I wrote a novel – Locked Down & Lonely

Buy the book on Kindle HERE

February 2021. After an odd year of working through the pandemic and spending a lot of time in the car on my own as an essential worker (nothing glamorous or heroic like a nurse, but a project manager in the power generation and waste industry), I was once again in the car on my own driving along mostly deserted roads. I would have preferred desserted roads with ice cream and apple pie.

Passing through the sleeping streets of Swindon heading for the M4 my mind began to wander and think upon all that happened in the previous year through multiple lockdowns, isolations, social distancing and the public learning what furlough and the R value meant. As often commented we had lived through unprecedented times and much of life had changed, likely forever. Blowing out birthday candles and expecting people to eat the spittle covered food was now tantamount to biological warfare.

It occurred to me that 2020 would be a (hopefully) unique year and an ideal backdrop for a novel. Relationships had been tested during the year and it became the make or break of some. For those still in the market it began a confusing period where even dating was illegal at times. An invisible threat had put the breaks on many life plans to find ‘the one’ and settle down, or even just to take someone home for Netflix and chill. During a recent run I’d passed a couple several times who were walking around the local lake at the required two metre distance and from the snatches of conversation I picked up it became clear this was a very awkward first date. Thankful not be alone during the pandemic and having the support of my wife and family, I began to formulate a story arc of two singletons thrown together by the events of 2020. By the time I arrived in Bridgwater I had the entire story mapped out in my head with the key scenes and I sat in the car park of Greggs jotting down notes before it left my mind as it was destined to shortly be replaced by performance testing characteristics of generator sets.

In those brief 20 or 30 lines I got down everything I needed and emailed it back to myself. I had a full story. If felt like it would be a good story. Under no delusion that I had devised a work to rival 1984 or Catcher in the Rye I was hopeful it could be an enjoyable read and a compelling tale that might help capture the events of the past 12 months. If still around in a decade it could be picked up by a holidaymaker on a lounger who’d laugh and recall the odd year where we didn’t leave the house and could only meet up with family if they formed a sports team or came to your house to quote for building works. All that was left was to write it.

The advantage of a defined story arc is I could drop in wherever I wanted and work on the key chapters that appealed to me whenever I had the opportunity to write. Being my first novel I found it far slower to progress than the previous two non-fiction works. Even the simple matter of inserting quotation marks and formatting the conversation correctly added to the process. It’s far easier to state that “Bob and I discussed dinner and went to the curry house” than it is to outline the conversation, the setting, our motivation and what we were wearing. Did Bob reluctantly agree to the curry or was he jubilant at the decision?

By June I had most of the book written and planned to finish it off over a holiday booked on a UK cruise. Unable to sail their usual routes some companies were offering cruises that never left UK waters, avoiding the issue of travelling and border entry checks by simply idling around the UK coast as a mobile hotel. In reality the timetable was busier than I expected and I had the first physical copies of my second book Ducking Long Way delivered so was keen to read that again, praying that no mistakes had made it through the proof reading.

Back home I realised I needed to make the final push and get it finished. 25th August it was done. Being conscious that I was a bloke writing a book very much from the dual perspective of a man and a woman as the lead characters I elected to give a copy to my wife for honest feedback and comment. It was truly scary. My running books were written for runners. I was a runner therefore largely confident it was something that the target market would relate to and enjoy. This was a novel written for everyone to (hopefully) enjoy. What if she turned around and asked what this steaming pile of stupidity was that I subjected her to?

Fortunately the response was positive. She read the whole thing within a few days, making a list of comments or corrections, but largely minor in nature. None of the suggestions were “burn this excuse for literature before anyone else has to read it” which was a relief.

It should be noted that in one scene I had the main female character looking for a dress for her first date and pondering something with ‘side-boob’ (a nod to Family Guy). I was firmly advised that no woman in history has ever set out to show side boob and to correct it. The market research continued as she asked every female friend to voice their opinion and it was unanimous. Women do not ever seek out a dress with side boob. So it was re-written. I was lied to by Family Guy. If I find out dogs can’t talk I will really lose all respect for that show.

After the final rewrite I began to approach publishers and literary agents. Most writers are represented by agents as many publishers won’t even entertain submissions that aren’t via an agent. I had been lucky to secure two book deals with the wonderful people at Sandstone Press without one but this was far from usual.

