Then my Achilles sort of disintegrated and I haven't raced in the last 18 months. But I'm slowly coming back. I think.
In the interests of keeping a complete record, I ran RnR Liverpool and the Potteries in 2016. I was 4:00 pacer for the RnR (it was hot and tougher than it should've been), and started too fast at the Potteries which made it tougher than it needed to be...
Then my Achilles sort of disintegrated and I haven't raced in the last 18 months. But I'm slowly coming back. I think.
So five weeks of not much running at all, and my next run after London couldn’t have been more different. It was Adam Tysoe’s 100th marathon at the Shindig in the Shire in Shropshire, another How Hard Can It Be event from Denzil, but a new one for me.
On the one hand I was really looking forward to it. Since my 100th marathon last October a whole group of us that were around similar numbers have hit 100 and joined the club – and for the last few weeks Adam’s been the only one missing. He’d put in a hell of a finish though, running about 20 in March, and had picked the Shindig as his 100th.
On the other hand though, I was dreading it. I’d not run much since London, and not run anything hilly since last year, so figured I was in for a bit of a test. I didn’t know much about the route beforehand other than there was apparently one big hill, and knowing that none of Denzil’s races are easy, I had prepared myself for being out there a while.
The drive down to Shropshire on the morning was uneventful, although it was chucking it down most of the way. I got to the pub where registration was taking place and was directed into a field nearby to park. As soon as I walked into the pub I saw a load of familiar and friendly faces, including Steve Jackson who I hadn’t seen for a while, and Rich Whitaker who I’d not seen since the Canal Canter.
After a quick catch up with everyone and wishing Adam luck, we set off from the pub car park, turned right, and started up the first big hill. Rich and I set off together, trading stories of the last few months since we’d seen each other. This basically meant him telling me about the Hardmoors 110 he smashed a few weeks earlier, and me telling him about all the biscuits I’ve eaten since London, but how I’m definitely going to start taking my training seriously now (again).
Normally Rich and I are pretty evenly matched and find it easy to run together, and I think between him having just run 110 miles (and having another marathon to run the next day) and me being a stone overweight and woefully out of shape, we found a pace we could both run and chat at for the whole thing.
The route itself was a bit bonkers. Apparently it was pretty dry last year, but it had rained a lot overnight, and after a few on-off showers early on, the rain set in for most of the afternoon which really made things interesting. The course was basically two 13.1 mile loops with the start/finish/turnaround point at the pub which I think was the lowest point on the course. Half marathoners do one loop, marathoners do two, coming all the way back down to the pub before setting off on their second loop.
The biggest test was at 14k and 35k, where we had to climb “the bump”. On a dry day it would be tough, a steep 2-3 minute hill, you’d know about it on the way up and not be especially looking forward to having to do it again on the second lap. In the wet though, it was bloody awful. I should probably point out here that I had worn completely inappropriate shoes for this race. My Salomon hybrid/light trail shoes were absolutely rubbish for the level of mud involved, and although I mostly got away with them on the drier/less steep sections, I might as well have tried to climb “the bump” in bowling shoes. First time around it was just about ok, a couple of slips and a couple of branches grabbed, but I got to the top ok. Second time around, after another few hours of rain and a few hundred extra footprints, it was a total scramble. Three times I thought I was going to totally lose it and slide all the way back to the bottom but managed to dig my fingers deep enough into the mud to save myself. By the time I finally made it to the top Rich was just stood there (in his proper trail shoes) wondering what had taken me so long.
We came into the finish together in around 5:07, and joint 7th place which we were pretty happy with. Neither of us had been pushing it, and we’d been chatting all the way around, but that was still a pretty respectable time around that course. I’d never normally feel the need to justify a marathon time, but we’d been talking on the way around about how hung up some people get on them. How some people will scoff at an apparently slow trail marathon time having absolutely no idea what it’s like to cover that distance with mud, rocks and 3,000ft of ascent in the way. Or how some people will belittle the times put in by slower, back-of-the-pack runners. If you do either of those things, you’re a dick.
