BMW Automatic Transmission Warning 420106 – Fix

If you’ve got a modern BMW or Mini with the steptronic auto box you might well be greeted by the “Secure vehicle with parking brake when stationary. Have the problem checked by your Service Partner.” error message.

If you check diagnostics it will show code “420106” and code error look up suggests “Shiftlock solenoid: Selector lever wrongly not locked in P”

This comes up on BMW 2 series, X1 (F48), X-drive 2 series, Mini Countryman (F60) and many other with the same steptronic box.

For me it occurred on a 2016 BMW 220d Gran Tourer at about 95k miles.

Yeah ignore the dust – car needed a clean.

Cue lots of panic and internet research.

Essentially it comes down to the car no longer being able to confirm the lever is in ‘park’ so throws up an error asking you to stick the parking break on. The gearbox is still fine, the selector is fine, the engine works as before, everything will continue to work, but you’ll get the error until fixed and I’m not sure it would pass an MOT with this error up.

The problem is with the selector mechanism and as I found the part isn’t cheap. You’re in need of “BMW Gearshift Steptronic – Genuine BMW Part 25168483098” – the cheapest I could find new was £600+VAT. Add in labour and you’re looking at circa £1k. Saw one driver quoted £1170 from a BMW main dealer. Great. As the cars age this could start to be majority of the cars value.

Fortunately a very helpful chap has done a full video (see below) on this and the issue is a tiny torsion spring that has snapped within the selector so it no longer pushes a magnet as you engage ‘P’ and can’t trigger the reed switch (a small encased hinged metal piece that is pulled down and closes the circuit to confirm position).

This is the spring. It’s pathetically small in real life.

The spring is available from eBay for as little as £4. Yep the car is throwing up errors and potentially costing you £1170 for a repair due to a £4 spring. Aren’t modern cars great?

See the broken ‘leg’? It’s held on by sheer will at this point and should be straight.

On eBay search for “Torsion Spring for Gearshift Steptronic Repair” and part numbers will typically be 25168483097, 25168612145, 25168638224, 25168666164. The one I purchased was here

I won’t try and recreate the video as he does a great job – even listing the tools. I’d recommend watching it through a couple of times first and having it loaded on your phone ready to pause at each step. The trim removal tools and the torx/star bits are probably the only items you’ll need to buy.

Image taken from M.Ovidiu video

As well as the tools he lists I’d get some decent torches/worklight and a number of trays to keep the fixings in. Another trick from working on old cars is get some carboard and push the screws through and label up with where each set came from.

One way of storing bolts – example only

The work is actually very simple but it does initially seem daunting and by the time you have it all out you may start to panic about how much is removed and how you’re ever going to get the car to the garage for them to fix if it all goes wrong. Keep the faith! Work slowly, remove the cables carefully and don’t rush yourself.

The only area I struggled with was making sure the selector was in the right position when trying to disengage the selector cable pin (7:33 in the video).

If the video below doesn’t work then search Youtube for “BMW 2 series f45 F46 ”secure vehicle with parking brake” Problem FIX”

Once done, assemble as shown and reset the computer as he shows and it will all be fixed.

This took me about 3 hours all in, including searching for the tools and trying to find a torch. I reckon 2 hours would be possible next time, probably under an hour for a mechanic. It’s entirely possible for a competent DIYer to do yourself and save £1170. Even if it took a full day that’s a decent saving and potentially keeps the car out the scrapyard.

Once these cars become cheaper it might be an idea to buy a second hand selector from a scrapped car, replace the spring at the comfort of your desk and then do the swap of the selectors, allowing you to upgrade the removed selector and sell on for the next sufferer of the problem.

Born to Run Ultra – 30 Miles In California!

The first thing to note about the Born To Run event is it’s not like any other you will run. The RD blasting three rounds from a pump action shotgun to start the race briefing is a final reminder should you have forgotten this. If James Elson tried that at Goring Village Hall the locals would lynch him before the last round rang out and the letters to the Daily Mail would be unprintable.

Just your normal Californian Race Director.

I’d entered the race relatively late in the process having been due to run the South Downs Way 50 the previous weekend but owing to poor organisation on my part, found I’d be in California on a family holiday (or vacation as the natives call it) so unable to toe the start line. This was disappointing but given I’d suffered a series of annoying leg injuries from a hamstring tear and a subsequent calf strain I was a long way from being 50 mile fit. The sensible part of me took this as a sign to properly rest and recover. The less sensible part argued that an entire weeks extra rest would be sufficient recovery to allow me to cover a mere 30 miles at this event. Guess which one won?

Born To Run is staged annually by the gun-toting RD Luis Escobar in the hills of California outside Los Olivos. If you imagine the Love Trails festival in the UK, mixed with Glastonbury and a smattering of NASCAR Americanism/tailgate sport events you’ll get some of the way there. At one point there was a pole dancing session taking place opposite a tie-dye demonstration.

People set up camp from Wednesday until Sunday and there’s the choice of 4 day, 100, 60, 30 or 10 miler. For those that really know their limits there is also the 0.0 event with avoids the messy business of running at all. For me the 30 miler looked far enough to be worth a minor diversion on the holiday without being too big an undertaking for an undertrained hobby jogger so I signed up and got on with the important business of packing for the holiday.

My main concession to the race preparation was to ask some previous entrants if road shoes would be suitable given I’d hopefully be running throughout the holiday in a desperate attempt to train and figured a run down the streets of Vegas in lugged shoes would be awful. As it turns out pretty much any run or walk in Vegas is awful. It’s the only place I’ve ever arrived and instantly counted down to how soon before we could leave.

No snakes in San Francisco wharf.

So it was that whilst tucking into a corndog on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (a lovely place to do anything) that I received the first of several pre-race emails and began to appreciate quite what I’d let myself in for with the Born To Run ultra.

Living in the UK the worst we have to deal with on runs is stubborn cows or bossy swans. Only Stuart is soft enough to be morbidly afraid of cows. The FAQ for the race noted that rattlesnakes were present on the horse ranch hosting the event. Big ones. What?!

Other notable points were mandatory kit. Namely a cowboy hat. Not the full length taped seams trousers of the Lakeland 100 but an actual hat for a cowboy. Additionally we needed to bring a signed waiver (probably promising not to sue if bitten by a large rattlesnake) which is easy to do at home, less so in a series of motels and hotels as you travel the state and staff struggle to work around overly secure IT restrictions to allow this.

The two weeks of the holiday not spent on tours, theme parks, visiting Alcatraz, the Grand Canyon or cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge were spent eating and drinking with the odd foray into shops to try to locate a cowboy hat that wasn’t hugely expensive. I did manage to squeeze in a few runs but they were limited to a slow and ungainly 10 miles in San Francisco, a frustrating 6 in Las Vegas (a grotesque, crowded and anti-pedestrian hell hole) and a time constrained 4 miles in Anaheim before a second day at Disney. In all of them I felt awkward, unfit and struggled to recall when running had felt natural since it all seemed so very forced at the time. Ho hum.

Eventually Friday rolled around and we set off from Anaheim to the town of Solvang which sits nestled in the wine country of California among rolling hills and ranches and so of course is modelled on a Danish village, right down to windmills, pastry shops and Copenhagen hall. Solvang was founded in 1911 by three Danish immigrants so there is some reasoning behind this although it does initially sounds like a jarring Disney style pastiche it is one of the cutest towns I’ve visited and kids and adults were both equally enthralled as we drove to find even our motel was modelled on a Danish street. By luck the local grocers stocked cowboy hats and for $16 I finally found one closer to what I was prepared to pay.

These are motel rooms. Cuter than most actual houses.

Race day arrived and it was an early start. The 60, 30 and 10 events all kicked off at 7am on Saturday with race briefing at 6:30am. Although we had stayed close there were frequent warnings on the FB group that the entrance to the horse ranch was easily missed and I needed to allow time to register and get parked up.

