Chicago Marathon – Tips & Advice

Travelling across the globe is a fair undertaking, so hopefully the below will ensure you get the most out of your trip. If you want to read how I got in 2019 then click here

Travel Tips –

  • Use Skyscanner to search for flights and be flexible. Travelling across the Atlantic is never going be cheap but I managed to get United Airlines from Heathrow for £285 at pretty decent times, only losing two days of work.
  • Don’t forget you need an ESTA for America, which takes at least 3 days, but can be done a long time in advance. Sign up online and make sure you use the proper government site not the ones that charge a fee on top of the ETSA cost.
  • Getting into town from airport is pretty good especially compared to Paris. Train station currently accessed from Terminal 2, which can be walked to from 1 or take free shuttle bus. Train ticket into town on blue line is €5 but need exact change for ticket machines, not ideal if you’ve just landed with crisp €20 notes.
  • Once in town you can either drop stuff at hotel or go straight to expo.
  • Hotels are never going to be cheap in a big city with 45k Runners coming in. Pick what you can afford but would recommend something walkable to and from the Grant Park / lake front area.

img_3897Expo –

  • The Expo is as good or bad as they ever are. I’m not a fan. As usual it’s in a hall in arse end of nowhere but they lay on regular buses from four locations in town to get there and back. Riding a big yellow school bus is kinda cool until the suspension pushes your spine through the top of your head.
  • Don’t forget photo ID to collect and your collection email with QR code.
  • If you’re in for the Saturday 5k run then collect that as well and plan flights accordingly. Someone else can collect the 5k spot with suitable copy of ID but not the marathon bibs, or you get 5k bibs from race start on Saturday.
  • Queues at expo vary. Friday morning was bad, by mid afternoon it was pretty good. There was a lot of duplicate checking of IDs but pretty quick. Annoyingly they give you the bib but then make you fight through the crush of stalls to get to other end of hall to collect the finisher top and drop bag.
  • The stalls are much the same as every expo. Some people will be on a mission to get in and out, others will want to spend on one of everything and would buy a diseased donkey carcass if it had the race logo emblazoned on its decaying rump.
  • Expect to queue for the bouncy bus back to town again.


5k tips –

  • Start and finishes in different locations with no drop bags so come ready to run or bring a rucksack (allowed for 5k).
  • Starts 7:30am so expect it to be cold.
  • You can move pens to run with mates.
  • Everyone will finish the 5k and want breakfast. Everywhere local will be rammed. Hang around or head back to hotel for breakie.

Marathon Tips –

  • The marathon starts in waves from 7:30, 8:00 and 8:30. It will likely be cold so make sure you have bin liner or spare clothes to throw off as you’ll be in the pen for a while after bag drop.
  • Security on entering park is much like US theme parks, lots of lines and baggage searches, then the magic wand over to check for hidden stuff on your person. Allow time for this. I got to the park an hour before my wave and I had time to pass the checks, drop bag, wee in a bush and find the pens. It was relatively tight and I wouldn’t have wanted to cut it much closer or queue for portaloo.
  • The staggered waves mean a 3hr runner setting off at 7:30 is going to have a long wait for their mate doing closer to the 6.5hr cutoff and starting at 8:30.
  • Route is one big loop back to start point so no baggage lorries. Although there’s a few out and back section they’re a block apart so you can’t see and cheer on clubmates in the opposite lane like London.
  • Aid on course is water and gator aid in cups at regular intervals, then gels, carb chews (a lot like shot blocks) and bananas. If you struggle with cups and it’s a hot day I’d recommend taking an empty handheld bottle in to fill on route – security won’t allow liquids into start pens.
  • Security also doesn’t allow backpacks or camel backs but waist belt bottle holders seem to be OK.
  • For 2019 they had biofreeze aid stations with either the pumped gel to rub in or the cold spray aerosols.
  • Keep an eye out for free beer at mile 22, small shot glasses from Goose Island.
  • Also look out for unofficial aid stations with whiskey, beer, doughnuts, coke or just a high five.
  • The course is all road, much of it concrete and in places with potholes the size of a minivan so wear appropriate shoes and look where you’re going.
  • Your GPS will go crazy due to buildings. It makes the instantaneous pace and distance meaningless. Run to feel, stick with a pace maker or just pace to the mile markers, but whatever you do don’t trust your watch. I clocked 28 miles for the run, with ridiculous PBs registering from the dodgy distance.

After the race –

  • The usual foil blankets, water and banana with added can of beer handed out.
  • We also got tokens for a pint at the mile 27 after party. You’re warned to bring photo ID but didn’t seem to be challenged much.
  • Bag collection seemed less slick than London and less randomised so most people finishing together wanted the same two or three queues whilst other collection points were barely in use.
  • The after party at mile 27 is amazing and really made the day for me. Sat in the sun drinking free beer and chatting to runners, checking mates progress on the app was perfect. Make sure to have some cash for more beer and food. There’s a stage with music and it’s a real festival vibe.
  • If you expect to have flattened your phone playing tunes and taking selfies all day consider a battery pack in drop bag too.


Shopping –

  • Both the Nike store and Under Armour are worth a visit for more merchandise but expect big queues, big prices and don’t forget the sales tax on top.
  • Some of the products are of questionable design and manufacture.
  • Nike in particular had a €55 rain smock resplendent with Chicago marathon logo and all the style and quality of a bin liner. It was selling well.
  • Both stores do various incentives for runners including medal engraving and finishers gear.
  • From the WhatsApp group chat I am painfully aware the XS women’s stuff is in short supply even from Friday.