As a minor aside, the best way to ask someone about their race is “how did it go?” That way, whether someone was running to win, for a PB, as a training run for something else, or just to finish, they can tell you how it went in relation to their own goal. Asking “what time did you get?” just makes you sound like a douche.
Overall it was another great race from Denzil and the gang, top marshalling from the team (including Jogging Jon Aston who was on aid station duty as prep for GUCR the following week), a really well marked course, and top quality jaffa cakes which made all the difference for me!
Anyway, Rich got off sharpish as he was running a Hardmoors race the next day (as you do), and I went into the pub and waited for Adam with Gill Verdin (who is aiming to be the youngest person to run 100 half marathons). After milking his 100th marathon for as long as he could, he came around the corner, and Denzil presented him with his 100 club shirt and some mandatory 9 Bars. It was great to see Adam hit his 100th, and it’s so cool that the Liverpool Rock n Roll next week will be his first outing in the 100 club shirt!
After six years of running and 107 marathons and ultras, I can now answer the question I get asked more often by non-runners than any other with a “yes”. I have run the London Marathon.
I can also, hand on heart, tell them it did absolutely nothing for me, and wasn’t worth half the aggravation it involved.
Logistically it’s a complicated race to run. My usual race travel plans involve getting up at about 5am, driving for a couple of hours, running a marathon or ultra, and then driving back. Home for tea, no harm done. London involves being away at least two days, partly because you have to pick your number up in person in advance, but also because you can’t get into London on time on the day because it’s shut for the race. I’ll be honest, if I’m going to be away for two days, I’d rather run two marathons. Or 100 miles.
The atmosphere was ok I guess, I mean there were a lot of people, but it was pretty impersonal. Like “woo, running, yeah!” Imagine you were a footballer and the crowd only sang songs about how much they like football and how good being at a football match was, rather than cheering things that happened during the game, it felt a bit like that. There was too much going on for it to really mean anything.
Then the running. Three miles of trying really hard not to trip over people, twenty miles of trying quite hard not to trip over people, and then three miles of trying not to crash into the back of people just stopping or dropping to a walk. Woo-hoo. I ran pretty even splits, so for the last 10k or so I was maintaining my pace while a lot of people were slowing down and it was horrendous trying to avoid running into people. One guy even pushed me out of his way at about mile 23 so he could get past. I’d have punched him in the face but I was immediately distracted by someone else hitting me in the leg with a snot rocket. When I crossed the line two other people finished at the exact same time as me – to within 1/10th of a second. THAT’s how busy it was around me. I wasn’t in PB shape so I was pretty flexible about my target time of sub 3:30, but if I’d been trying to get a PB I’d have been even more frustrated.
I got my medal which was pretty neat, and then came the highlight of the race. Baggage reclaim. I’m not even joking, it was ace. One of things I’d been stressing about before the race was how I was going to get my overnight stuff, race gear, and clean clothes for the trip home, into the mandatory clear plastic kit bag. The only way to get your stuff transported from the start to the finish (other than carry it, which I did consider), was to put it in the bag they gave you, dump it on the numbered baggage lorry at the start, and then pick it up from the same lorry at the finish. It wasn’t a very big bag so I had to make some concessions on what I took to London with me (including going to the pub in my running gear on Saturday night), but picking it up after the race was super-easy. No queue, walked up to the lorry, they’d already clocked my number and handed me my bag as I got there. Perfect. Makes you wonder what the hell they were up to at Manchester this year that’s for sure.
Then there was the 3 mile walk to the tube station which was as slow and crowded as the race, and a two hour wait for my train and a three hour trip home.
I’ll be honest, I feel pretty bad for being so down on the race, especially as I haven’t read a single bad word about it from anyone else. Every blog or tweet or post I’ve seen is just gushing praise about how amazing it was, and that’s ok, I’m glad lots of people had a nice day.
I’ve been having a minor existential crisis since hitting 100 marathons and ultras last year, and spending a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me in terms of running and racing. I’m not going to say I won’t do it again, but at the moment the London Marathon just doesn’t really tick any of my boxes. I like running in beautiful places. I like to see where I’m going. I like checkpoints with cake. I prefer to have my eye caught by a scampering squirrel rather than a hipster on a roof in his pants. I prefer a quiet “looking good” and a nod from a marshal to a load of random shouting. I like to know I’ll see my mates at least at the start and the finish and it’ll be easy to catch up with people I only see at races. I like to finish at my car. But most of all, I like the snot on my leg to be mine.