I rocked up to the gates some time after 5am and after registering a group of us we were instructed to follow an off road buggy bedecked in lights down to the main staging area and shown where to park up (namely in a ditch off the road, which I was worried might claim the hire car as Camry are not known for off-road ability). Again it wasn’t the usual ‘follow Brian in the hi-viz to the parking area’ you get in the UK.

It was still dark I huddled in the car away from the snakes and watched the sun rise and slowly bring detail to the camp below. It was a small village of RVs, tents and pickups, with gazebos and coolers.

In the car. There is NOT ‘a snake in my boot’ – this joke doesn’t work in US as it’s a trunk…..

Once it was light enough I walked down to the centre and was greeted by many attendees still drinking from the night before whilst the occasional runner for the longer distance events stumbled through to cheers of support from the well-hydrated spectators. It was impossible not to be taken in by the festival vibe and I managed to forget my fear of snakes, hills (California is bloody lumpy) or lack of training.

After the race briefing (two lapped courses of 10 miles, one pink, one yellow, alternate and do as many as needed for your 10, 30, 60 mile race) the RD Luis introduced the runners from the Tarahumara tribe in the Copper Canyons region of northwestern Mexico. If you’ve read the book ‘Born To Run’ then you’ll have learnt of this ancient tribe of distance runners and no doubt broken your calf muscles and Achilles trying to imitate the natural, often bare footed approach they have. To see them in person was amazing and they’d even made the medals for the races so we weren’t just racing for a mass produced piece of metal from China but a crafted item from local wood by a tribe at least 2000 years old.

We assembled on the start line behind the tribe and got ready to run. There was the usual mixture of runners bedecked in multiple layers with race vests and topless dudes jostling for space at the front. Wherever you race there is always at least one topless dude. With a further blast from the shotgun we set off and I could (briefly) claim to be running with the Tarahumara before they left me for dead.

The day was initially cold and I’d started with a light rain jacket over my vest. Within a couple of miles I was too hot and had to strip it off. The course was beautiful, mostly wide trails through pastures strewn liberally with oak trees, it reminded me of a more undulating version of the gardens of a stately home with less tea shops. Undulating was definitely the theme as the course wound up and down the hills. None of the climbs on the first lap were un-runnable for someone fit but given I’d not run over double figures in a month I was cautious and rightly so as I gradually felt the miles mount.

Lap 1, pink, was completed in 1h40 and I felt largely OK but I worried if the second lap, on the yellow course was harder or hillier. It was harder. And hillier. Some steep climbs reminded me of Puke Hill in Milton Keynes or Wendover Woods where you can’t really get your heels down and run/amble up on your toes. The run along the ridge line was amazing and the views breath taking, akin to the Scottish valleys but bathed in the warm partially clouded sun of California. A couple of descents were steep on loose sandy soil and made me doubt the choice of shoes. I’d already lost the pace to slip merrily down the hills like a joyful goat and mostly slid like a fat Brit too full of Disney food and bottomless soda refills.

Despite trying various treats from the aid station and a concoction of sports drinks I was flagging quickly and the second lap was over 2 hours. I made a slight detour for the car to get my headphones as needed some music. The beautiful quiet of the horse ranch that I’d enjoyed for 20 miles was now a reminder of just how slow my pace had become and I wanted to take my mind off it. The advantage of countless marathons and ultras is you can sometimes see the slump coming and if not head it off, at least settle into it and work to make it more bearable.

Sometime around 24 miles the occasional spattering of light rain turned into a full drizzle and on cue a runner originally from Cheltenham, London, asked why I’d decided to bring the UK weather with me for the race. Whilst I was glad not to be scorched by the California sun it would have at least given me an excuse for my performance. The drizzle only called into question the likelihood of me getting the car out the ditch to get back to the hotel.

Whilst debating whether a forward or reverse dollop of speed would be best to get the Camry up the slope I settled into the power hike/ultra shuffle usually reserved for the later stages of a 100 miler rather than when you’re not even at marathon distance. A big positive was it being my first run since February when I tore the hamstring that I was without any leg pain. My legs felt great, amazing in fact, just lacked the fitness or cardio to make any use of them.

Me at mile 25

This being the second time on the pink route I knew that the large climb would eventually end and then a final couple of miles downhill through the camp to be cheered in by the attendees and over the line to finish a long way outside my estimated 6 hours at 6h25 and 58th of 131 finishers. The winner ran it in 3h24 which given the terrain is ridiculously impressive.

The event was amazing. The course was gorgeous. The weather was probably perfect for running. My performance was piss poor but to run with the Tarahumara and take home a hand crafted medal was worth it.

Things to note for first timers to this event

  • You probably won’t see a rattlesnake. Hopefully.
  • Although the California flag has a big bear on it, you won’t see one of them either.
  • If it’s dry a road shoe is fine.
  • Cheat sticks would be good for distances above 30 miles. Or anything over 5 miles if you’re as unfit as me.
  • The Hammer Gels on route are an acquired taste. I’d rather contract an STD than enjoy eating them.
  • Don’t forget your cowboy hat.
  • Don’t forget your waiver, one for everyone attending, not just runners.
  • It would be an amazing camping experience and given the price of California hotels a great money saver.
  • US race fees across the country are steep. The 30 miler ran at $125 plus $8.81 booking fee. You do get a great Patagonia tee, the tribal medal and a speed cup in the price bit it’s still twice the UK equivalent. This isn’t the race organisers being greedy, the whole business model in US seems different, I presume a mixture of land and insurance costs etc.
  • There’s a fee on top of the entry for everyone that attends the ranch. $10 per day, per person, payable in cash as you arrive. Compared to the hotel cost it’s great, but for one day attendees brings total to $143.81 for a 30 miler, about the same as a UK 100+ miler.
  • California is pretty pricey. The price of everything across the world seems to be creeping up and the self-imposed sanctions of Brexit and devaluing of the pound haven’t helped us. Don’t be surprised for most main courses to be over £20 even in chain restaurants and domestic beers from corner shop are £4-£5 a can, basically UK pub prices. Then there’s sales tax on top and service charge for eating out. Budget accordingly.

Malta Marathon – it’s all a bit political!

Malta Marathon – it’s all a bit political!

I’m old. Older than dirt. March is my 2056th birthday (or at least that’s how my knees feel some days). This year as a treat my lovely wife booked us a weekend in Malta so we could see some sights, eat some food, and I could run a marathon.

So in early February 2022 I booked in for the event. Within a week, by 15th February it was cancelled. The organisers announced “The route imposed by Transport Malta has been deemed as unacceptable by Mater Dei’s emergency department, the Malta Red Cross & the Malta traffic police due to safety reasons; both for emergency responders & the runners themselves.” They were denied permission to use the route that had been in place since 2009 and believed their only option was to cancel. This follows a cancellation due to floods in 2019, and 2021 due to Covid. A third cancellation in four years is not good for the long term viability of the event sadly.

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/malta-marathon-cancelled-following-clash-over-proposed-route.934798

Damn it. With three weeks to go before the weekend we began to look at other options. There are many other weekend destinations that also don’t have a marathon and likely have better weather as well. It was doubtless a blow to local tourism as early March is low season and in previous years as many as 4000 participated with a large number travelling to the island specifically to race.

Then the very next day there was an announcement of an alternative full and half marathon, organised by Transport Malta and Sport Malta, for the same day as the original.

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/charity-marathon-to-replace-cancelled-malta-marathon.934981

So what happened?

There are two distinct views on this based on social media and news sites:

  1. A long running marathon failed to secure permission and cancelled, so the government stepped in to ensure a replacement in double quick time.
  2. The government forced cancellation of a privately organised and successful event so they could take it over and score some positive PR during a period of local elections.

