How to run 100 miles in sub 24hrs – Milton Keynes 24

To avoid becoming the longest race report ever, this is a guide on how to run for 24 hours for people with limited imagination of what better things they could spend that time doing.

Warnings!

  • I mention the specific brands I use. Unless stated otherwise these are all purchased by myself with no gifts or freebies. They’re tried and tested and work for me. Other brands may work as well or even better. Do your own test runs and don’t believe all the influencers who state whichever free shit they’re just received is THE BEST THING EVER. Until the next one.
  • Some people treat their bodies as temples and only consume finest demineralised, activate carbon infused, mountain spring water. I’ve come to the conclusion running is hard enough without drinking something that tastes like horse piss so I tend to fuel long runs on lager, cider and water, topped up with coke. Kilian Jornet I am not.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 very supportive wife as support crew. Invaluable. If you don’t have one, borrow someone else’s or ask a mate to wear a dress for the event. If you have a husband, girlfriend, boyfriend they may also be suitable. Results may vary, always test on an inconspicuous area first.
  2. Random clubmates for moral support, company and food.
  3. Lots of bananas, water, beer, cider, McDonalds provided by one of the above.
  4. A dog for company and to blame any bad smells on.

Kit Choices

After running three 100 milers with Centurion (SDW100, A100, TP100), the Transgrancanaria 86 miler and the GUCR 145 miler I’m starting to get some idea of what I need. The advantage of any lapped event is you can get access to kit or food very regularly so can get away with carrying a lot less and bringing pretty much every item of running gear you own to leave in tent or car.

img_2915In the case of MK24 each lap is ¼ marathon, so about 6.5 miles but in a figure 8 layout so you can pass the aid station or car every 3 miles with only a short detour. Even in the most sudden biblical storm you shouldn’t ever be far from shelter under an underpass or your gear in the tent. You won’t find yourself shivering for 4 hours awaiting mountain rescue on the brink of hypothermia.

Shoes –

The route is all on paths so doesn’t require trail shoes. I went for Adidas Supernova as they’re very cushioned and I’ve had great experience with them, even using on the GUCR145. I’m now on my 5th or 6th pair and love them. No longer available so currently looking for the closest match. Despite heavy hints on Twitter I’ve yet to receive any freebies from Adidas. I also had a spare couple of broken in pairs and my Hoka in the car but on the day didn’t need to change or adjust at all.

Preparation –

I very seldom get blisters but I’m prone to hot spots on the outside edge of both big toes so stick k-tape on the edge, then liberally apply either Vaseline or more recently the Squirrel’s Nut Butter Happie Toes Foot Salve all over my feet. For ultras I use Drymax Speedgoat socks. These are the most expensive socks I’ve ever purchased and for up to marathon distance I would use normal generic running socks but find for the longer stuff these are perfect. The way they magically drove away moisture during TP100 is uncanny.

Working up the next area for attention is the undercarriage and arse area (isn’t trail running great?). Having nearly been neutered by poor shorts choice at the SDW100 I’m always keen to avoid a repeat. Some of my shorts are fine, some aren’t, with either chaffing underneath or often around my waist at the back in a lovely cheese grater approach. Recently I was given a pair of Runderwear undies at the Running Awards Bloggers Forum and despite my scepticism “They’re just pants surely?” found them amazing. I’ve since purchased two further pairs and now decide which shorts to wear based on pockets, length, colour or any other factor, knowing that comfort won’t be an issue with these underneath. For the MK24 I picked a cheapie pair of shorts from Primark (of all places) based solely on having a pocket big enough for an iPhone, with Runderwear doing their job out of sight. The seam-free design is a winner in my book.

The top half is where it gets trickier. I suffer from bloody nipples often, especially when very wet weather or very hot and sweaty. Having yet to find a perfect solution I asked for help on Twitter and tagged in a few brands. The folks at NipEaze stepped up and sent me a sample pack to try. So prior to MK24 I dutifully read the instructions, wiped down with the alcohol wipe to ensure good adhesion and stuck them on. They felt very rooted and seemed a great product. 24hrs would be a good test. Over the top I had a baselayer and running vest. Given the lapped nature I didn’t need to carry hydration bladder, race vest etc.

img_2917Food –

With little need to carry anything I loaded up a cool box with provisions in the tent and a second one in the car. After filling them with beer and cider I added crisps, sandwiches and Haribo. Water was provided by the organiser along with other snacks and bananas. I ate enough bananas I had to google ‘potassium overdose’ mid-run. True story.

Race Plan –

Being the first year of the event the field was relatively small at 200 runners, a mixture of teams and solo runners. I had a goal of 100 miles in mind and with mostly local runners attending I knew who else would likely be going for similar distance. Given two of them were Jen and Matt, both recovering from the ravages of the GUCR145 only three weeks prior it was likely to be my easiest chance ever at ranking highly, possibly even winning outright if everything went right.

Whilst marathons are all about consistent pace (so I’m told, I tend to just run until I want to lie down), for most people 100 milers are far less even. The effects of mental tiredness, difficulty of running in the dark and fighting your body clock will inevitably slow all but the most hardened and well trained. For previous 100s I’ve split the race down into 25 mile sections, aiming to run the first no quicker than 4hr, then 5hr for the next to get to halfway in 9hr before settling in for the final two sections with targets of 6hr then 7hr death march in to finish around 22-23hrs. It’s not pretty and doubtless could be improved upon but seems to work for me and on the whole I’m working up through the field consistently and finish sub23 for all three 100 milers to secure the 24hr buckle at Centurion events. In amongst all those timings are the various stops at aid stations and checkpoints, kit changes and feed stops so I tend not to get too obsessed with specific splits as long as broadly on schedule.

img_2946After pinning on bib and lining up for the photo it was time to start. Despite best efforts to not run quicker than 9min/mile I get pulled along and clock some faster miles whilst chatting to Jen and Matt (or at least I do when Jen rejoins after getting lost twice on the first lap).

