Fixing a NordicTrack GX2 Sport Spin Bike

Latest gym project was an offer on Facebook Marketplace for a scrap exercise bike. Advertised as free, and likely only use as scrap metal. So I went for it as a fun project with the boy.

When I picked it up the previous owner advised it had been well used but eventually the chain broke. He replaced it but never got it to run right and it sat in pieces awaiting inspiration, was eventually replaced with a new one and then offered up for scrap with some bolts lost along the way.

It’s a decent bike, a NordicTrack GX2 Sport Bike. Weighs about 50kg, takes riders up to 120kg and is chain rather than cheaper belt so almost gym quality.

We got it home and with some bolts from the pile of junk in garage we got it assembled. Only missing item was pedals so stuck on some from the spares pile.

Then to find the issue. The boy correctly diagnosed the chain seemed to be sticking on the sprocket and pinging off with every link. A rough comparison with a spare scrap bike chain showed it seemed to be too narrow.

We split the chain and it was a job to pull it off the sprocket. Even with copious grease put on previously it was being pulled on so tight it didn’t want to come off.

We counted the links and chain needed to be about 105 links. Popped to Decathlon and for £9 got a 110 link one. Checked in store and it was the same width as the scrap chain.

Narrow original chain at top, new standard at bottom
£9 Decathlon fix

New chain test fitted at end of video and comes on and off the sprocket easily.

It was a little long at 110 links so needed shortening by 3 links.

Little long as standard
Shortened and tensioned

Once shortened we tensioned the chain using the adjustment on the flywheel. It’s a little trial and error but should have a small amount of vertical play in the middle.

Reassembled and tested and worked well. Time for a clean up and final check. Saved a £400 spin bike from the scrap for £9. Good days work.

Runs a treat

Advice for travelling to Spain Summer 2021

Foreign travel is a slightly more confusing undertaking in these days. The combined effects of Covid and Brexit make it a lot less simple.

Hopefully some of the below is useful if you’re planning to head to the sun this summer.

This was all valid for a trip taken from U.K. to Gran Canaria (Spanish island) leaving July 2021 and returning August 2021. Check the latest requirements as they’re prone to changing both our end and theirs.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england

Insurance

Most airlines will want confirmation that your travel insurance covers Covid claims. Most policies now do, but worth checking. Some countries seem happy to foot the bill for hotel stay if you contract Covid over there and need to isolate, others will expect you to pay and it can be £1000s. If hospital fees are needed on top this could all add up.

Before you go – if vaccinated:

If double vaccinated adults you need a copy of your Covid Pass Letter from NHS, worth doing this early as for some people the system struggles to find you. This document avoids need for a test before your flight out. A photo of your vaccine card does not count. The certificate/letter can be requested via post or a PDF.  Link is https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-pass/get-your-covid-pass-letter/

Before you go – if not vaccinated of a child:

If kids are 12 and over, or adult unvaccinated or not double vaccinated sufficiently long ago to be deemed to be effective you need a negative Covid test before flight – or fit-to-fly.

The normal NHS Covid drop in test you’d have if you thought you’d been exposed is not valid, it needs to be from a laboratory with a test certificate issued. The test needs to be done before but close to the time of flight – this varies from 48 to 72 hours before the time of your arrival in the destination country (again check). This can make it tight on time as there aren’t many in person test laboratories in U.K. so you need to allow for tests to be posted or couriered to labs and them to issue the certificate. There were a few horror stories before we left about tests lost in post and people unable to fly so we went to an in person test facility run by Project Screen (https://www.projectscreen.co.uk/ ) at Regus Offices in Milton Keynes for £99 with the samples taken direct to the lab at the end of the day and results back by 5pm the following day. We only needed one done for our daughter.

Before you go – 2 Day tests booked for everyone:

You all need to have ordered your day 2 tests for the return and potentially day 7 depending on where you’re travelling. The day you return to UK is day 0 so for a Monday landing it’s a Wednesday day 2 test. For Gran Canaria it was day 2 only and again the NHS tests are not sufficient so you need to order separately. We went for Randox that posted them to us. List price is £43 each but Ryanair had a link from their system that saved a few pounds.

They are do at home tests that you post back for a result. Your receipt should show individual reference numbers per test kit that you will need for the U.K. passenger locator form upon return. You don’t need the tests with you on holiday, just access to these reference numbers for the form.

Check In & Spanish Entry Requirements –

For our Ryanair flights we needed to upload PDFs for each passenger.

This was either the NHS Covid Pass Letter or a negative Covid test for anyone 12 or over, and a Spanish health control form (FCS) for entry. https://www.spth.gob.es/

These FCS are generated online much like an ESTA to enter America except simpler, quicker and free. Essentially confirm details, where you’re staying and how long for, and then confirm if you are fully vaccinated or have a negative test. You can do individual or group/family application. The Spanish system doesn’t require you to upload the proof of vaccine or test just have them available. Once all finish you’ll get a PDF per passenger with a QR code to upload to the Ryanair system and you should be able to complete check in and print boarding passes. NOTE – The FCS system won’t let you complete all the final details until 48hrs before flight but you can set it up and be ready to add the final items.

You’re all set to go. You’ll note the only organisation that has copies of your vaccine proof or Covid test is your airline. We presume the Spanish authority trusts Ryanair to check these.

Arriving at airport to leave –

Have copies of your boarding cards for out and return fights.

NOTE – now we’ve left the EU you should in theory have printed boarding cards, not on your phone. Ryanair seemed OK but it’s worth taking paper copies just in case. It’s one of the many Brexit bonuses. Like a deminished economy.

Have copies of your Covid Pass Letter or negative Covid tests (ones on your phone should suffice).

Have copies of your ordered day 2 test for the return isolation period in the U.K. They have a unique reference per test (ones on your phone should suffice).

Have copies of your Spanish FCS form with the QR code (ones on your phone should suffice).

Passports – NOTE – another Brexit bonus is needing 6 months validity from date of return flight, not 3 months as before.

Leaving the U.K. should be much as before. Check in, board plane, wonder why the inflight food tastes like cardboard.

Arrival in Gran Canaria –

You need to go through passport control. This will be a little slower than before as now they do a few more checks and also a post Brexit stamp on your passport. If you’re lucky enough to have an Irish passport then waltz through the quick queue and enjoy unfettered travel to live and work in all EU countries. Maybe strike up a tariff free trade deal.

After passport control there will be another queue where they scan your Spanish FCS code. Either paper or electronic versions were accepted. If all scanned OK then congratulations you made it on holiday. Your hotel will also likely want to see your Spanish FCS and negative Covid test/Covid Pass Letter. It seems a little random who they check.

Worth remembering some mobile networks are already applying roaming charges in EU and eventually most will so logging on to to your email to download any of these forms could cost you. Hey another Brexit bonus!

For the journey home –

For most countries you need a clear Covid antigen test to return, dated 48-72hrs before your landing back in U.K. depending on where from. This is for all passengers even if vaccinated.

In Gran Canaria we booked tests for Saturday afternoon for a Monday morning flight (everywhere seemed closed Sunday). Originally we booked at the local hospital https://hospiten.com/en/hospitals-and-centers/hospiten-estepona for €35 each but found a doctor operating out of a pharmacy (Farmacia Juan Francisco Araña Galván) that did test certs emailed through to you in an hour for €25. Both options much cheaper than U.K.

Prior to flying back you need to complete a UK Passenger Locator Form online. https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk

It’s a relatively easy form but worth setting some time to do it, not try doing it in the queue. The form basically has your details, where you’ve been, dates of travel and where you will be isolating at home along with contact details. The form is set up to cover all eventualities including people needing to undertaken the full 7 day quarantine at home or those coming back from countries where it isn’t required.