Things to do in Chicago –

  • From the various clubmates the general consensus is do the boat tour or bus tour, then go up John Hancock Building for the Tilt experience (€22 to go up, €8 for the Tilt).
  • Also pop by the bean statue and walk along the lake front whilst marvelling at just how big the lake is. Apparently you could fit Wales in it. Finally something useful to do with Wales.
  • Worth checking what sport events are on. Ice Hockey, Basketball, Baseball or football depending on game schedules or season.
  • Food wise you need to eat the Chicago hot dog with weird stuff all over it and the deep pan pizza that varies from a pastry case of sick to something more presentable.
  • Being a metropolitan city with the normal hipster contingent then pretty much all dietary requirements or invented conditions are catered for.
  • Some places will ID you no matter how bald, grey and pallid you are so bring ID if you want beer.
  • Lastly – The marathon results are printed in the Chicago Tribune on Monday so worth getting a copy for a memento.

Chicago Marathon 2019 – Epic Weekend!

img_4020Short version for those with limited time – Chicago Marathon is amazing. Do it.

For tips and advice click here

Longer versionChicago is one of the majors and has all the good and bad points that brings. Think crowds, regular aid stations, an eye watering price and another bloody expo.

I entered it on a whim. I knew some clubmates had already applied with GFA times and had in my mind I might go one day. London Marathon had moved their GFA qualifiers so my PB of 3:13 wasn’t going to get me in there and the ballot result also didn’t go my way. So I entered the Berlin ballot for 2019. And got rejected again.

In a theme familiar from the book (if you’ve not purchased it yet you really should, I have kids to feed), everything that followed was the fault of a David, namely Foxy. He saw me vent my Berlin annoyance on Facebook, and pointed out my PB was good enough for Chicago and I had a full 37 minutes before the application window closed.

Sat in a car park on a wet Tuesday evening waiting for the club run I frantically registered, thankful of Apple Pay to complete the process. I pasted the link to my 3h13 marathon results from the Running Miles event and wondered if the low key event with around 80 Runners would even meet their requirements for the vetting process. I went for the run and came back to find the acceptance email waiting for me. I was going to Chicago! That was an expensive Tuesday that Foxy has yet to recompense me for.

Knowing I had a lot of ultras in 2019, culminating in the Lakeland 100 the plan was to get these done and then some speed work to target Chicago for a future GFA. It’s fast and flat, with pacers, mile markers, aid stations and all the gubbins needed to help. Dates meant I’d also be running Bournemouth marathon the week before which wasn’t ideal. Neither was buggering my knee up three weeks out making it doubtful I’d even run it.

Having surprised myself with a 3:32 at Bournemouth I set off to Chicago hoping for similar. The majors are expensive so I wouldn’t be making a repeat visit and wanted a time that wouldn’t leave me feeling like I needed to return to do it justice. If I ever get the six-star medal then I want the certificate to have a selection of decent times, not a piss poor stumble to break the Chicago cut off.

img_3887I flew out early Friday with Dennis (my stand in wife for the weekend), managing a course record 1h10min from Milton Keynes to being on the beers at Heathrow post-security. Landing in Chicago we headed to the expo. These are never my thing so riding a bumpy bus to collect a small piece of paper was not high on my enjoyment list for the day. Fortunately Dennis is of the same mind. Had he been in the ‘I must try on everything in my size and ensure it doesn’t clash with my skin tones but also makes my cheek bones really pop‘ approach I’d have left him there.



We headed back to hotel, grabbed a quick hotdog lunch at Portillos (a real cheap and cheerful place) and then out whilst trying to meet up with other clubmates. There was a fair contingent out for various lengths of stay.

It became clear it was like herding cats so we went for dinner for the first of the weekends pizza in Gino’s East. Great venue, but the deep pan is DEEP and definitely worth sharing. Although it tastes great the filling is really jumbled and has the visual appearance of warm sick if I’m honest. Having woken at 4am to get to Heathrow we were flagging but stayed up as late as possible to try and adjust.

img_3963-1Saturday was a more successful rendezvous and we got a good Redway Runners turnout at the 5k run, keeping in a large group taking it sociably. It’s a proper chip timed event but I’m not sure many were going for times.

There should have been woolly hats at the end. Surprisingly for an event put on by a Marathon Majors the organisation was piss poor and they just had piles of hats on a table and greedy twats took loads. 8000 hats for 7000 runners. They were all gone by the time we got there and we were about halfway down the pack. Twats.

There was a lot of disgruntled runners caused by a basic lack of organisation.


I almost wished I’d done the free annual shakeout run at 8am from the Under Armour store instead and saved the dollars. The advantage of the warm up run is it showed just how badly the buildings affected the GPS signals. Our group had the 5k come up at anything from 3-5 miles and explained why google maps on your phone would often go mental trying to find places.


After some failed attempts at a group breakfast I shoved down a Dunkin Doughnuts and popped to the coffee bean statue “The Bean” to meet some random strangers off the internet and hope they didn’t steal my kidneys (this has been a recurring fear of my wife’s). Turned out I got lucky thrice and still have all my organs (neither Johanna in Majorca or Stewart on route to CW50 stole them either) and could enjoy the group run organised by Ten Junk Miles podcast and the clothing company Path Projects.


