Transgrancanaria 128km- Hints & Tips

Whilst some races seem to have a plethora of hints, tips and advice pages, there seemed to be little about the Transgrancanaria 128km race so I thought I’d pass on what I discovered.

Registration –

Pretty easy, all done online. If staying on the South of the island it’s worth paying the extra 10 Euro for the bus from the finish (Maspalomas) to the start (Las Palmas) as it’s about an hours drive and would be an expensive cab ride.

Unlike a lot of UK races the entry stays open very late, around 2/3rd Feb before it’s closed for the race around the 22nd Feb.

Medical Cert – 

They need a medical cert to allow you to run. There is a pro-forma one on the website that’s best to use. It’s similar to the one used by Paris Marathon etc and just a check that your doctor doesn’t mind you going for a little jog. Get it signed by your doctor and upload before the deadline of 2/3rd Feb. It needs to be checked and verified by the organisers. I got no update that this had happened, but logged back into account about a week later and found it marked as approved.

Communications –

Don’t expect anything else to follow. UK races tend to update you on last minute items, reminders etc. This has none of that. As long as your medical cert shows as approved you’re good to go.

Hotels – 

Personally I’d get a hotel at Maspalomas for great beaches, quick access to expo and easy walk /taxi back from the finish. Also mentally I’m sure it helps knowing you’re running home.

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Bib Collection –

This is done from ExpoMeloneras (the expo hall) in Maspalomas from Wednesday onwards. They’ll update the timetable nearer the date but typically a morning (10am-1pm) and afternoon (4pm-8pm) window. To collect your bib you need photo ID matching your registration name (UK driving licence is fine). You’ll get bib with timing chip, a backup chip on a tag to affix to rucksack/pack and some goodies (in 2019 I got shoe gaiters, arm sleeves, and compression top). They don’t give safety pins as most runners seem to use bib-belts so if wanting to pin on your top bring some with you.

There are enough stalls at the expo to buy pretty much anything you’ve forgotten.

Kit Inspection –

img_2027There is a mandatory kit list as to be expected. I presumed this would be checked at bib collection so carried it all down. It wasn’t. They didn’t kit check before the race itself either, seemingly preferring to trust runners to have the right gear. Probably still worth bringing it with you just in case they change the approach in future to avoid a lot detour back to hotel to grab stuff.

Drop Bags –

At registration you’ll also get two plastic bags. One is for your end gear (warm hoody, flip flops, shower items (there are showers on site) etc), the other is for your drop bag for Garañón at approx 53 miles (I’d recommend spare socks, dry clothes, plasters, vaseline, any desired food or drinks, battery pack for charging phone or Garmin). The drop bag is relatively late in the race after some big climbs so don’t be surprised if it takes 16+hrs to get to it. Your Garmin may not last until here so may need to carry a battery pack anyway. Both bags will be waiting for you at the end of the race. I had all my gear in a drawstring rucksack within the plastic bag to make it easier to carry home after a long day of running.

All drop bags need to be given in by 1pm on Friday so you can take them back to hotel and pack at leisure assuming you don’t mind make a further trip out, or come to bib collection with all the gear you wish to fit in the bags. I’ve given suggestions of what to pack further down the page.

Start – 

img_2044The race starts 11pm on Friday. Yes – 11PM. If you’re on the coaches they leave from the Expo centre at 8:45pm, although for 2019 they were moved to 8pm with only a couple of hours notice via email so worth checking for updates. If you’ve paid for the coach it will be marked on your race bib so have it to hand to get on the coach. The journey is around the perimeter of island on the fast roads, not a twisty vomit inducing path through the hills.

img_2046All being well this should get you to the start on the beach at 9pm for a 2hr wait. Even on a warm day it is likely to be breezy and chilly so worth having a spare throw-away top, bin liner or putting on your raincoat for warmth. There isn’t much to do for the 2hrs so try and find a cafe/pub and sit and rest, listen to the warm up band. May be worth bringing some snacks and drinks for the wait. I went to the pub with some twitter chums. We got some odd looks.

img_2048The runners assemble on the sand about 10:40pm, into numbered pens as denoted by your bib. The race starts with fanfare and fireworks. It’s a great atmosphere but likely your body is wanting sleep not an 80 mile run.

First few miles is on sand, alternating between beach and boardwalk. If you get sand in shoes then wait until you leave the beach the second time and start to climb the mountain before emptying your shoes.

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Emergencies – 

Your bib has an emergency number on it, and a mobile is mandatory.