Not being an expert on politics in Malta I have no deeper understanding. My main thoughts were could they really organise a large scale road marathon in 3 weeks? Their initial announcement was unsurprisingly low on details without start or end points, route, start time or any details confirmed. Given our flights were non-refundable we figured we might as well find out.

To add to the politics, the original Malta marathon still had tees and medals so invited you to run a GPX route they’d devised to earn them and a local runner disgusted at the whole saga held guided runs of 10k or HM as a ‘Solidarity run’. So there three rivals factions. A bit like the People’s Front of Judea from the film.

Training

Yeah I should do some of that. One of the many arguments used not to cancel the event was wasted training of all the participants. Fortunately I had little. Despite great plans for a monster three months of hard graft to start the year (with Malta being a hard effort long run before a PB attempt in April) I managed to tear my hamstring slipping on ice. Like Bambi but less cute. My best efforts to ignore it were unsuccessful and after two weeks of running in great pain then being unable to move my leg to get out of bed I finally went to see Rudi at The Treatment Lab who confirmed it. I was ordered to take at least two weeks complete rest, not even allowed to cycle so zero cardio for 2 weeks and then a very slow gradual return.

The upshot is about three weeks of OKish training at a low effort with low fitness. A week out from Malta I was able to run 16 miles as my first, last, longest and only long run for the marathon. I’d barely broken 10 miles in the last month. My previous longest run was 14 miles in January. Oh well.

The Event

To be fair to the organisers they worked very hard on setting the event up. Multiple times a day they would update their FB page as more details were confirmed.

Applications opened 21st Feb, two weeks out from race day.

Routes were confirmed on 22nd Feb with GPX available. Start times of 6:30am (ouch) and promise of free buses to the start in Rabat or back from the finish line in Sliema. Buses were to leave at 5am. FIVE AM. IN THE MORNING…….

They advised it would be chip timed, with medal and top all for the bargain price of €20 with packet pickup at the National Pool Complex on the Thursday-Saturday before which fortunately is close to the hotel we’d booked.

Doubts

The race was only €20 and it was pay at pickup. The organisers advised of 250 application in first 12 hours of opening. I wondered how many applications would either not turn up (no money down so if it’s raining a the weekend sack it off) or were deliberate protest registrations with no intention of arriving. This could be the smallest ‘big’ marathon I’d ever run.

Covid restrictions: We’ve become fairly used to it but the constant changes for travel, outside & inside gatherings add an element of risk to all activities. Runners needed to be triple vaxed and set off in groups of 100. A race I had planned to do in Gran Canaria in the summer was cancelled whilst I was in the air due to a change in Covid risk locally.

Organisation of a marathon is no small feat. Even established events like Manchester Marathon have a patchy history with multiple issues. How would a three week rushed event pan out?

Malta

For anyone who’s not been before (me):

  • It’s an independent republic which gained independence from the British Empire in 1964. The country is still part of the British Commonwealth and a member of the EU (wish we were)
  • It’s an island of 500k population spread over 121 square miles and sits under Sicily in the Mediterranean.
  • Currency is Euro
  • Languages are Maltese and English
  • Power is UK 3-pin 240v plugs
  • They drive on the left
  • Participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 33 times, yet to win but has achieved four top three results
  • So I expected something a bit like Cyprus in terms of relating back to places I’ve been to.

Getting There

Lots of flights from U.K. but as it’s off season they may not all line up as ideally as you’d like. We flew out of Luton on Friday and back Sunday evening to Heathrow so a bit of a pain for us. The flight back to Luton looked a little tight on timing for the original start time of the marathon.
Depending on when you read this, the COVID requirements may change but for 2022 were a fully triple jabbed certificate and the now usual Passenger Locator Form filled in advance to allow you to check in for flight.
Passport control on landing was very efficient as was baggage although there was then a 30 minute queue for health screening (checking Covid and passenger locator form). The actual process was very quick and there were 20 desks but it only takes a half dozen passengers who don’t have paperwork ready to hold up the line.
The race finishes in Sliema so that’s where we booked a hotel. It’s a relatively modern development of beachfront hotels and restaurants and a €1.50 ferry from the very old town and capital of Valletta.
Hire cars were ridiculously cheap for 2022 and we got a little Peugeot for £8 for three days as cheaper than a taxi and whatever car you’re in you’ll sit in the same traffic jam from airport. Traffic in Malta is pretty awful as they seem to be working on most junctions. Worth noting the hire company did the usual ‘there’s no damage sir’ which wasn’t the case so lost about an hour queuing to get car and then arguing the damage. Take good photos before you drive the car anywhere. 
Parking is a nightmare in pretty much all the big towns so worth getting the smallest car you can fit luggage and passengers in as a lot more options to park a super mini than a massive barge.

Bib Collection

For 2022 this was all from the national swimming complex so grabbed it on Friday after lunch at the picturesque bay of Marsaxlokk before heading to hotel. Payment of €20 by cash or card and then get given bag with tee shirt, bib, pins and a coloured wrist band that denoted your start wave (irrelevant for marathon as 100 people so all one wave).

Race Day

The organisers were a little vague on the coach details. It left at 5am from near the finish. There’s was no charge or pre-booking just turn up. Great but also makes you worry how they ensure enough coaches?
Given the early start I picked up a slice of pizza on way to hotel the night before and took it with me to eat whilst waiting for coach. 5am cold pizza is fine for ultra runners but I got some odd looks.
I found a large group of runners shivering in the cold with several volunteers in hi-vis. There followed a lot of phone conversations, checking of emails and rushing about by the volunteers before a coach arrived at 5:22am. Not a huge issue but when you’re told 5am and the event is organised by the transport department you would expect the transport section to be right.

Due to the time difference the 5am coach felt like 4am and I’d been eating and drinking heavily the previous day….

We piled on the coach and all just about fitted with some artistic seating arrangements and were dropped in the village square at Rabat about 6, still in the dark. None of the local cafes had seized the opportunity to open for hungry and cold runners so make sure you bring warm clothes and food or drink if you need it.

It’s still night!

There was a drop bag arrangement to take bags to finish same as big city events but given I was finishing by the hotel I took a throw away hat and a foil blanket left from a race previously.
Just after 6:30am as the sun came up we set off.

100ish people for the marathon. The half had 400 and started at a different location.

The Course

Despite the comparatively downhill nature of the profile the run itself doesn’t seem especially easy. There’s a fair bit of climbing in sections so don’t expect a super fast guaranteed PB. Of course if you’ve actually trained it would be better.
The first 18 or so miles is basically wiggly loops from the start and then back out towards Sliema on mostly country lanes. It’s a beautiful country so very enjoyable. Some of the roads themselves are a little potholed so worth keeping eyes open. Also a mixture of closed roads, sections with a lane closed off for runners and some roads where you run with the flow of traffic and hope they don’t hit you. Wouldn’t recommend big headphones for this reason. All the drivers were very courteous but I like to be aware of surroundings.

Country lanes and lots of stone walls. Like the Lake District but flatter. And hotter.

There was an almost excessive number of volunteers and police marshalling their route so it was all very organised and safe. Pretty sure the volunteers outnumbered the competitors. Route was marked with spray paint on the floor as well should you miss the marshals.
Aid stations were every 5k and had full 500ml bottles of Aquarius still sports drink, a favourite of mine.
As the temperature climbed and the sun baked the runners I would have appreciated some water to douse my head but there was none. From evidence on the road there had been wet sponges available but these were all gone by the time I got to the aid stations either used by the faster marathon runners or the HM runners that run the second half of the route and start an hour after the full runners. This is a minor area to attend to in future years. I completed the first half in about 1h45 so was by no means at the back of the field.