As I progressed options I looked at self-publishing as well. My sales figures from the first book had gradually shifted from physical books being the majority to eBooks making a considerable chunk, even the majority in periods dominated by Covid and shop closures. Having chatted to other local running author James Adams about using a self-publishing service such as Matador I approached them to see what the arrangement would be.

A common misconception is that a self-publishing service will release anything. Whilst this may be true for some, the majority still have quality control in terms of content and choice of genre. Matador considered my manuscript and offered a publishing arrangement. The difference between a traditional publishing contract and a self-publishing arrangement is that everything has a cost attached that as the author you have to stump up ahead of any income. Some items such as copy editing are a single price, whilst the various format specific services for physical (paper) or eBook (kindle etc) are unique to each and it can all begin to mount up. Taking into account the majority of my recent sales had been eBooks I elected to go for that only, with a mind that in the event it became a success I could later release a physical version (50 shades Of Grey used a similar approach) and if it flopped I wouldn’t be stuck with a loft full of books.

Contracts were signed 1st November and I received the copy edited version 7th December. They advised that it would be around 6 weeks due to workload of the copy editors. Meanwhile a draft cover was generated and I approved on 8th December whilst working through the suggested changes to the book which I finally finished and signed off on 12th December. The book was now complete. All that was left for Matador to finish the formatting for the eBook formats and get it ready for sale. They finished the formatting on 24th December, and got it to me in January for final approval on 4th and it went live on Amazon on 6th January.

The book, Locked Down & Lonely is now out, 11 months since I had the initial idea, and just over 2 months since signing contracts.

Now I just need to pray someone buys it……

DIY attempt at a SkiErg

If you’ve ever been to a gym you’ll have seen the rowing machines, typically by Concept 2 and had a play.

They’re perfect cardio and the basic design is uncharged for years. All credit to Concept 2 as they still do aftersales support for every model, right back to 1981. My own rower is a second hand Model C from made between 1993 and 2003 and still going strong, they even do upgrade kits to the newer style performance monitors. There’s very few companies that give you reasons to keep your old kit rather than replace it entirely. Even the very early models are worth at least £300 second hand. Try selling a 20 or 30 year old treadmill for that.

There’s very little in life as well built as a Concept 2 rower.

Concept 2 have more recently branched out and make a BikeErg, which is by all accounts an insanely hard workout and closer to an Assault Bike than a normal exercise bike:

Looks nice, but £980 is pretty steep. Like the rowers it will probably outlast the owner.

Their other offering is the SkiErg. These are £700 if you mount to a wall or another £180 for the stand. Again not cheap but you get what you pay for. I looked around for a while but nothing cheap came up second hand.

The selling point of a SkiErg is it “helps you build strength & endurance, working the entire body in an efficient, rhythmic motion. Skiing is a low impact, high calorie burning exercise suitable for all ages and abilities.” Or in basic terms, stand on the spots, yanking and bend until you see your lunch. They are beloved of crossfitters and lifters.

As you’ll have seen all their products are basically variations of the air resistance rower mechanism that is their speciality. There are some unbranded copies from China that you can find online but still expensive and given the likely issues with a warranty claim from a dodgy third party I wouldn’t risk it.

The Plan

What I did find on the internet when looking around is several people have simply strapped their concept 2 to the wall or a weight frame and used it as a basic SkiErg.

So I looked around for a cheap Concept 2 and failed. Figuring this was going to be an experiment I widened my search and found a Marcy rower for £15. The monitor wasn’t working but I could live with that. It was also magnetic when I’d rather air resistance but beggars can’t be choosers.

A Marcy RM413 not realising it’s fate

A quick check in battery compartment and some battery corrosion had ruined one of the terminals. Quick clean up and new solder and the screen was working. Gave it a test and all worked well. Plan eventually is take the runner off and mount the whole unit in the roof of the garage with just the handles hanging down so I have a SkiErg that takes up no floor space.

