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.

 

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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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Rose Of The Shires Ultra 54

Keeping in the theme of 2019, this was another unplanned ultra to go along with Country To Capital (C2C) and Transgrancanaria (TGC).

After getting some speed back post TGC and having a relatively relaxed 3h22 marathon at the end of March I decided to throw away all the pace again because as usual my training plan is mostly non-existent or self-defeating. Having got home from a long Monday on site in Croydon, annoyed at only having glimpsed the beautiful spring weather outside the office or the car window, I saw there were still places for the inaugural Rose Of The Shires and promptly signed up for the Saturday as I needed to be outside enjoying the weather and not cooped up indoors. I also had nothing booked for April (still too slow/too young for London and not entirely sure I want to give Manchester marathon my £ until they get an unbroken period of cock-up free events).

Often Ultras sell out well in advance, but being the first year and sharing the date with SDW50 and a couple of other established events meant there was even entry on the day, although how many people casually sign up for a 54 miler I’m not sure. The preceding week was awash with mates on social media packing/repacking and making final checks for the SDW50 and I could remember how nervous I’d been this time two years ago for my stint on it. Fast forward and it’s Friday night before I’m uploading the GPX file to my watch and wandering around the house wondering where I left my Hokas. Surprising how complacency can creep up on you and a 54 mile event can start to be prefixed with ‘only’ purely based on having been stupid enough to do 100+ milers in the meantime.

img_2279Saturday morning arrives, I shove down my McDonalds breakfast and drive over to Brixworth Country Park just outside Northampton. No I’ve never heard of it either, but it’s a beautiful lake formed by a dam with a large visitor centre that crucially has toilets and a car park, the main requirements for nervous runners (parking is £5 for the day so bring change). The single loop makes logistics easy with none of the ‘I’m finished, now how the hell do I get back to my car?’ issues of point to point races. After registering and getting a coffee (£1 from the organisers) I make final preps and we’re off.

The organisers give a detailed map book which I’ve tucked in my pack as relying on GPX route on Garmin. It worked for the C2C so hoping this will be as easy. As with many ultras there seems to be a wide range of kit choices from shorts, vest and a water bottle to those with full on mountain expedition, waterproof trousers and spare tent in the backpack. I’ve got the mandatory torch which I hope I won’t need and a spare base-layer and raincoat just in case.

img_2282The course is basically one big loop of Northampton, sticking to the countryside and probably a 50/50 mix of footpaths/canal and farm fields with the odd brief road section as you come to checkpoints. I’ve gone for trail Hokas as the preceding couple of days has been wet but you’d be just as happy in road shoes and it’s only really a short section through Salcey forest that has much in the way of mud. It takes in two country parks, the aforementioned Salcey Forest, the Grand Union Canal (flashbacks to the GUCR race) and 21 quaint villages and towns following parts of the Nene Way, the Midshires Way and the Northampton Round. If you’ve run the C2C it’s very similar to the first half of that, with runnable countryside, ploughed fields and lots and lots of cattle gates and stiles. Where you do run on the canal it’s the scenic stretches by Stoke Bruerne and similar, not the rubbish-strewn sections through central London.

The GPX file was refined by the organisers the night before and uploaded for use. For the most part it’s spot on, with just the odd section where you doubt which side of the hedge line you need to be on through fields. You could pull out the maps and check or could run aimlessly on and have to crawl through the hedge when you get it wrong. Again. Four times in total for me.

img_2284There are 6 checkpoints at 6 to 8 mile intervals which is plenty. Each is manned by a local running club fighting to out-do each other. Highpoint was probably checkpoint 2 that had Prosecco, Guinness and WKD (remember that from when you were an underage kid?) along with the usual ultra food and cake. As with C2C timing is done on touch free Etag attached to your wrist with a Velcro strap and also backed up by manual bib recording at each station.

I had a vague goal of 8-9 hours for the course. As we set off it feels relaxed and I consider settling in with the front runners just to see what it feels like but instead hold back to a gentle plod and settle in with the main group. Typically whenever a runner pushes ahead they make a navigation error and are called back or held up by a recalcitrant cattle gate so the group keeps mostly together. The only time I really find myself pulling away is at aid stations where my grab and run approach is at odds to many who seem to hang out. At various times on the route we pass through horse paddocks and farmyards and admire lambs, alpacas (or lamas, who knows?) and young foals.

img_2283A few miles before the second aid station I bump into Jonathan, the local runner who saved my bacon on the TP100, both in terms of company and a lift back home afterwards. We talk about all things running related as we pound out the miles, missing the odd turn as we’re too distracted chatting about his double grand slam success at last years Centurion 100 and 50 mile events. Unfortunately it’s not been without some toll on his body and gradually his hamstrings start to tighten and he begins to struggle. Halfway comes in about 4h30 but neither of us is likely to maintain this pace for the rest of the race. We stick together up to checkpoint 4 but somewhere in the next seven miles the gap widens and I lose him behind, in a role reversal of TP100 when I had a sense of humour failure in the night, slowed to a crawl and had to watch him glide off into the darkness.

img_2299Come checkpoint 5 and I’m surprised to hear the aid station crew refer to the assembled competitors as being near the front. They’re remarking how the “fast runners” like us don’t eat much but as the rest of the pack comes through they’ll soon make a dent on the food. Mostly I’ve been running and chatting, don’t feel like a front runner and have no real idea of where I am in the race. The optimistic finish time of sub 9 hours is now a long way gone but I start to wonder if I could pull a respectable finish out the bag. I leave the aid station and catch up with some runners from Wellingborough & District AC and we stick together for a fair section of the remaining miles, with the same navigation or gate issues tending to keep us grouped. At the final checkpoint one of their group is forced to retire and we press on, now down into single figure miles to finish the event.

At around 50 miles the group slows and they wish me luck as they slow a little. The sun is definitely dropping as is the temperature and I want to finish without headtorch or jacket on. The navigation for the last four miles is very easy but also includes a seemingly massive hill to sap the last strength from your legs. Making the final run into the country park and a passer-by wants to stop for a chat. There simply isn’t a way to say “Sorry I can’t stop, I’m in a race” without sounding like a massive dick.

img_2288After a last turn into the car park I sneak in under 10hrs and a long way off my optimistic goal, having covered a little over 55 miles to get good value for money. Pleased and shocked to finish 9th, I wonder how many places I could have gained with a proper taper and without last weeks marathon in my legs. Closing in on 100 miles for the week is probably not ideal.

Overall –

The event is well priced, a great route and expertly organised. It’s worth 3 UTMB points as well if that’s your goal. At the finish you get a medal and tech tee, shake the RD’s hand and get on your way. It’s definitely one I’d recommend for next year.

http://gobeyondsport.co.uk/

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