How It Went 

For someone very undertrained I was pleased with my performance. There was a hope that my accidental 3h25 of London might happen again but the reality of poor training, recent injury and a single long run of 16 miles thwarted that.
I set off steady, all over 8min pace and then as I settled in found them gradually dropping under and managed 10 miles bang on 80min.
Somewhere around mile 16 I could feel my legs getting heavy. Heart rate was still low but no amount of caffeine tablets, drink or gels could get around the fact they hadn’t run that far since November. The weather was also warm for a pasty Brit at around 15degC.

It ain’t half hot mum!

20 miles came in about 2h45 as I expected then started to count down the miles. About this point the route hits some of the less scenic sections as passes through industrial parks and on the side of busy roads. Mile 22 is basically a cordoned off section of the main bypass and like running down the North Circular but with more traffic.
Around 23 you leave the motorway and then mostly a sequence of undulating back streets for a mile before hitting the main coast road around the harbour towards Sliema. It’s scenic but by this point the runners were very spread so hard not to feel like an idiot running on your own down the shoulder of the main road.
About a mile out the crowds start and encourage the runners. I was flagging so needed the boost and managed to finish in 3h38 to collect medal and a banana before heading for hotel. I was too late for breakfast but able to shower before checking out and heading for liquid lunch.

Hotel room overlooked the finishing straight.

As we left the hotel and at the airport there was a fair presence of runners who had run one of the alternative events and it did feel a bit disappointing that the running community had been split on a day that is normally a celebration of coming together for the love of the sport.

Feet up in the sun to enjoy some beers before flight home.

Would I recommend it?

Yes. Both Malta the island and the race is worth a visit. Despite being their first attempt the organisation was better than many established events. As for who will organise the event in future years, that’s probably anyone’s guess. 

Whilst in Malta

It’s a beautiful country and would recommend a full day around Valletta taking in the sites. Mostly we walked the streets and sampled the food and drink. The cuisine is very Mediterranean with a heavy Italian influence – the most popular dish seemed to be platters of cheeses and meats. 

The fishing town of Marsaxlokk is also recommended as is Rabat. 

Weather in March is varied. We had some light drizzle Saturday and scorching sun on race day. 

Facebook Marketplace – UK Scams

Quick post as I’ve been having a clear out of junk this last year and found a massive proliferation of scams from ‘buyers’.

The scams pulled by sellers are covered pretty well and in the main obvious – with fake items, promises to post items if you pay in advance etc.

If you turn up, check the item, pay cash and then leave with it you should be as safe as any car boot or yard sale. Try to avoid getting mugged though.

For sellers the scams are a little more clever and annoying but given eBay charges are ridiculous it’s still worth using if you can avoid the scams.

  1. Dodgy link

You post an item and get a message from a buyer. It seems harmless. “Hey I like the item, is it like this one in link below?”

Seem innocent enough, click the link, help the buyer out, make a sale.

No. Notice how they never reference what the item is, just ‘item’ as it’s a generic message sent to umpteen sellers. Occasionally they will make the effort to change the item to reference what you’re selling.

The link will take you somewhere dodgy AF and likely install malware/virus or try and trick you into entering your FB login again so they can steal your account for more dodgy activity.

I’ve never clicked the link. Dare you?
  1. Payment by courier in cash (normally UPS)

Buyer wants the item and is happy to arrange courier. Great. They’re even going to send the cash with the courier so you’ll get the money, they’ll take the item, so surely no issue?

Agree to go ahead and they’ll be delighted, maybe confirm address and everything. Then they come back and advise the courier wants insurance payment to deliver the money. For some manufactured reason you need to pay this yourself but the seller will add the cost to the cash payment. No problem.

They send you a link to a moderately believable UPS website and you enter your card details and pay around £15. It’s probably only when you click send you start to have your doubts. At best you’ve lost that £15 at worst they’ve stolen your payment details and you’re about to be rinsed by the seller for every penny they can get from your account.

At least they were honest in the lie!
  1. Fake banking app

Phone banking is great. Cash is dead. Nice lady comes to buy your iPhone and uses her phone to pay. She even shows you the confirmation screen to prove it’s in the account. You pass over the phone and wave her off.

The app is fake. The confirmation screen was bogus. You’ve got no cash and given away your phone. Their account is deleted before they’ve pulled out the drive and they’ll never be seen again.

General tips –

  • Don’t get angry at the profile or the picture if you’re scammed. It’s certain to be stolen from another account.
  • Don’t re-arrange your plans around buyers. Most never show up. If someone wants something agree a collection time when you’re at home mowing the lawn or making dinner anyway. If you move meetings, appointments or hot dates to be in for an agreed collection they won’t show. Even if someone says “I need it now, I’ll be right over” and you figure you can be a little late to meet the boys at the pub so agree, they won’t show up.
  • Don’t hold stuff for people but be honest “Sure you can pick up at weekend if still here but if someone turns up before I’ll sell it to them.” You’re not being an arse just allowing for the fact they almost certainly won’t show up anyway.
  • Don’t waste time on Messenger replies. You’ll get dozens of “Is item available?” message. Answer yes then get on with your life rather than invest time in further chatter or selling. 10% of buyers will come back with further queries or to arrange payment. Spend time on them.
  • You can put as much detail in the description as you want, most will never read it and ask the same stupid questions. Wait until you’ve got a handful of messages asking the same thing then just copy and paste the description back in the messages to all.
  • Any Messenger conversation that goes a day without a message from them is dead. Delete and move on.
  • If you accept PayPal then insist it’s Friends & Families. This can’t be reversed. If they use Goods & Services not only do you pay a small fee out of the payment but they can easily reverse it leaving you with no cash and no item.
  • If the item is almost worthless then just stick it for free and get it gone. Once someone is interested agree a time, leave it out for collection and let them know it’s for Covid reasons. You’ve stopped something going to landfill and helped someone out.

I wrote a novel – Locked Down & Lonely

Buy the book on Kindle HERE

February 2021. After an odd year of working through the pandemic and spending a lot of time in the car on my own as an essential worker (nothing glamorous or heroic like a nurse, but a project manager in the power generation and waste industry), I was once again in the car on my own driving along mostly deserted roads. I would have preferred desserted roads with ice cream and apple pie.

Passing through the sleeping streets of Swindon heading for the M4 my mind began to wander and think upon all that happened in the previous year through multiple lockdowns, isolations, social distancing and the public learning what furlough and the R value meant. As often commented we had lived through unprecedented times and much of life had changed, likely forever. Blowing out birthday candles and expecting people to eat the spittle covered food was now tantamount to biological warfare.

It occurred to me that 2020 would be a (hopefully) unique year and an ideal backdrop for a novel. Relationships had been tested during the year and it became the make or break of some. For those still in the market it began a confusing period where even dating was illegal at times. An invisible threat had put the breaks on many life plans to find ‘the one’ and settle down, or even just to take someone home for Netflix and chill. During a recent run I’d passed a couple several times who were walking around the local lake at the required two metre distance and from the snatches of conversation I picked up it became clear this was a very awkward first date. Thankful not be alone during the pandemic and having the support of my wife and family, I began to formulate a story arc of two singletons thrown together by the events of 2020. By the time I arrived in Bridgwater I had the entire story mapped out in my head with the key scenes and I sat in the car park of Greggs jotting down notes before it left my mind as it was destined to shortly be replaced by performance testing characteristics of generator sets.

In those brief 20 or 30 lines I got down everything I needed and emailed it back to myself. I had a full story. If felt like it would be a good story. Under no delusion that I had devised a work to rival 1984 or Catcher in the Rye I was hopeful it could be an enjoyable read and a compelling tale that might help capture the events of the past 12 months. If still around in a decade it could be picked up by a holidaymaker on a lounger who’d laugh and recall the odd year where we didn’t leave the house and could only meet up with family if they formed a sports team or came to your house to quote for building works. All that was left was to write it.

