play a significant factor in curtailing their race prematurely. Anyway for now I plodded on in bliss and ignorance.

Arriving at the first check point everything felt good. The only issue was that my Rock Tape had come loose on the sides of my legs. No bother as the support element was around my ankles. I figured it was probably human error that had led to the tape coming loose, but regardless it needed dealing with. A quick enquiry with the Aid Station revealed there were no scissors there, but they did have a massive knife. So picture the scene… I am passed a large knife and crouch over a small mound of turf and proceed to rip through the loose tape with the knife. To anyone coming round the bend it probably looked like I was setting about early amputation of my lower limbs. I can assure this was not the case and I felt really good. Natasha Fielden (aid station extraordinaire) suggested I was “very Bear Gryhlls.” Now flattery will get you everywhere, but at present I am very aware my physique means I probably looked more like Ray Mears. So bounding out of the aid station, knife safely returned to its owners, and on a mission I was munching my first of many picnics. Watermelon at this point in the day was bloody amazing and went down an absolute treat. Other foods were less easy, but I knew it was important to get as many calories in as I could.

 
With the day heating up and some good running already in the legs I was feeling positive and it seemed very quickly it was time to descend off the downs and into the second checkpoint, QECP, and the mark of 22 miles into the race. I had stopped a little before this to rearrange my bag and ensure that I had access to my music. It was a happy moment when I realised I had sorted the settings so I could use the earphones to pause the music. It meant I would not have to keep reaching into my bag when I didn’t want to listen to music, or conversely when I wanted to turn it on for a 5 minute blast. My bag was performing well and I was much happier having condensed my kit into the more streamlined 5lt Slab, instead of my usual 12lt. It was lighter and sat higher up on my back. All in all I was very happy and had very little to complain about. So with this in mind I let the legs do all the work and with the grip of gravity we plummeted in unbridled fashion down the hill and into QECP. We passed a wealth of walkers. It was more like a sea of walkers cascading up the hill. I can only liken it to some scene out of Lord of the Rings where the Armies are marching as Frodo weaves discreetly between them. Our group of some 260 runners were dwarfed by this army of hikers, but hey we were faster and looked like we were having more fun. So after the sprint down the hill it was a short jaunt through woodland and down into the checkpoint where I was greeted by Natasha Fielden. No you have not scanned back to the top of the article. Natasha was tasked with jumping from checkpoint to checkpoint. She filled my soft flasks and after a quick chat I grabbed my second picnic and marched out of the aid station stuffing my face. The heat of the day had risen at this point and the humidity, more concerning, did not appear as if it was going to have a cap on it today. We were in for a sweltering one and may be something that simply had to be endured.

The next Aid Station would see the runners pass through the marathon distance. It was a good feeling and I was feeling like I had taken little energy out of my legs and so far was holding on to my game plan. Runner’s amnesia sets in a little here and detail to the next aid station is a little blurred. I know that the running was good and I was feeling strong. Passing through this checkpoint with minimal fuss was key and on I marched to Cocking. I ran with a few runners on this stretch and it is possibly one of my favourite stretches of the trail. There were some excellent running conditions with well-maintained trails and for a large part it was downhill. This meant with my game plan in mind I spent the majority of the last three miles, approaching the checkpoint, running and running well. I chatted to a lady who was also attempting the Grandslam (how many of us nutters are out there?) and had gone a little over 24hrs at Thames Path and was pushing for 24 hours today. I was right on the cusp of the 24hour timescales, but felt it could be achievable, if the conditions stayed as they were. The catch to this being that it was now bloody hot. Come on light rain, cloud cover… something, but no! Beaming sunshine and a ramped up humidity with a high pollen count. Oh well these things are set to try us. So running up through the field I passed the support crews who were basking in the sunshine. They did not seem to share my desire for some light rain. The Aid station was welcome and I felt a strong need to start drinking my Pepsi/water combination in my soft flask. I doused my cap in water and scoffed some melon and pineapple (food of the running gods today.) Marching out of the Aid Station I ate some mini scotch eggs and reached the first part of a long drawn out climb. I stopped at the gate and did some proper stretching. I loosened out my hamstring, calves, glutes and quads. It felt great and really gave some increased mobility back to my legs. I quickly caught up with some runners who had passed me whilst I was stretching. One gentleman thought about dropping, but was on form now having let his mate run on at a faster pace. He seemed much happier now he was following the important mantra of “run your own race.” I am delighted that I would see him intermittently throughout the race and in Eastbourne. I had told him that my aim was to get to Clayton Windmills as for me this symbolised the point of the race where it felt like I was running home and on familiar soil.