Loved ones / support crew & timings – 

It is likely you will be far slower in the race than expected. I consistently run 100 milers in the UK in sub 23hrs, so had a very optimistic 20hr goal and a more realistic 24hr plan. On the day I managed 26hr despite gaining places all race. I found it difficult technically and struggled but no more than most. It is hard and unless you’re used to running up and down loose rock and endless climbs it will be out of your comfort zone.

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There are only limited checkpoints on route which although updated regularly to website and the app, can still give concern to followers when you’ve not appeared at the next checkpoint for many hours after your planned arrival. Also worth noting some of the electronic checkpoints are on the exit to the aid stations so even if arriving broadly on time, you could well show up as very late if you hang around eating.

Cut off and DNFs –

The cut off is 30hrs which for ‘only’ 80 miles sounds ridiculously easy until you see the course (incidentally I made a very short mistake on course but otherwise ran the route as marked and clocked 83.87 miles so think overall you should assume approx 83 miles).

For 2019 there were 772 starters and 527 finishers, so approx 68% success rate with 32% dropping out. 76 finished in the final two hours. The average finish time is circa 24hrs but given this is an Ultra Trail World Cup event and attracts world class, corporate sponsored runners they skew the results somewhat. It’s also worth noting you may get a big mental slump when the sun drops on Saturday and you realise it’s night again, you’ve been running all through the previous night and day and still not finished.

Checkpoint Miles Cut Off (time of day)
Arucas – Santidad Alta 10.25 02:30:00
Teror 16.96 04:50:00
Moya – Fontanales 24.36 07:40:00
Los Pérez 31.5 10:35:00
Artenara 39.39 13:45:00
Tejeda 46.48 16:25:00
Garañón DROP BAG 53.13 19:00:00
Hierbahuerto 62.76 22:45:00
Ayagaures 68.85 01:00:00
Parque Sur 77.55 04:15:00
Meta (end) 79.54 05:00:00

Kit –

Mandatory kit is likely to be unchanged as below.

  • ID, passport or driving license (with photo)
  • Plastic cup
  • Emergency blanket (minimum 100 cm x 200 cm).
  • Headlamp, flashlight or front light (spare batteries required).
  • Red rear light (runners shall wear it on their rear side and keep it on throughout the race).
  • Mobile phone with enough credit and properly charged battery.
  • 1.5 l water bottle.
  • Plenty of food to eat throughout the race.
  • Race number, worn in the front so that it is easily visible.
  • Breathable waterproof jacket.
  • Cap, bandana, etc.
  • Cash (euros)

Personally I’d say bring a decent sized plastic cup not the stupid speed cups.

There is no requirement for backup headtorch but given you’d be completely lost without lights I’d suggest an emergency headtorch like the Petzl E+Lite Headlamp. You could have this in your mid-race pack as a backup if you trust yourself not to break your main lamp before then. I used a Unilite PS-CL1 cliplight for my rear light as it also features a bright torch mode, enough to hopefully get you to safety if needed.

Other kit I’d suggest in addition to mandatory kit would be as below:

Carrying at Start Wearing at Start Drop Bag 50 miles
Race vest / rucksack Buff for head Dry top
Caffeine tablets / shot blocks Arm sleeves Dry arm sleeves
Emergency torch Gloves Dry buff
Emergency whistle Bib belt or safety pins Dry hat
Peaked cap for daytime Calf guards Dry socks
Sunglasses for daytime Shorts Battery pack USB
Suncream for daytime Compression base layer Garmin charger lead
Emergency base layer or top Vest/Tee Phone charger lead
Tissues (for loo stops) Shoes More salt tablets
Vaseline Socks Bag for sweaty gear
Plasters/tape End Drop Bag Sports drink
Salt tablets Flip flops Energy drink
Aid station list / timings Hoodie Beer
Zip lock bag for food Shower gear / wet wipes Extra Food
Food/gels
Hiking poles
Paracetamol

Temperatures / kit – 

This will vary a lot throughout the race, expect 8/10degC up to 25degC. The early stages can be a little chilly so I found the use of arm sleeves and gloves to easily regulate temperature helped a lot. For much of the heat of the day you’re in the dense woods so protected from worst of the sun. That being said it is bright so suncream is sensible.

The wind can come suddenly and be gone almost as quickly so don’t be surprised to be baked for a few miles only to be chilled for the next few. For cooling I borrowed ice from aid stations to go under hat and in arm sleeves (rolled down like sweatbands).

For 2019 the temperature rose towards the end as Maspolamas had been basking in 29degC heat compared to 20degC on the hills so was still hot even at 1am.