Ugh, ok, so once I reached 100 marathons I stopped counting for a while. I’ve done a few races since, but since I stopped counting, I also stopped recording them. In the interests of keeping a complete record (of sorts) for me to read to my grandchildren, marathons 101-106 went sort of like this:
Raceways Marathon (14th November 2015): as bleak as ever, but it was Rich’s 100th which was amazing. Only thing I can remember though is the chicken we had with Nick at Jack’s in Wolverhampton afterwards. So. Much. Chicken.
Liverbird marathon (31st January 2015): Treated myself to only doing the one this year, was fun as usual and managed to drag myself around in 3:28.
Four Villages Half Marathon (17th January 2016): The idea was that having a half to train for would make me focus over the Winter and get fitter and faster for the Spring. The reality was I spent Winter getting fat and slow, and this race was truly horrible as a result. Ran like 1:35 or something but wanted to die for most of it. Which was nice.
Mad Dog 10k (7th February 2016): Windy, slow and horrible. I hate 10ks.
Longhorn 60k (6th March 2016): What better way to work yourself back to fitness than a nice 60k race? Lots as it happens. Went OK really though, bumbled around in 6:04 which was just outside the 6 hours I was aiming for (course was a wee bit long though), and managed third place. Got a silver plate which was ace. The jacket potato van had run out of jacket potatoes which was traumatic. My bad shoulder also re-exploded during the race and was murder for a few weeks after.
Canal Canter Marathon (13th March): Shoulder was still bad but I was missing all my running friends so I entered this on the day and ran it with Rich, Nick and Michael. Had an ace, if slightly uncomfortably paced day, shoulder didn’t get any better though.
Gin Pit Marathon (20th March): It was Gill's 100th, and between my bad shoulder and having the L2M Ultra the following week I’d entered the half. Which lasted until everyone called me a big baby in the car park, so I upgraded to the full. Was a nice day, ran with Rich who’d done Hardmoors 55 the day before and like me had only come to see Gill. We dragged ourselves round in like 4:20 or something.
Liverpool to Manchester Ultra (26th March): This probably deserves a bigger write up, but it was a fun day. 6am start at Aintree, and 47 flat miles along the Transpennine Trail to Manchester. I was aiming for around 8 hours, and hopeful of a top 20 finish which you got a different medal for. Ended up running the whole thing with Michael which was ace, hadn’t planned to and it’s not often you can run that far with another person without one or other of you struggling or wanting to push on, but we pulled each other along and finished in 7:48 in joint 15th place. Defo doing it next year (and the out and back 100 mile version they’ve just announced).
So here it was, my 100th marathon/ultra, and the one that would mark my entry into the 100 Marathon Club.
Earlier in the year I'd tentatively planned for the Liverbird on New Year's Eve to be my 100th, but when it looked like I'd be done well before that, this one was the only real target to aim for. I knew the course well having done it a few times before (and twice in a day last year), and having done a few of Denzil’s races over the years I thought it would be great to finally get my 100 club shirt from him at one of his events. The main reason though, was that I knew a lot the people I've shared the last 99 races with would be there.
I’ll be honest, it was a really fucking weird day. On the one hand it was all totally familiar. I’d done the race before, knew how to get there, where to park etc. and when I arrived it was to see a load of familiar faces (apart from Gill, Adam and Jason who all turned up an hour late!). I was never going to be having a go at it for a time, I had three marathons in the last week in my legs, and a lot of the people there were also doing the evening race and/or the next six days of the November Nightmare so I was in no mood to go haring off.
As it was I ran a couple of laps with Rich, Nick and Tony, before me and Rich edged ahead of them. Then it was just the two of us running around in circles, catching people up now and again, and getting lapped by the faster runners on the 0.8mile loop. From that perspective it was pretty cool, as I got to see loads of people throughout the race that I wouldn’t have if it was a single loop.