With my head down I marched up the climbs and pressed on to the next aid station in what were now very warm conditions. So as I entered mile 42 I could see a lot of stricken bodies. Some looked like they were really going to struggle to get moving again, whilst others looked like they were about to rise to their feet and reject the Aid Station with all their might. As I had finished grabbing food I saw Ashley Hurd. He looked in a pretty bad way and as if he may be on the brink of dropping. Knowing that Ashley was one of the remaining 34 Grandslam runners I encouraged him to get moving and put some miles in his legs. As I moved along the paths I walked an uphill and Ashley came running past. He seemed to have a little mojo back, but I was concerned in this heat that he was choosing to run the hills. About 10 minutes later I saw Ashley duck into a hedge and I then did not see him for the remainder of the stretch, I did not think anything of it as I began to find my stride and opened up some good running. Shortly before entering into mile 50 I ran with a girl who I think said her name was Gemma. I can’t be sure as she talked so fast that we rattled through more topics than I think my wife and I have covered in 4 years of marriage ;) Mind you only in the world of Ultras could a lady go from chatting about nothing in particular to the frequency of her urination and need to poo. In the sunshine this conversation just made me smile. We talked about running and the support of our partners. Both of us were hoping to be into 50 miles by around 11 hours. This gave plenty of time for a finish. I eased off as we came down the descents onto the river. As we opened gates and headed towards the bridge Gemma powered on. I was happy with my pace and confident I would get to 50 miles in 11 hours.  The sunshine and glorious atmosphere had spirits high, but the heat was taking its toll on the body. Running past cars that were support crews for runners it was nice to get some cheers and as tempting as the offer of a cold beer was I continued to press on.

Coming into mile 50 there was some glorious motivational signs. I didn’t hang around at this aid station for long. Getting there in around 11 hours meant I had plenty of time to get to the finish. This was a solid objective, but the temperature was still seeming to rise despite it being 5pm. So onwards I marched to mile 54 and the promise of a hot meal.  

At the 54 mile mark there is a less than delightful diversion off of the SDW trail. I say less than delightful only because any diversion away from your end goal is undesirable. The humour and effort of aid stations crew never ceases to impress and so as I approached the aid station I was dutifully directed to turn left by none other than Elvis. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t have blue suede shoes on, but you can’t have everything. Then as sure as night follows day I saw Karen Webber sat cheering the runners in. She was in fine spirits and with the boost of a hug I asked after the new addition to the family. As a proud aunt Karen beamed from ear to ear. The conversation took place without my feet ceasing to approach the aid station. Inside I made the necessary visit to the toilets. Held up by only one cubicle functioning I took the opportunity to stretch and again this seemed to help a lot. As I was getting my stuff ready to head back out Ash and Graham arrived into the aid station. I chatted to them a bit. It seemed that Ash was struggling and a further motivational “man up” was delivered, but in truth Ash looked like his mind was lurching back towards his heavily pregnant wife at home and getting his running shoes off. Graham on the other hand looked in great form and positive spirits. He was prepping for the second half and the serious test of his ability to finish. Looking at him it was clear he was going to finish. I think you can often tell at around half way if someone is likely to finish or not. Today Graham was clearly on a mission. So after a brief discussion of the others who we knew running today, it became a list of survivors and seemingly fallen comrades, I pushed on. I advised the guys to get moving soon and that I was sure I would see them soon.