To complete the forms online you need passport number, flight number, seat number, and your Covid day 2 test references. You can add kids to your locator form so only need one per adult.

At the airport –

Unlike the flight out you’ve probably been unable to upload all paperwork to your booking so it needs to be checked.

In the queue for check in Ryanair had staff going up and down the line who want to see boarding cards, Covid Pass Letter for adults if you have them, your negative Covid tests from Spain, and your U.K. passenger locator forms. If you have all these you got a piece of paper to show they’ve been checked and don’t need to be checked again. Hang onto it and present at the gate at departure.

Only the boarding cards should in theory be physical items but Ryanair seemed fine with electronic again.

Then fly back as usual except with an exit stamp on your passport thanks to Brexit. I quite like a stamped passport so it’s the first tangible benefit. Definitely a fair price to pay for inability to retire to Spain.

Arriving back in UK –

Only real difference at passport control was them wanting to see copies of the negative Covid tests we had in Spain, electronic copies were fine. We presume the UK Passenger Locator Form took care of everything else.

Other random notes –

Many countries such as Spain are still mandatory face masks. Much like when we went to Italy in August 2020, they really stick to the rule. In both instances seeing anyone in a shop, supermarket etc without one is as rare as a Unicorn. Even people outside going for a stroll on the beach often wear them. Sometimes in the UK during mandatory masks it seemed like every third person in Tesco had an exemption. There is almost none of that here so if you do have an exemption make sure you bring proof. Based on one airline passenger we were in the queue with you will still need to wear one in the airport and plane even with your lanyard. Probably worth talking to your airline specifically on this if an issue.

Niptt Gear – Anti Bleeding Nipples Review!

Bleeding Nipples. The bane of many runners. Something I’d like to get off my chest.

Some suffer only very occasionally, some never. Some most runs.

After 10 years of running (weird to think that there are people that never met the pre-running me when my blood type was ketchup and I couldn’t run a bath) I’ve suffered regularly.

Combinations of excessive rain, excessive sweat, dodgy running form and certain tops are guaranteed to set me off.

Smiling on the outside, I’m dreading the shower later.

Things I’ve tried –

  • Every lubricant I could find – Vaseline, Squirrels Nut Butter, Bodyglide, etc
  • Normal plasters, both fabric and waterproof
  • Proprietary specialist nipple brands like Nipeaze
  • Kinesiology Tape / Physiotherapy Tape
  • Specialist swimmers K-tape designed to work underwater
  • Specialist weight lifters K-tape
  • Actual duct/duck tape
  • Zinc oxide tape

All of them eventually fail. With or without shaving it’s never full proof. I’ve had most luck with a small square of zinc oxide tape that if I get it just right and get a decent brand will last a whole marathon most of the time but never guaranteed.

This top will never be the same again.

It was becoming a running gag that my nipple issues were prominent in most race photos, with two bloody wounds down my front. For much of the early Summer this year I’ve finished runs topless with my lack of upper body toning or tan evident for all to see. Sales of eye-bleach have gone up locally. The police were worried my pasty chest might dazzle drivers and cause accidents.

I’ve genuinely Googled medical removal of them, like you would a mole. At times I’ve wondered how badly they’d bleed if you tried a DIY option with garden shears.

Then I was contacted by the lovely people at a new company, based in Canada who sent me some Niptt Gear https://www.nipttgear.com/ to try as they were also trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

What are they?

They’re termed running bands and in the most simplistic terms, it’s a stretchable fabric that goes around your chest at nipple height. The front is smooth (for your sensitive nips) whilst the back is a webbed design to let your back breathe and probably aids good fitment.

How do you put them on?

A good question. For me the easiest way is to pull down over your head like an overly tight vest, and take slightly lower than your chest to smooth out and get it facing the right way (the Niptt logo should be correct way up and on your left) then pull into place. To be honest it’s the same technique your wife would use to pull on a boob tube back in the days of clubbing.

What are they like on?

Once on and in place you mostly forget it’s there, much like a chest strap heart rate monitor. I’ve not had to adjust the medium much during a run, and never needed to when I used the Small size.

What do they look like?

I’ll be honest, they’re underwear. Much as I wear anti chaff under crackers for runs and wouldn’t wave it in people’s faces, neither would I typically parade around in just this. It’s been dubbed a moob-tube by a mate and it’s not a bad description. You don’t wear it to look good without a top, you wear it so you look good with a top that isn’t stained with blood or makes you cry in the shower.

I’m due a Nobel prize for being out standing in a field.

Sizing?

The website has the sizing chart, S-XL based on chest size. At 37″ I was on cusp of Small and Medium and found the Small was best.

Do they work?

Totally. Stick them on and forget. It’s one less thing to worry about. If I’m wearing a bright coloured top or worst of all white I know I don’t need to worry about finish line photos of a bleeding mess even when doing tempo runs in Spain recently.

Chaffing Elsewhere?

It would be an ironic design if the product to stop your nipples chaffing caused chaffing elsewhere. Ask any female runner and they will give you horror stories of rubbing from sports bras. I’m happy to report I’ve had no such issue with Niptt. I stick them straight on, no lubrication or similar, and had zero chaffing up to marathon distance. Haven’t yet used for an ultra and tend to find my race vest and pack on an ultra makes nipple chaffing less of an issue anyway (plus I’m running a lot slower).

Would I recommend it?

Yes. If you suffer from nipple chaffing half as much as I do (I hope nobody suffers more, as that would be cruel and you must have done something awful in a previous life to warrant that) then I would recommend without hesitation. Keep your top on and nobody will know or care. Take your top off and people will ask questions and you can hopefully pass on how good they are to other bleeding runners.

I worried about catching 2nd place. I did not have to worry about finishing covered in blood.

Wendover Woods 100 – Finally broke the curse!

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

This morsel of advice was given on a podcast I listened to on lap 5 of the Wendover Woods 100 and summed up my approach very succinctly. Unlike the rest of this text. I expected a write up of a 10 lap race to be short but somehow have written loads. Sorry.

 

Map borrowed from Centurion Running

A lap of Wendover Woods is a pretty challenging loop for any runner. There’s some hills big enough to have names (some don’t have names but need them) a couple of technical trail sections and a few stiles thrown in just to break it up and make you regret never doing any yoga. It’s the 50 mile event of the Centurion Grand Slam that runners often dread. I’ve managed to avoid it as it always falls on my wife’s birthday and I like being married. That’s my excuse anyway. I did have a go at 50k night race (click here) as final training for Lakeland 100 in 2019 and managed to fall over, punch a tree, dislocate two fingers and couldn’t type without some discomfort for a good few weeks. I was never going back to Wendover. Stupid place. 

Then 2020 Covid happened and Lakeland 100 was postponed. This was good as I’d entered the ballot largely by mistake and really wasn’t ready for it again. I’d finished (click here) on my first go but had an awful race and felt I needed to go back and give a performance I was proud of. I hadn’t really expected to get back in the very next year, so the postponement was not unwelcome but it did leave me with no 100 miler for the year. A bit of Googling found a track 100 by Mark Cockbain to fill the void, and I was aiming to be fit and smash a PB. I made it to the start line after a couple of injuries and nagging issues, ran a marathon distance but didn’t feel in the groove and went home on a DNF (click here). 

This was my first DNF at a proper race, my first 100 DNF. Prior to that I viewed DNFs on long ultras as something that happened to other people. If I toed the line I was going to finish. Keep going until you’re done or dragged off course by the RD or medic. You can always manage a little further and eventually you find yourself at the finish line. Stopping before was an odd choice, like those people who don’t eat until the point of physical discomfort at a buffet. Why not? Sure you’re full but there’s more pizza and it’s fresh out the oven, why stop when it ceases to be fun? (This approach to food may explain my waistline). 