I remembered from the last time I’d done it there was about 1800’ of ascent for the 32 laps, and although it didn’t feel that tough, we were clocking some pretty slow laps towards the end. To be fair though we were faffing around quite a bit, stopping most laps at the checkpoint for sweets and coke, chatting and walking up the main hill for the latter laps, and generally not pushing things too hard.
Then there were three laps left, then two, and then it was all over. I came in to a round of applause from Denzil and the runners that had finished, and after waiting for most of the other runners to come in, was presented with my 100 Club shirt and got stuck into the awesome cake that Gill, Adam and Jason had brought with them.
It was a strange feeling to finally reach 100. There was no massive sense of relief because it had been coming for ages and I was never not going to finish on the day. And there was no sense of being “finished”, because I’m still going to run marathons and ultras (although I’ll have a few more weekends off now for sure). I was happy that so many people I’ve run with the last year in particular were there, especially Nick, Rich, Steve, Gill and Adam, and I’m so glad I got to run my 100th with them rather than sneaking off to do it somewhere nobody knew me (which I’d thought about).
And without getting all self-indulgent and wanky about it, this whole “getting in the 100 Club” thing hasn’t really been about the numbers at all for me. I thought it might get a bit soul-destroying towards the end, just knocking them out to get another one ticked off, but it’s not been like that at all. I’ve met so many awesome people over the last year that I’d never have gotten to know otherwise, and had so many adventures it’s been brilliant. Even on a few of the 4am starts when I wondered what the hell I was doing, by the time it came to run, it was all for more than “just another marathon”. For me it was always about getting into the club rather than hitting 100, just being part of something with people who enjoy doing the same stuff as me, sharing the same adventures, and trading stories of the different places we’ve run, walked, got lost, laughed, cried and occasionally soiled ourselves.
And I think that’s one of the reasons I felt a bit flat after Saturday. I’ve run so many of the last months’ races with Nick and Rich, and they’ve still got a few to go. I think it’ll all feel much more complete once they’ve hit their 100s in a couple of weeks, and probably even more so in a few months when Gill and Adam hit theirs. I think the fact I’ve also not really decided on my next challenge is making me feel a bit at a loose end. At various stages over the last weeks I’ve said I’m going to go back to running ultras, focus on one big race (London), run some shorter races because I don’t need everything I do to “count” now, do more random unorganised runs, or just sit around eating pies in my 100 Club vest and get fat like Maradonna. But as it stands, my provisional race list for 2016 already has 27 races in it, so I’m sure I’ll work something out.
I woke up feeling surprisingly good for this one. I got sorted, drove the 15 minutes to Furzton Lake, and got ready for 17 laps of this slightly smaller lake. There were a few more familiar faces for this one, Gary from NE Marathon Club was there running his 50th marathon, and Dawn who clearly hadn't done a good enough job of smashing herself to pieces at CCC, A100 and Beachy Head, was there for a bit more punishment before she takes on The Hill in a few weeks.
The loop was nice enough, with a small hill halfway round which seemed to get bigger as things progressed, but apart from that it was all pretty unremarkable. Because it was more shorter loops it felt like there were more people around because the quicker runners were lapping me, and I was occasionally lapping the back markers. I felt ok until about 18 miles, but the last third or so of the race I was really knackered.
Once I had three laps to go though I perked up a bit and started to think about Saturday for the first time properly. That got me through the last laps, and I got my medal and a load of encouragement and well wishes from everyone for Saturday which was really cool. Then I spent FIVE HOURS on the M6 driving home, which was not cool.
Somehow I managed to run 97 marathons and ultras without doing a single Enigma event, but the Three Lakes Challenge in half term meant I could knock out a couple of midweek marathons and set up my 100th at the Pumpkin Marathon on Saturday.
The first was on Tuesday at Willen Lake, 7.5 laps around a pleasant enough lake and park in Milton Keynes, in lovely sunshine. It was all pretty low key, and felt even more so as I didn't really know anyone there. I recognised a few faces and chatted with some people on the way around which was cool, but I was intentionally taking it really easy and making a point of stopping for a bit at the CP each lap – partly because I was in preservation mode for Saturday, but also because I couldn't check into my hotel until 1500 so there seemed little point thrashing one out to just sit in the car for two hours.