As luck would have it I found someone had already designed and modelled some SkiErg handles and uploaded on THINGIVERSE – I printed out a set on the 3D printer, took about 10 hours. These have a hole through them to use cord or similar. I didn’t have any cord but did have a lot of heavy duty hooks and chains leftover from the kids climbing frame that sadly rotted away. I drilled out the handles to allow me to tap them and screw in a hook each. Then with some lightweight chain I tested the idea just looped around the rower handle to see if it worked.

Once I knew it worked in theory I raided the climbing frame pile and found two suitable lengths of chain that were coated for safety and avoid finger traps for kids. In their new use they would stop annoying clanking.

PAY ATTENTION HERE – When you take the old handle off the rower, whether belt or chain, the machine will try and pull it back in. Normally not an issue as the massive handle stops this. You’ve just removed that so if you let go of the chain/strap it will disappear into the machine and be a pain to fish back out, you’ll probably need to strip it all down. For this reason either have someone help or tie a knot in the strap/stick a screwdriver through the chain or something!

In my case the strap has a loop that goes around the handle. Undo the two screws as per photo earlier and slide this off then stick a carabineer through the loop. This was big enough to stop it dissappearing into the machine.

I attached the two lengths of chain to the carabineer and each of them to a handle. The ones on the handles are a little light duty so will look to get something a little sturdier.

Rail stripped off ready to mount

Does it work? Yep. I needed an assistant to help me get it mounted in the ceiling and positioning and fixing is a bit temporary at present but seems good! As you’re only using arms and not legs (as you would on a normal rower) the effort is a bit higher so a rower that seems a bit easy would be ideal converted.

Temporary mounting
Yep it works

Cost –

  • Rower: £15
  • SkiErg Handles: Maybe £2 of filament and power. You could use handles from garden tool suppliers or similar
  • Threaded rings for handles: Free
  • Chain: Free (you can use cord instead)
  • Large Carabineer for main pulley: Free
  • Two small carabiner for the handles: £2 for both
  • Fixing the display: Free
  • Total Cost: £19

If you don’t have as much junk laying around as me I’d expect to pay £20 for the chain and other bits. If you use cord instead of chain it would be cheaper as could loop through the rower pulley, run through the hole down the centre of each handle and tie off.

All mods are reversible so no issue if you change your mind!

Run Through – Bedford Autodrome Marathon with a hangover……

Saturday night was spent dancing to the The Killers at the wedding of two good mates. Sunday morning was spent wishing The Killers would make good on their name.

If you’re planning your race calendar it’s a good idea to check your whole diary, not just the day of the race otherwise you might be flushed from comparative success at London marathon, book another marathon in for an empty Sunday two weeks later and then realise you’ve got a wedding the night before. Clearly the wedding was going to happen, the marathon was looking a bit unlikely.

I’ve not done a Run Through event before but heard good things. The Bedford Autodrome event was local, promised to be fast and flat (if a little exposed) and had a range of distances from 5k to marathon. I’ve only ever been around it before on a track day going considerably quicker than 7 minute miles even in our lethargic track car.

The slow way around Bedford
A much quicker way to lap Bedford

Waking up Sunday morning I felt a little tender. Stopping for my usual pre-race McDonalds I found myself unable to eat it so made it to the venue having had just a coffee. If you’ve not been to Bedford Autodrome before it’s a massive complex so there’s probably a five minute drive between arriving at the entrance gate to actually making it to the car park. I had about half an hour spare once parked up which was plenty to collect the bib from the very organised team in the pit garage that was being used as the race HQ and then go and attend to the essential issues in the portaloo. Kerry and Paul were also running so it would have been nice to chat but I was mostly concerned with trying not to make a scene as my body decided which end was going to let me down. I was hanging.

Photo stolen from Kerry. At least one person in the photo is worried about unintended fluid leakage.

My plan had been to push on from the 3h25 at London and go for something faster. On the morning of the race finishing without vomiting seemed a better goal. Stood nervously in the portaloo queue for a final wee I took the chance to check out what other runners were wearing on their feet. The usual mix of Nike and Adidas carbon plated shoes all replete with timing tags. I didn’t have a timing tag which caused some panic as I tried to recall which bin I’d thrown my race envelope in and went to retrieve it. This was all going well.