The track 100 was my first time at stopping before I was full. I’d run a marathon, had some fun, biblical rain was forecast so I packed up and left. No big deal, it’s a one off. 

Then I ran Thames Path 100 this year (click here) as a return to proper 100s, again with the intention of some awesome training and smashing a PB on a fast course. Recurring injuries (tore a calf) meant I went from three weeks of rest to attempting a 100 in a couple of months. The race went well considering and pace was pretty good for an undertrained and overweight hobby jogger, but at 68 miles I realised I’d had enough and dropped. I just couldn’t face another 30+ miles of ultra death march in the mud and went home. Bed was warm and soft. The Thames was cold, muddy and lonely. The track 100 had set the possibility of a DNF in my head. Now it WAS something that happened to me. Worst of all was I had the best week of running immediately after TP100, finding effortless pace on routes I’ve run literally hundreds of times. This proved I was actually in pretty good shape and easily capable of finishing, I hadn’t really pushed myself, didn’t even get to being full. I’d got to the main course and left early. I’d turned into someone who leaves the buffet with their trousers still done up, not the top button open to allow more room for dessert. Amateur. 

My only other 100 scheduled for 2021 was my deferred Lakeland 100. Deferred because I forgot to apply for a refund before the deadline. It was likely going to clash with a booked holiday but given the ever changing nature of lockdowns, travel restrictions and travel corridors I might not know until weeks before if I could make it. Months of training needed for a race that may not take place, or that I might be abroad for. As an insurance policy and in a fit of annoyance at my TP100 decision I saw the Wendover Woods 100 was still open, and only a few weeks before Lakeland 100 so signed up, figuring I could train for a hilly 100 and see which one happened. The next few months were a constant state of flux as I switched from being able to run one, the other, both or none, all depending on what stream of meaningless drivel escaped from the pillowcase of custard we elected as PM. That’s a man that’s never left a buffet hungry. 

Obviously I focused diligently on training. I really considered going to Wendover. At least twice. I did build a DIY high elevation treadmill but probably spent longer in the construction than the use. 

I entered the local Milton Keynes 24hr race as a ‘guaranteed’ 100 mile to put the demons to bed. I’d won the previous staging of the event with 104 miles, popped home for a shower, came back for the awards. This was a dead cert surely? It wasn’t, as after just 55 miles I gave up when I was feeling full and went home. Again. The curse of track 100 was back. Three failed attempts, all mental.  

I never got a photo, so here’s one borrowed from Centurion Running. With the new markers that hurt if you head-butt them.
Coffee in a field. Race day.

Suddenly it was the week before Wendover and I needed to make a decision. It looked like both of my 100 events were on, and cancelled foreign holidays suggested I would be available for both. I didn’t really fancy either as felt undertrained for a hilly 100. The only positive signs were a 3h44 marathon and a 1h37 half on the previous two weekends, getting somewhere back to my better form.  

Eventually the easier logistics of Wendover and peer pressure from Brian meant I showed up on a Friday morning to a damp field outside Wendover to meet various mates running or volunteering. I hadn’t been back to the woods since it claimed two fingers. My main motivation on the Wednesday when I made my final in/out was to finish Wendover so I didn’t have to go back to Lakeland. The decision was made sat on the M25 in traffic after a long day at work in Croydon. The only decision you should make in Croydon is which way to leave. A Friday spent knee deep in mud sounded more fun than I’d just had. 

Oddly despite my last minute doubts I was fairly positive about the race on the morning. It was a fearsome event but crucially one I hadn’t done before. Unlike TP100 or MK24 I wouldn’t be racing my former self (a younger, fitter and less injury prone version) so had less pressure. The DNF rate from the previous staging of WW100 was very high so there wasn’t even the pressure of finishing. Most people didn’t. No biggie if I didn’t. It was better than going to work on a Friday, let’s have a jog and at least make the most of the days holiday I’d booked. 

The race had a 32 hour cut off, so 4hrs longer than TP100. My time for TP100 is a shade under 23hrs, so figured at absolute best I would be over 27hrs, likely over the 30hrs given Lakeland had taken me 36hrs for 105 miles.

James gave a rare in person race briefing which was a welcome return to normality, and warned us it would be hot and muggy in the woods. He was right. 

As above, a lap of Wendover is challenging. Contemplating 100 miles of it is ridiculous so mentally I broke it down. From the moment we started I decided to eat the elephant one bite at a time. At the bottom of Powerline Descent I celebrated having done it once. And without falling on my arse. Only 9 to go. Getting to the top of the Snake meant it was one less to worry about. Every lap was a bit more elephant gone. I didn’t intend to stop until I was sick or ran out of elephant. 

49 runners. Only 18 would finish.

The laps clicked away and it was going well. Mentally I’d decided not to get out the cheat sticks until around halfway as a ‘treat’, a similar approach that Ally had. We chatted on the first lap, she was fresh from an awesome 4th place SDW100 performance and cruised past me as I lumbered up a small incline. The hills were harder than I remembered and on lap 2 I found myself studying the undergrowth for sticks as I ran. One looked good for Gnarking and I grabbed it to aid me up the slope. At the top I launched it back down for next time. 

Lap 2 photo from Stuart I think!

It was great to see Stuart and Spencer out on course or at the checkpoints with their dogs. Or at least I saw a Spencer. Later photographic evidence shows he appeared to show up and support at seemingly every race that weekend, then course swept the 50k race so I’m increasingly convinced he has at least one body double so possible the actual Spencer was out cheering people on Race To The Stones. Who knows! 

Lap 3 came and somewhere before halfway I saw the mother of all sticks. It was perfect. I grabbed it and it helped me enormously. We formed a close bond and worked well. I named him Mr Stick. The laps were ticking over and I was keeping myself amused wondering with some other runners how long it would be before we were lapped by Stuart, the previous winner in an incredible 18h56m. By comparison my fastest lap at the 50k was just under 2hrs. My fastest of three. He’d managed 10 of them, all at a faster average pace. As I was pondering how much better other runners were Matt jogged past me on Gnarking like it was a flat field. 

Mr Stick photo from Kerry

I maintained my small bite approach. Leave the Trig Point and run until you passed within touching distance of Hale Lane aid station, wave hello to either Dimi or Kerry at the tent. Starter done. Run a little out and back before officially reaching the aid station and get to stroke Rolo the lovely dog. Main course done. Then a walk up the hill (whilst eating real food) often in the company of fellow runner Mark as we seemed destined to gravitate to each other at this point, before the dessert of a couple of hills and the welcome sight of the railings. 

My only physical issue was a grimace inducing inner thigh cramp on my right leg each time I ascended Gnarking. It stopped me in my tracks and needed a couple of breaks up the hill to allow it to pass. I used the pause to take some more salt tablets and invent some more swear words. Neither really helped and on lap 4 it also started to flare up on the Snake as well. So that was nice. By trial and error I found ascending sideways, like a skier side steeping up the slope seemed to appease the issues. Not elegant but less of a strain on my lexicon of obscenities. 

Each lap I saw the ice cream van at the top of Go Ape Climb in the distance, tempting but too far off course to contemplate as I didn’t want extra miles. 

By end of lap 4 (just under 10 hours for me) I heard Stuart had sadly dropped as had many runners already. Others were forced into making the decision early due to train timings. Drop now and get home tonight, or drop a lap later and be stuck in a tent until morning? The race was taking no prisoners so I was set on changing up my race plans and upgraded to full cheat sticks. I left the trig field on my fifth lap feeling determined. One more bite of each bastard hill and I would be halfway. 