Second lap and Matt and I pass our dogs over to the family and Matt forces me to drink a beer. He’s aware of the nutrition plan.

img_2941We plod on and the marathon passes in just under 4hrs, a tad quicker than plan so I stop, force down a cheese sandwich and wander out again with a cider in hand. There doesn’t seem many people ahead of me and most of those that were ahead stopped for a longer break so I’m curious how many runners are carrying on. The marshal advises there’s a few out already on their fifth lap so I jog after them. Clubmate Brian joins me for a lap, his longest run since the Milton Keynes marathon back in May.

The weather is a typical mixed bag. Combination of light rain, then warm sun interspersed with gusts of wind. I’ve ditched the base layer after the first lap and now in just vest. Disappointingly one of my Nipeaze didn’t even last until half marathon distance so I’ve replaced it with a plaster instead as I can feel the rub setting in.

I’ve grabbed my super lightweight rain jacket to keep with me. It folds into a ball with a waist strap so is ideal for taking on and off as needed. It’s a cheapie from Lidl, wouldn’t pass kit check on a proper ultra but keeps the wind off as needed.

img_2919The route passes a civil war re-enactment weekend in Campbell park as well as a Jamaican BBQ celebration by Willen Lake. As the laps have worn on the soldiers have gradually packed away their gear and bedded down for the night in their simple white tents. The Jamaicans have gradually got louder and more drunk in comparison, making the most of the mild evening. They cheer me on as I pass but nobody offers a beer. Poor show guys, poor show.

The double marathon distance passes in 9 hours on plan. It’s now 11pm and the campsite for the race is pretty much dead when I pull in for a break. My hope of meeting up with drunken relay runners is dashed but thankfully there’s a few in the large marque and the organisers have got some salty chips in from the local shop which I demolish, washed down with coffee and lager. I pull back on the compression top under my vest, grab the battery pack for my phone and set off.

img_2926The course is increasingly quiet as the night draws on. Normally at this point in an ultra you organically group with other runners and talk the miles away. I’ve barely seen anyone for hours. In Campbell park I nearly stand on a hedgehog as he scurries across the path. Although cute and happy to pose for a photo he’s not much into conversation. I stick my headphones in and put on some comedy podcasts from Audible, jogging across Milton Keynes chuckling to myself and at times having to stop completely when the laughing makes breathing tricky.

At 1pm I get a welcome call from an angel also known as my wife. After a night at Spice Girls she knows what I want, what I really, really want and meets me on route with a McDonalds. As I bend awkwardly into the car to eat I can’t help but notice how soft and heated the seats are and how easily I could recline and take a nap. Instead I wolf down a cheeseburger, alternating sips of hot chocolate and chocolate milkshake between fistfuls of chips. Many experienced ultra runners have noted I simply don’t eat enough on the longer runs and I’m making an effort to keep the calories coming. By all accounts the Spice Girls put on a good show for their fans despite previous tour dates being plagued with poor audio and other issues although noting the Spice Girls sound bad is akin to complaining your cow does stinky pats. After a kiss goodbye I’m off back to the course munching chips. The food sits heavy in my stomach and it’s a good few miles of walking before I feel able to run.

65 miles passes in 12h30 and I’ve definitely slowed. The marshall on the lap checkpoint advises there’s only three or four people left on the course. I’m not surprised the solo runners are having a break but expected the relay teams to keep going. At Endure24 the majority of teams had people running all night even if very slowly.

At times the night is tough, knowing it’s now Father’s Day and I won’t see my own father again, pondering all the things we might have said or done if he was still around. It’s likely we’d have gone out for lunch, he’d have had the steak and a cider and complained the restaurant was too noisy before launching into a detailed breakdown of the recent and future weather patterns whilst my mum slyly fed the dog most of her own dinner under the table and we all pretended not to notice.

Gradually as the sun starts to peek from behind the horizon the other runners awake and make an organised effort to be out for the sunrise and snap some photos of the view. Like a prisoner out of solitary confinement I’m suddenly immersed in babbling positivity, quick conversations and I’m struggling. Someone asks how many laps I’ve run. I know that I have the number but can’t quite access that part of my brain for some reason. Lots. Lots is the answer. I’ve run since before I stank of stale sweat and desperation. The temperature is still very changeable and my walk/run breaks means I’ve put on and taken off my rain jacket multiple times but it’s working well to regulate my temp.

img_2929At 72 miles I dump the battery pack for the phone and grab another for the Garmin. The Fenix 5 normally last about 18-19hrs for me so one full re-charge mid route should see it to the end. I’ve charged it in use before but somehow in my state of tiredness I manage to stop the recording and upload to Garmin. The first I know of this is at 75 miles, 3 marathons in 15 hours, when I stop in the marque for more coffee and gingerly lay down on some hale bales. My phone beeps as I start to receive Strava Kudos for the run. What run? I haven’t uploaded yet I’m still running. Aren’t I? Bugger. I’ve also lost a few miles since it’s not been recording which upsets my OCD.

Heading out I bump into clubmate Will who presumes from the Strava upload that I’ve given up during the night. He’s rested in the hotel and is out for a fast 7th lap. I’m knackered and off out for lap 13. Matt joins me and whilst discussing pacing and remaining time for laps we both fail at rudimentary maths and I’m devastated that I’ve got to run some very quick laps to have any chance to achieve my 100 mile goal. After a brief heart attack we correctly manage to understand the 24 hour clock and I’ve gained 2 more hours. The marshal advises I’m at least 3-4 laps up on anyone else so the win looks mine for the taking. Also good to hear that my mates in team Brickhill Braves are well ahead on the team challenge too. Clubmate Rak joins us for a run as well, bringing much needed coffee. Owing to amazingly poor organisation on my part it’s mostly lukewarm before we find each other but still hits the spot.