Poles / cheat sticks –

I’ve never used before but found to be a god-send both climbing and descending. I saw possibly two people without, and two more who had fashioned poles from bamboo canes on route. You can get cheat sticks as cheap as £20 on ebay so worth buying. I pulled mine out around 15-20 mile in and never put them away again. If flying in consider if they’ll fit in suitcase or if you’ll be allowed in hand luggage (unlikely) if not checking a bag into hold.

Shoes –

Definitely a trail shoe event but get something with a little cushioning if able as there are a lot of fast descents on hard surfaces that pound the knees

Aid stations – 

img_2057These are pretty manic affairs at the start. Most have isotonic drink, coke and water in vats. I typically prefer a 50/50 coke and water mix.

Food is mostly oranges, bananas, cheese, meat cubes, energy bars, chocolate, fruit and nuts. There is hot food at Artenara at 40 miles and Garañón at 53 miles. It’s typically pasta or potatoes. It’s hot and fills a hole.

Training –

img_2055For most UK runners, specific training for the race will be hard. There are climbs that go on for hours, stressing your calf muscles from endless “toe steps”. The descents can be equally long and on rocks or hard surfaces, pounding your quads. Even the flat sections may be along dried river beds, tripping and balancing on bowling balls of rock. Whilst none of these are exceptionally taxing on their own for short periods, the sheer duration of the sections is hard mentally and physically. There is a downhill path on uneven cobbles that appears to go on for so long you begin to pray for an uphill just to save your legs.

img_2076Ultimately unless you live in the Lake District or regularly trespass in your local quarry for hill repeats you will find the course taxing. Accept that it is hard. Enjoy the sections through the woods where you can gain some speed and try not to fall off a ravine to your death. You will likely get some miles as slow as 30-40 minutes.

 

Route marking –

It’s very well marked, with marker tape and flashing lights throughout, with arrows for changes of direction. There is one final descent into Ayagaures that is especially marked as ‘technical and dangerous’ as you drop hundreds of meters down a seemingly sheer cliff.

Your race bib has a course profile on it but so zoomed out it can be deceptive. The final 27 miles of the course is the same as the marathon and in theory an easy downhill run. In reality you may find yourself climbing for hours at times during this downhill section as sneaky uphills are hidden in the profile.

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End – 

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The final section is along a dried up river bed over yet more rocks, before changing to the dry canal bed through town. At two points you have to climb up and back down the canal to go through a checkpoint or avoid road crossings. Climbing stairs after 80 hard miles is comedic.

At the finish in front of the Expo you’ll get a finishers body warmer/zip up gillet thing. They have beer at the end if you ask for it! Don’t forget to collect any drop bags from back inside the expo hall.

 

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National Running Show

img_1801If you’ve read the book or sections on this blog you’ll know I actively go out my way to avoid running expos. They’re tacked on to a major running event and the organisers insist all entrants attend some damp smelling hall in the arse end of town to pick up a bib that could have just as easily been posted out. Some like Paris marathon even fix the layout and pedestrian routes in such a way you have to force your way past EVERY BLOODY STALL just to get back out.

My chief gripe with expos is the timing. The day before your major race should not be spent walking miles, crammed into public transport, on your feet all day. It should be spent at home, or at your hotel, relaxing with a cold beverage whilst mentally running through your checklist, reassuring yourself it’s all in hand. For this reason on the odd occasion I attend expos and can’t get someone to go in my place I approach it with an SAS level of preparation, identifying the optimum time to visit, studying the layout for shortest escape routes and retrieval options in case of casualties to under-cooked hot dogs. The whole experience is stressful and best avoided.

img_1829The downside of this is I do miss the interesting stalls, new running gear and advice. It was therefore refreshing to hear Mike, organiser of the National Running Show on The Bad Boy Running Podcast sharing this view and that he’d set up his expo specifically to be an antidote to that.  Held in January, at the NEC in Birmingham it’s easy for a good portion of the country to get to and crucially is at the start of peoples training cycles for their spring races, not the end. With this in mind I applied to be an ambassador as well to help promote the event (and I can’t deny, hopefully promote the book as well by association).

 

As with any expos, whether for running or double glazing, the events break down into talks, demonstration areas and stalls.

Talks –

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The standard of speakers was impressive, from Olympians to those with amazing stories and great takes on the running scene. These varied from light-hearted to inspirational stories and a stark change from the usual formulaic pre-marathon talks where you wonder how many more times someone can say “don’t go off to fast, stick to your plan” before they struggle to fill their 10 minute slot.

The only danger of the more interesting speakers is arriving home to declare to the significant other that you’ve sold the house and car and are embarking on a 2000 mile run across Africa because it sounded like such fun.

Another good feature was the ‘Ask The Experts’ area where you could pop by and quiz runners on anything that was on your mind but either too busy or too embarrassed to ask during their main talks.