Then it started to rain. Not heavily so expected it to be a pleasant change from the oppressive heat. In the end it wasn’t even enough to cool the runners but did make the course a slippery mess. When I ran the 50k in 2019 it was dusty trails. I’d wanted the same for this but has been content to accept muddy patches. Now it was more slippery than an MP questioned about PPE contracts. I was grateful for my cheat sticks as they kept me on my feet after multiple slips. My shoes were struggling. When I checked them I noticed with resigned acceptance that the sticky mud had saw fit to pull the black rubber tread sections off my Hoka leaving me with racing flats at the rear. Ideal. The rest of the lap I just concentrated on not falling over. I would get to halfway, eat my pot noodle from the drop bag and change my shoes for my lugged pair. 

Wendy Woods stole my grip….
Fuel of champions. Or students.

I was halfway through, just over 13 hours, sat in the aid station tent and shovelling in noodles followed by coffee, with a can of Monster energy drink. 5 bites of every challenging course section done. Looking around the tent I noticed the tarpaulin with the drop bags was looking markedly empty. James confirmed the attrition rate was higher than expected, he suspected due to oppressive heat. I was getting cold in the tent so went to the car to change my shoes. Feeling chilled I decided to get in the car and change in the warm. It was warm. And comfortable. I didn’t want to go back out. Proper runners who trained properly and wore proper shoes with proper grip and did proper pacing and descended hills properly had dropped. That was ample reason not to trudge off and put off the inevitable. I wasn’t going to finish so why go out again?

I did a little video to encapsulate my thoughts and speaking the words made it seem clearer. Did I really need to finish a 100 this year? No. They’re pointless. A string of three failures had shown that. I decided I didn’t like 100 milers and wouldn’t do any more. They took too long and hurt too much. I’d finished 6 or 7 of them including hard stuff like Lakeland 100 and GUCR145. Not being able to remember how many you’ve done is a clear sign you’ve done a sufficient number. I’d go back to marathons, maybe the odd 30/40 miler as a fun day out.

Decision made. Retire from the race and retire from stupidly long ultras. Wrapped in a blanket in a warm car I just needed to build enthusiasm to go and collect my drop back and return my tracker. Then I saw Kerry walk past. She’d finished her first shift of volunteering and was bedding down for the night in a tiny tent, in a wind swept field, to do it all again in the morning. People outside the sport would probably consider these the actions of an idiot. Why give up a weekend to hang out with sweaty, moaning, miserable runners? She and the many other volunteers did it so that even bigger idiots like me could run around for 100 miles for no sensible reason. At the rate the runners were dropping it would be likely these awesome volunteers would soon outnumber the idiots. I genuinely felt guilty for the thought of dropping out when I could still manage a few more laps so I went out again to eat some more of the elephant. New shoes were on and some renewed fire in my belly. 

The shoes were amazing but a little tight on my feet. Not having worn them more than 10 or so miles at a time I didn’t know how they’d get on but they were my only suitable pair. It was now dark, so I stuck some podcasts on and trusted that come dawn I’d feel better. If nothing else I’d have a few more goes of patting cute dogs at the aid stations. I will go a long way to say hello to a cute dog. 

Laps passed and at 7 laps I entered the tent to find Ally wrapped in a massive coat having been forced to drop due to inability to eat. Brian was also gathering his things as unfortunately had looked unlikely to make the cut off for the next lap. Matt had also dropped. My assembled running mates were dwindling and in a weird way it felt like pressure for one of us to finish. Did it need to be me? I nearly quit three laps ago. The tarpaulin of drop bags was ever emptier.

It was early morning and time to go again. I switched my entertainment to an audio book and listened to Charlie Engle recount his story of addiction, adventure racing and ultra running. If he could manage to run across the Sahara I could manage another 10 miles around Wendover in the morning sun. One more round of elephant. 

Details blur but at some point Dimi and her dog Rolo ended their shift at Hale Lane to be replaced by Kerry again. No less enthusiastic but less belly rubs. 

I set a target to finish lap 8 within 24hrs leaving me 8hrs to do two laps before the cutoff. 8hrs for 20 miles sounds pedestrian when sat at home with fresh legs but when mentally and physically jaded it is far less certain. There’s also the added issue of trail maths when your brain begins to wonder if 32 minus 24 is really 8 or you forgot to carry the 2? 

8 lap photo from Kerry

I was a little ahead of target for the lap and finished under the 24hrs. It would leave me with a full 8 hours for the final two laps. I hadn’t remembered when the cut offs were but a volunteer confirmed I had a 1h15m left to start lap 8 and be ahead. Plenty of time. 

I stopped at my car for a treat and drank a small lukewarm beer. It cleared the sugary taste of too much Tailwind and Coke and I felt invigorated. I might even be ready to run. A mile into the lap and my stomach reminded me that whilst I’d made a concerted effort to eat regularly and keep myself fuelled it was not an ever-expanding organ and might need to take the rubbish out. Fortunately the main toilets were open at the café so I could deal with the issue.

One of my few running skills is bowels of steel and in a decade of running this was only my second mid-run poop. I left the toilets feeling lighter and confident. I reached for my phone to take a photo as I reached the Gruffalo. Only I didn’t have my phone. Annoyed at myself for dropping it in the cubicle I ran back. It wasn’t there. I dimly remembered putting it on my chair in the aid station at the Trig Point and hoped it was still there. That suddenly seemed a very long way. If I’d known the woods better I’m sure there is a short cut back to the Trig field but not wanting to risk getting lost I ran back the way I’d come surprising Mark and other runners on their way out. The adrenaline rush of possibly getting timed out due to being an idiot had returned some speed and I was able to run at a rate that eluded me for the last 5 or so laps. 

I reached the field and James seemed concerned to see a) a runner returning to the checkpoint the wrong way and more importantly b) one doing it (relatively) fast and angry. He asked the problem and I made the worldwide hand gesture for phone as I ran in, as clearly admitting to losing my phone out loud would make me look an idiot. The lovely Zoe ran to meet me just outside the tent and I turned to run back out on lap 8. Again. What you want with 20 miles left is a couple of extra miles speed work. James cautioned me not to try and make up the extra miles in one lap and I nodded and assured him I wouldn’t. Only an idiot who loses his phone would be stupid enough to ignore the wise words of an ultra running expert. 

Coming up to the Hale Lane aid station I caught up Mark again having made up all my extra miles in just half a lap. Because I’m an idiot. People I passed on the lap remarked how well I was moving and in the final straight to the aid station I checked my watch to see my current pace was briefly sub 8min miles. Idiot. 

The adrenaline rush had fuelled me well and I finished my penultimate lap of 12 miles quicker than some of the 10 mile laps. My ninth bite of every hill (and 10th of the one up to the visitor centre) had gone well. 

Pair 2 are fucked

Lap 9 finished well and I felt great apart from an increasing number of stones in my right shoe. They had been plaguing me for a few laps but no matter how often I emptied them they returned. One in particular under my little toe kept coming back and for the last couple of laps had been a literal pain, a weird fizzy sort of pain. Before the final lap I took the shoe off again, thoroughly rubbed my sock clear and ran my hand inside my shoe to push out any remaining stones. What I found was no stones. What I did find was a hole in the side where the seam had opened up allowing much of Wendover in and a complete lack of stone in my little toe. The pain was caused within the toe itself. It felt swollen, stiff and a bit sharp inside. Having broken toes before and spent hours in A&E only to be told to strap it and go away I decided to do the next best thing and ignore it and set off on lap 10.  