The next two laps take me to 3.5 marathons, 91 miles in 19 hours. The 24hr cut off allows for people to start their final lap sometime after 1pm and finish past the 24 hours, at RD discretion. I’m aiming to keep plodding so even if someone uses 25 or more hours I should still be ahead. At various points runners out for their usual Sunday session whip past me looking clean, fresh and vibrant. I hate them all. Especially Ben, Nev and Maff!

img_2938The end of lap 15 means 98 miles and more importantly a sit down in a chair to be greeted by Cloe and the kids who have arrived with Father’s Day breakfast (remember what I said at the start about the important ingredients?). Tucking in, surrounded by family and friends it feels starkly different to the solitude of the night. Neil has popped in with the boys and some Lucozade too. There’s also a load of dogs which is always good. I believe the collective noun is a “fuck-tonne of dogs”.

After feeding what I can’t manage to my own dog (not slyly and not under the table) I contemplate distance. With my Garmin issues I need assistance from the assembled runners but they conclude I’m on 98.25 and with such a lead I could stop as nobody could close that gap in the three hours remaining without a bike. It’s a dilemma. I wanted 100 miles and I fancied a win. I’ve done 50% of the job. The dog has recovered from her various runs and is now passing beyond ready for a run into her bloody annoying yappy stage again so off we go for one last lap, stopping to say hello to other dogs and paddle in the stream.

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Later I shuffle into the checkpoint for my final time, 104.8 miles, 4 marathons in 22h40m. I’ve got time to nip home, shower and return for the awards.

My mates have won the team award so it’s a double victory for idiots that get up every Wednesday at 5am to run up a hill in the dark. It almost makes it seem worth it. Almost.

 

 

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First Duathlon- MK City Epic

Somewhat of a belated post, because it’s hard to admit. It’s not easy to confess to cheating. Last year I cheated in a big way. I went behind running’s back and (shudder) cycled the Ride 100. The bike is still in pieces in the garage from where I took the wheels off to fit in the car. I feel leaving it dismembered in some way atones for my sins. I’d tasted the forbidden fruit and went back to the honesty of running.

img_2389Fast forward to Easter and our plans to go away never happened so we had a long weekend at home instead. But everyone was racing. All the local races were full. It was nicest weekend of the year. I needed a run. They were all booked or a long way away. But I could get a place in the Milton Keynes City Duathlon. So it would be a running race (well sort of two) with a bit of cheating in between. It was billed as a good beginners event, like a gateway drug to harder stuff.

I signed up and then went to the garage. It was an off-road Duathlon using some of the same course as the recent cyclo-cross world champs. So my road bike stayed in pieces. For the event you could use a cyclo-cross bike (not sure what one is, pretty sure I don’t have one) or a mountain bike. I had one of those. In fact I’ve had it a while. My Raleigh Activator was a birthday present when I was 16. Having turned 40 that gives an idea of the age. It weighed a tonne, still had panniers attached from its stint as transport at University and hadn’t seen the road in a good decade. Ideal then.

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Preparation consisted of stripping off the panniers and some old mounts for long forgotten lights and pumping tyres up. I rode it to the end of the drive and it worked. With standard pedals and old fashioned straps I wouldn’t need silly clipping cloppy shoes so could save some time in transition and run better on the inevitable sections I had to climb off.

img_2377The day arrived and I cycled to the start at Willen, bringing the total decade mileage of the bike to about 1.3. After bumping into loads of cheats, I mean cyclists, that I know from running I had to go and ‘rack my bike’ like some sort of duathlete. The invigilator inspected my bike and confirmed that yes, despite his initial impressions it was indeed a bike, mostly by default since it didn’t fall into any other categories. Being aimed at beginners he was very relaxed and friendly.

Then we assembled in the start pen and set off. I was actually about to do a Duathlon!

 

img_2378First leg was 10k and was two laps of Willen Lake, my home turf. Some set off way too fast and others paced well. I gradually reeled some in but was passed by mate Jason. The Duathlon had three distance options, plus standalone 5 and 10k events so it was tricky to pace against other runners never knowing if they were about to stop after lap 1 and get on the bike, or just stop and go home having finished entirely.

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After a respectable 10k I ran into the bike area, aware of the ‘helmet on before touching bike’ rule and necked a drink. It was frigging boiling out. After pushing the bike to the start of the cycle section I set off and made a poor fist of the first lap, slower than almost everyone and pushing it a lot due to lack of bike fitness and no real cycle skills. A combination of confusion between myself and marshal meant I needlessly dismounted the bike at end of lap one and pushed it to start of lap 2, then set off again.

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Somewhere on lap 2 the bike started to object to this punishment of being whipped around a hilly course after a 10 year slumber and emitted a honking noise that got progressively worse on the third lap but I did pass some others which made a change. It held together for the event and I racked it again, ditched helmet and went for a run. Or at least tried. My first stint of running off the back of a bike (or BRICK as they choose to call it) was an experience. Although only 5k it took most of that to loosen up and my awful bike performance meant I was on my own and couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind.

Eventually I crossed the line a hot sweaty mess with legs like concrete. Feeling oddly relieved to have finished and have done so on a bike worth scrap metal value at best.

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First Duathlon done. The inevitable question is could I learn to swim properly and do a triathlon? Given I had one swimming lesson and it went so badly I cramped up and almost drowned, I’m thinking no.

The event was great and I’d recommend it. Challenging course for the bike but good fun!

 

Vallalta Trail Race – 24k Spanish stupidity

Spanish races are mostly stupid, scenic, cheap and odd lengths.

The Vallalta Trail Race is very typical of the form – 24k (about 14.5 miles), 3500ft of climb and cost about €14 with tech top and goody bag.

After a quick blast along the toll roads from the hotel (spent more in tolls than race entry) I parked up in a sports centre in a tiny town at the foothills of some big hills.

Being a Spanish Race, in Spain, the website of which was only in Spanish I was expecting to have some language issues and wasn’t disappointed. I managed to collect my bib, goody bag, and the nice lady mimed enthusiastically how to wear the timing chip on your wrist and not to lose it. One day I will be less lazy and learn more than tapas ordering levels of Spanish.