Demonstration areas –

The organisers set up a running track in the hall and at various stages suppliers arranged trials of their gear so you could get to really have a go on those new trainers you were considering. Sadly Nike weren’t in attendance as would have loved to try out the Zoom Vaporfly 4% before parting with silly money for them and their ‘guaranteed PB powers’.

Other areas had strength and conditioning talks and exercises for those that indulge in that sort of stuff and don’t just run until their legs fall off.

The treadmill demo area was a neat touch. They’re an expensive investment and so few shops have them out for use that taking the plunge based on a website review would be akin to buying a car without a test drive.

img_1812On the subject of treadmills, I decided that like a used car with too many miles under the bonnet I should take advantage of the Run 3D stand and get my running form checked. If you’ve seen footage of Hollywood stars converted into cartoon characters by wearing motion capture suits covered in ping pong balls then it’s a lot like that. Stand still as the staff stick multiple dots on your feet, legs and waist and then run on a treadmill where your motion is picked up by cameras and analysed.

The upshot for me is I have a very flat ultra-runner style, with minimal ‘vertical excursions’ (how much your hips bounce up and down) a low cadence (how many steps you take) and a little leg lift. I’m told it’s a very economical running style. The kids heard all this and declared it as ‘an old man shuffle’. Cheers. The staff did pick up stiffness in my right leg (the duck footed one) and gave some massage demos on how to loosen this up. A few days later the full report came through and makes for interesting reading.

Stalls –

Normally these are the most pointless areas of expos. It’s the worst time to pick up new kit or nutrition unless it’s something you’ve used before, in which case why wait until the day before to get it? Were you born stupid? In this case you have months to practice with any purchases and crucially without the time pressures of most expos you have an opportunity to sample and shop at leisure.

img_1824.jpgBeing husky and apparently shuffling like an old man I am an expert at chaffing. A lot of Americans swear by Squirrel’s Nut Butter (or SNB) to prevent this. It’s recently made an introduction into the UK and they had a stall so I was able to try it out and picked up the SNB, a small travel size one for upcoming Transgrancanaria and also their foot repair cream “Happie Toes” so hopefully my hoofs will look more like feet on the beach in the preceding week.

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Although a firm Adidas fan, I’d been debating Hoka for a while but they’re seldom in shops and often come up small on sizing so hard to order online without the risk and hassle of returns, queuing in the Post Office behind someone getting a postal order. Fortunately Hoka had a big stall so was able to try a lot on, chat to the salesman who had either genuinely run Transgrancanaria before or was an expert bluffer and picked up some trail shoes for £60. Bargain.

img_1825.jpgLast item for me was head torches. I’ve made do with pretty cheap ones in the past but figured falling off the side of a volcano is probably best avoided so keen to get something suitable. Unilite and LED Lensor both had big stalls and in the end I was convinced by the LED Lensor NEO10R at 600 lumens and with easily swapped single battery on the rear, and a Unilite emergency clip light that functioned as the mandatory red rear light for the race but could work as a normal torch in an emergency.

Other stalls had a good mix of nutrition and running gear, everything from hydration packs to seamless undies.

Worth going?

Overall I’d say the expo is a must visit to kick your training off. Early January is exactly the right time to pick up gear and get that injection of motivation when most of us are feeling festively plump, lethargic and would rather go into hibernation than for a run. I’ve already booked my ticket for next year and looking forward to it.

How to run lots of miles in a month – January 2019

The focus of 2019 for me was all about getting faster and trying to bag that Good For Age for London 2020. As well as changing the qualification times, the organisers changed the procedure so it is now based on the age you run the qualifier, not the age you would be on the date of the London Marathon. Sounds minor, but for me turning 40 in March, with the application deadline in August it means I need to run a very ambitious sub 3h00 before March (when 39), or ‘just’ sub 3h05 between March and August (when 40), to allow me to run the April 2020 London Marathon when I would be 41.

Given there aren’t many fast courses in the later part of the window it mostly left March, April and possibly early May to qualify. With that in mind I spent the last few months of 2018 concentrating on speed work, got my 5k back down to (almost, missed by 1 second) sub20 and finally broke 90 minutes for the Half. It all seemed a good base for a spring attempt.

Then Christmas happened. No I didn’t get fatter. Well I did but that’s not the issue. Instead I got distracted on the internet. The ever-supportive wife was indulging in her favourite hobby of looking for holidays and noted that for once the February half term coincided with the Transgrancanaria (TGC) race event in Gran Canaria. I’d had this on my bucket list for a while ever since clubmate Chris ran it a few years back. The event has several races from 17km up to the full 360 degree loop of the island staged over several days. The main event is the 128km single run the length of the island.