I pressed on out of the aid station. It was a little cooler than before, but the humidity remained and it was clear that challenge was unlikely to subside right through to the finish. Oh well suck it up and get on with the job. A final farewell to the crew and a special nod to Elvis and I was back on the trail. I munched on some food and spoke to my wife. All was well at home and the children were happily getting ready of bed. They were all in Eastbourne and would be there for my finish. I love the solitude and tranquillity of mind that running long distances bring, but I also am greater empowered to do this by the support of my wife and the knowledge that the family are safe and well. Zoe reported back to me that Race Drone was working perfectly. So much so in fact that she regaled me with tales of my own race, “I notice that you keep passing two runners and then they pass you.” The app was proficiently showing her the downhills where I was storming past and the uphills where the gap was then closed. It appeared the app was creating an almost matrix like code that Zoe could interpret and consequently visualise the race. So I pressed on and confirmed I would call again around Alfriston.

With the next aid station being Botolphs I was still making positive progress. Yes I was battling the sleep demons, but otherwise I was in good shape with plenty of running to be had in my legs. Around this point I over took Steve Navesey. He was struggling a little and so had planned to ease back. Now if you have not read his blog then you may be the only person in the country that doesn’t know that Steve got no sleep the night before the race. I believe his words to me went something along the lines of “fuck you Lenny Henry… fuck your good night guarantee.” I was retold the story of Steve sending a chair across the room. So despite fatigue Steve was pressing on and maintaining forward momentum. I pressed on and at this point despite the tiredness I could run and I could adhere to my race plan. This would all change, but not quite yet. Well pretty soon after actually. I entered the Botolphs Aid station where I think I received one of the most enthused welcomes from Sarah Sawyer. Like so many I have spoken to her a bit on social media and so she knew I was running. I grabbed some food for the climb out of Botolphs and marched on. Seeing Bev Navesey walking down the hill she asked how I was. I told her I was fine and that Steve was only a few minutes behind. Now the hill out of Botolphs is the one where I had advised others in my previous blog (surviving the South Downs Way 100) to put on your jacket as the wind can get up. The humidity was so high that I elected to ignore this advice and press on. Up the top of this climb the road stretches out on concrete for an absolute age before re-joining trail. I elected to walk most of this to preserve my legs for later in the race.

The aid stations get that much closer at this point in the race and so before I knew it I was only a couple of miles away from  the aid station. At this point fatigue was hitting me. I just wanted to close my eyes and drift off and wake up in Eastbourne. I was loving the race and the adventure, but a can of red bull would have gone down a treat at this point. Plus I had elected to leave my chocolate covered coffee beans at home. This was a mistake, but I have never suffered with tiredness in this manner before and can only attribute it to the humidity. Arriving at Saddlescombe farm it looked like a graveyard of runners. The draw of the buffet appeared to have engulfed some runners and it was clear that they were not leaving under any circumstances. Less thankfully, but an equal benefit, was that my appetite had faded to nothing and I couldn’t bear the thought of eating. Then I saw it… the most amazing site I had seen for the last few hours… Watermelon and masses of it. I took about 5 pieces and marched up the hill. Knowing I was close to my drop bag it felt futile to stop for too long. The initial climb is annoying out of Saddlescombe, but the rest is pretty steady, but seems to go on forever. Eventually I could see lights off in the distance. I knew from Andrew Baille that the plan was to maintain the tradition we had set at this aid station the previous year. I was far from disappointed. The welcome I got at the top was spectacular. I was greeted with a conga line, but resisted the invitation to join in and ignoring the famous words of Gollum I followed the lights. I followed them down the hill and round the bend, in to the car park and the rave station of Clayton Windmills. Here I was welcome by Andrew and he ensured that all of my needs were catered for. I had my drop bag in my hand before I had even got to a chair. I was sorry to hear that Darren Chilcott had dropped as well. The race seemed to be stripping everything back and leaving nothing to hide behind. I took a couple of bits out of my drop bag and attempted a cup of coffee. At this point I just could not eat anything. I knew this could be bad as I had chocolate covered pretzels in my bag and couldn’t eat them. Now Nici Griffin had a pack of these bad boys off of me at Endure 24 so she knows how good they are and the level of severity not eating them must imply. I forced down some roasted potatoes with salt and pressed on.