I’ve been a fan of the podcast for a few years so was good to put names to faces and meet legendary Scott Kummer. We chatted and ran along the lakefront at a social pace and I mostly ignored my knee making an odd noise and causing me to run up stairs with all the grace of a penguin. Fortunately the marathon is flat. At the end of the run the team from Path Projects surprised us all with free swag and I came away with a hat which more than made up for the debacle at the 5k.

img_3940Afternoon was spent drinking beer and eating tacos with John and Dennis (John was staying in the ghetto to get the full experience), before forcing down a much better deep pan pizza at Pizzeria Uno. When not running I’d spent most of the weekend wearing a knee support and applying cooling gel or deep heat in a random cycle to get it to magically fix itself.

img_3954For the evening we’d booked standing tickets at the ice hockey at United Centre. Standing tickets as we’re too tight to pay for seats. Chicago Blackhawks were playing Winnipeg Jets about 3 miles from the hotel so for some reason we decided to walk. As I drank my 5th or 6th beer of the day I wondered if my training strategy bordered on self-sabotage or just stupidity?
As usual with American sports they spread each 20 minute period over an hour so it’s a long night. John, Dennis and I stayed to end of second period then got a bus back. Foxy was also there (in posh seats) and confirmed the game ran onto extra time and Jets pulled a 3:2 win from the jaws of certain defeat. Even with the bus I managed to clock 44,000 steps for the day. Ideal marathon prep.


Race day came and Dennis and I stumbled down to the early 5am breakfast in the basement then joined the rabbles of runners wandering around the streets. He peeled off to walk in with Kerry who he was running with, and I made the rest of the way on my own. It’s worth planning your race day and checking the magazine and website as different start waves go at different times, and your pen letter determines which entrance to the park is recommended to allow easier access to assigned bag drop colours. I was assigned to gate 5 which I forgot and went to 1 instead.

img_3892The lines to get in and through the security check were pretty long. Those without drop bags could peel off to two shorter lines and avoid bag searches. The race instruction advised arriving at 5:30am, ahead of the 7:30 start, I got there closer to 6:30 which was cutting it close, especially when walking to bag drops to be met by the odd panicked runner heading full speed head-on into the crowds and risking a shoulder check from a tired Brit still harbouring crowd rage from the expo.

img_3915Late arrival also meant I missed Jen and grabbing some Caffeine Bullets sweets off her so decided to use whatever food was on course. Everyone advises nothing new on race day, so untested food combined with my new Nike Zoom Fly with fancy carbon fibre plate that I’d worn for all of 5 miles before was yet more ideal prep.

Stood in the pen I felt good. Really good. With the lowest mileage 3 weeks in more than four years I was fresh and mentally ready to go fast. The temperature was perfect, the course was flat. Everything was begging for a PB attempt apart from the stench of deep heat from my knee. Knowing I often hit halfway in 1h35 I found the 3:10 pace group and promised myself I would NOT pass them. I couldn’t trust my GPS so figured I’d run on their experience and local knowledge.


Chicago marathon route is very fast but the block nature of the landscape means tight turns and a lot of pinch points as hundreds of runners try and hit the apex.

5k and 10k came without issue, accompanied by random distance readings and pacing on my watch. I managed a 4m02s mile somewhere in that first section which is pretty impressive had it not been utter piffle.

The aid stations were regular but were cup based. I love Gatorade but it burns when you throw it up your nose by mistake.

img_400510k came under 45 minutes, 8 miles under the hour, 20k at just after 1h31 showed I was slowing a little and let the 3h10 group get away, so I reached HM at 1h36m (a full ten minutes behind what my watch measured) feeling OK but knowing I couldn’t and shouldn’t maintain the pace. I’d done enough work to hopefully ensure a sub 3h30 so could ease back and enjoy the rest of the race. I stopped at the first Biofreeze station and got a handful of cooling gel for the knee, figuring if I was going to try new things on race day I might as well try every new thing possible.

The 16 mile marker was blown down (it’s a very windy city, they should probably warn people) but I managed to glimpse it and passed just over 2hrs. 10 miles to go so best soak it in.

img_3918The crowds at Chicago are great, almost as big as London and certainly out-do Paris. In particular the positive American approach ensures a supportive shout from them just feels more sincere than coming from a Londoner with the dead pan delivery of Jack Dee. This is particular true when they excitedly shriek “You go duck man” or “Run Like Duck, oh my God I love that“.

I’d picked up some random Gatorade chew bar at an earlier aid station, they’re a lot like Cliff Shot Blocks and went down well. I tried to grab another before realising it was a gel and being disappointed. I was getting hungry. There were a lot of unofficial aid stations set up by locals, especially around the Latin American areas of town. I dived across the road to take a cool cup of full fat Coke from one and received a high five from the fella in recognition of my single mindedness. This stuff is a staple of ultras and hits the spots perfectly.

img_3998As I ran on at my reduced pace I was passed a lot and noticed how mixed the genders were as they passed me. I ran Paris in a similar time and it was maybe a 10% mix of women around me. My London times also see me mostly in a sea of testosterone but I presume some of that is down to most sub3:45 women starting in the GFA or Championship pens ahead of me. At Chicago the women appeared to be almost the majority around me and I wondered what was so different in the US to increase their participation so much and how the UK races could learn from this? We have a healthy mix at HM level, but by marathon distance it seems something about vomiting, public toilet incidents and being covered in sick, sweat and blood puts a lot of UK women off.