I love the Canary Islands and love racing in Spain so it always appealed but the timing never worked out. This year it did so I sort of slipped on the keyboard and entered the 128km distance event with a mere 7500 metres of ascent to celebrate my impending big birthday. The advantage of metric races is these figures all mean nothing to me other than being shorter than the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race I’ve done, although I suspect a bit hillier.

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Given it was a longish race (about 80 miles when I reluctantly googled it) I figured I should probably do some training in the intervening 6 weeks, especially in light of how much the December marathon took out of me (I was so tired I took rest days) and how monumentally awful I’ve become at anything not flat. This coincided with the Country To Capital (C2C) event posting on Facebook that they had places left. I didn’t know how long this was, only that it was a baby ultra and also on my list of races I’d like to do one day. So I slipped again and signed up. Two ultras booked for the first two months of 2019 means the GFA may have to wait a while.

Country To Capital went well, managed a sub 7hr time for 45 miles.

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Knowing I needed to get more miles in and getting invited to a local Garmin Connect January Mileage competition caused the competitive element to kick in and the mileage to creep up. With exception of one run at 18 miles and the C2C at 45 miles all the rest were shorter runs due to work and family commitments, and basically not enjoying long runs (I never have). I ran when able, pushed myself to round up shorter runs and did a few double run days. I passed 200 miles by around the 20th with a goal of 300 for the month.

Clubmate Tim was hot on my heels which added some competition and the pair of us crept up to the 300 with gaps as close as 2 miles and as large as 26 miles. By the morning of the 29th I was sitting ahead on 294 miles with three days left. As I went to bed on the penultimate night the gap was down to just 4 miles in my favour. It comes to something when 320+ isn’t a guaranteed win.  Other than May last year when I ran Grand Union Canal Race 145, Thames Path 100 and Milton Keynes Marathon in the same month I’ve never got close to that.

Going into the final day I reasoned that whatever happened I’d scored a solid block of training for TGC and hopefully guaranteed a finish barring any unforeseen issues. That was the sensible side of me. The competitive side saw me out the house at 5am with an excited dog, running in -4degC weather to bag a nice little half marathon before breakfast. Gulp! Goal was to get at least 26 in for the day. That would give Tim 30 to draw even. For a marathon runner that would hopefully be intimidating.

In the end he smashed out 30 miles for the day and it was only by adding a warmup to the run leading I amassed enough to finish 6 miles ahead of him. Nervously uploading at 11pm, I just hoped we were both done. 356 is a big month!

Never planning to attempt such a stupid distance again, but interesting to note you can run big numbers without losing every weekend to 20-30 mile training runs and make up from multiple short runs.  Also managed to shift 4kg of Xmas weight.

 

Country To Capital – first race of 2019

Sometimes you just know. Sure there’s plenty of fish in the sea and picking is hard but occasionally you get a good vibe and the other party knows what needs to be done to finish you off. The communication is good. You turn up and are handled well, they’re experienced. They coax the best out of you, help you through the trickier moves and finally leave you sweaty, tired, spent and unable to walk properly for days. If you’re lucky they will do the same for your mates as well.

Of course I’m referring to race organisers. What else?

Country to Capital has been on my radar for a while and recommended as a good season opener. The race organisers Go Behind Ultra have a great reputation but previously never used them.

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I signed up on impulse over Christmas as some clubmates were running it (even more than I originally thought it turns out) so I’d have company.

All the pre-event stuff seemed good and there was a regular string of updates as they re-checked the course and made alterations due to issues on routes. They also updated the GPX route so nobody had an excuse for getting lost. It’s these things that matter. I’ve been to events before where the same blurry photocopied course notes from the inaugural 1812 event are handed over with some scribbles for diversions that are as useful as a Magic 8 Ball for navigation.

In the end I managed to beg a lift to start from a further clubmate Julian, back for his fourth go. The race starts in a pub in Wendover and finishes in Little Venice in London so you need to give some thought to transport on this one. Or bring a bike.

Arriving at the pub used for the start it was packed. My planning had been limited and I hadn’t realised how many entrants there were. Despite the big numbers the registration, chip collection and bag drop were done like professionals. Starting in a pub was also a great change from events that kick off in a cold wet muddy field full of cow poo.

At registration you get a full route course in a book. It seemed detailed and thorough but I relied on GPS so it spent the race getting sweating and falling apart in my race vest.

The first train from London arrives 15 minutes before race start and the organisers go from slick to super slick to get them all processed in time for the 8:30am start.

The first thing everyone tells you about C2C is to go fast for the first gate. Jen, Matt and I got stuck near the back so didn’t. We queued a bit but nothing big. If you were going for the win I would definitely recommend a sprint start.