A nice feature of the event is there’s space on the start/finish straight for runners to place their own stuff for fuelling in the race. Some runners even had family or friends waiting to pass them drinks so would be ideal for a proper PB hard effort tailored to your needs. I had a few bottles of sports drink in the car but couldn’t even face the thought of drinking them so planned to stick to water and the small race pouch with Gu Gels (the only gels I’ve found I can keep down) and Caffeine Bullets (chewy caffeine) that I’d sorted out the day before.

As we set off I felt queasy so stuck some podcasts on and vowed to get on with it. Plan when sober the week before had been around 7:40mile pace for something around 3h20, but picking up the pace at 20 miles if I felt good. Naturally I ran under 7:20mile for the first six miles as I can’t pace properly and was trying to escape the cloud of my own beer farts.

For much of the first 10 miles I was in a nice pack of similar paced runners and could turn off my brain and just run. Gradually the pack split and some pulled ahead or fell behind. The hangover was clearing but the lack of breakfast was making itself felt.

The course at Bedford is very fast but as noted above exposed and the changeable weather made itself felt as some sections seemed into a strong headwind. The various race distances worked well as broke up the monotony of following the same runners around as you mixed up with others. Some of them were properly quick and whipped past like professionals whilst the flat nature of the course meant others were pushing running buggies and aiming less for elite status. I saw a few clubmates from Redway Runners and Lakeside Runners which was good, as well as runner juggling balls the whole way.

Halfway came around 1h35 but I was definitely fading. There were a few food options at the aid stations but nothing looked like it would sit well for me so stuck to gels and caffeine chews, switched from podcasts to music and tried to reinvigorate my legs. The fade continued but with a fast course and optimistic early pacing I was still doing OK and passed the ‘2 mile to go’ banner under 3hrs. With my sensible and not hungover head on I should have trusted my Garmin that was only on 23.5 miles but I really wanted to believe the banner. Even with a slow last couple of miles that would have been a guaranteed sub 3h20. Closer to three miles after the ‘2 mile’ banner I cross the line on 3h21m08s to secure my 6th fastest marathon of 124 attempts, and 150th event of marathon or longer.

Hangover gone, aching marathon legs arrived!

The event was certainly a quick course and I’ve not gone quicker since 2019 so slowly getting back towards my PB shape. With a bit less headwind, proper pacing, some breakfast and not having spent the night before drinking and dancing I could certainly have done even better.

I’m looking to head back in March for a fast spring event after some proper training and see what I can do. I shall make sure it isn’t the day after a wedding though. I would definitely recommend Run Through for efficient and professional events. Mileage markers aside it was perfect.

All done and not covered in sick. Success!

London Marathon 2021 – running on the memory of being fit!

The race I hoped to run in April 2020 finally happened in October 2021 and it was even better than expected!

The Preparation

You can read the detailed preparation and issues on THIS BLOG. In summary I trained properly for a race that never happened, with a coach and sports massages and even trying to have a healthy(ish) diet then the race was postponed and I bounced about in the intervening 18 months in a mixture of races, ultras, stupid virtual runs, injuries, sickness and then tried to squeeze some training in for London when it looked like it might finally happen. What had been a sub 3h10 plan (hopefully sub 3h05) race was now far more focused on enjoyment. Based on fitness and my only other marathon this year being 3h45 I had a fall-back plan of sub4, and a target of sub3h30 that looked a bit of a stretch.

Eventually I’d like to do all the majors and ideally have respectable times on the finish certificate (for me that currently means 3h30, if it takes me another 20 years to do all them all it might well be sub6) but despite three attempts at London a sub 3h30 had eluded me and I typically have a disappointing finish time. Against all evidence to the contrary I really wanted to go sub3h30 to add to my Chicago time. In my unconventional training I did a 40 miler 2 weeks out and a hard effort 5k race the Monday of the marathon. Mentally these really helped as I proved to myself I could go further and faster than the marathon, so set an envelope I could try to work in and hoped the speed and endurance would meet in the middle like long lost friends and get along well.

The Expo

More to read HERE but worth noting some people on the Saturday queued for up to 4hrs to do bib collection and bag drop and the ban on under 18s was a surprise to many causing issues with toddlers and youngers kids. Go earlier in the week if at all possible. If it’s a race you’ve trained 16 weeks for and spend £1000s on sports massages, recovery shakes, magic shoes and coaching then maybe a half day off work is a wise investment to avoid 4 hour queues.