Eventually I was passed by a familiar green top of Redway Runners as Roger shot past. I briefly tried to keep up with him but it was clearly out of reach as he was cutting through the pack like a man determined to get his Christmas Eve shopping done and be in the pub by lunch. He faded into the distance so I concentrated on more important things like bananas, and a beer from a running club table. The guy handed it to me with a wink “Here have a ‘beer'” and I’m unsure what the chaser mixed in was but it tasted good. Beer doesn’t normally burn on the way down.

Annoyingly I missed a gent handing out Krispy Kreme doughnuts and briefly debated doubling back to get one. I did spare time to dive into the next Biofreeze area set up like a pitstop where two waiting assistants sprayed my right leg liberally. It was slick like an F1 pit-crew but I didn’t pull back out with the speed shown by Hamilton.


At 35k I realised my tourist approach to the second half was probably getting a little too easy and I should concentrate less on beer and food or I might miss the sub 3h30 as I had at Bournemouth the week before. Fortunately Sammy from Redway Runners passed me at around the same time and I decided to use her as a landmark before I lost any more time to foraging. I made an exception at the Goose Island beer stand although I did need to clotheslines runners out the way. The beer was good, the cups were disappointingly small.

At mile 24 I passed the Ten Junk Miles cheering point and it was great to see Scott again. Odd how someone you’ve listened to on a podcast for hours, but only met the day before can suddenly lift your spirits. There were rumours that the cheer point would have beer but I was on a roll now and enjoying closing down the miles and actually passing people after miles of the reverse.

My watch was around 1.8m ahead of the course so kept an eye out for the mile markers and did the maths in my head. We were making good progress through the pack. As we got to the final incline with about a mile to go it was clear I could make 3h24 and Sammy having started behind would fare even better getting a 3h21 PB. The finish was made even sweeter by the cold can of beer at the end, and then even better when I bumped into clubmate Abi who gave me a second beer. Not sure if the beer or the 3h24 was more pleasing. If you think I’ve used the word ‘beer’ a lot already then buckle up.

In the baggage line (a bit long, they didn’t seem to have mixed up the finishing times in the lines as much as London) I joined Stephen who’d got his fastest marathon of the year (out of about 26 gazillion) and John who’d scored a PB thanks to his Run Like Duck buff (and possibly the months of training) and was celebrating with a beer. Next up was Emma who couldn’t finish her beer so I helped out.

They headed back to their hotels whilst I wandered to the Mile 27 after party to redeem my beer token. And then several extra tokens as I bumped into Kas (bent double under the weight of her awesome 6 star medal) and other clubmates. The after party had a great atmosphere helped by the sun burning away the earlier chill, the amazing backdrop, an awesome covers band and me getting increasingly wrecked on free beer. Other events could learn a lot from this as they seldom have such a welcoming area to hang back and wait for your friends, especially needed when the staggered start times means you could be waiting several hours.

5518612b-9590-495c-984c-2ea0283af8cdOnce I ran out of free beer tokens I hooked up with Foxy and his better half Sarah who were walking to seemingly the furthest Irish bar in Chicago.

Narrowly avoiding wetting myself on route we drank (beer) with other 100 Marathon Club legends. Clustered around the table was the combined experience of 950+ marathons and our best skills were still downing pints so I staggered back to hotel before hitting another pub (beer) and then dinner (food and beer) where Andy had booked out most of Hard Rock café for Redway Runners (food was cold and a bit crap, I’d not recommend it but was great to all eat together).

Monday we had time for a quick morning run, and the tilt experience at the tower before heading home ($4 train to airport, bargain!). United staff were great and were making special effort to move passengers around to give anyone with a medal the best seats possible. American enthusiasm is often derided but is incredibly appreciated.

Bournemouth Marathon 2019 – Against the odds

img_3846Things don’t always go to schedule. The plan at the start of 2019 was to do some ultras (OK quite a lot of ultras), culminating in Lakeland 100 in July. Then a period of rest and some condensed training for Bournemouth and Chicago marathons for October in an attempt for some decent times, ideally a PB. Or maybe two. I am greedy.

2 months isn’t long to switch your training around but with a 3h14 trail marathon in preparation for Lakeland I was reasonably confident I wouldn’t be far off pace.

The reality was less rosy. I felt wrecked from Lakeland (although pleased to be one of the 50% that got around) took August very easy, with a long (for me) break from running and concentrated on drinking as much beer as possible at the Beerathon race, and then repeating the beer on the all-inclusive holiday that followed to make sure I was properly rehydrated. I only just scraped 200 miles for August, my lowest mileage in years. I convinced myself this was enough rest and I was good to go again. Stupid.

September beckoned, with ideal running temps and perfect weather. I started with the amazing Dunstable Downs marathon as a check of fitness, taking it on feel, with an aim of a sub4 which I missed due to getting lost like an idiot. I finished but with a bit of a knee twinge that as always I ignored as this approach has worked well for years of running. Mostly I was annoyed that I’d gone over 4hrs for the first time in more years than I could remember.