From Clayton Windmills things became a struggle and a battle. Now not with my legs, or my feet and in fact most of my body had running left in it. The issue became that I started suffering with acid reflux and I could not shift it. I went through a spell of not eating in order not to suffer the feeling of reflux and then I would get near the red line of my tank and so eat, but then suffer reflux for a couple of miles. This juggling act of no energy vs reflux would continue right until I reached the track in Eastbourne. Nothing I tried to eat would resolve and even the Kendall mint cake that I had collected from my drop bag was not easing the stomach. So I sucked on this for energy and minimised the reflux this way.

The sleep demons really gripped me in this stretch and I was going to need to do something to bring me out of it. I still felt like I could run on and make some progress, but now was feeling like I needed to be sick, but had nothing to expel. I supressed the feeling and pressed on, but this in turn also increased my tiredness. At one point I was sure I saw a runner alongside me, but then nothing. I don’t know if it was just mind drifting out or whether it was a hallucination, but I was grateful for the aid stations arrival. So I plonked myself in a chair, but I could not get any food in me. I requested a coffee and hoped this would help. Steve Navesey arrived about 5 minutes after and looked tired (remember had no sleep the night before… in case you didn’t already know), but he had a pacer and appeared in good spirits. I put my head in my hands and tried to just have a couple of 5 minute power naps. There was a fine balance here of staying long enough to right myself, but not so long I could not stand up. The aid station crew were great and recognised I needed to just sit and close my eyes. A few sips of coffee and yep the acid reflux rose up again. So I decided to get angry with myself. Not a kind of depressive angry, but an anger that would spark an alternative kind of stubborn bastard fire in my belly. I would use this fire to drive me to my feet, switch my mind off from the reflux and ultimately get me to the finish. Now a crew member obviously had a few concerns and escorted me to the turn and then wished me well. I knew getting out of that chair was a defining moment and I vowed not to sit down again until the finish. This little stretch has special memories as it is where I spent my first ever father’s day. It’s accounted in my 2013 SDW100 blog here.  So I pressed on and out towards Southease. At some point along this stretch Steve and his pacer passed me. With the issues I was having my aim was to finish and set myself up for part 3 of the Grandslam. The race today was not a single event for me and was one part of a much greater project. I had to remember this and press on to Southease.

The moment came in which I arrived at Southease and was politely pointed to climb over the bridge. I jokingly said to the crew “oh come on that’s just mean.” They were just about the most apologetic pair, looking horrified at asking runners with over 70 miles in their legs to climb two flights of stairs and then descend them again almost immediately. I quickly thanked them and clarified that I was joking with my previous statement. When you’re tired sometimes the radar for tone and inferences drops out and so I wanted them to be sure I held no grudge towards them. The safety element to crossing at the bridge made perfect sense. I would not want heavily fatigued runners crossing the railway track at the gate. I arrived into Southease and the same old problem of not eating. I shovelled some crisps in my mouth but could manage no more. As I was exiting the aid station Graham Carter arrived looking well and moving ok. I said I would see him in a minute and pressed on. I figured he would probably catch me and so I didn’t want either of us to be held up. I was still tired and practically asleep on my feet, but I knew this stretch like the back of my hand and was fairly confident that at this point I could run in my sleep if I needed to.