Race Day

I boarded the coach organised by Redway Runners to the start line, dressed in finest clothes borrowed from the charity pile and was whisked to the start line.

Start Waves

For 2021 they had organised more start waves than usual to aid social distancing. I was Blue 3 and we assembled from 9:22 in the pen ready to set off at 9:40, so 10 minutes after the elite men, a gap I didn’t expect to close. The elite women were even further ahead.

I’m genuinely not sure how the start pens were organised this year. There was some grouping for the Abbots Marathon Age Group World Champs that I’m not sure was entirely successful. Seemed a large portion of the entrants had bibs on their rear denoting them as being in the champs and their respective age groups but most seemed to have been given start pens far too close to the front as they were passed by streams of people. Not sure how pleasurable it would have been for them to be jostled and tutted at for 26 miles whilst they fought for their own PB.

I was still down as a finish time of 3h05 from my original application so also expected to be passed a lot aiming for nearly a minute per mile slower that the pace group I presumed I would be set off in, but in the event found most runners around me the same or significantly slower. This continued throughout the race as I was generally weaving through. Had I actually been in shape for 3h05 and running at that pace I think it would have been a very frustrating experience. Train for a 3h05, put your finish time as a 3h05 and get stuck with a load of 3h30 or slower runners ahead?

In an ideal world if you want to run close to 3 hours at London I think you need to run it elsewhere first, get the Good For Age or championship start and then have a chance of achieving it on the day otherwise be prepared for a lot of weaving and bunching at the turns where pace drops considerably.

Still cold

Start Area

If you’ve not been to London before it’s really worth noting how cold and open the start area is. Despite a week of rain the day was fortunately dry and bright but I was still covering my shorts and vest under full length fleece pyjama trousers, two hoodies, a rain poncho and woolly hat and wasn’t too warm. Had it been raining I’d have wanted more, but was surprised how many runners were trying to wait the hour or more with no disposable clothes at all. Also worth considering carrier bags for your shoes as the start is all grass so can be very wet and it would be good to start the race with dry shoes. For anyone reading this in future years, 2021 was unique in that your drop bag was collected at the expo so anything you wore to the start was either carried for the whole race (lots of runner has full ultra race vests on) or thrown in the charity recycling bins. Hopefully this is a one off as it wasn’t ideal either environmentally or with the added Expo queues.

After the usual queues for toilets and urinals (worth taking some spare tissues as the toilets were running low even at 8:20am) I wandered into the start pen. As expected the mobile phone network was struggling with 50,000 runners plus family, volunteers etc in one place so it was largely impossible to contact friends. If you’re planning to meet someone in the assembly areas have a clear agreed point and use texts as they tend to get through quicker. After dropping off the clothes into the charity bins I stretched as much as able in the pen and got ready to run. My plan was to try and run 8 minute miles and decide sometime in later half if I felt able to hold it, fall apart or maybe even push. I had Aftershock headphones with me for motivation but they weren’t on as I hoped the crowd and bands would provide the soundtrack which inevitably they did.

Four of these for the race worked a treat!


For once I’d planned a little on this. Having heard a lot of runners complain about cramp at Brighton on a reasonably warm day I sorted four small bags with salt tablets (from ultra running) and a Caffeine Bullet for the boost. These can be hard to unwrap mid-race so I took the wrappers off and loosely rewrapped. I also had four gels and two as spares. I’m never a fan of gels but found on a recent Centurion event I can stomach the Salted Caramel Gu so had these.


As we crossed the line I settled in and made a conscious effort to enjoy it and not focus on the time. This was made much easier when Julius popped up on my shoulder. I’d not seen him since we ran the reverse London in 2019 so was great to meet up and we ran and chatted, the constant conversation should have ensured we went steady but we were still clocking miles well under the 8 minutes we’d both had as targets. Mentally it felt good to have company and not clock watch and after the first couple of miles came up ahead of pace but felt good I resolved to ignore the watch and check at halfway, and make a decision then whether to part company and slow or carry on.