What pace I had for lap 9 had gone and no amount of coke, caffeine or likely any illicit drug could bring it back. My ankle also stiffened on the front a couple of miles in and felt swollen when I poked it. I pondered if I’d damaged a tendon. In retrospect I had just done my shoe up too tight. Because idiot. 

I settled in for a slow plod consoling myself I had 4hrs for 10 miles, had not lost my phone this time, and had been reassured by a runner earlier that it was almost impossible not to do a lap in 4hrs. Of course it sounds easy but when at the top of a hill you look down to see your watch isn’t even showing current pace as it doesn’t register you as moving AT ALL it does make you wonder. 

With each difficult section I said goodbye a final time. Powerline Descent, you didn’t beat me even if I had to descend off path in the undergrowth as I struggled for balance on the worn steps. 

At the halfway point I advised the volunteers not to take offence but I didn’t want to see them again and would soon be done. I debated asking Kerry for a medical professionals opinion of my toe but given the levels of grime and muck on my feet it would be likely have been as useful as getting a quote from a builder by showing them an aerial map of the country you live in. 

The final few features came, seemingly spaced further apart than even before – was this weird twisty bit after The Snake always here? – but didn’t beat me. Finally I squeezed through the gate at the top of the last climb and prepared for a sprint finish. I’ve managed one at the end of every ultra even Lakeland when my feet were mangled clumps but I had nothing left and did a geriatric jog to the stile and across the line in something under 31hrs. I was spent and felt more physically broken than after Lakeland. The 14th finisher of just 18, from a field of 49 proper runners.

I was presented with the buckle and I found I held something special. There was only ever meant to be one Wendover 100. This had been a rare chance to compete in the second. Only James knows if there will be more. For now it’s enough to know I got one. After a run of three pathetic drops from easier 100 milers I finished a bloody hard one. I ate the elephant. It tasted like sweat, Gu gels and flat coke. 

Unfortunately I smelt worse than the elephant and was aware the stench of Wendover and I had combined into a heady cocktail. I changed top with care, finding my race pack had rubbed a puss filled welt on my chest that had glued my tee on. I debated changing shoes as mine were obviously fit for the bin but didn’t want to mess further so packed up and headed for home and a shower, keeping the windows open to try and avoid the stench. 

I got home and had pizza for lunch. And dinner. And breakfast the next day. I may have over ordered. Southend Pier rollercoasters were a challenge to board the next day. I’ve soaked my feet twice and they’re still not clean enough to let someone look at them. Despite all this I really fancy another 100 miler. Maybe not a full elephant though.

Better than a sports massage. Maybe.

Garmin Fenix 5 Battery Replacement

This isn’t a full guide, but some helpful hints if your Garmin Fenix 5 battery has dropped in battery life and needs replacement. Be carefull when undertaking as if you mess some of this up you could break your expensive watch. It’s relatively easy to do but we live in a world where we have to tell people not to drink bleach so you know….

Officially it doesn’t seem Garmin want to do a battery replacement service, I suspect so they can sell you a new watch.

My Fenix 5 was advertised as around 18hrs in full GPS mode when new and was around that, maybe a tad shorter with navigation on. Of course you can use ultratrac mode to increase but accuracy is awful and it seems pointless buying a watch that can track pace, distance etc to such a high accuracy and then pick a mode that’s marginally more useful than a £5 Casio watch from the market.

Over use my Fenix 5 dropped to closer to 12hrs as battery life depleted.

For ultras this is annoying as you’re getting close to two charges over a 100 miler depending on battery life, how often you check it, and whether you’re able to charge it the morning of the race and have it 100% the moment you cross the start line.

For general use as an every day watch this also got annoying. What was a weekly charge depending on number of training runs dropped down to every few days and if going away for the weekend I needed to pack a charger or ensure it was 100% as I left home.

A few people had suggested changing the battery as they found some cheap replacements on eBay so I decided to have a go.

Easiest place to source is from eBay, and accept that postage will be expensive and take a while as either from China or Germany. In my case I paid £16.76 delivered and it took 8 days, far less than the 2-3 weeks quoted on the advert. When searching try to make sure you get a Fenix 5 not a Fenix 5X. The adverts are not always that clear. Some of the eBay ads have complete used rear assemblies including batteries from refurbed units in China. These would be a very easy swap but with no way of knowing how much better the battery life is you might end up with a worse one.

As you’ll see later, the quality of the batteries in terms of fit varies. If you can find one with an accurate photo and it looks closer to the original battery below it will make fitting easier. A lot of the ones supplied are a bit squarer without the corners rounded off so a little more effort to fit.

The complete replacements from eBay in China showing the slightly curved edges of original batteries.

Taking apart –

There’s lot of Youtube vidoes on this, I found this one good: https://youtu.be/2o_F6NxtkAk

For some reason they all seem to go through the front of the watch though, and need to remove the main board and the GPS antenna to get to the battery at the rear.

I went through the back – need to remove 4 screws and need a T5x50 driver (a very tiny Torx driver).

Four screws on rear

When taking apart you’ll notice the screws aren’t mega tight. They’re there to provide the appropriate compression on the rubber gasket to maintain water tightness so when reassembly don’t assume you need to use the force of ten tigers to do back up as you’ll either strip the threads or distort the case.

Once open you’ll see the battery on the rear, it’s attached by a sticky pad to the rear case. You can see the battery lead at top (blue arrow), take note that RED wire goes to terminal nearest edge. The battery connection is designed so you can’t plug it in the wrong way around but worth checking.

You can see gasket has become stuck to the rear case and will need swapping into the grove on the main body.

To disconnect the battery lead you might assume you pulled it along the circuit board, so broadly in direction of blue arrow, but actually you pull it up away from board (so towards you). Small tweezers may help with this. Once disconnected you need to gently prise it away from the sticky pad. Note it’s a battery and full of chemicals you’d rather not leak so use a spudger (plastic opening took) or a flat screwdriver VERY CAREFULLY and work your way around.

If during this step or any of the next you manage to disconnect the ribbon cable from the rear circuit board to main board (red arrow) then don’t worry. Once the battery is installed and ready to go this simply pushes back on if you line it up.

It’s probably worth at this point transfer the gasket from the rear case into the grove of the main body to ensure it sits properly. The gasket is broadly round with a flat section on side so use that to line it up.

To connect the new battery you put the plug on top of the board, ensuring red lead is nearest edge of board, and push it down onto the board. It won’t make an audible ‘snap’ at it locks into place but you should feel it slightly give as it slots in and become secure.

New battery connected, red cable nearest edge.

The new battery, although marked as Fenix 5 is not a 100% match. You’ll note the power cables are longer, and the battery is a little bit more rectangular (the one removed has the corners curved a little). It will fit but require some delicate insertion. The cables aren’t long enough to run them the length of the battery and have them exiting the battery on the opposite side of the connecter so need to lose some length as you assemble.

It was hard to get photos of the rest or process as fiddly to close up, keep pressure and install screws but with some persistence you will manage it.

It’s worth doing a couple of turns on each screw and making final check before screwing them fully in. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN.

I didn’t get a photo of the new battery but the specs on the box were –

Li-Polymer 230mAh, 0.9Wh, 3.7V, labelled for Fenix 5, made by www.eco-gmbh.de

Old battery was part 361-00097-00 and specs –

Li-ion 255mAh, 0.97Wh, 3.8V and dated 01/08/2018 which is about two months before I purchased the watch.