One of the stalls was offering shoe resoling, where they cut off you old dead sole, and fit a new one from a selection of treads from road to seriously lugged trail style. I’ve heard of this practice in Europe but never seen it before. The guy was the only person in the hall that spoke English and explained its very popular and costs about €40. When I think of how many pairs I’ve retired because my fat heel-striking arse has worn the heels out this is something I could really do with, plus minimising the environmental impact of running as shoes are almost impossible to recycle.

Mr New Tread also explained the race competition entry for some great prizes and I signed up, wondering what the postage and packaging on a new car would be.

After that we wandered to the start and listened dutifully to the safety briefing. It was very long. I understood not a word. Not once was albondigas, patatas bravas or gambas al ajillo mentioned sadly. What was easier to translate was the universal jostling of local runners as they pushed their mates to the back of the pen for laughs.

The race starts in the town then climbs for many miles on wide dirt tracks.

At two miles we were greeted by the traditional Spanish music of…. bagpipes for a reason I can’t fathom.

Towards the end of the first climb is an individually timed 1km section as a separate mini competition within the race for a prize. There was no way I would win against the Spanish but made sure to beat the two locals who started next to me to ensure I wouldn’t be last on the leaderboard.

The route was mostly pine trees and ferns, reminiscent of the New Forest. If you lifted up Dorset and shoved a great big hill under it you’d achieve the same conditions.

After some more climbs and a few aid stations (mostly sports drink, coke, water, watermelon and sweets) there was another timed 1km, this time downhill. I’m not great at technical stuff and had road shoes due to lack of luggage space (I’ll happily wear road shoes in the airport but Hoka shoes should not be seen in public for fear of scaring kids) so again wasn’t going to win but had considerable gravity advantage against the featherlight locals so bombed down. If you’ve run the gully section after the trig point on the South Downs Way races you’ll find it oddly familiar. The difference is most of us aren’t doing it at 6 minute mile pace with a sweaty Spaniard bearing down on you. The threat of collision and complete inability to slow down made it hilariously risky like the speeder bike scene in Star Wars but no Ewoks.

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After the timed section the descents got more technical. One had a Spaniard issuing detailed warnings as we burst out from the undergrowth before disappearing down the hill. Feck knows what he was saying, I expect it was “don’t die on this bit you fat English fella, it’ll be a bastard to recover your body”.

Another section simply had a HUGE Warning Triangle. Luckily these are universal and I looked down the slope wondering how anyone could get down that. As a safety measure I waited and let two locals go ahead to their demise. Fortunately they used a rope I’d completely failed to see and descended backwards in an abseiling fashion. You don’t get stuff like at parkrun.

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Coming off the trail into a village I hoped we’d finished in the woods. The runner in front was having quad issues and punched himself in the leg with each step like Donkey Kong.

More trail followed including a climb under some power lines reminiscent of the photos from Barkley Marathons. I was struggling for grip, using trees and roots to pull myself up. Some of the following downs were off-camber with loose sandy dirt and I mostly ricocheted from one tree to another. Fortunately I’d taken a soft bottle for drinks so could wedge it in my shorts and use both hands to catch trees as they flew past me whilst I progressed with the grace of a sofa tipped off a cliff.

One final section I found two bikers on scramblers looking down it and shaking their heads. When someone wearing a helmet and body armour considers the route a bit sketchy it’s time to worry. I elected to shove both feet into the loose gravel, keep my weight in the middle and slide down like a snowboarder. I didn’t die which is a plus point for this approach.

Finally I was out on the road again and through the town, past the bagpipe players again and into the hall to finish. 14.5 miles in 2h40 with mile spilts from 6 to 15 minutes.

I couldn’t face the post race sausage in a bun, nor the litre of chicken soup in the goody bag. The Haribo dipped in BBQ also failed to appeal so headed back to the pool.

London Marathon – Record Ballot Numbers – What are your odds?

This week London Marathon announced they’ve again beaten the records as a stonking 457,861 applicants registered for a ballot place in the 2020 event, the 40th edition of the race. This is up 10% from the previous year, already an impressive figure.

How’s it work?

The ballot system up to 2016 closed after 125,000 applicants.  This meant if you were keen you’d set your alarm for an ungodly hour of the morning to get up and get in.  It also opened typically a week after the event so those whose enthusiasm from watching it on the telly was short lived would typically have moved onto another interest before the entry opened. A benefit to ‘serious’ runners but also decreasing the chances of a non-runner accidentally getting a life changing experience.

For the ballot for 2016 race onward it’s been open for five days, and was increased to six days for 2020 entry where for the first time it was open during the marathon itself so anyone inspired and watching from the safety of their sofa could enter immediately before the elite runners had even finished the course.  The changes give everyone a chance to apply but also means a far higher number fighting for the same number of places.  For the 2016 marathon 247,069 applied, for 2017 it was 253,930, and for 2020 is now 457,861.

What’s the odds?

The organisers are a little cagey on how many ballot spots are available but general consensus is around 17,000.  This sounds a lot but equates to less than 4% chance of getting lucky under the new system, or 13% under the old.

2910573_large-lndCoincidentally prior to the 2018 Fifa World Cup, sports data company Gracenote gave England a 4% chance of lifting the trophy in Moscow and remember how excited we all got about that?

It’s still better odds than the lottery and you don’t have to pay until you get lucky so also cheaper.

Year 2015 2018 2019 2020
Ballot places 17,000 17,000 17,000 17,000
Entries available 125,000 386,050 414,168 457,861
Probability of success 13.60% 4.40% 4.10% 3.71%

“It’s not fair! I wanna cry!”

by26g-ncuaeez_jEvery year when the figures are announced people complain, and every October or November when the ballot results are announced yet more complain. The numbers running creep slowly up every year, but the reality is London Marathon have an impossible task trying to stage a manageable and safe race and keep all applicants happy.