The advantage of a defined story arc is I could drop in wherever I wanted and work on the key chapters that appealed to me whenever I had the opportunity to write. Being my first novel I found it far slower to progress than the previous two non-fiction works. Even the simple matter of inserting quotation marks and formatting the conversation correctly added to the process. It’s far easier to state that “Bob and I discussed dinner and went to the curry house” than it is to outline the conversation, the setting, our motivation and what we were wearing. Did Bob reluctantly agree to the curry or was he jubilant at the decision?

By June I had most of the book written and planned to finish it off over a holiday booked on a UK cruise. Unable to sail their usual routes some companies were offering cruises that never left UK waters, avoiding the issue of travelling and border entry checks by simply idling around the UK coast as a mobile hotel. In reality the timetable was busier than I expected and I had the first physical copies of my second book Ducking Long Way delivered so was keen to read that again, praying that no mistakes had made it through the proof reading.

Back home I realised I needed to make the final push and get it finished. 25th August it was done. Being conscious that I was a bloke writing a book very much from the dual perspective of a man and a woman as the lead characters I elected to give a copy to my wife for honest feedback and comment. It was truly scary. My running books were written for runners. I was a runner therefore largely confident it was something that the target market would relate to and enjoy. This was a novel written for everyone to (hopefully) enjoy. What if she turned around and asked what this steaming pile of stupidity was that I subjected her to?

Fortunately the response was positive. She read the whole thing within a few days, making a list of comments or corrections, but largely minor in nature. None of the suggestions were “burn this excuse for literature before anyone else has to read it” which was a relief.

It should be noted that in one scene I had the main female character looking for a dress for her first date and pondering something with ‘side-boob’ (a nod to Family Guy). I was firmly advised that no woman in history has ever set out to show side boob and to correct it. The market research continued as she asked every female friend to voice their opinion and it was unanimous. Women do not ever seek out a dress with side boob. So it was re-written. I was lied to by Family Guy. If I find out dogs can’t talk I will really lose all respect for that show.

After the final rewrite I began to approach publishers and literary agents. Most writers are represented by agents as many publishers won’t even entertain submissions that aren’t via an agent. I had been lucky to secure two book deals with the wonderful people at Sandstone Press without one but this was far from usual.

As I progressed options I looked at self-publishing as well. My sales figures from the first book had gradually shifted from physical books being the majority to eBooks making a considerable chunk, even the majority in periods dominated by Covid and shop closures. Having chatted to other local running author James Adams about using a self-publishing service such as Matador I approached them to see what the arrangement would be.

A common misconception is that a self-publishing service will release anything. Whilst this may be true for some, the majority still have quality control in terms of content and choice of genre. Matador considered my manuscript and offered a publishing arrangement. The difference between a traditional publishing contract and a self-publishing arrangement is that everything has a cost attached that as the author you have to stump up ahead of any income. Some items such as copy editing are a single price, whilst the various format specific services for physical (paper) or eBook (kindle etc) are unique to each and it can all begin to mount up. Taking into account the majority of my recent sales had been eBooks I elected to go for that only, with a mind that in the event it became a success I could later release a physical version (50 shades Of Grey used a similar approach) and if it flopped I wouldn’t be stuck with a loft full of books.

Contracts were signed 1st November and I received the copy edited version 7th December. They advised that it would be around 6 weeks due to workload of the copy editors. Meanwhile a draft cover was generated and I approved on 8th December whilst working through the suggested changes to the book which I finally finished and signed off on 12th December. The book was now complete. All that was left for Matador to finish the formatting for the eBook formats and get it ready for sale. They finished the formatting on 24th December, and got it to me in January for final approval on 4th and it went live on Amazon on 6th January.

The book, Locked Down & Lonely is now out, 11 months since I had the initial idea, and just over 2 months since signing contracts.

Now I just need to pray someone buys it……

DIY attempt at a SkiErg

If you’ve ever been to a gym you’ll have seen the rowing machines, typically by Concept 2 and had a play.

They’re perfect cardio and the basic design is uncharged for years. All credit to Concept 2 as they still do aftersales support for every model, right back to 1981. My own rower is a second hand Model C from made between 1993 and 2003 and still going strong, they even do upgrade kits to the newer style performance monitors. There’s very few companies that give you reasons to keep your old kit rather than replace it entirely. Even the very early models are worth at least £300 second hand. Try selling a 20 or 30 year old treadmill for that.

There’s very little in life as well built as a Concept 2 rower.

Concept 2 have more recently branched out and make a BikeErg, which is by all accounts an insanely hard workout and closer to an Assault Bike than a normal exercise bike:

Looks nice, but £980 is pretty steep. Like the rowers it will probably outlast the owner.

Their other offering is the SkiErg. These are £700 if you mount to a wall or another £180 for the stand. Again not cheap but you get what you pay for. I looked around for a while but nothing cheap came up second hand.

The selling point of a SkiErg is it “helps you build strength & endurance, working the entire body in an efficient, rhythmic motion. Skiing is a low impact, high calorie burning exercise suitable for all ages and abilities.” Or in basic terms, stand on the spots, yanking and bend until you see your lunch. They are beloved of crossfitters and lifters.

As you’ll have seen all their products are basically variations of the air resistance rower mechanism that is their speciality. There are some unbranded copies from China that you can find online but still expensive and given the likely issues with a warranty claim from a dodgy third party I wouldn’t risk it.

The Plan

What I did find on the internet when looking around is several people have simply strapped their concept 2 to the wall or a weight frame and used it as a basic SkiErg.

So I looked around for a cheap Concept 2 and failed. Figuring this was going to be an experiment I widened my search and found a Marcy rower for £15. The monitor wasn’t working but I could live with that. It was also magnetic when I’d rather air resistance but beggars can’t be choosers.

A Marcy RM413 not realising it’s fate

A quick check in battery compartment and some battery corrosion had ruined one of the terminals. Quick clean up and new solder and the screen was working. Gave it a test and all worked well. Plan eventually is take the runner off and mount the whole unit in the roof of the garage with just the handles hanging down so I have a SkiErg that takes up no floor space.

As luck would have it I found someone had already designed and modelled some SkiErg handles and uploaded on THINGIVERSE – I printed out a set on the 3D printer, took about 10 hours. These have a hole through them to use cord or similar. I didn’t have any cord but did have a lot of heavy duty hooks and chains leftover from the kids climbing frame that sadly rotted away. I drilled out the handles to allow me to tap them and screw in a hook each. Then with some lightweight chain I tested the idea just looped around the rower handle to see if it worked.

Once I knew it worked in theory I raided the climbing frame pile and found two suitable lengths of chain that were coated for safety and avoid finger traps for kids. In their new use they would stop annoying clanking.

PAY ATTENTION HERE – When you take the old handle off the rower, whether belt or chain, the machine will try and pull it back in. Normally not an issue as the massive handle stops this. You’ve just removed that so if you let go of the chain/strap it will disappear into the machine and be a pain to fish back out, you’ll probably need to strip it all down. For this reason either have someone help or tie a knot in the strap/stick a screwdriver through the chain or something!

In my case the strap has a loop that goes around the handle. Undo the two screws as per photo earlier and slide this off then stick a carabineer through the loop. This was big enough to stop it dissappearing into the machine.

I attached the two lengths of chain to the carabineer and each of them to a handle. The ones on the handles are a little light duty so will look to get something a little sturdier.

Rail stripped off ready to mount

Does it work? Yep. I needed an assistant to help me get it mounted in the ceiling and positioning and fixing is a bit temporary at present but seems good! As you’re only using arms and not legs (as you would on a normal rower) the effort is a bit higher so a rower that seems a bit easy would be ideal converted.