10 days later and the knee was forgotten so ran another marathon at the Enigma event in Milton Keynes, finishing with a respectable 3h33. Nearly a month left to drop 15 or 20 minutes which I convinced myself was possible as everything was going in right direction. Chicago was going to get smashed.

Then it all went wrong. In the space of a few days I went from running well to my first ever DNF, at a 10 mile race. I only managed to cover 5 miles as that’s where I’d parked the car.

With two weeks between injury and Bournemouth, and a further week to Chicago it now looked doubtful I’d even get around either event, I could barely walk. I checked the cut offs, 6.5hrs each so in theory able to be completed at a fast walk. I know from ultras that I don’t fast walk even when fit. I amble like a man taking in the view so I needed to get to a point I could at least run some.

After some treatment by Rudi at The Treatment Lab I resolved to take the full two weeks off running before Bournemouth. After a week I was going stir crazy so risked a short jog with the dog. 2 miles with intervals of running and walking. It was like a Couch to 5k course. I repeated this a couple more times over the next week to test various shoes to see which suited my knee best but never risked more than 3 miles a day.

Friday we went down to Bournemouth and in the morning I managed 6 miles in the woods with mates and dogs, taking it very gently. I was still noticeably stiff but I was better rested than I’ve ever been having covered around 15 miles in two weeks.


Bournemouth is always a great weekend with the family, with kids races, plenty of tourist stuff and the marathon on the Sunday. This year Cloë, Billy and I ran the 5k again. Or as Cloë likes to mention, they ran it, I sort of limped it.


img_3855Standing on the start line of the marathon after wishing good luck to my mate Ajay running his first ever marathon I was struck by imposter syndrome stood in the white pen right behind the fast club runners. I’m often the fat bloke surrounded by racing snakes in these pens but can usually muster a respectable performance with a course best of 3h17. Today I wasn’t even sure I was going to get around. Not having properly trained, carrying a dodgy knee and about 5kg of pity fat from not running, this was not going to be my finest hour.

Liberal application of deep heat was all that was left for me to do and we set off.

Taking it easy to start I was passed a lot but gradually found my pace and by mile ten I was running well and keeping sub 8 minute miles relatively easy. I may have been undertrained and fat, but I was so fresh from the enforced taper. Only on the slight uphills as the road rolled up and down over the coast did the knee make itself felt.

We dropped down to the sea at mile nine and felt the wind right in our faces. I couldn’t quite draw in the group in front for shelter. Every year I’d wondered how much harder the marathon would be with be with a headwind, this year I was going to find out.

img_3848I still felt positive. So positive that I forgot energy gels make me vomit. I’d not risked one since Bournemouth 2016. I took one climbing the hill after Boscombe pier at mile 12. For a whole half mile it was fine. Then it wasn’t and I spent the rest of the race holding down a mouthful of sick. Every burp had tinges of bile and even the water tasted like stomach contents. Fecking amateur. Thankfully I had shot blocks to use instead. Except I dropped them somewhere around mile 17. Fecking amateur.

Rest of the race went much as expected for someone with a dodgy belly, excess weight, lack of training and no fuelling. I had to walk the normally fast downhill at mile 13 as it was too steep for the knee to take. A comfortable 1h40 HM was followed by a laboured lacklustre 1h53 second half and I finished in 3h33m32s, annoyed not to get the full set of 3s.

img_3851If you’d have asked me two weeks ago I’d have bitten someone’s hand off for a 3h33m. Now I feel a bit deflated knowing a sub 3h30 would have been within reach had I fuelled better, ignored the bloody gel and didn’t have to battle the wind and sand dunes worthy of MDS.

Still next week it’s Chicago, lets do this all over again, try not to eat stuff that makes me vomit and be able to run on roads not beaches.

UPDATE – The day after the Bournemouth Marathon Festival 2019, the organisers dropped the marathon distance and renamed the event Run Bournemouth. Citing issues with the council they’ve decided to make the Half Marathon the main event. This is a real shame as there are few running festivals that incorporate all the race distances and at such a great location.

The race calendar is already awash with overpriced and overhyped half marathons. Road marathons are now an endangered breed. Given events like the Great Run series, London Landmarks and Reading HM have shown punters will part £50-£60 for 13.1 miles, I can certainly see the financial appeal for organisers. Why go to double the effort, double the road closures, double the volunteers for only an extra £10-£15 a head income when can just ramp up the HM price and be home by lunchtime?


Running Podcast Recommendations

It’s international podcast day (apparently). If you’re after some running related input for your ears then in no particular order here’s some of my favourites.

Bad Boy Running – It started with two posh blokes talking rubbish about running, with audio quality that makes two tin cans and a piece of string seem the height of science. After several years it’s not changed much to be honest. Possibly upgraded the tin cans. They get some awesome guests and don’t take themselves seriously. Eventually you’ll be indoctrinated to the cult and start to laugh with them rather than at them. Then you’ll meet random listeners on ultras and drink beer whilst generally getting in the way of Mr Salomon.

Marathon Talk – Been going even longer than Brexit. Mostly Tom Williams and Martin Yelling talking all things running, now with some added co-hosts. From a lifetime of experience of high level running, triathlons, coaching and parkrun they can cover all topics in a good depth. More serious than others but still easily approachable. Refused a book quote for Run Like Duck as too negative in places so in return I’d say they’re too relentlessly positive at times. 😉

Ten Junk Miles – Very American. You can feel a burgeoning desire to eat chilli dogs and buy assault rifles just listening to it. Hosted by Scott Kummer. The gang shows are a bunch of runners sat around drinking beer and talking about races and all the stuff that happens on trails that is often ignored. If you’ve ever wanted a list of things to wipe your arse on during a wild poo then this is the place to go. The long run version of the show has a single one on one interview.