They recently changed the Good For Age times to streamline numbers and bring some parity with the rest of the majors. They adjusted the number of places offered to running clubs to increase ballot spots. Each year they’ve offered slightly more places than previous. Even with these steps they’d need to hold an event with nearly half a million runners to satisfy the demand. Given 40,000 runners close down London for 8 hours, that increase would be some undertaking and they might struggle for volunteers willing to undertake a 80 hour shift.

Breakdown

The makeup of the entry field is also something VMLM seldom list in detail but appears to be around 15,000 charity, 6000 Good For Age (those runners fast enough in the age and sex category to gain a spot), 1000 Championship (even faster than Good For Age), 1000 for affiliated running clubs, 100 Elite and 100 Celebrity spots.   It’s unclear how many places are available for the overseas ballot, and how many defer from previous years but you can assume deferrals are relatively consistent year on year.

What’s surprising is quite how many do drop out.  The press pack helpfully lists starters and finishers for every year it’s been held.  For the years 2006-2019 they’ve accepted between 48,0000 and 56,000 runners but never had more than 42,000 make the start line.  The average dropout rate is 25% before the race has even begun.  If you’re one of the many runners having been unsuccessful on the ballot for multiple years it could be quite disappointing to know that a quarter of those that get a spot never even make it to pick up their race pack from the exhibition hall whilst you’d have gladly sold a close family member or at least a distant aunt to run the marathon.In total all these add up to 50,000 places, far more than ever make the start line and VMLM themselves advise “We accept a total of more than 50,000 runners as we can predict, after 36 years, almost exactly what proportion of entrants will drop out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day.”

In the unlikely event all 50,000-56,000 ever turned up there would be a lot of issues with crowd control and course congestion, not to mention at the finish as VMLM advise on their press pack they only have around 45,000 goody bags and medals – a lot of disappointed runners.

Year Total Ballot Applicants Accepted Runners Starters % Drop Out Total Finishers % Drop Out
1981               20,000               7,747        7,055 9%           6,255 11.3%
1982               90,000            18,059      16,350 9%         15,116 7.5%
1983               60,000            19,735      16,500 16%         15,793 4.3%
1984               70,000            21,142      16,992 20%         15,675 7.8%
1985               83,000            22,274      17,500 21%         15,873 9.3%
1986               80,000            25,566      19,261 25%         18,067 6.2%
1987               80,000            28,364      21,485 24%         19,586 8.8%
1988               73,000            29,979      22,469 25%         20,932 6.8%
1989               72,000            31,772      24,452 23%         22,701 7.2%
1990               73,000            34,882      26,500 24%         25,013 5.6%
1991               79,000            33,485      24,500 27%         23,435 4.3%
1992               83,000            34,250      24,500 28%         23,833 2.7%
1993               68,000            35,820      25,000 30%         24,495 2.0%
1994               72,000            37,379      26,000 30%         25,242 2.9%
1995               79,000            39,097      27,000 31%         25,377 6.0%
1996               68,000            39,173      27,134 31%         26,806 1.2%
1997               78,000            39,813      29,500 26%         29,189 1.1%
1998               69,000            42,228      30,663 27%        29,972 2.3%
1999               87,000            43,774      31,582 28%         30,849 2.3%
2000               93,000            42,596      32,620 23%         31,698 2.8%
2001               92,000            43,517      31,156 28%         30,318 2.7%
2002               99,000            46,083      33,297 28%          2,950 1.0%
2003             111,000            45,629      32,746 28%         32,324 1.3%
2004             108,000            45,219      32,746 28%         32,012 2.2%
2005             132,000            47,969      35,600 26%         35,300 0.8%
2006             119,000            47,020      33,578 29%         33,250 1.0%
2007             128,000            50,039      36,396 27%         35,729 1.8%
2008             120,000            48,630      35,037 28%         34,637 1.1%
2009             155,000            49,995      35,884 28%         35,404 1.3%
2010             163,000            51,378      39,956 22%         36,666 8.2%
2011             163,926            50,532      35,303 30%         34,872 1.2%
2012             170,150            50,200      37,227 26%         36,812 1.1%
2013

167,449

           48,323      34,631 28%         34,381 0.7%
2014             169,682            49,872      36,337 27%         35,977 1.0%
2015             172,888            51,696      38,020 26%         37,793 0.6%
2016             247,069            53,152      39,523 26%         39,184 0.9%
2017             253,930            53,229      40,048 25%         39,472 1.4%
2018             386,050            54,685      41,003 25%         40,273 1.8%
2019             414,168            56,398  TBC TBC        42,619 TBC
2020             457,861  TBC  TBC TBC  TBC TBC

Of course if you don’t get in for a number of years and don’t donate the entry fee, then after 6-7 years of rejection you’re some of the way to ‘buying’ a spot from a charity and raising money for a cause that means something to you.

Confidence & Mind Games – MK Marathon Weekend

They say a lot of running is done with the head, so it’s a good job mine is massive. This weekend was a reminder of the importance your head and the little voices play in performance.

Sunday

Sunday saw me at the MK Rocket, a quick 5k point to point run as part of the marathon weekend. It’s touted as a PB course as other than a few inclines is net downhill. It’s my PB course but I think as much for the straight run with only a single gentle right hander. I have the turning circle of a super tanker so a straight course is ideal for me.

Having not raced anything short since October, and due to ultra training being at 1300 miles for the year I was doubtful of a good time. I’ve gone sub20 in previous years so had that as an aspirational A-target. To get my head in the right mood I put on my Adidas Adizero lightweight racing shoes that had sat unworn for over a year, with no place in the wardrobe of an ultra runner. There’s a definite element of imposter syndrome strapping on light shoes when I’m still tipping the scales around 84kg. I skipped breakfast and had a slug of coffee before leaving as I run better on shorter stuff if not full of food.

After the countdown I set off surrounded by clubmates, many from the 6m40s paced session by Redway Runners. Surprisingly I felt good, the pace felt quick but I made a conscious decision not to check the pace on my watch and have the confidence to run to feel. Positive thoughts.