I felt a bit tired on lap 6, but that passed when I got onto the last lap, and without much fuss at all I finished in around 4:09, just a couple of minutes quicker than Snowdonia two days before. I grabbed my medal, found a McDonalds, and then checked into my bargain basement Travelodge to get ready for the next day.
Five marathons I've run in Wales this year, and it's pissed down in all of them. The forecast for this one wasn't looking good all week, and on the drive there with Les the heavens opened. We got to the race start pretty early, and just lurked about up inside for a bit waiting until it was time for the walk up to the start.
I'd planned to take it pretty easy. It was the first of four in eight days and realistically the only one where I could do anything stupid enough to jeopardise reaching number 100 the following Saturday. I started fairly near the back, and just sort of bumbled my way to the first climb. Halfway up I started passing a few people, and really had to try not to push it too hard on the descent. Fortunately I bumped into Simon and Steve J so we had a natter through the middle section, before I pushed on a wee bit. It was all pleasantly uneventful until just before the last climb when I caught up Beth. I knew at the pace I was going she should be miles ahead of me, but we had a chat and she was struggling with her knee after running the Hardmoors 60. I said I'd run to keep her company as I was in no rush, and we just plodded out the last up and down. The sun was out by that point, although I still nearly wiped out a few times on the last descent.
All in all it was a weird day. I think it's the only one of the run in for my 100 where I've just felt like I was going through the motions – although I think it was more the knowledge of having three more in the next seven days rather than the 100 specifically.
After no race last week I was really looking forward to this one. Two 25k laps of Ennerdale valley, not too much ascent and largely runnable underfoot, it should’ve been a lovely day out in the Lake District. It wasn’t.
The day didn’t start brilliantly. After my second night on the couch looking after the new puppy I was really tired. So tired that I slept through my alarm, and once one the way managed to take the wrong motorway exit twice before even getting out of Merseyside.
When I got closer to Ennerdale the main road in was closed, so I battled the satnav telling me to turn around for an extra 20 minutes, eventually arriving at the event start with about an hour to spare. Or so I thought. Turns out the postcode they gave out was for a school in the next town about three miles from the start. Fortunately I spotted another runner walking along the road, checked he was doing the race (he was) and that he knew where the start was (he did), and then gave him a lift. It’s just as well we bumped into each other, there’s no way I’d have found the start, or that he’d have made it in time walking from where I picked him up.
Fortunately I think a lot of other people got lost too, and despite being late we managed to bag the last parking space in the tiny car park. Just as well really as the next nearest other one was about 2.5km away. We went in to register, got our numbers and race t-shirt (generic to the race series, they only had Medium left, and ran out of them completely just after us with loads of people still to register).
It was one of those rare races these days where I didn’t know a single person at the start, apart from Mike they guy I’d given a lift to. The 50km runners went off at 1000, with the 25km runners who only had to do one loop setting off 15 minutes later.
Things sort of started ok. I fell into pace with a local guy who knew the route and we chatted for a bit, until around 10km when I started to feel a bit rough. I let him go on while I had a gel, and that was about the last time in the race that I didn’t want to die. For no obvious reason I was really struggling. It felt like I was bonking, but 10km into a race after a week’s rest it couldn’t have been that. I just kept feeling worse, going through the water station at about 12km I felt grim, and for the next 6-7km I had the added joy of having to stop every minute or so to let 25km runners through.
At about 18km it got pretty rough underfoot. I was trying to keep a half decent pace despite feeling crap, but I went over on my glass ankle twice in quick succession and pretty much hiked/scrambled the next couple of miles up and over Anglers Crag. I trudged miserably into the start/finish area where they made the 50k runners go right up to the finish line, turn around and run back out of the finish chute, which was weird. There wasn’t much going on there at what was the only real checkpoint in terms of food either.