Temporary mounting
Yep it works

Cost –

  • Rower: £15
  • SkiErg Handles: Maybe £2 of filament and power. You could use handles from garden tool suppliers or similar
  • Threaded rings for handles: Free
  • Chain: Free (you can use cord instead)
  • Large Carabineer for main pulley: Free
  • Two small carabiner for the handles: £2 for both
  • Fixing the display: Free
  • Total Cost: £19

If you don’t have as much junk laying around as me I’d expect to pay £20 for the chain and other bits. If you use cord instead of chain it would be cheaper as could loop through the rower pulley, run through the hole down the centre of each handle and tie off.

All mods are reversible so no issue if you change your mind!

Run Through – Bedford Autodrome Marathon with a hangover……

Saturday night was spent dancing to the The Killers at the wedding of two good mates. Sunday morning was spent wishing The Killers would make good on their name.

If you’re planning your race calendar it’s a good idea to check your whole diary, not just the day of the race otherwise you might be flushed from comparative success at London marathon, book another marathon in for an empty Sunday two weeks later and then realise you’ve got a wedding the night before. Clearly the wedding was going to happen, the marathon was looking a bit unlikely.

I’ve not done a Run Through event before but heard good things. The Bedford Autodrome event was local, promised to be fast and flat (if a little exposed) and had a range of distances from 5k to marathon. I’ve only ever been around it before on a track day going considerably quicker than 7 minute miles even in our lethargic track car.

The slow way around Bedford
A much quicker way to lap Bedford

Waking up Sunday morning I felt a little tender. Stopping for my usual pre-race McDonalds I found myself unable to eat it so made it to the venue having had just a coffee. If you’ve not been to Bedford Autodrome before it’s a massive complex so there’s probably a five minute drive between arriving at the entrance gate to actually making it to the car park. I had about half an hour spare once parked up which was plenty to collect the bib from the very organised team in the pit garage that was being used as the race HQ and then go and attend to the essential issues in the portaloo. Kerry and Paul were also running so it would have been nice to chat but I was mostly concerned with trying not to make a scene as my body decided which end was going to let me down. I was hanging.

Photo stolen from Kerry. At least one person in the photo is worried about unintended fluid leakage.

My plan had been to push on from the 3h25 at London and go for something faster. On the morning of the race finishing without vomiting seemed a better goal. Stood nervously in the portaloo queue for a final wee I took the chance to check out what other runners were wearing on their feet. The usual mix of Nike and Adidas carbon plated shoes all replete with timing tags. I didn’t have a timing tag which caused some panic as I tried to recall which bin I’d thrown my race envelope in and went to retrieve it. This was all going well.

A nice feature of the event is there’s space on the start/finish straight for runners to place their own stuff for fuelling in the race. Some runners even had family or friends waiting to pass them drinks so would be ideal for a proper PB hard effort tailored to your needs. I had a few bottles of sports drink in the car but couldn’t even face the thought of drinking them so planned to stick to water and the small race pouch with Gu Gels (the only gels I’ve found I can keep down) and Caffeine Bullets (chewy caffeine) that I’d sorted out the day before.

As we set off I felt queasy so stuck some podcasts on and vowed to get on with it. Plan when sober the week before had been around 7:40mile pace for something around 3h20, but picking up the pace at 20 miles if I felt good. Naturally I ran under 7:20mile for the first six miles as I can’t pace properly and was trying to escape the cloud of my own beer farts.

For much of the first 10 miles I was in a nice pack of similar paced runners and could turn off my brain and just run. Gradually the pack split and some pulled ahead or fell behind. The hangover was clearing but the lack of breakfast was making itself felt.

The course at Bedford is very fast but as noted above exposed and the changeable weather made itself felt as some sections seemed into a strong headwind. The various race distances worked well as broke up the monotony of following the same runners around as you mixed up with others. Some of them were properly quick and whipped past like professionals whilst the flat nature of the course meant others were pushing running buggies and aiming less for elite status. I saw a few clubmates from Redway Runners and Lakeside Runners which was good, as well as runner juggling balls the whole way.

Halfway came around 1h35 but I was definitely fading. There were a few food options at the aid stations but nothing looked like it would sit well for me so stuck to gels and caffeine chews, switched from podcasts to music and tried to reinvigorate my legs. The fade continued but with a fast course and optimistic early pacing I was still doing OK and passed the ‘2 mile to go’ banner under 3hrs. With my sensible and not hungover head on I should have trusted my Garmin that was only on 23.5 miles but I really wanted to believe the banner. Even with a slow last couple of miles that would have been a guaranteed sub 3h20. Closer to three miles after the ‘2 mile’ banner I cross the line on 3h21m08s to secure my 6th fastest marathon of 124 attempts, and 150th event of marathon or longer.

Hangover gone, aching marathon legs arrived!

The event was certainly a quick course and I’ve not gone quicker since 2019 so slowly getting back towards my PB shape. With a bit less headwind, proper pacing, some breakfast and not having spent the night before drinking and dancing I could certainly have done even better.

I’m looking to head back in March for a fast spring event after some proper training and see what I can do. I shall make sure it isn’t the day after a wedding though. I would definitely recommend Run Through for efficient and professional events. Mileage markers aside it was perfect.

All done and not covered in sick. Success!

London Marathon 2021 – running on the memory of being fit!

The race I hoped to run in April 2020 finally happened in October 2021 and it was even better than expected!

The Preparation

You can read the detailed preparation and issues on THIS BLOG. In summary I trained properly for a race that never happened, with a coach and sports massages and even trying to have a healthy(ish) diet then the race was postponed and I bounced about in the intervening 18 months in a mixture of races, ultras, stupid virtual runs, injuries, sickness and then tried to squeeze some training in for London when it looked like it might finally happen. What had been a sub 3h10 plan (hopefully sub 3h05) race was now far more focused on enjoyment. Based on fitness and my only other marathon this year being 3h45 I had a fall-back plan of sub4, and a target of sub3h30 that looked a bit of a stretch.

Eventually I’d like to do all the majors and ideally have respectable times on the finish certificate (for me that currently means 3h30, if it takes me another 20 years to do all them all it might well be sub6) but despite three attempts at London a sub 3h30 had eluded me and I typically have a disappointing finish time. Against all evidence to the contrary I really wanted to go sub3h30 to add to my Chicago time. In my unconventional training I did a 40 miler 2 weeks out and a hard effort 5k race the Monday of the marathon. Mentally these really helped as I proved to myself I could go further and faster than the marathon, so set an envelope I could try to work in and hoped the speed and endurance would meet in the middle like long lost friends and get along well.

The Expo

More to read HERE but worth noting some people on the Saturday queued for up to 4hrs to do bib collection and bag drop and the ban on under 18s was a surprise to many causing issues with toddlers and youngers kids. Go earlier in the week if at all possible. If it’s a race you’ve trained 16 weeks for and spend £1000s on sports massages, recovery shakes, magic shoes and coaching then maybe a half day off work is a wise investment to avoid 4 hour queues.

Race Day

I boarded the coach organised by Redway Runners to the start line, dressed in finest clothes borrowed from the charity pile and was whisked to the start line.

Start Waves

For 2021 they had organised more start waves than usual to aid social distancing. I was Blue 3 and we assembled from 9:22 in the pen ready to set off at 9:40, so 10 minutes after the elite men, a gap I didn’t expect to close. The elite women were even further ahead.

I’m genuinely not sure how the start pens were organised this year. There was some grouping for the Abbots Marathon Age Group World Champs that I’m not sure was entirely successful. Seemed a large portion of the entrants had bibs on their rear denoting them as being in the champs and their respective age groups but most seemed to have been given start pens far too close to the front as they were passed by streams of people. Not sure how pleasurable it would have been for them to be jostled and tutted at for 26 miles whilst they fought for their own PB.

I was still down as a finish time of 3h05 from my original application so also expected to be passed a lot aiming for nearly a minute per mile slower that the pace group I presumed I would be set off in, but in the event found most runners around me the same or significantly slower. This continued throughout the race as I was generally weaving through. Had I actually been in shape for 3h05 and running at that pace I think it would have been a very frustrating experience. Train for a 3h05, put your finish time as a 3h05 and get stuck with a load of 3h30 or slower runners ahead?