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Gradually moving up the pack I fell in beside clubmate Chris and we pounded out a good pace. Confidence was growing. I had this. I had my fast shoes on and seemingly borrowed someone else’s fast legs.

Then we hit the two mile marker. I resisted checking my watch. Chris didn’t “doing well, that’s a 5m55s mile”. Bugger. My best track mile has been 5m54s, so what the hell was I doing hitting that for mid-point in a 5k? As Chris cruised on my brain succumbed to the inner doubts and I slowed. Then my brain decided I couldn’t feel my left leg at all. It was now manufacturing ailments to force me to slow. Bugger. When your mind starts to remind you how much nicer a gentle jog is it’s not easy to disagree despite it being the exact point you need to push and double down.

After some internal struggle I managed to regain my composure and get back on it, realising that with only a mile left I was still on for a good time. Having dragged my sorry bum over the line on multiple ultras it felt churlish to be considering backing off with a mere mile left.

img_2524The crowds built a bit and shouty Gary was bellowing at me as I crossed the line feeling like I had more to give. Official time was 18m42s, my first ever sub19 which was a welcome surprise and I wondered without the mental melt at mile 2 how much faster I could have managed. The other highpoint was a marshal handing me back my car keys that had dropped out my pocked on route without me even realising.

Monday

img_2554Monday morning and I’m back at the stadium for the marathon. This time I’m official pacer for 3h45 and the nerves are not for me but for those that are about to run with me. I’ve already lost one balloon and had to be given a replacement so my care-giving abilities are a little suspect already.

In the start pen and it’s a far cry from the previous day. I have few doubts I can manage the time. The confidence could be viewed as arrogance but it’s based on over 100 marathons. Nothing is given but it would take some pretty unforeseen events to stop me especially after yesterday, and with perfect weather conditions.

I’ve had my traditional pre-marathon McDonalds breakfast (this may explain the 84kg), strapped on my tried and tested Adidas Supernova (not sponsored by Adidas but find them perfect for my odd feet and dodgy running style). The rest of my kit is proven and I’ve got a baby food fruit pouch in my shorts for halfway having found them easier on stomach than gels. My Garmin has signal, I’ve got the mile splits printed out on my wrist so I can check pace to the mile markers rather than rely on GPS distance which is often a little patchy on some points on the course.

Around me people aren’t as confident. If you’re running with a pacer it’s because you have some doubt you can make the time on your own. You can feel the doubts and nerves. As much as you re-assure people the hard work is done, they can’t help thinking of this as a test, the outcome of which will decide in their minds if the months of hard work and training were worthwhile.

img_2538We set off in wave 2 and although the wide roads help spread the runners it’s still a little congested and I balance nipping through gaps to keep pace against losing those around me. After the lap of the city centre we’re approx. 8 secs up on pace due to some downhills and break off onto the redways. Although thinned out we’re in a large clump and I need to warn people about kerbs or bollards. No one wants to miss a PB due to a bollard in the bollocks, or in the words of my clubmate Emma, a ‘nasty minjury’.

Halfway comes and we pass over the mats around 30 secs up on pace, more than I’d like but given the second half has a couple of inclines it’s handy to have some seconds banked. The group around has thinned a little as people have either felt good and gone ahead or sadly dropped off the back. What’s left is a determined bunch who look strong but most are aware now is too early to count their blessings.

The miles tick past and on a couple of occasions the size of the group is such that I can’t make it to the side to get water at aid stations but it’s cool enough not to be an issue and one runner passes me theirs to share (cheers if you read this Vanessa).

Gradually I notice some of the faces go, and when I check over my shoulder the pack is smaller. My group is thinning and I’m constantly checking pace to ensure I’m not speeding up. Each mile marker I’m within a few seconds, so sadly it’s the fatigue kicking in. Mile 18-20 is always where I struggle when going for PBs. You’ve covered so many miles but with a significant distance left, able to remember when 6 miles would be an achievement, not something you’d undertake at pace after a 20 mile warmup. The confidence needed to keep plugging away when your legs ache is not always easy to come by.

img_2535We run through Loughton and the teardrop lakes, bearing down on the mile 23 marker. My group is thinning again and it feels like I’m spending more time looking at my watch than the route. I have a lovely selection of race photos of head bent down checking watch and pace band.

Milton Keynes is predominantly flat but the course does have a couple of inclines and the one here is fairly significant as a little switchback up to the road level. I back off, using up the few seconds of grace but start to lose a few more runners, consoling myself with those that I pick up ahead and spur on. We pass clubmate Brian who despite great training is cramping up and reduced to a shuffle on this, his first marathon. Then comes Warren, back from injury and running well.

The final slope up the side of the college comes and I lose more runners. I resolve to keep on pace, a target they can follow and control their fade. I’ve spent countless marathons languishing in purgatory, fixing on a runner in front and trying to exclude all else. Hopefully they will be able to do this too. I may have lost my runners but I’ve kept my balloon. Moments later a tree takes a fancy to it and it’s gone.

The last two miles of the course are net downhill and potentially fast. I keep to pace, hoping some will make the most of the hill assist and close the gap. If they started behind me they could well still be on for a sub 3h45 time, enough to gain a Good For Age for London for the women. A few do pass and it’s great to see them in full flow on the home stretch, the culmination of months of training.

Finally we reach the stadium and the slope down before the lap of the pitch is such a magic moment you can’t help but pick up the pace a little and I cross in 3h44m34s.

It’s an odd feeling finishing a marathon within yourself and trotting off to collect your medal rather than finishing in a heap on the floor. I spent years failing to break 3h45 now it seems comfortable. A few runners thank me for getting them home, then it’s off to the bar to enjoy a beer or three.

Tuesday

img_2548Back at Redway for the 6m40s paced session. I’ve not been on pace all year but making gradual improvements. Thanks to the Rocket boost I have the confidence to push and make it hurt and get a course PB for the same 4 mile loop I’ve run 47 times before. The next day I run a hilly 9 mile loop for the 150th time and get another PB. All from confidence to push. If I cold bottle confidence I’d be a rich man.