Running Commentary – Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson run around London talking and interviewing people. Can take a couple of listens to get used to someone panting in your ear without freaking yourself out. Being comedians it’s kept light and funny. Paul also has a comedy running book coming out soon so he’s obviously envious of my fame and sales figures.

British Ultra Running Podcast – James Elson and Dan Lawson talk ultras, not just in UK. They’re both annoyingly fast but don’t let that put you off. Dan also heads Rerun Clothing, aiming to tackle waste in the running industry so he’s a top fella. I even let him beat me at the Wendover Woods 50k.

Running Is Bullshit (BS) – Stewart and Amy live in Wales but don’t let that put you off. Each episode focuses on something that is BS in the world of running, from falling over to getting lost. Short and sweet. Like me they have a bulk order of ‘buff’s from China they try to sell at regular intervals.

Run Things – Running related but also a big leaning towards mental health as well, hosted by Clare and Kev. Mostly Kev as Clare seldom gets to speak in between Kev mentioning his running achievements.

The Runstrong Podcast – Seen the funny videos by Gary House / Runstrong on Facebook where a cheeky chappie rips the piss out of everyone and how ludicrously stupid we as runners typically are? This is the podcast version. Enjoy listening to how an accomplished runners leaves his cheat sticks behind whilst embarking on the challenging Dragon’s Back race across Scotland.

Ones I’ve tried but struggled with –

Free Weekly Timed – A podcast about parkrun. Sure it will appeal to some but it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Worth a go if you find the ones above a bit too stupid and sweary.


London GFA Vs Boston BQ 2020

London Qualification

Prior to the 2019 event, qualification for London Marathon was simple. Run under an allotted Good For Age (GFA) time and you were in.

Thereafter the organisers have applied a 3000 per gender cap on GFA places, introducing the risk that you may qualify but not get in, with the places allocated to the fastest in each age group.

The new gender quota and tighter qualifying times were announced just before the 2018 event was held in April, giving runners until August to get a GFA time. It kept applications low and it appears everyone that applied for GFA in 2019 got in.

For 2020 applications people had far longer to train and get their times in so they were oversubscribed. The organisers had to reduce the accepted times by 2m40s for men and 4m15s for women which caused some muttering on social media from those that missed out:


Boston Qualification

This ‘fastest first until filled’ system has been used by Boston Marathon for a number of years and runners have got their head around the concept of treating the Boston Qualifier (BQ) time as a minimum hurdle, with the goal to being as far under as possible. This is historically what makes Boston so prestigious. It’s not luck in a ballot, or a bulging wallet that gets you to the start line, nor scraping under a time barrier. You really need to put everything you have to get the fastest performance possible. Those precious seconds could make all the difference.

For 2020 Boston have increased the field to 31,500 runners, of which 80% are time qualifiers (25,200) all trying to prove themselves amongst the best.

Even with tighter qualification times for 2020 applications they still filled and had to turn away over 3000 runners and apply a 1m39s cut off across both genders (rather than adjusted to maintain a 50/50 split as London).

So is Boston still the hardest to qualify for?


Not for men anyway. Although the GFA/BQ times are largely similar, the required cut off in the age groups make London far harder to qualify in all but the 70+ age groups. In particular a 55-59 year old male would need to run a 3h17m marathon to qualify for London. The same result would gain entry to Boston for someone 10 years younger.


(Note – age brackets are split for easier comparison with other World Marathon Majors as the age groups aren’t aligned).

As a 40 year old male, I’d need a 3:02:19 for London and ‘only’ 3:08:20 for Boston. Both are outside my ability currently so largely academic. Those 6 minutes are 13 seconds a mile, certainly enough to take a pace from ‘oh my god this is hard but I can maybe hold it’ to ‘f*ck that I’m going home before my lungs pop out my chest’.

It seems for men the tables have turned and London GFA is far more prestigious that a BQ.

So what about women?

Apart from the 55-59 group, Boston required times are tighter than London and it retains it’s reputation.

If I woke up tomorrow as a female, I’d probably be too confused to run a qualification marathon. Once I got over the shock, then at 40 I’d need a 3:45:44 for London but 3:38:20 for Boston. Those 7+ minutes are nearly 17 seconds a mile and as for men, definitely enough to turn manageable discomfort to something intolerable.

For women at the top of their game, BQ is still the sign you’ve made it.


In the future?

Given how large the reduction in female times is for London at 4m15s it seems women are pushing the barriers and making massive improvements. If it continues then within a couple of years they may drop the qualification standard by a full 5 minutes to close the gap between GFA and BQ. As with the Boston this would likely drive performance and lead to even faster times.

How far could it go? If it kept moving and ultimately reached the 10% physiological difference between male and female as seen in elite sport it could end up as below assuming sufficient female entrants to fill the 3000 quota.


DNF. Did Not Finish. Definitely Not Funny.

After 130+ marathons and ultras, and countless half marathons and shorter races my luck has finally run out this year and I’ve had my first DNF.