I pressed on up Southease feeling like some kind of conquering hero ascending Everest. In reality of probably looked more like a drunken hedgehog climbing a curb. Like with so many ultras though if you keep putting one foot in front of the other the end fast approaches. So half way up the climb out of Southease I was awestruck (not for the first or by far the last time) by the beauty of the downs. Looking out across the route and the magnitude of the task achieved so far. Many people would already be finished and several were still behind me and yet I didn’t mind where I was. The reality remained that in that moment the view was mine and mine alone. I drank in the atmosphere and pressed on. It had become a pattern now that I would continuously swap places with Shawn Timmons and of course at this point Graham was striding up the mountain like the BFG. He had a massive grin on his face and despite the fatigue of 84 miles he was clearly loving it. We got to the top of the climb together and there was something poetic about the fact that one of the first times I ran with Graham was this last stretch through to Eastbourne. Being the gentleman that he is I was instructed to press on. I had running in my legs, but I wanted to be asleep and my stomach was still reminding me that the reflux had not gone. Sucking on Kendal mint cake was now like sucking on pebbles and there was little solution, but to suck it up and press on. So press on I did and I pulled away from Graham. I had the intention of opening up my legs and seeing if I could at least kick on a bit and draw a course PB from the race. I had a lightning bolt moment though and asked myself “why?” What would I really achieve by pressing on? The 24 hour target had now gone. I reflected on this and yes my first aim was sub 24, but I knew at this point in my training I wanted it the same way I want a lap dance from Cheryl Cole…. Never going to happen. So now my race was about the Grandslam and with running still in my legs I wanted an injury free race and fast recovery time. That was the initial thoughts for slowing and taking it steady. I am not sure what the passage of time was for this thought process, but then I glanced over my shoulder and about 400 metres back was Graham still plodding on and hanging on to my pace. I eased off a little and ran with Graham having his company to enjoy a few miles woke me up and made things that bit easier. We chatted about the race and the reasons we run. Both of us share a common love of running and of this route. We pressed on and occasionally stopped/stretched/complained and anything else we needed to do.

Time passed quickly with Graham and pretty soon we were running in to the next aid station. I picked up the pace a little and told Graham to hang with me. He duly obliged and we pressed on into Alfriston. I lost Graham on the descent down the rubble ground, but I was confident he would be catching me again on the ascent. This course layout meant that for the flats we could stick together. So for the first time in about 30 miles I gunned it down the descent. It was exhilarating and I felt great. Knowing the course meant I knew exactly where I was going and the run was care free. I had a little flashback to 2013 when my wife met me at this point and ground out the last 9 miles. The gesture has always stuck with me as that finish catapulted me into my love of ultra running. Here I was now still moving well, but not concerned with time. There was plenty in the bank and so no issues like with Thames Path 100. Short of disasters this should be 2 of 4 races completed. Somehow Alfriston always gets me to feeling like its nearly over. I think it is the dip into the single mileage. I was pondering my love of running and the joy of the freedom, the isolation and the solitude and yet one of the things I was loving most about today was running with friends and knowing others were waiting for me to arrive into aid stations. This race today had the freedom, but also the camaraderie as well.

I entered the village chicane that is Alfriston and dropped into the Aid station. I didn’t stay long as I knew the next climb was just mean. So I used the facilities and had a quick catch up with Graham and then pressed on. Graham was going to have a quick look at a letter from his son, make himself comfortable and press on. I told him not to be too long and to catch me up. There was no doubt that he would do this. So on I went and quickly the climb arrived. So with thoughts of my family I found myself saying one of my little boy’s favourite sayings “let's do this thing.” And up I marched. Sure enough I toiled with the hill and about three quarters up I turned to see the BFG churning up the mountain. We were side by side when we reached the top and pressed on to Jevington. We spoke about race plans and Graham’s slight state of shock that he was almost a finisher of a 100 mile race. I love the stretch between Alfriston and Jevington as it always seems to be over quite quickly and sure enough Graham and I ran down the hill and into the aid station. It was wonderful to be greeted by Sarah and David Barker. The Aid Station was awash with a plethora of treats and goodies. I felt like Charlie with the golden ticket, but alas my stomach was still not happy so I declined, except for the watermelon. I bloody love you water melon. The big hug from Sarah and the upbeat encouragement from David made this one of my favourite aid stations of the day. It is no mean feat to keep such an aid station fully stocked after a large part of the field has passed through. Again I pressed on whilst Graham used the facilities. I gave Zoe a quick call and told her always fine and that I would be there soon. I plodded on to the Jevington climb. Now Graham was obviously motivated and was with me for the start of the climb. We ground the son of a bitch out together. Having Graham there reminded me what I can actually do and so I hung onto his pace right to the top. I made him pause for a picture at the top. This spot is still one of my favourite photographs from any race. It shows how far you have come and at the top of the last climb symbolises the beginning of the end. I wanted to ensure that Graham savoured this experience as much as I was. For a while I had been running in black and white and now things were resuming in colour. We ran on past the trig point and a quick chat with Chris Mills and we were ready to get this thing done.