 

The reverse London marathon – nohtaram eht

img_2440It’s coming up to midnight on Saturday and I’m drinking beer on a train into London much like the few other passengers in the carriage. The only difference is I’m in running kit and off to run an alternative version of the London Marathon. Or at least I hope I am. This whole thing sounds like an elaborate prank.

The reverse London marathon, or nohtaram eht, has been going a number of years, organised by Rich Cranswick and covers the route backwards, so Buckingham Palace to Greenwich.

It’s a social run in the style of the America Fat Ass events – where groups of runners turn up on agreed times to run together on a set course or laps, free of any entry fees, race rules etc.

The nohtaram starts at the end of the marathon route, or as close as the public can get, namely 1 Birdcage Walk (The Institute of Mechanical Engineers) with waves going at 2am, 3am and 4am on the morning of the actual London Marathon, aiming to finish by 8am before the main event final set up and avoid getting in their way.

img_2468There’s no registration, no signup, no fee. Everyone runs under their own supervision as sensible adults just like when you run with your mates around the local streets. A marathon with no medal, no timing and no ill-fitting top? What is this lunacy!?

 So what’s the point?

People could run 26.2 miles on any night around any city but the London Marathon gives focus for the date, a reason for many runners to be in town, the course is marked out, the portaloos are in place and toward the end of the run (start of the marathon) the roads are closed to traffic so safe to run on.

Who runs it?

Some run it as warm-up for the main marathon either to bag miles for ultra training or help increase sponsorship. Others run it to get some miles in before spending the day volunteering or spectating the real thing. Others just run it because they can.

Kit & Food

There’s no aid stations, no compulsory kit list, nothing. You need to bring whatever food or drink you think you’ll need for the run, and for keeping safe and dry afterwards. Some of the shops on route are open but wouldn’t recommend relying on them. There’s a McDonalds just before Cutty Sark that opens at 6am for breakfast on route.

Even on a hot weekend it can get cold at night so I’d recommend double layers for the run and dry top for the end (ideally in a bag to keep dry), a raincoat, hat or buff and gloves. Street lighting in London is good so no real need for headtorches. If you’re planning on spending the day in London after then a battery pack for phone or charger is handy.

Route

As above it starts at Birdcage Walk and follows the route, except for a couple of section like the tunnel where you need to run alongside. It finishes at Greenwich, just before the official start line. Don’t try and run over the start line, looking dishevelled with a heavy rucksack or you might find security want a word – for this reason Rich advises you stop at the red start, by the Andrew Gibb Memorial.

img_2448Essentially runners follow the blue line on the road and the barriers already erected on the course. For the first half you’ll need to run on the pavement and cross roads at crossings. From the Docklands onwards it’s probably quiet enough you can run a lot in the road and follow the blue line better. The mile markers will all be erected to count back down the distance. The extra miles from the slight diversions and road crossings will make up for the short distance missed at either end. Drop me a line if you want the GPX to follow. I was directed by Julius who has run it before so it’s pretty accurate. 

Getting there

If you’re within London this is easy, if not you’re need to drive in and park (good luck) or get the train. From Milton Keynes the last train got me into Euston about 1am, leaving an hour to do a couple of tube stops and wander down. If you book train in advance it was as cheap as £5.

The McDonalds on the Strand, a short walk from start is open all night so is where many meet to get a final bite, use the toilet and grab a coffee. McDs has security on the door and it’s strange mix of drunk clubbers and lycra-clad weirdos. Whilst inside I bumped into Si and Whiffers from Transgrancaria earlier in the year. Whiffers was skating the route with a friend as preparation for the Berlin Skate Marathon.

Start

img_2444Coming up to the hour(s) people wander off in groups to assemble at the Birdcage Walk start, then set off. For 2019 a rival reverse marathon was arranged by Impact Marathons, also free, and setting off at Trafalgar Square. Imitation is sincerest form of flattery, and Impact Marathons raise a lot of money for charity from their other events, but still unsure what the actual point of their rival one is.

During

The run itself is fun, more reminiscent of an ultra as you fall in step with people, chat, and get lost together. Being unofficial you can bring dogs as well if you want, or skate it, or have a mate cycle behind for support and to carry bags. On more than a couple of occasions you bump into other groups coming the wrong way, especially around Docklands where the two mini loops could be run either way by accident. Since there’s no time pressure you can stop for photos, loo breaks, a can of lager from the off licence and all the other fun stuff that you can miss on PB attempts.

img_2455I ran with fellow Bad Boy Running fans Julius, Allie and Ben, and we stuck together throughout, mostly so I could make a fuss of Toby the dog. Allie was down to run the main event after so chastised us for going too quickly when we went through halfway around 2h20. We backed off for the second half, waited for McDonalds at Cutty Sark and finished in about 5h30. Much of the final course setting up and aid station preparation was underway and builds a sense of anticipation as you approach the ‘end’, count down the miles and pass other reverse runners, volunteers and main event runners nervously walking to the start. Finish too early and you’d miss a lot of this.

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 Finish

Take your photos near the finish line and then get on with your day. Some pop to Bills café near Cutty Sark for breakfast around 9am. I grabbed the overland from Blackheath back to central London and home for bed.

Interested?

Best place to check arrangements and make contact with other runners is the Facebook event. Search for nohtaram eht and you should find it. Pick the one organised by Rich Cranswick if multiple results come up. There’s some rumours on FB that they’re merging the Impact one in with this from next year so keep an eye out.

Go along, chat to people, mostly don’t be a dick and get the thing cancelled.

 

Run Like Duck at the Running Awards

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Still in disbelief but this week Run Like Duck won the Running Awards Best Book.

I was on a cruise boat on the Thames, surrounded by the big brands and significant people in the running world (PSH from parkrun was there), walking onto the stage to be handed a trophy the size of a brick by Mike Bushell, that bloke off the telly!