By this point I was really struggling, my heart rate was spiking with the slightest effort and I just felt like shit. I ran a bit, walked a bit, swore a lot, and just generally wished it was over. Around 5k into lap 2 I decided to take my emergency 100mg caffeine gel, and at that point a lady Pam caught me up. We chatted a bit, and for the next few miles were taking turns passing each other. I think I was going a bit quicker up the hills and she was going quicker on the flat, but we met again the water station and pretty much ran the last quarter of the race together from there.
We somehow managed to grind out the last few miles, scramble over the crag again, and with a bit of effort we held off one lady who was threatening to catch Pam in the last few hundred metres. We finished together in 5:57 (only two hours longer than my last 50k lol), and clapped in about another six or seven runners who all of a sudden came in behind us. I had a couple of manky cheese and onion pastry things, looked around in to see if anyone was going to give me a medal (they didn’t), and then trudged off to get changed and start the 2.5 hour drive home.
I’m trying not to let how bad a day I had colour my opinion of the event, but to be honest, I wasn’t hugely impressed. On the plus side the route was really well marked, and using the scout camp as the start/finish meant somewhere warm and dry to get ready/changed afterwards which was cool. And it’s always nice to have a proper toilet. On the downside, it just felt a bit low-rent for the £35 entry fee. Now I’m not one to complain about how much races cost – this was my 37th or so this year and I think they’ve all ranged between £7-£90 or thereabouts, so this wasn’t expensive by any stretch. It’s just hard to see where they spent the money. One checkpoint at the start/finish, one water stop at half way, generic race tee for their series of about 10 races, a roll or two of barrier tape and whatever the mountain rescue guy on the crag and the medical staff were getting? The same route from the LDWA would’ve cost about £10, the food would have been better (and every 5km) and you’d have got a certificate.
Anyway, on the plus side I managed to grind out four hours of really unpleasant running which is good to have in the memory bank for when I’m struggling somewhere else. It’ll rarely get that bad again (fingers crossed). It was also marathon/ultra number 96, four more to go and I get my yellow and blue vest!
Despite it being so close to home I’ve always found myself somewhere else on race day, so this was my first Chester Marathon. It was pretty cool, I’d heard it was well organised and a nice route, and it was both. It was bigger than I thought it would be though. I knew loads of people that were running, but didn’t see many of them at the start it as that busy. I caught up with Mike, James and Sarah from SWAC though, and saw Marc, Malc and Gary before we all went to line up on the race track.
Sarah was aiming for a sub 3:45 PB and GFA and I offered to pace/irritate her all the way around, so we set off with the 3:45 pace group, although we pulled a little way ahead of them early on. It was all pretty uneventful from that point in a weird way. The weather was nice, although it warmed up towards the end, the course was pretty flat with just a couple of short-ish hills, and for a long stretch in the middle we were just trotting nicely through the countryside. The route was a lot like the Preston Guild marathon, country roads, little villages, quite exposed but ok in the conditions.
We went through half way in about 1:50, and although Sarah was getting a little less chatty we were running nice even splits, and she seemed to be pacing it really well. I was mostly just sitting a smidge behind her so that we were running at her pace rather than mine for as much as possible, figuring if she started to slow down too much I’d push forward a bit and try to pick the pace up and pull her along. It wasn’t until around 22 miles that she showed any real signs of having to dig in, but even then although she was a bit less comfortable than earlier on, it wasn’t affecting her pace. I just ran along with her talking rubbish in the hope that it’d either take her mind of the running or annoy her so much she ran faster and got done quicker.
With a couple of miles to go we we’re comfortably on target, although I think Sarah was getting worried we were cutting it a bit fine, especially when with about 800m to go someone shouted out “five more minutes” which would’ve taken us over 3:45 if it’d been anywhere near right. As it was we finished about 2 minutes later, crossing the line in 3:42 and change, a big PB for Sarah, and a guaranteed place at London for 2017 and 2018.
For me it was just awesome to see Sarah smash her PB, she was just so happy at the finish it was amazing! On a more personal level a super-steady 3:42 was probably just what I needed. I’ve got a weekend off next week before the Ennerdale 50k the week after and four marathons in a week after that, so running Chester at the pace I did should mean I’m straight out running again later today.