The early parts of the course are mostly fields and footpaths with lots of gates and stiles to break it up (another reason to go balls out from the start if looking to win).

The three of us ran well and stayed together. Normally Jen kills me on races so wasn’t sure if she was holding back or Matt and I were about to blow. Time would tell.

Aid stations are good – water and energy drink, gels, some awesome sweets and the best cake I’ve ever eaten. Over the course of the race I ate more cake than over Christmas. The variety of snacks at aid stations isn’t the ‘kids birthday party’ you get at Centurion events but more than enough, especially with the cake. I liked the cake.

Much of the route is either made paths or concrete/hard packed towpaths once on canal. Unless the previous weeks have been awful I’d recommend road shoes with some grip rather than full trail. Personally I’d go for Adidas Supernova as they’re my preferred shoe and suit my ample mass and poor form (no I’m not sponsored by them but I’d love to be).

On subject of kit, the mandatory list is pretty brief, relying on common sense for the entrants to pick what they need. Given it’s in January the weather is variable so I’d personally add a spare long sleeved base layer in ziplock bag, emergency foil blanket and a decent rain coat. The usual bag of tissues, plasters and Vaseline is a good idea as well. Being a short ultra there is no intermediate drop bag so you need to carry everything you think you’d need. In an absolute disaster there are two supermarkets on route so I’d bring emergency debit card and some folding cash. There are also pubs. I wasn’t allowed to stop in any. My mates are evil.

The course has a couple of hills in first 10 miles or so but otherwise flat. Hitting 19 miles as it clicked over to 3hrs we had made good progress. Marathon distance came at 4h15ish and I felt good. Then we got to 30 and I didn’t any more. This was my first ultra since July and it was showing. Matt and I stayed together whilst Jen powered on.

My mental state probably wasn’t helped by being back on the route of the Grand Union Canal Race and recalling the Hades Inferno that nearly did for me last May after a 120 mile warmup. Given Matt was using this event as training for the GUCR I tried not to let the PTSD show.

Matt and I worked our way along, walking the bridges and trying to keep a steady rhythm. Although we had no real time goal, sub 8hr seemed a nice target and with six miles to go we seemed to be a few minutes inside sub 7hr expected time. It was close.

Ignoring the massive amount of litter/fly tipping on some sections (Londoners I have to say, are at times bloody disgusting) I looked for the landmarks from my last time along here. We both agreed that at 1 mile to go we would push for it, with no hard feelings if one of us blasted out a Mo Farah sprint finish.

If you’ve done the GUCR you’ll know the finish line is at the toilets in Little Venice. As we approached there was nothing there. Momentary panic was averted by spectators cheering us on and advising the finish was a few metres beyond the toilets. Unfortunately just like Jen, our inner Mo had deserted us and instead we finished together, both shocked to scrape under the 7hr. Jen had put 12 minutes into us on the final 13-14 miles which is either amazing or embarrassing depending on your view.

Time for more cake, beer and a train home.

If you’ve not done a Go Beyond Ultra event before then I’d recommend them, and also this race. They know what they’re doing and you’re in safe hands (add your own sexual innuendos here).

The best time to start running is always today. Or failing that January.

It’s January. Most of the population are stumbling out of the carb-fuelled fog of the festive period, wondering why their clothes don’t fit and pretending getting out of breath singing Auld Langs Syne is not a poor reflection of their health.

gymMany will take this opportunity to put their New Year resolutions into practice and join a gym, enticed by the cheap joining offers and the flexible contracts requiring only the sacrifice of their first borne to cancel when inevitably they discover sweating in a room full of sweaty people, grinding away on sweat drenched machines, negotiating pools of sweat, and getting showered in sweat stenched changing rooms is no more appealing than it was last year.

If you have too much money and a limited imagination of how to spend it then a gym is ideal. If you’ve heard of the limitless things more fun than a gym (colonic irrigation?) you could try a cheaper sport instead and go for a jog.

Whether new to running or returning from an absence, January is ideal as you won’t be alone. All those lucky ballot winners from the London Marathon will have awoken, remembered the fateful day they got their place in October and realise they’ve not even run for a bus in the intervening months. The unlucky ballot rejects may have made the shock discovery that other marathons not only exist but are also a lot closer to the 87% of the population that doesn’t live in London, with less hassle to enter. Only a credit card and a few clicks stand between them and the undertaking of a physical feat of epic proportions.

You don’t have to enter races if you just fancy recreational running, but having a hard target in the future will help motivate and prevent constant prevarication. You could run any day, so conversely have no need to run today. Tomorrow will suffice but never comes.