All this just after recounting my unlikely tale from sofa dweller to runner on the stage downstairs to a room of bloggers and writers. Those that have known me pre-running would struggle to pick which was more unlikely, me running marathons or me doing a stint of public speaking without soiling myself or jumping overboard.

The award is based purely on votes, so thanks to all of you who took the time to vote. Up against stiff opposition from the likes of world famous runner Scott Jurek and best selling author Adharanand Finn it was a honour to even make the shortlist.

img_2412Special thanks to my wife Cloë for supporting me throughout and being there to settle my nerves and share the experience. I promised her a romantic dinner cruise on the Thames and she tolerated the slight mis-advertising without setting Trading Standards on me.

 The day itself was great and started with an afternoon organised run tour, sponsored by Runderwear and organised by Secret London Runs. I’ve done a few unusual walking tours in places whilst on holiday and find them the best way to see the real city.

Although I visit London a lot with work it’s typically tube station to generic office block so was eye opening to actually see the img_2413-1unusual sites and hear the history of the ‘Sinful South’ of the river Thames. The run leader was very knowledgeable and we covered a good area over the run before regrouping (we’d been split broadly into three groups based on approximate pace). As with any meet up it’s initially odd to meet twitter and facebook acquaintances in real life and not refer to people by handles. The legendary David Hellard from Bad Boy Running was there as was Allie Bailey from AB runs. Also met Mike Bushell who is a really top bloke and quite happy to get changed in the back of a van without throwing a diva fit.

Being sponsored by Runderwear we’d all received a sample of their undies for the run. Personally I find a lot of technical sportswear over hyped and unnecessary but having suffered far too often from intimate chaffing it’s a literal sore point for me. At my first 100 miler my shorts had rubbed so violently I was worried I’d be left appendage free and smooth like an action man figure. Being mentally and physically attached to certain parts of my anatomy I was keen to try the Runderwear. With a 32” waist I was between small and medium and plumped for small. They looked tiny out the packet but fitted snug once on and were so comfy.

img_2373I don’t like wasting money and wouldn’t encourage others to waste theirs so would happily call them bloody awful if that was the case (there’s an entire blog post on here dedicated to a particularly awful shoe brand that I wouldn’t wear again even if paid to promote) but I can honestly say they’re the comfiest pair of undies I’ve ever worn, for running or otherwise. They’re made on a 360 degree seamless machine and the difference is apparent as they uniformly contour with no seams to rub. I’m genuinely a convert and the fact the staff that attended the run were friendly runners also helps as you know they practice what they preach.

img_2410After a quick pop to collect the wife from work and beg a shower (plus a beer) we assembled back on Tower Bridge to meet the Dixie Queen boat that was the venue for the evening. It’s a big boat and needs Tower Bridge to raise to allow it to pass. It’s a great sight to see the bridge rise from a distance as you wait on the pier and then again as you pass back under it on the boat.

Once on board we were split into the corporate awards dinner upstairs and the bloggers forum downstairs. The goody bags were well received and I love free samples as I’m basically a tight wad and like to try before I buy. I was also hungry having forgotten to eat lunch so got into the product testing early.img_2433

  • Prime Protein Snack – either apricot and sage or beef and chilli. I demolished the beef one, very tasty, perhaps a little spicy for some but often on an ultra you need something sharp to cut through the sweetness of coke and energy drinks. I’ve heard a few people eat mustard sachets for this reason but yet to try this as I’m not a bloody idiot.
  • Veloforte Classico – citrus fruits, almonds and honey. A calorie dense (300) bar that tastes like something you’d choose to eat, with a soft texture, and inhaled in seconds in my case.
  • Hala Bar – yet to taste, will be used on next run
  • Kate Percy’s Go Bites – yet to taste, will be used on next run
  • Active Root Green Tea & Ginger powder – designed to calm your stomach on a long run and fuel the miles. Single serving size will be with me on next ultra.
  • Caffeine Bullets – already use these and found the caffeine hit of a chewy sweet ideal. Tend to make a couple of orders a year on these so recommended from experience. At the risk of giving Hellard a big head these are great.
  • A cool hat from Mud & Blood – It looked so good my son stole it and I’ll never see it again.

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The evening was hosted by Claire Maxted from Wild Ginger Runs, who started with a recounting of ultra adventures including photos to get the foot fetish people going. Then Susannah Gill covered her world record 7 marathons in 7 continents, before Eric Keeler explained his coast to coast crossing of the USA, covering 3,646 miles, a lot from someone who confesses to not really liking running.

img_2434The bar had been set high and after a promotion from Enertor on their innersoles (I have a pair and will be testing soon) it was left to me to bring the level back down with the tale of fat bloke who ran a lot of marathons trying to be a bit less fat.

I kept mostly on script but wandered off at times. When you realise members of the rival Milton Keynes running club are in the audience it’s too tempting not to have a dig (I also joined that club eventually so was in jest). The response to the talk seemed positive and even the legendary Danny Bent congratulated me at the bar, I was starstruck and forgot to get a selfie. Bloody amateur.

Talk done I could get back to the beer and relax whilst Runderwear closed the night with a sales talk on history of the company and product then dig into the buffet.

img_2498Full of food we went upstairs for the awards and sat with Girl Running Late, who was eagerly awaiting the result of the blog awards. After the various sportswear awards it was time for best book and for me to walk up on stage and collect the heaviest award I’ve ever seen. I might bench press it at the gym. Celebrating with some liberated wine back at the table, Mike ran through the rest of the awards on the stage. Sadly GRL didn’t win but it was a very closely fought category.

We finished the night off with Clean Coach Katie and James Down before disembarking at Tower Pier back for Milton Keynes, buckling under the weight of the award and two bottles of PB ale. Fair to say it was a top evening as well as a reminder of how much running has changed me, not just physically but also a slow transition from shit-scared introvert to someone who can at least fake being an extrovert and talk on stage after sufficient beer.

NOTE – I’m aware how blogging about attending a blogging event is pretty much inception level. If someone could blog about reading this blog about a blogging event we could go even deeper….

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