2019 I’ve tried some adventurous and challenging races so a DNF is not unsurprising.

transgrancanaria2019-19898Did it happen at the 125km Transgrancanaria, running up and down mountains in (comparative to the UK in February) heat, taking on technical trails I’ve never tried before? The race where the week before my left hip went wonky, I could hardly run and had my lowest mileage week in years. I struggled to run the 2 miles down to the expo to collect the bib so a DNF was not unforeseen. Was that where I DNF’d? No. I befriended some Irish runners, drank some beer and ploughed on.

img_3206Did it happen at Wendover Woods 50k, a challenging off road trail at night where I had my first proper fall and managed to punch a tree on the way down? Was that where I DNF’d with two dislocated fingers? No. I popped them back in and got it done.


img_3333Did it happen at the Lakeland 100? A 105 mile race with a DNF rate as high as 50-60% in previous years. One of the hardest single stage races in the UK, covering a ridiculous cumulative climb and where the constant wet socks and shoes macerated my feet so I could barely walk. Is that where I lost my DNF virginity? No. I hobbled on, swearing at the night sky, ran through two nights with some runners I hooked up with and earnt the medal.

It was clear only a race of epic proportions, vertigo inducing terrain and jungle-like conditions would break me. Something like the Old Money Run put on by Redway Runners. A flat 10 mile race in Milton Keynes. Most of it is on footpaths or flat fields with the odd kerb the only challenge to pace. It would be inconceivable to DNF there wouldn’t it? Yep. So I did. Bollocks.

The week leading up to the race started well.

I ran the 6:40min/mile paced run on Tuesday and remarked to myself how much better I felt than two weeks previously where a dodgy left hip (the same one that flared up prior to Transgrancaria) meant I dropped out of a training run halfway through for the first time ever. I’d rested for a week, banged out a moderate marathon in between and felt great, holding the 6:40 pace relatively comfortably given my holiday weight gain. I was back on it.

Wednesday I ran my usual 9 mile loop with Redway. Hip still great but right knee seemed a little stiff on the uphills so kept it easy.

Lakeside club run Thursday it felt OK after a couple of miles and I managed a HM distance run feeling strong.

Friday dog jog the knee was a little stiff but loosed off after a couple of miles again, so didn’t stress too much. As with most issues I thought this would pass.

I’d intended to rest on Saturday ahead of the 10 mile race on Sunday but needed some longer runs in preparation for Bournemouth and Chicago marathons. By luck the sons footie match was later than usual so for the first time in 2019 I was able to join Lakeside Runners for a Saturday run and covered around 14 miles. Towards the end the stiff knee returned so I rested for the remainder of the day. Half of me knew this was just temporary. Half of me worried this might be cause for concern.

Race day arrived and I did a short 1 mile warmup to loosen off the knee ahead of the race. It didn’t seem to work and I stood on the start line feeling stiff and wondering if dropping down to the 5 mile option might have been sensible. From a scan of the runners I had no chance of beating my third place from last year on the 10 mile, and would fare much better on the 5 mile.

We set off and I kept the leaders in sight for around half a mile before they pulled away and a couple of familiar runners passed me. Slowly I was passed more often. My right knee was not loosening as hoped and seemed not too keen on taking my ample weight. Mile 1 and 2 came up at respectable times but were far more work than they should be.

img_3798Mile 3 was poor. Then it all went downhill quickly and I was reduced to a painful shuffle. I had 7 miles left. I’ve stumbled further than this to finish an ultra and a lot can change over a few miles. Resolving to take it easy and make my mind up later I carried on and managed a whole half mile before I had to stop again. One passing runner asked if I was keeping the pace low to save myself for the second lap. It was probably this that made my mind up. I could barely run already, what would be the point of doing all this twice and jeopardising my marathons? Mind made up I knew I would be dropping at the end of 1 lap. Bollocks, here comes my first DNF. Ultra runner can’t handle the arduous 10 miles of Milton bloody Keynes.

img_3796Limping up to the line I signal to the timekeepers that I’m dropping and running no more. Surprisingly I’m not the only one to drop and an assembled group of 10 milers, laid waste by injury, man flu or other ailments are lingering and looking forlorn. I head straight home whilst I still think I can drive and console myself with beer and Doritos.


Injured and miserable

Having been pretty much injury proof in 8 years of running, nothing has ever kept me off running for more than a couple of days. So I wasn’t really sure what to do. Something told me my knee needed a bit more than my usual ‘ignore it and hope it goes away’ that I use on door to door salesmen so I headed to the Treatment Lab in Milton Keynes for local runner and physio Rudi to have a prod.

He used a lot of technical words but summation is nothing is broken/torn but bad inflammation on knee means the mechanics are well off and struggling to bear weight. Pushing through on the race meant my calf and quad are stiff as well so my whole right leg is painful. Rudi worked the muscles and pressure points off and it feels a lot better. His advice is to rest, apply ice and not to run until I can single leg squat on that leg. Standing in his treatment room my mind was refusing even to entertain the notion as self-preservation kicked in the instant I attempt to bend my right knee and unbidden it locks my legs and tells me in no uncertain terms to feck off with this stupid suggestion until it decides it’s feeling ready.

chicago-startSo it’s now Wednesday. I’ve had my first DNF, my first visit to a physio, my third ever sports massage and three days of not running which is unheard of. As driving was straining the knee I’ve resorted to a lengthy and awkward train journey to Exeter rather than drive. All this with a hope that I can be fit to run Bournemouth in a week and a half, and Chicago a week after. Hotels and flights are all non-refundable so I’m going anyway, just not sure if I’ll be coming back with medals or DNFs to add to the collection. Either way I’ll be sampling the local beer and pizza.