Most big running events are in either Spring or Autumn. Training in Summer for an Autumn race sounds ideal, until you factor in blistering heatwaves, sunburn, dodgy tan lines, abundant undergrowth, feisty livestock and midge attacks in the evenings. Sensible runners aim for Spring fixtures and training in cool conditions. Come race day they emerge from the shadows into the light like a butterfly from a chrysalis, ready to take on the miles whether over 10k, half marathon, marathon or even longer. Magazines and websites are awash with training plans promising to take you from zero to hero in as little as 16 weeks. Buy one, stick the plan on the wall and cross it off. Build slowly and consistently.

Another advantage of starting in January is darkness. Nobody can see how badly you run, and your dignity will be spared. The reality is that everyone but Mo looks stupid running. Even the legendary Paula Radcliffe has a weird head wobble that would make her a laughing stock had she not typically finished and driven home before the rest got near the line. Eventually you’ll come to accept your duck footed, arm swinging method of perambulation is no less comical than anyone else’s – for now though, it’s possible to remain hidden, only briefly glimpsed in the pools of street lights.

sportbrOn the subject of ‘hidden’, how’s your body confidence? Fancy strutting your stuff along the local canal in little more than your birthday suit? Because that’s what it took to get any running done during the glorious but unaccustomed summer we basked in last year. Social media was flooded with confused Brits querying whether running in just a sports bra, or fully topless, was acceptable in public. No Brit ever needed to ask this question before and we were rightly confused. It was as unexpected as your kid being arrested while scrumping pineapples and mangos from the local farm just outside Dudley. Avoid the social awkwardness, wait for more temperate single digit weather, and you can run in clothes that keep the bits you’d rather not display hidden away. A season of training will cover your stumpy pins with rippling muscles and you can kick-start planes for Easyjet.

Mental health is finally being talked of openly and in all its forms. Virgin Money London Marathon advise that 20% of the UK population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or ‘winter blues’, caused by a decrease in daylight and subsequent Vitamin D deficiency. Whilst running is not a cure for every ailment (you can’t run away from your problems but it’s worth trying), getting outside to bag some miles during lunch breaks may not only improve your mental health but also help control your waistline. Side effects of SAD include cravings for high-carb foods and excessive sleeping. Your body thinks you’re a bear building up a layer of fat for hibernation. Your boss has other ideas and would like you to show up every day and at least make the pretence of work in return for financial remuneration.  

A big part of running is social. Many may be happy to run alone, but benefits from training with likeminded individuals are immense both in performance and safety. Now is the perfect time to experiment with a few running clubs before choosing whichever has the right mix of ability and attitude to motivate you through the coming months. Relentless positivity and back slapping may be ideal for you. Others prefer mutual ridicule and mockery. If you can’t laugh at yourself when snot freezes to your face at least someone else can. 

xcMembership of a club also enables you to join in local winter cross-country events. If you’re experiencing flashbacks to horrific compulsory cross-country races inflicted on you as a child by teachers embittered after not being allowed to take real subjects…calm down. Breathe deeply. School cross-country may have been an exercise in subterfuge by loafing off whilst maintaining the pretence of actual exercise but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is to be an adult representing your club, and it will bring out the inner competitor you never knew existed. The runner from Shelbyville disappearing into the distance is all the encouragement you’ll need to hunt him down like a rabid dog. The club points are yours by right! It’s an affront that they even consider taking them from you, and a winter of good-natured rivalry across muddy fields will build you an impressive base level of fitness. 

Whilst all this may sound appealing in the comfort of a coffee shop, it can be more problematic in the cold light of an even colder day. Don’t delay; start running. Begin as soon as possible. Form the habit when it’s still relatively mild and inviting outside. Look forward to those pre-work jogs with your mates on crisp mornings because soon they will become a part of your routine that you will crave no matter what the arctic winter throws at you. 

If you need some further motivation then head on over to The National Running Show later this month for advice, products, motivation and to meet some legends of running. I’ll be there too but more in the ‘cautionary tale’ than expert role.

 

 

2018 – Running Recap

2018 is done. I ran a bit and did some races. Some interesting things happened in the world of running. Some were disappointing.

January

It was cold and dark. People ran a lot and posted photos of blackness to prove how early they’d left the house. #darkoutside

February

It was still cold. It became obligatory to photograph your own legs in running shorts to prove how double hard you were. #doublehard

March

It snowed a lot. Many races were cancelled. Some did a great job of it. Some displayed their usual cack handedness.

I got a 3h13 marathon and achieve Good For Age for London. Briefly. Buggers.