So new battery is slightly smaller capacity – time will tell on what life I get. A lot of the adverts are a little vague on exact delivered spec. Worth noting that according to internet (so it must be true) “The key difference between lithium ion and lithium polymer is that lithium-ion batteries have a high energy density, whereas lithium polymer batteries have a low energy density”. Li-po are often used now for safety and lighter per Wh capacity so where space less of an issue, can actually weigh less even though physically larger.

I tested the watch with new battery on normal GPS mode and it died at 17h50min, pretty much same as it got when new, maybe a fraction less.

Important point – when you reassemble it all, close it up and do the screws up, don’t triumphantly turn the watch around, see the dead screen and swear loudly that you’ve broken it! The watch is off. You need to turn it on using the button in usual way. I heard someone do that. It was me. Idiot.

Sportplus SP-HT-9500-E-B bike repair

Another bike repair article as I seem to have a mild addiction to them! Used exercise equipment ends up in the bin far too often when all it lacks is a few simple repairs so hoping this could keep a few more in use.

I picked up a Sportplus SP-HT-9500-E-B exercise bike for free locally as the owners had used it heavily during lockdown but had found the belt had gone, so wanted it out their way and hoped someone could repair it.

It’s not a bad German made unit, was available on Amazon and has app control and Google street view so you can feel like you’re riding a real street. Not quite Peloton but kind of fun. Or you can just stick you phone/iPad in the cradle and watch Game of Thrones and use the buttons on the machine to adjust it all. The slightly updated model is around £500, this one seemed to be about £400 when new. It has electromagnetic resistance (the system moves a row of magnets closer to flywheel to add resistance) rather than more crude physical pad rubbing on the flywheel, also heart rate monitor, exercise programs and 24 resistance levels.

Manual is here – https://www.manualslib.com/manual/1257901/Sportplus-Sp-Ht-9500-E.html

To take apart there’s a couple of screws on one side and approx. 8 on the other side to release the side panels. You also need to remove the pedals, note the right hand pedal is reverse thread so opposite direction to loosen. Each side panel has a rubber section of trim around the pedals that needs popping out to clear the crank arms.

Once covers are off it was obvious the belt had slipped off the tensioner/idler so was just loose in frame.

Belt back on and you can see the wear on the belt as webbing is showing through the side.

It was also significantly worn on one side, having worn a whole rib away. I put the belt back on and it was sufficiently worn in width as to be a sloppy fit in the main plastic drive wheel (the big disk attached to the pedal crank) and allow side to side movement, not ideal with ribbed belt.

With the belt off again and the pedals turned there was also a little play in the main bottom bracket bearing, which could have lead to misalignment and belt wear. The previous owners assured me they’d used it heavily so wear on bearings is not suprising.

New belt needed – the one on the machine is a Fengshou 380J 007 4F. I’ve found replacement belts for exercise bikes are a pain as manufacturers seldom stock them, or if they do stock them have them so overpriced it makes the repair too expensive, the bike ends up in the bin, and the manufacturers sell a new bike. They are also very hard to find the spec of what you need so you end up measuring what you have and hoping. Luckily I found www.simplybearings.co.uk stock a suitable replacement. It’s a 965PJ/380J, 6 rib belt and 965mm/38in long. The was delivered for £11.84 including VAT.

New belt left, old belt right

New bearings needed – For the bearings they are old fashioned bike 5/16” caged bearings rather than modern sealed bearings. These are available in any bike shop, or £3.95 in Amazon. Note that the assembly on this side is also all reverse thread so you need to remove the outer nut, then the washer, then the inner nut that goes against the bearing by turning clockwise.

Reverse thread so clockwise to remove
Old and new bearings shown.

Once bearings lubed and installed, I put the new belt on. You’ll likely need to remove the bolt holding the tensioning spring completely to get the belt on (big arrow in photo). Then by pulling down on the spring manually you should get enough tension on the belt to turn the pedals and check alignment. Essentially the spring pulls the arm down, which pushes the idler/tensioner into the bottom of the belt and applies enough pressure to stop slipping.

To get the belt on you probably need to unbolt spring completely

On mine I found the double bearings on the idler/tensioner were sitting too far from outboard (away from centre of bike) causing the belt to want to run inwards, off the bearings and either rub on the flywheel, causing the wear seen or fall off completely and lose all tension. After checking the bearings were all good the alignment was still a little off so I gave the bolt on the arm a smack with a hammer to bring it slightly inwards and the belt ran well.

This needed a loving tap with a hammer to sit a little closer to flywheel and stop belt slipping off

Getting the spring on the tensioner reattached is a mission. In the end I resorted to a g-clamp and a block of wood to apply pressure and push the arm closer to the hole, then inserted the threated section and got a bolt on quickly.

Not the best photo, but g-clamp used to pull tension arm down and allow nut to be put on end of threaded section

Work done, reassemble and test.

All works well. It’s very quiet but has a slight rubber noise from the belt- could be you can only notice it as everything else is so quiet.

Need to get new toe straps as these have broken or gone missing

I tried the app to connect the phone and for free it’s not bad. Struggled to get the Google street view maps to work but may be lack of signal as was in garage. Did get the basic display as per below up though.

Total money spent – about £15.80.

DIY High Elevation Treadmill

(or what to do with a busted treadmill)

During the last year of so whilst setting up my home gym I’ve dabbled in repair of exercise bikes and treadmills and had some fun in the process.

I picked up an old Reebok i-run treadmill recently and it’s been the first one I’ve been unable to fix. The motor was completely blown and the cost for a replacement is excessive for a cheap treadmill. It cost me only £10 so I was able to recoup costs by selling the safety key for £10 and the control board for £45.

Unaware it was about to become a high elevation unit!

This left me with a motorless treadmill fit for the bin so I decided to see if I could turn it into a manual treadmill but with some proper elevation to use for hill training – Milton Keynes isn’t exactly known for hills.

Testing the theory with some steps and random wood.

Step 1 – add some vert!

This was done with a simple wooden frame as I wasn’t sure how much time or effort to invest into a possibly pointless endeavour – it might not work after all.

I had two offcuts of sturdy wood, cut them down to equal length added cross braces for strength, then secured to the frame with anchor bolts. It was sturdy and at about 40 degrees. Most treadmills go to about 10%, some 20% and a few beyond that.

I did say it was a temporary wooden bodge.
Looks classy – if you saw this in a gym you’d know it was a luxury establishment!

Step 2 – handle issues

Given the elevation and the current ‘lashed together’ nature of the treadmill I wanted something to hold on to so I didn’t die.

The existing handles are at roughly 90degrees to the running deck which is fine on the flat – when elevated it’s completely in the way.

The easiest way to sort this was to take the handles off, remove all the useless wiring and display, and then re-install rotated around, with two large bolts to hold it vertical.

My thinking is for very steep hills I’d almost certainly be using cheat sticks (walking poles) so having the handle is relatively similar. Ideally I might swap them for two vertical bars with hand grips to give a more realistic feel.

Step 3 – add resistance

Normal treadmills have motors, you adjust the speed, and run fast enough not to fall off the back.

For manual units the propulsion is entirely by your legs.

When elevated like this your own body weight (in my case, a lot) is able to turn the belt too easily so you need something to add resistance.

I pondered a few option, maybe fitting a small brake disc or flywheel to the shaft and having either disc brakes from a road bike to add resistance, or the usual felt pads like on a spin bike.

Given I’d spend some time repairing exercise bikes and had seen how hard they are to use if you over tension the belt I decided to try to use the existing drive belt on the treadmill. As I’m cheap.

Slightly rubbish picture but I used a couple of bearing from a broken kids scooter in a U section of metal channel I had spare in junk pile. This gave a nice smooth motion. Then I used a large bolt through this to the external treadmill frame and fixed with a bolt. By tightening this bolt I could tension the belt and add sufficient resistance that the belt held still with my weight on.