In an ideal world if you want to run close to 3 hours at London I think you need to run it elsewhere first, get the Good For Age or championship start and then have a chance of achieving it on the day otherwise be prepared for a lot of weaving and bunching at the turns where pace drops considerably.

Still cold

Start Area

If you’ve not been to London before it’s really worth noting how cold and open the start area is. Despite a week of rain the day was fortunately dry and bright but I was still covering my shorts and vest under full length fleece pyjama trousers, two hoodies, a rain poncho and woolly hat and wasn’t too warm. Had it been raining I’d have wanted more, but was surprised how many runners were trying to wait the hour or more with no disposable clothes at all. Also worth considering carrier bags for your shoes as the start is all grass so can be very wet and it would be good to start the race with dry shoes. For anyone reading this in future years, 2021 was unique in that your drop bag was collected at the expo so anything you wore to the start was either carried for the whole race (lots of runner has full ultra race vests on) or thrown in the charity recycling bins. Hopefully this is a one off as it wasn’t ideal either environmentally or with the added Expo queues.

After the usual queues for toilets and urinals (worth taking some spare tissues as the toilets were running low even at 8:20am) I wandered into the start pen. As expected the mobile phone network was struggling with 50,000 runners plus family, volunteers etc in one place so it was largely impossible to contact friends. If you’re planning to meet someone in the assembly areas have a clear agreed point and use texts as they tend to get through quicker. After dropping off the clothes into the charity bins I stretched as much as able in the pen and got ready to run. My plan was to try and run 8 minute miles and decide sometime in later half if I felt able to hold it, fall apart or maybe even push. I had Aftershock headphones with me for motivation but they weren’t on as I hoped the crowd and bands would provide the soundtrack which inevitably they did.

Four of these for the race worked a treat!

Nutrition

For once I’d planned a little on this. Having heard a lot of runners complain about cramp at Brighton on a reasonably warm day I sorted four small bags with salt tablets (from ultra running) and a Caffeine Bullet for the boost. These can be hard to unwrap mid-race so I took the wrappers off and loosely rewrapped. I also had four gels and two as spares. I’m never a fan of gels but found on a recent Centurion event I can stomach the Salted Caramel Gu so had these.

Start

As we crossed the line I settled in and made a conscious effort to enjoy it and not focus on the time. This was made much easier when Julius popped up on my shoulder. I’d not seen him since we ran the reverse London in 2019 so was great to meet up and we ran and chatted, the constant conversation should have ensured we went steady but we were still clocking miles well under the 8 minutes we’d both had as targets. Mentally it felt good to have company and not clock watch and after the first couple of miles came up ahead of pace but felt good I resolved to ignore the watch and check at halfway, and make a decision then whether to part company and slow or carry on.

On the out and back section we saw the infamous Richard McDowell running back the other way at a pace few could sustain for a single mile. He finished in 2h23m06s. That’s officially nippy.

Such was the easy nature of the run that I missed halfway and only at 14 miles did I realise by which time I couldn’t even be bothered to check on time and try and work out what I’d gone through halfway in. Now I check results it was 1h40 which would have probably alarmed me on the day as I’ve not been in 3h20 shape for some time. It was good to just run and enjoy it and I didn’t want to mentally deter myself from carrying on. This is far removed from the expected metronomic “every mile within 2 seconds of the target” that my original London in 2020 would have been. Essentially I‘d left my legs to do the work whilst I chatted. They’ve done loads of these I don’t really need to check on them just keep on top of gels and fluids.

Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 we’d caught up with Rudi, clubmate and my sports masseuse. He’d been training properly and was looking very steady and comfortable. Having chatted on the coach down I knew he was targeting a faster time than I so there were some doubts on my pacing but again I was having too much fun to dial it back so we slowly edged ahead.

Genuinely one of my best marathons ever due to these two gents and the chatting.

At around mile 15 he caught us back up (because he knows how to pace) just as Julius began to fade so I stuck with Rudi as was feeling good.

The 35k sign popped up and I could mentally pretend there were only three parkruns and a warmdown to go. It’s a measure of just how mixed up the start pens were that despite steady pace we were still having to fight through the runners ahead. It was only in the final few miles that I felt I was finally in amongst similar paced runners. Anyone running 3h05 pace from my pen might never have felt that. Also noticeable was how many runners were struggling, leaning up against barriers and fighting cramped muscles. I made a conscious effort to take the salt tablets for fear of joining them.

All too suddenly mile 20 popped up. In the 20 mile race a month previously I’d struggled to even finish and had fought for a time of 2h46. On marathon day the official clock hadn’t yet reached 2h46 and I knew I had more than 10 minutes less than that on chip time but still didn’t want to check my watch and start doing the mental maths on possible finish times.

I was feeling well enough to push the pace but knew it was too early so resolved to stay steady and enjoy the race as you never know how often you’ll get to run London and after a couple of years of race cancellations running any event is something to appreciate. I got a bit emotional after the 22 mile marker knowing that despite a lot of issues I was on for a decent time. Rudi had commented earlier in the race we were looking around 3h25 and I was happy to believe him.

The first time I checked my watch was coming up to 23 miles and I was a smidge over 3 hours in. This would have been a disaster in 2020 when I’d hoped to be on Birdcage Walk or at least past the tower of Big Ben by then but this time it was a massive boost. In fifteen minutes more than that 20 mile race I’d covered a further 3 miles and I can assure you I do not run 5 minute miles. This was all done to consistent but steady faster miles. It was a massive improvement in 4 weeks. Crucially I knew I could carry on whereas at the previous race the 20 left me hobbling.

Rudi had gradually dropped back a little over the previous mile and I decided it was time to see if I could push. Just a parkrun to go. My legs had done all the work and it was time to check back in and see if they could ‘drop the hammer’ ‘enter the pain cave’ ‘change up a gear’ or whatever silly phrase you’d like to use. They came back with a resounding ‘no’ pointed out they’d done 23 miles at a decent lick very undertrained and were happy to cruise it in. I was now checking the watch and seeing that sub3h25 might be achievable. Several times I tried to break into a (relatively) fast finish but lack of training, lack of fitness and a still congested course meant I eventually was happy to wave at the palace at 3h25 and cross the line at 3h25m39s. A finish time I would have bitten your hand off for earlier in September when I wondered if sub4 was out of the question.

Oddly Facebook popped up the next day with a post from Bournemouth where I’d set a marathon PB only a few seconds faster five years ago. I’m happy to be back able to accidentally run times that would have been a PB before.

As is tradition I went off to find some beer and some friends. And a man from Cuba who wanted to buy my medal and top – you can read more about that HERE.

Photo stolen from Helen.

London has definitely re-awoken my desire to get back to proper marathon training and I’m starting to look for a race to target. Much of the running with Julius we discussed various running friends and the massive improvements they’d made with determination and focus. I honestly believe GFA is possible for anyone if they really want it enough and I’m beginning to think I do. It won’t happen overnight and I’ve missed the GFA cutoff for London 2022 anyway so it would be 2023 at the earliest. Watch this space!

Selling London Marathon Medal 2021 edition!

If you’ve read the post last year you’d see that largely out of boredom and a curious desire to see if I could, I listed my Virtual London Marathon 2020 medal and tee on eBay.

Some were listed as much as £400 but I went for what I thought was an excessive but just about achievable price of £80 and sold it in minutes for more than double the entry fee.

This year at the London Marathon expo during the bag drop queue I saw just how nasty the finishers tops were. Nothing about it relates to the iconic course, the history of the race or anything. The same design was on the medal. It’s just a poor play on 2021 looking a bit like 26.2 (if you squint) and looks largely like a misprint. In a horrible colour. Many people needed help to understand the concept or joked that it was a medal for 2621.