April 

yukoBoston Marathon was wetter than an otters pocket. Many runners cried. Yuki Kawauchi didn’t and just smashed out his gazillionth fast marathon and an outright win proving form is temporary but class is permanent.

London Marathon revised their good for age times giving runners a whole week to ramp up their training ahead of the 2018 race. Ultimately this was pointless as the mercury crept up a bit and everyone complained it was so hot their hair ignited and trainers melted to the tarmac. Some of pacers who’d been over optimistic about their performance were found out as they shuffled in 30+ minutes adrift due to the shock discovery that spring is warmer than winter.

May

img_9819We had proper heat in the UK.

The two bank holidays were the hottest on UK record.

The first I ran Thames Path 100, then MK Marathon. The second I did a little jaunt along the canal for the GUCR145 and have zero sympathy for those upset that London was a bit warm. Sorry not sorry.

June

It was still hot. We had a weird thing called ‘summer’ in the UK. Social media was awash with influencers giving advice on how to run when a little warm. It was surprising how many different ways “wear a hat, drink a bit, slow down a bit” could be re-hashed.

Also much debate on whether it was acceptable for ladies to run in just their sports bras or blokes to run topless. The answer to both being ‘yes if you want, it’s your body, nobody really gives a toss’.

ride100endJuly

I cheated and did a bike ‘race’, the Prudential Ride 100.

It confirmed my suspicions that cycling is not as hard as the lycra-clad MAMILs would like you to believe.

IMG_0593August

Adding to my collection of stupid Spanish I entered a vertical race in Lanzarote. Running up a mountain. In the dark. It was hard.

 

September

Seemingly nothing interesting happened. I blame Brexit.

October

Everyone got the annual London Marathon reject email and took to social media to denounce the whole thing as fixed.
An ‘influencer’, sponsored by a running brand walked around Chicago marathon in over 8 hours, several hours over the cut off. Many were inspired. Apparently. Some followers suggested they run Comrades next. Some others suggested they should take less selfies and train a bit. The second group were wildly denounced as bullies.

November

ASICS UK managed to set the ‘This Girl Can’ movement back a decade with a glorious own goal of zero body fat models exercising on train tracks. It was quickly pulled after ridicule and unwanted attention from Network Rail and British Transport Police.

Also in November everyone got the annual Berlin Marathon reject email and took to social media to denounce the whole thing as fixed. There is a pattern here.

img_1030Most importantly however a book was published in November that has been likened (by me) to ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘1984’ in it’s importance to the world – Run Like Duck. More recently it was declared by a local runner as “The best book I’ve read in a decade” by Chris who hasn’t read any books since school except ‘Peppa Pig goes to the bacon factory’ for kids bedtime.

December

I finally ran sub90 for a half marathon. No other news is relevant.

Bye bye 2018, hello 2019

What I’d like to see –

  • Running brands sponsoring up and coming runners on the cusp of greatness, not selfie obsessed ambassadors. Just chuck them some trainers and get some free race entries sorted at least.
  • Failing that at least sponsoring people that enter races, train, and run them to the best of their abilities.
  • An end to excessive hashtags on EVERY SODDING MEDIA POST. #sponsored #voteforme #freeshit #willendorseanyoldcrap #magicsocksmakeyourunfaster #foamrollersfixeverything

The Book Launch! Run Like Duck

As an updated on all that has happened book wise –

img_1417
Cheesy photo!

The book was officially released 15th November with the signing party the following week (due to 15th being my lovely wife’s Birthday and not wanting her to spend it surrounded by runners talking about running. I also fancied avoiding a kick in the unmentionables for subjecting her to it).

 

img_1404

The release went well. Really well. The publishers, Sandstone Press rang me for a catch up and to advise that on only the first day they had already pressed the button on a second print run such was the demand. I think I failed to convey my full excitement at this, such was the shock and only managed a far from eloquent “Oh that’s nice”.

After a weekend in Vienna (no copies of the book in Austria, must work on the translation) it was back to UK and the official signing party. Originally planned for a book shop, as is traditional, there were a few logistical issues to be sorted and eventually the very helpful Dionne at Up & Running Milton Keynes gladly agreed to host it and did a great job.

The plan was a for a two hour session, with Cloë chairing it, a bit of Q&A and a reading. In the end it fell by the wayside as we had an unending stream of buyers for the full two hours. It was great to see so many old and new faces and talk (endlessly) about running with fellow enthusiasts. Many had amazing stories to share of shedding half their body weight, overcoming depression or bereavement and was a great example of just how good exercise can be to physical and mental health, and in particular the easy access of running with no kit requirements, pitch bookings or team selection.

Thanks to all who came out, it was truly a great evening.