Water way to go. Zero fuel marathon.

Much has been written about fuelling and hydrating for marathons (or eating and drinking as normal humans refer to it) and the advice is often conflicting.

ron-winning-liverpool11The legendary British runner Ron Hill ran his debut marathon at Liverpool in 1961 and recounts the rules forbid drinking at all until 10 miles irrespective of conditions, and then drinks only at 15, 20 and 25 miles. When questioned on what he ate during a marathon he’s previously responded that it isn’t a picnic it’s a race. To anyone that has run London Marathon and the like and seen aid stations every mile with water, gels, fruit and sweets this sounds inconceivable. It should be noted Ron has a marathon PB of 2:09:28, winning Commonwealth Gold and is still one of the fastest marathon times by a Briton.

Over time the advice on hydration during races has swung from one extreme to another and no one demonstrates this better than Dr Tim Noakes. An accomplished Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Science with degrees from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, he has raced at a very competitive level in more than 70 marathon and ultramarathon events.

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-1-24-08-pmDr Noakes recalls that for his debut marathon in 1972 there was a single aid station at mile 20 and runners were actively warned not to drink during exercise. This seemed at odds to various articles and publications at the time advising that being denied hydration could eventually lead to deaths. Dr Noakes took up the mantel for the cause and penned various articles, some as prescriptive as recommending 900ml per hour. In a further article in 1981 he recommended marathon competitors should drink whenever possible and as much as able. The guidance continued in this vain and The American College of Sports Medicine in 1996 advised drinking over a litre per hour or “as much as tolerable”. In public perception if you were thirsty in a race it was already too late. This potentially lead to deaths from exercise-associated hyponatremia (a low sodium concentration in the blood).

The symptoms of hyponatremia are confusion and loss of consciousness and often appear similar to dehydration. It will probably never be known how many runners collapsed during events and ultimately died or had the condition worsened as a result of well-meaning spectators and medical staff forcing more water upon them. Due to a quirk in the brain much as patients with hypothermia can feel they are burning up and seek to shed more layers (paradoxical undressing), those suffering from hyponatremia can shut down urine production, exacerbating the fluid retention. Continue to drink and your body and tissues become bloated. With only a minimal loss of fluid through sweat the brain can swell, pressing on the blood supply to it and in serious cases causing brain damage, loss of breathing and death. All from drinking too much water.

51ebvsqtb8l._sx348_bo1204203200_Dr Noakes and others continued to research in this area after learning of deaths and revised his beliefs as did the general medical guidance. In 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine published new guidance and Dr Noakes released “Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports” in 2012. The basis of both is that you should drink to thirst. As with many things in running the message is ‘keep it simple’.

The main takeaways from Dr Noakes book are that overheating and dehydration are not linked. Run too fast and you overheat regardless of hydration. Your body will control this overheating and force you to slow. Heatstroke is very remote without another underlying ailment or medical issue. Some dehydration is to be expected during exercise and again the body controls itself and signals thirst as required. Access to water is key but drinking prescribed volumes at given intervals, or drinking early to get ahead of your thirst is strongly advised against. At best it will be detrimental to your performance, at worst detrimental to your wish to continue to exist.

So where is this all going?

img_5790-001Influencers. Don’t they annoy you? You can barely click on twitter or Instagram without some bright-eyed runner with overly-filtered selfies extolling the virtues of their pre-race routine that for a mere £49 a month they’ll share with you. It will require you to wake many hours before your race and waste precious beauty sleep on pointless rituals. Most will recommend overnight oats and often use the same stock images of beautiful oats in a gleaming mason jar, topped with a luscious compote of goodness. Why the same stock images? Because most of the time it looks like sick in a glass with a leaky highlighter mashed in top. Have some toast and get over yourself. If you’re thirsty have a drink, don’t chug 2 litres the minute you awake, a further 2 litres on the start line and then a bottle every mile.

The nutrition during the race is no better. If it’s not a ghastly powder with dubious unproven medical claims it’ll be a bar made up of floor sweepings from the local hamster food factory bound with honey and costs multiple times more than a far tastier Mars bar.

On the flip side are the hard-as-nuts influencers that label every run with ‘fasted’ to show how awesome they are for attempting the unimaginable feat of running around their local playing field without a pre-exercise jar of vomit. I don’t run fasted, I just can’t be arsed to make breakfast most days.