Looks like it’s made of chocolate?

I checked eBay on Thursday night and there were still listings for 2020 medals and tees but none yet for the 2021 so I stuck a listing up for something I didn’t yet have, priced at £150 Buy It Now and wondered if anyone would take me up on it. The decision was made a little easier knowing I wasn’t in great shape so wasn’t about to sell the medal from my all time PB race but rather a (hopefully) enjoyable run around one of the best marathon courses looking for pubs.

I promised both would be unworn and offered postage first thing Monday if paid before.

I received an offer of £90, very tempting.

Also a full price offer from a man called Angel who wanted to meet me after we’d both run the event and pay cash. Full asking price and no need to go to the Post Office? Result. After a confusing series of messages we both managed to meet outside the Salsa club on the embankment and he checked the medal and happily passed over the cash.

I didn’t ask him why as by that point I was desperate for a wee and three beers in. He was from Cuba I believe so possibly just wanted an extra medal and top to show off when home. Worth noting that when New York and other majors are £250+ entry fee then £150 for a second finishers set is possibly a more reasonable price in comparison.

As a side point, below is a photo (not mine and can’t remember where from, so sorry if yours) of the 2021 marathon medal and the Abbotts age group championship medal. One is a beautifully made representation of the iconic course. One looks like the result of a school design competition with insufficient entries.

London Marathon 2021 – Expo Advice

After nearly an 18 month wait, London marathon is finally here. As it’s a bit different this year here’s some tips on the Expo (yes we still have to go, yes I still don’t like them).

NOTE – no under 18s are allowed, this is enforced. If they’re teenagers and you can leave in the coffee shop whilst you collect the bib it’s not a big issue. If you turn up with a toddler on way home from school you’re going to have to go home and come back another day. Or find the least child-kidnapper-looking person to mind them.

Expo is once again at ExCeL which is an arse to get to and ThEy LiKe tO Do StuPiD CapiTAlisAtIoN.

ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock , 1 Western Gateway, London, E16 1XL

Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show opening times:

  • Wednesday 29 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Thursday 30 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Friday 1 October 10:00 to 20:00
  • Saturday 2 October 08:30 to 17:30

Getting there –

Still an arse to get to.

The closest station to the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show is Prince Regent DLR.

If you drive it’s a bargain £20 to park. I’m told there is an Asda about 20 mins walk away, near Beckton station (thanks Gary!)

I’ve literally purchased cars for less than that.

Drop bags –

This year to minimise touch points you have to take your drop bag to the expo – there are NO DROP BAGS AT MARATHON START

In theory the organisers have posted you a drop bag (big clear drawstring bag) for you to take along and drop off at the Expo. Mine, like many others didn’t arrive but don’t worry they have spares at the Expo (update – mine arrived the Friday before London, a full week later than promised).

What you put in the drop bag would normally be dependent on weather on the day but given you’ll need to pack a few days in advance based on dodgy forecasts I would suggest:

  • Warm dry clothes (full set including pants in case really wet)
  • Change of shoes & socks. Some people like those recovery sandals by Oofos. Those people are on a government watch list.
  • Raincoat/poncho
  • Bin bag for wet stuff
  • Wet wipes to pretend you’re clean
  • Recovery food
  • Battery pack for phone or USB lead and find a café to steal their power
  • Directions on where to meet loved ones – you may well have lost your phone and can’t remember which pub your husband is waiting for you at
  • Plasters for any blisters
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother)

What you need for the Expo –

  • Negative lateral flow test – either the text or the email. You’ll need to show this to staff to enter the Excel and again when you collect bib
  • Drop bag (or just the contents, they have spare bags if yours never arrived like mine)
  • ID to collect bib – I don’t think this was well publicised but there may have been documentation with the drop bag I never got that covered this.
  • QR entry code – either on the email sent before or install the official London Marathon app on phone & login as per the emailed instructions you should have received on Wednesday this week. It will also confirm your bib number if you never received the drop bag.
  • £20 parking charge if driving – machines take card. Or first born child.
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother) or if you want to wear in the expo. Maybe 20% of attendees and 50% of the staff had them on.

When you get there –

STEP 1 – BAG DROP

Head to hall S8 first. The event staff may want to see either the Covid test or your QR entry code on the app it seemed a little random what and who they asked.

This is where you drop off your bag and must be done first. Even if you don’t intend to have anything for after the race you must drop off the empty bag for them to put the finishers tee, medal, drinks and other goodies in. This is to reduce touch points.

From a rough estimate of the attendees when I went approx. 50% were taking the spare bags as either they hadn’t received one or had lost it. The volunteers have fat permanent markers to label up with your bib number. This is where the app is handy to check your bib number.

If you’ve not done a big race before then showing your bib at the end gets your bag back and is proof of ownership. No bib = no bag or at least a very long argument on why you lost your bib and trying to prove you’re not not some sort of weirdo with a fetish for stealing tracky bottoms and awful sandals.

For London this year your bib is printed after drop off and the crate your kit bag will be in at the end is printed on the bib along with start wave. This does reduce waste and needless bibs but as people found out on Saturday of the expo added enormously to the queues. Some reported total of 4hrs queuing for bag and bib.

Photo from Karly @karly_runs

Oddly despite picking the size of the finishers tee during registration, at drop off you get in the queue for whichever size top you fancy and they check your bib number against your name, add in the finishers top of that size and take it to the back for further bits to be added. Potentially this means you’re not guaranteed the size top you picked at registration if you’re one of the last to attend on Saturday, or it could mean they have a huge surplus of sizes due to the expected drop outs and the virtual race. This is yet another reason I wish they offered something like Tree Not Tees where instead of plastic tops shipped around the world that are often unused they could plant a tree instead. In the case of the finishers tees for 2021 this is even more relevant as they are NASTY. Mine is going straight on eBay.

Finishers top. Sold mine.

STEP 2 – BIB COLLECTION

Head to hall S10, the event staff will want to see your QR entry code on entry. They didn’t seem to ask for Covid test. If you bring someone else with you they will also need a Covid test. As above, no under 18s allowed. Big issue for some and not well publicised.

Once in the registration desks are first and for normal runners they’re dead ahead of you. If Good For Age or Championship then find the appropriate desk for that.

The volunteers at the desk will want to see your Covid test, your bib number, and double check the name against your ID. As on previous years you can collect for one other person but need a letter authorising it and a copy of their ID.

Then they stick the chip on the bib and hand it to you. No big bag of goodies like previous years, literally a bib and some safety pins. Personally it made the whole expedition seem even more pointless. A four hour round trip, £20 of parking, to collect a piece of paper they could have posted (although given how unsuccessful the drop bag postage was maybe using address stickers isn’t their forte).

You are now done and can go home.

That man is daring to use the entrance as an exit to avoid the stands – arrest him!

STEP 3 – NOT YET!

Just like a game show where they hate to see you leave empty handed you need to wind around the expo to the exit as going back out through the entrance would be impossible.

Presumably due to Covid and being close to other marathon majors the expo is pretty poor this year. None of the big brands like Nike, Asics, Adidas, Brooks are there. New Balance as the main sponsor are there, and for trainers there’s Hoka (if you like clown shoes, I actually do) and On (if you like squeaky shoes that pick up every damn stone, I actually don’t) but that’s about it.

Buying kit just before race day is never a good idea but this year there’s not really the option. The charity stalls are there and a few of the specialists in underwear etc but the selection is poor. If you went to The National Running Show in Farnborough this month you’d have seen far more brands.

STEP 4 – GO HOME

I love London Marathon but as with all Expos this is awful and pointless. Get home and do something useful like rest or have a massage. I managed to be in and out in 20 minutes and even then felt like a waste of my time.

Did I mention I hate expos?