It needs a spanner to adjust so would not be ideal if you planned for a lot of different weight people to use this, but as it’s only me it is fine to set and forget.

Then reassembled and moved to a location in garage so I had some more head height. I stuck a couple of screws into the fixed plastic sections on side of belt as they were prone to sliding down.

It seems to work well and only a few minutes of climbing raises the heart rate and begins to get your ankles and legs working. In my case I’m as flexible as a fence post so even just 10 minutes of climbing and forcing my ankles into a stretched position, climbing on tip-toes is a workout and hopefully will gradually improve my mobility and climbing skills. If I find I use it a lot I can neaten the design up, make the legs foldable, have a better means to adjust resistance etc but for now it works and has saved the item from the tip.

Running a marathon on a Cruise Ship – because why not?

Ever had an internal conversation with your body?

“Do you think we should run a marathon today?”

“Maybe. When?”

“Well now.”

“But we’re just digesting a large lunch of meat loaf and three beers from the cruise buffet?”

“True but it’s starting to drizzle a little so the running track will be quiet.”

“But we did a spin class this morning in the gym. The man shouted at us. It hurt. We sweated so much a mop was needed.”

“True. But there’s only a couple of days left, and one is in port, so it won’t be as amusing on Garmin as doing it out at sea and this boat is a week old so likely we’d be the first.”

“OK then. We’ll do it. But we demand coke and beer.”

“Naturally.”

Background

Running a marathon on a cruise ship is quite a thing. There are geeky clubs of people (often American it seems) who compete to run the most marathons on cruise ships, or one on every ship in a given company etc. Even for someone as run obsessed as me that is just a bit stupid, but I did want to try one.

My only other time on a cruise ship was in my pre-running, so-fat-my-blood-type-was-Dolmio phase. So this year was my first time back on a ship with legs able to run.

The MSC cruise company had launched a new ship, the MSC Virtuoso and running UK sailings out from Southampton and back over 5 days, as a luxury hotel on the sea, unaffected by Covid issues or amber/green/purple/pink-with-spots list countries. We were booked on the second ever sailing of the ship so there was a good chance I could be the first person to attempt a marathon on board. I tried contacting MSC Media team for confirmation of this but they were unresponsive.

So I did it anyway.

The onboard track is marked as 0.2 miles. I walked a lap of this before we set sail from Southampton and GPS on the Garmin also recorded 0.2 miles, or 0.33k, so a little less than a usual 400m athletic track.

I knew from other mates that had run or walked on ships that the GPS would be useless when at sea so decided to use the lap feature of the Garmin – press the button every lap for 132 laps. Easy.

On a random Thursday afternoon (3rd June 2021 if it sets a record) I took advantage of a downturn in weather and whilst kids were in teen club and wife was enjoying the spa I strapped on my trainers and went for a bimble.

Slow down, duck and dive.

The Track

Knowing it would likely be a hard surface I had packed a new pair of Adidas Supernova as very cushioned. I’m not sure what the technical name for the track surface is, but it’s basically a poured and set levelling compound. Very smooth but also as soft as concrete.

What I hadn’t really noticed on the walking lap was two chicane points on the straights that forced the dedicated walking and running lanes to merge and twist between two glass screens. Whether for weather/wind protection or to intentionally slow idiots trying to run a fast pace on a track I’m not sure but the affect is the same of forcing you to slow and stumble awkwardly through. I’m sure a slight and supple runner could make it look less like a double decker bus negotiating a width restriction.

The Attempt

I started well, remembered to press lap every time I passed the start line and tried not to think of the laps to come.

Accompanied by podcasts the laps ticked away. After 150+ marathon or ultra events, and maybe another 20-30 training runs or pacing gigs of over marathon distance I can be pretty confident when asked to do stupid things my body will generally cooperate.

The first 1/3 of the laps passed in a little over an hour and I felt strong, confident of my usual sub 4 hour finish.

At periods other passengers would come out for some running or walking laps, and gradually have their fill of getting dizzy and go do something more worthwhile.

The kids took turns to pop up and deliver water or Coke, and another delivery from the wife.

20 mile aid stop

The chicane became increasing tough on the knees and ankles from the sudden changes of directions. I could feel the discomfort building and made a conscious decision to take these even slower to minimise the strain as I really wanted to finish. I did debate stopping at halfway but having recently given up on the Thames Path 100 miler for no real reason I couldn’t start to make a habit of quitting. The track corners are also relatively sharp and blind, so it was safer for all to take these steady and avoid any collisions.

Darling daughter was walking with a new friend from the teen lounge. Said friend commented that ‘the weird running man’ was approaching them. She was forced to reluctantly admit to being my offspring as I greeted her when we ran past. Being a source of embarrassment to your offspring is basically the role of a dad.

As expected the GPS tracking was well off, and my instantaneous pace on the screen switched from 4:20min/miles to closer to 20min/miles.

Then the sun came out again, the deck got busier and I got sweatier and slower.

Who needs a medal when beer exists?

The advantage of the laps is they don’t easily covert to miles so the usual ‘oh god here comes the 18 mile slump’ is less obvious but somewhere around 20 miles I really started to struggle. The family were getting ready for dinner so I was on my own and diverted to the bar for a beer. The barman praised me for finishing my run and I sadly advised I had another 30 laps left, or at least an hour.

The beer hit the spot and I perked up and got some pace again.

A woman dressed for dinner burst out onto deck in front of me and I was planning to divert around her before she congratulated me on running and asked how many laps I had left for the marathon. Her family had been watching me all afternoon it seemed. Which was lovely. And surprising. I’d mentioned to a few runners what I was up to and it seems the word had spread a little.

A couple of other people popped up on their way to dinner to also add some support and finally the remaining laps were in single digits and eventually all done at 132 laps in 4h33, measuring as 35.5 miles on the Garmin. I was left to jog back to the bar where the staff saw me ascend the steps and shouted out their congratulations and began to pour the beer. Best marathon finish line ever.

Advice For Anyone Else

  • Don’t do it. It hurts.
  • If you ignore that, have some very cushioned shoes. Or decent running form. Try not to run with the grace of a rhino.
  • If able take some tools and remove the chicanes (you may get thrown overboard for this).
  • Use the lap function, not the GPS and run to feel.
  • If the running track is right outside the gym, and the spin instructor sees you running he will still beast you the next day. Then he will comment how ‘loud and slappy’ your feet were as you tired in the later miles and remind you to keep good form.
  • A spin class the next day is actually not a bad way to work the legs loose.
This will hurt…..

Packing List for an Ultra

Even if you’re an experienced ultra runner it’s worth having a checklist for packing. Main note should always be to have the mandatory kit. In Covid times you might not be subject to a full kit check at registration but the overall or group winners almost certainly are and a random selection of other runners. If you suddenly have the race of your life and win Western States, you don’t want to be DQd for forgetting something.

Not everyone fuels their ultras like this….

Carrying During The Race

Below is what I’d pick to carry from for a typical 80/100 miler that had aid stations and a halfway drop box.

Check what’s mandatory for your race and from what point – some will allow you to put head torches etc in your halfway drop bag since if you don’t make it to halfway before nightfall you’ll have been timed out at a previous checkpoint.

Unless going superlight for the win, even on an easy ultra on a good day I’d carry a spare long sleeve top in a ziplock bag to keep it dry. Things can go wrong and if you twist your ankle on a summers afternoon and crawl into the next aid station in a sweaty tee you’ll be getting cold.