Descending this narrow pathway we made the decision to walk. Hitting the bottom I asked Graham if he was bothered about his time and he confirmed he wasn’t and with that we agreed to take a stroll in the Sunday afternoon. I liken it to the coffee after a good meal. We were savouring everything that had gone before in order to ensure we could really soak up the achievements at the end. Passing one gentleman, I now know as Tim Vincent, it was clear he was in a lot of pain and holding himself up on walking poles. His determination though was exemplary and many could take note of this. There was no way he would be quitting and this inspiration will stay with me for races to come. The fact so many others were later talking about his run shows how it is not just the front runners who can influence the masses.

Graham and I were now able to enjoy the warming day. There was no pressure to our finish time and we caught up with another runner and enjoyed the stroll, knowing that most drivers passing would have no clue that these bunch of runners looking knackered had run from Winchester. As we crossed the road I advised Graham to savour the moment. This I think is one of the few times I have been more excited about someone else’s finish than my own. So we were only about 50 metres from turning into the Athletics track car park. I was about to see my family and run the track. I spurred Graham on and told him there was no way anyone else was seeing us walking and so we started to run, turning to Graham that was it we shared a smile knowing we had experienced something special over the last 16 miles and I told him not to stop running until he crossed that bloody finish line. We entered the track through the gates. I stopped for my kids but not before shouting “you got this Graham go and get that finish.” Graham pressed on and this moment was all his, the joy of which you can see in his finish line photographs. For me races these days take on a different message. I want to inspire my children and generate memories for them that they can do the impossible. So different from my 2013 race were I opened the taps and sprinted for the end. I stopped took my daughter in my arms and my little boys hand (after a massive hug of course) and he said “we do some running daddy?” I looked him straight in the eyes, smiled and said “come on then son.” We were off jogging the track, the moment just placing icing on the cake. Finley said “we are catching him daddy” referring to any gentleman in front of us. I didn’t think he would appreciate being out run by a three year old and so grasping Finley’s hand we carried on. I looked up to see Graham approaching the final bend I cried out “go get it Graham” and hearing the cheers as he crossed the line will stay with me for ever. Now my moment round the track did not last long enough and so we approached the final straight. I looked at Finley and said “on your marks”, he duly got in the ready position, “get set”, he raised his bum, “GO” and he started running with all his might. There would be a Park sprint special this year, but it wouldn’t be mine. We crossed the line in 28hrs 40 something, but to be honest that was irrelevant. I got to run a special race with special friends and create a memory with my wife and children that will last a life time. My small regret was not getting a photograph of Graham and I together at the end, but once that adrenalin has gone you have to sit down. Special thanks to James, Nici and the Centurion family, to support crews and Aid stations, all who cheered, supported and spent more hours on the course than most runners. You all made this race experience the special experience that it was.


So after crossing the line there were hugs with family. Finley was presented with the buckle and told me “don’t worry daddy we can share it”. Several hugs with other familiar people including Nici, Natasha and Fi exuded the warmth of this running family. This was broken quickly by firm instructions from Nici that I had to bloody finish the Grandslam now. I caught up with James Elson and Drew Sheffield who were also very complimentary about my finish and prospects of completing the Grandslam. This goal is so important to me and I will  happily see you all on the North Downs Way, but over the course of this race (pun intended) it became about so much more. My running is about freedom, a chance for time alone, for peace and quiet, to reflect, but what was apparent when all is said and done… Give me the Freedom to run and I will always run home.