 Ever been injured? Shit isn’t it. I’ve started painting the hallway.



Bournemouth Marathon Festival Guide

October is fast approaching and that means time for the annual pilgrimage down to Bournemouth for the marathon festival.

Now in it’s 7th year, this is a high point of the year. Milton Keynes marathon in May and Bournemouth in October are the two events I do every year, irrespective of whatever running goals I have going on. I’ve completed the marathon every year and hope one day to receive the key to the city as recognition of my loyalty. Or at least a free beer off the organiser. For me it’s the perfect size; big enough to be a special event but not so congested and crowded you can’t even see the floor under your feet.

If you’ve not been before then here’s a few helpful pointers:


Kids Races, 5k and 10k – These all start and finish on the seafront by the pier and are varying length out and backs. Given the location it’s easy to lob your hoody to a mate and pop off for a run, returning sweaty and resplendent in a purple tech tee (they’re always purple) without messing about with bag drops etc. The 5k starts at 7pm and is geared towards the fun side with lots of fancy dress, glow sticks and LED lights as the night settles in. The kids races have a system whereby the parent takes a matching numbered loop from the runners bib and uses this to reclaim their child at the end, in much the same way you collect you bag after a marathon. I suspect same as drop bags, if you don’t collect your child they’re donated to a charity at the end.

For some reason it’s always a little damp in the morning but clears up by the afternoon. They save the hot weather for the Sunday and the marathon runners.


Half Marathon and Full Marathon – Both of these starts at Kings Park, a few miles from the finish so you need to plan your journey to get there either by bus or taxi.  The organisers have a ‘BMF Bus’ you can buy a ticket for in advance. Due to the start point and sea-level finish both are net downhill so even with a couple of hills have potential for some very fast finish times.

For both events they have baggage lorries to drop off your kit bags. These are adjacent to the football ground/athletics track and a fair walk to the start pens so worthwhile wearing bin bag/old clothes to throw off at start. There’s toilets in the athletics track and by the start pens so if the queues are unbearable at one then walk a little further for the next.

Half –

The half starts at 8am which is great as you’re done in time for pub opening and can rehydrate with a cold pint and cheer on the marathon runners. The downside is you’ll likely need to leave your hotel by around 7am so may not get breakfast before you leave so plan ahead.

It follows broadly the same route as the marathon for the majority of the course, staying fairly high and then dropping down to the beach front at mile 6. There’s a short sharp hill at 8.5 miles just after you pass Boscombe pier. It’s not a huge issue if you’re expecting it. If you’re from Milton Keynes, it’s of Ben Nevis proportions. Don’t kill yourself running up, better to power walk, and take the chance to drink/change iPod track or admire the views. It’s also probably the quietest section of the route so if you feel the need to blow a snot rocket or strip off an extra layer it’s not a bad place to do it.

At 9.5 miles you get a long downhill into Bournemouth pier as you get back on the seafront. The crowds here are always huge and aided by the slope you can zoom past in your best Mo Farah impression.

All that’s left is an out and back along the beach to Boscombe again to lap the pier itself (11.5 miles) before a victory lap of Bournemouth pier and a triumphant finish.

Marathon –

Starts at 10am so more chance of a nice hotel breakie to fuel you. I typically destroy the Travelodge buffet breakfast.

At mile 2 it veers off the HM route to take in a loop of Hengistbury Head for some extra distance so you drop down onto the seafront after 9 miles rather than 6 and the first hill at Boscombe comes as you pass the 12 mile marker.

The halfway timer comes up just before the long downhill into Bournemouth pier as you get back on the seafront and as with the HM do a long out and back along the beach and over Boscombe pier before heading back.

At mile 17 you do a lap of Bournemouth pier and then pass close to the finish gantry. You can almost touch it. Then you do a quick dogleg over the overpass and back down to the finish gantry again to really rub it in, before being sent up a the second hill away from adoring crowds to do a nine-mile out and back along the coast. If it’s going well this is a lovely section with sea views and beach huts. If you’re struggling you dwell on the fact that every knackered step you take forward will need to be repeated back on even more knackered legs.

At mile 22 you take a turn inland at Poole, past people relaxing in cafés and eating ice creams to loop a traffic island at mile 23 and then it’s a straight run back. The final section it’s best not to focus on the finish and the pier in the distance as it never seems to get any closer.

As with all marathons it’s likely your GPS will over-read compared to the course so use the mile markers or pace for closer 26.5 miles.

Finally, I like to finish the race, run into sea, cramp up, fall over and nearly drown. It adds an element of danger.

• Both events have adequate water stops so no issues on this. Typically these are gels and water only, no sports drink. I prefer sports drinks, so I take some High 5 tablets with me to dissolve.

• The out and back nature of both is good for sharing encouragement and high fives with other runners, and seeing the race leaders fly past.

• All races have the finish area in the Lower Gardens, just behind the finish line where you’ll receive medals and finishers bags. Baggage lorries to retrieve your belongings are a short walk away but feels so much longer after 26 miles.

See you all at Bournemouth, I’ll try and remember nipple plasters this time.