Headtorch rules vary. Some are fine with a spare battery, some require a separate torch completely since if you fall and smash it then all the batteries in the world aren’t going to help you see.

Some may also require a red light on your rear (often in European races) – it can be acceptable to be a red light on rear of head torch, or they may require a separate one on your pack, active for duration of race (so if you fall down a mountain in daylight they can fish you out at night even if you didn’t have the presence of mind to turn it on mid-fall).

For hot weather than arm sleeves are great for wetting, protecting from the sun, or shoving ice down. If you know it’s going to get hot & bright then put on sunscreen before setting off.

All three of these are technically cups. Only one is actually of use as a cup. It’s also about £1 from Decathlon.

The cup debate rages on. Do you need soft and hard, or does one suffice, how big should they be etc? Personally I’m a thirsty git so would rather a 1g weight penalty than carry a cup the size of a thimble.

Carrying During The Race 
Phone and waterproof caseMandatory
Torch 75lumensMandatory
Backup torch 25lumensMandatory
Bladder / bottles 1 litre+Mandatory
Cup (some require hard and soft)Mandatory
WhistleMandatory
Emergency blanketMandatory
Rain jacket, taped seamsMandatory
Spoon/fork/sporkOften Mandatory
Waterproof trousers, taped seamsOften Mandatory
Emergency calories (often 500cal)Often Mandatory
Buff or hatMandatory
GlovesMandatory
Base layer or fleece top (not worn) in dry bagOften Mandatory
Tracker – Maps – Race numberMandatory
Suncream (if race starts at night)Medical
TissuesMedical
VaselineMedical
First aid kit Medical
Nipple tapeMedical
Salt Caps / salt tabletsMedical
Zero/sports tabsMedical
Any essential meds (insulin etc)Medical
Race vest/waist pouchGear
Emergency cash & cardGear
Arm sleevesGear
Calf guardsGear
Peaked cap for rain/sunGear
Sunglasses Gear
GPS watchGear
Headphones/iPodGear
Cliff shot blocksFood/Supplement
Caffeine Bullet of GelsFood/Supplement
Baby Food Sachets / Food of choiceFood/Supplement
Zip lock bag for food at aid stationsFood/Supplement

Drop Bag(s)

What you put in drop boxes or bags will depend on race distance, weather and level of support. In Covid times you’re likely to get a lot less food options than previously at checkpoints so may want to put something relatively substantial in if that works for you.

It’s worth checking expected pace and cut offs to try and predict when you’ll get to each drop box. If it works out one before nightfall and one in the early morning you may want to have cold weather gear in first, and warmer stuff for morning as you make the final push for victory!

If you know either from experience that you’ll need poles for the second half as you fall apart over an ultra, or that the challenging climbs are only in the second half then pack them.

Likewise if you’re carrying stuff you haven’t used or won’t need further and can drop without falling foul of mandatory equipment rules then put that in the bag when you get there and lighten your load.

Don’t pack so much stuff that you piss off the aid station volunteers but also remember you don’t necessarily have to use or take everything from the box/bag – in most cases your stuff is transported to the end for you. Better to pack some spare socks and shoes and not need them than to macerate your feet in the first 50 miles and carry on in soaking shoes and socks for the rest of the race (me on Lakeland 100). I also would never even think to pack talcum powder but when I saw someone at LL100 with a ziplock bag of it, their feet inside getting beautifully dried before they left the checkpoint I was envious beyond measure.

If you’re doing a longer point to point you may get to the end before your drop bags do and need to wait around for them. If you think that might be a problem then pack more minimally and not have anything you would be sad to let go in them. For SDW100 I had shoeboxes for each point with a couple of old hats, buffs and some food items that I didn’t mind giving up so either used them or left at aid station with the volunteers to offer to anyone coming through that needed them.

Even if I don’t intend to use shoe boxes as the drop bags, I often have two open on the side and throw stuff in the week before as I find it/buy it and then transfer to small bags the night before after a final check.

Not the best photo, but throwing stuff into shoeboxes helps.

The lists below are pretty extensive, if you packed all of these you’d likely get some sarcastic comments from the volunteers.

Drop bag 1 -50 miles, 7pm Drop bag 2 -70 miles, 11pm 
Headtorch (if able to collect at checkpoint)MandatoryBattery pack(s)Electrical 
Any additional mandatory items (hi-viz?)MandatoryVaseline for chaffingMedical
GPS watch chargerElectrical Talcum powder for feetMedical
Phone chargerElectrical Tape for feetMedical
Battery pack(s)Electrical Dry hat/buffGear
HeadphonesElectrical Dry Base Layer or TeeGear
Vaseline for chaffingMedicalChange of SocksGear
Talcum powder for feetMedicalCarrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Tape for feetMedicalSports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement
Poles / Cheat sticksGearBeerFood/Supplement
Dry hat/buffGearMilk ShakeFood/Supplement
Long sleeve top if expecting coldGearStarbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement
Dry Base LayerGearCaffeine BulletFood/Supplement
Change of ShoesGearBaby Food SachetsFood/Supplement
Change of SocksGearRice PuddingFood/Supplement
Extra gloves in case of rainGearPot NoodleFood/Supplement
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear  
Sports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement  
BeerFood/Supplement  
Milk ShakeFood/Supplement  
Starbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement  
Caffeine BulletFood/Supplement  
Baby Food SachetsFood/Supplement  
Rice PuddingFood/Supplement  
Pot NoodleFood/Supplement  

The End Bag

Don’t forget that after running 100 miles you will eventually finish and need to consider what to have in your end bag. Depending on facilities this may be in a fully kitted out sports hall with showers, steam room and good transport links or it could be in a muddy field, under a tree, with a 3 mile walk to the train station. Either way you need to consider keeping warm, getting out of your sweat/poo/snot covered gear and getting home. If it’s somewhere with power it’s worth having a phone charger so you can use your phone to ring the husband for a lift home after it went flat from excessive usage for selfies.

End Drop Bag 
UndiesGear
SocksGear
Joggers / shortsGear
Dry topGear
HoodieGear
Rain coatGear
Shoes or flip flops (depending on weather etc)Gear
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Glasses for drive back (if contact wearer)Gear
FoodFood/Supplement
Recovery drinkFood/Supplement
Celebration drinkFood/Supplement
Phone charger (wall charger)Electrical 
Wet wipesMedical
Towel & shampoo if showersMedical
PlastersMedical
A clue how to get home/meet liftMandatory!

Book 2 for pre-order “Ducking Long Way”

Pleased to say my second book “Ducking Long Way” is now available for pre-order. Once again published by the lovely people at Sandstone Press.

Due for release in August, you can pre-order it now from Amazon here or on Waterstones here or Blackwell’s 

A sequel to “Run Like Duck” it focuses on ultra running and is a humorous mix of advice and recounting of making the transition from marathon runner to ultra runner.

Praise for “Ducking Long Way”

‘Mark clearly understands all the pain and turmoil of an ultra, and also why we keep coming back for more.’ Vassos Alexander, Radio 2 presenter, author and runner

‘A funny and level-headed insight into the crazy world of ultra marathon running.’ Simon Hollis – Race Director and Ultra Marathon Runner

‘Proper advice from a down-to-earth guy who tells it like it is. Runners like Mark are the lifeblood of the sport we all love.’ James Elson – Centurion Running Race Director & Coach

‘A compelling attempt, no doubt funded by the chafing cream industry, to promote the view that ultra running is accessible, enjoyable and achievable for all levels of runners.’ Running is BS Podcast

‘Refreshingly unpretentious, inspiring, funny.’ Paul Tonkinson – author, comedian, runner and host of Running Commentary Podcast