You’re still not getting to the point are you?

img_2676Nearly. I’ve run a lot of marathons. I’ve experimented with kit, food, drinks and pace but I’ve always been curious how much difference it all really made. Whilst in Spain on holiday I ran most mornings straight from bed to run in as few minutes and metres as possible because I had a busy day of drinking beer and eating tapas ahead of me. I hadn’t consciously avoided taking water on these runs but hadn’t felt I needed it. After a week of acclimatising I decided to try an experiment and run marathon distance at my usual pace, with no food or water and see how I fared.


I was going through a decent patch in my running. Most of the year I’d been running broadly 80/20 effort approach, so much of my miles were very easy with hard efforts reserved for races or key sessions. After concentrating on the Transgrancanaria ultra in February, I returned focus to shorter stuff and in March ran a 3h28 marathon in a gale, and a 3h32 a few days later as a part of a race series. At the end of the month I managed a relaxed 3h22m followed by pacing the MK Marathon in early May at 3h45m. Late May and just before we left for holiday I squeezed in a looped trail marathon as a test of fitness and achieved a 3h14m, only a few seconds off my PB and slightly hampered by the punched card lap arrangement. It was arguably my best marathon performance ever, and run mostly to feel and a steady pace.

The Test

img_2858My goal was to run ‘fasted’ with nothing pre-run or during until I absolutely needed it. If I felt good I would run to marathon distance. If I started to feel awful I’d call it quits and end earlier. The route was along the beach between Cambrils and Salou so there were shops, showers and water fountains at regular intervals. I wasn’t running across the dessert unsupported for a laugh and likely death. Target was to hold just under 8 minute miles for the duration of a 3h30 marathon. I set off in the morning, straight from bed to beach in a few minutes without food or drink prior to starting. The temperature was around 20degC so warm but not excessive to start with.

With podcasts to listen to the miles went quickly and half marathon passed easily. I was running mostly to feel but checking pace at intervals to avoid going too fast. After 14 miles the effort level needed to maintain the pace increased a little but was manageable. I was also starting to feel thirsty. The dripping from my cap reminded me I was sweating at a fair but manageable rate.

18 miles is often referred to as ‘the wall’ in marathons and was the last mile I managed to keep sub 8 for. Was my body slowing or my mind using this measure as a good excuse to slow? The thirst was building and I was also getting hot with the rising temps and increasing effort level so diverted via a few of the beach showers to cool myself down. This slowed the decline and I was on the way back to the villa now.

runMile 24 required climbing the hill back up to home and saw a 9m53 mile as I lacked the ability to push the hill. By this point my thirst was definitely strong but I still had no desire to eat. Hovering around 84kg I’m a long way off wasting away so have fat reserves for days. Back at the villa I ran through the kitchen like an aid station and downed a half litre of the local generic sports drink (a knock off version of Aquarius with sodium) before heading back out to round up. Hot and bothered I was where I expected to be but not enjoying these last few miles. The pit stop caused an 11 minute mile which didn’t help the average.

The drink appeared to hit the spot, although how much is placebo is impossible to measure. The final mile and a bit was at a restored 8m28 pace and I finished the marathon in 3h36 and an 8m15s average pace. One marathon done in comparative warmth for a Brit (was approx. 30degC at the end).

 The Outcome

 Depends on your social media view. It’s either:

“Man runs marathon distance, gets a bit thirsty, has a drink, finishes it marginally slower than his usual times.”


“Runner RISKS LIFE, attempts unimaginable distance in FASTED state, eschews VITAL gels and fluids. What he does at mile 24 to CHEAT DEATH will shock you.”

Either way I’ve found I can skip breakfast and happily run at (for me) a decent pace for 18 miles before struggling, but just need a drink to pep myself up. If nothing else it will build confidence if I miss a drink station on a PB attempt that I won’t expire instantly and can just get one at the next table.

Next time you’re at your 15th water station of a marathon, perusing the brightly covered offerings, consider maybe what you need might actually be nothing at all if you’re not thirsty.



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

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


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


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

Kit Choices

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

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

Shoes –

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

Preparation –

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

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

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

img_2917Food –

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

Race Plan –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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



First Duathlon- MK City Epic

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

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

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


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

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

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


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



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


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

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


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

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


Vallalta Trail Race – 24k Spanish stupidity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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