On the out and back section we saw the infamous Richard McDowell running back the other way at a pace few could sustain for a single mile. He finished in 2h23m06s. That’s officially nippy.

Such was the easy nature of the run that I missed halfway and only at 14 miles did I realise by which time I couldn’t even be bothered to check on time and try and work out what I’d gone through halfway in. Now I check results it was 1h40 which would have probably alarmed me on the day as I’ve not been in 3h20 shape for some time. It was good to just run and enjoy it and I didn’t want to mentally deter myself from carrying on. This is far removed from the expected metronomic “every mile within 2 seconds of the target” that my original London in 2020 would have been. Essentially I‘d left my legs to do the work whilst I chatted. They’ve done loads of these I don’t really need to check on them just keep on top of gels and fluids.

Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 we’d caught up with Rudi, clubmate and my sports masseuse. He’d been training properly and was looking very steady and comfortable. Having chatted on the coach down I knew he was targeting a faster time than I so there were some doubts on my pacing but again I was having too much fun to dial it back so we slowly edged ahead.

Genuinely one of my best marathons ever due to these two gents and the chatting.

At around mile 15 he caught us back up (because he knows how to pace) just as Julius began to fade so I stuck with Rudi as was feeling good.

The 35k sign popped up and I could mentally pretend there were only three parkruns and a warmdown to go. It’s a measure of just how mixed up the start pens were that despite steady pace we were still having to fight through the runners ahead. It was only in the final few miles that I felt I was finally in amongst similar paced runners. Anyone running 3h05 pace from my pen might never have felt that. Also noticeable was how many runners were struggling, leaning up against barriers and fighting cramped muscles. I made a conscious effort to take the salt tablets for fear of joining them.

All too suddenly mile 20 popped up. In the 20 mile race a month previously I’d struggled to even finish and had fought for a time of 2h46. On marathon day the official clock hadn’t yet reached 2h46 and I knew I had more than 10 minutes less than that on chip time but still didn’t want to check my watch and start doing the mental maths on possible finish times.

I was feeling well enough to push the pace but knew it was too early so resolved to stay steady and enjoy the race as you never know how often you’ll get to run London and after a couple of years of race cancellations running any event is something to appreciate. I got a bit emotional after the 22 mile marker knowing that despite a lot of issues I was on for a decent time. Rudi had commented earlier in the race we were looking around 3h25 and I was happy to believe him.

The first time I checked my watch was coming up to 23 miles and I was a smidge over 3 hours in. This would have been a disaster in 2020 when I’d hoped to be on Birdcage Walk or at least past the tower of Big Ben by then but this time it was a massive boost. In fifteen minutes more than that 20 mile race I’d covered a further 3 miles and I can assure you I do not run 5 minute miles. This was all done to consistent but steady faster miles. It was a massive improvement in 4 weeks. Crucially I knew I could carry on whereas at the previous race the 20 left me hobbling.

Rudi had gradually dropped back a little over the previous mile and I decided it was time to see if I could push. Just a parkrun to go. My legs had done all the work and it was time to check back in and see if they could ‘drop the hammer’ ‘enter the pain cave’ ‘change up a gear’ or whatever silly phrase you’d like to use. They came back with a resounding ‘no’ pointed out they’d done 23 miles at a decent lick very undertrained and were happy to cruise it in. I was now checking the watch and seeing that sub3h25 might be achievable. Several times I tried to break into a (relatively) fast finish but lack of training, lack of fitness and a still congested course meant I eventually was happy to wave at the palace at 3h25 and cross the line at 3h25m39s. A finish time I would have bitten your hand off for earlier in September when I wondered if sub4 was out of the question.

Oddly Facebook popped up the next day with a post from Bournemouth where I’d set a marathon PB only a few seconds faster five years ago. I’m happy to be back able to accidentally run times that would have been a PB before.

As is tradition I went off to find some beer and some friends. And a man from Cuba who wanted to buy my medal and top – you can read more about that HERE.

Photo stolen from Helen.

London has definitely re-awoken my desire to get back to proper marathon training and I’m starting to look for a race to target. Much of the running with Julius we discussed various running friends and the massive improvements they’d made with determination and focus. I honestly believe GFA is possible for anyone if they really want it enough and I’m beginning to think I do. It won’t happen overnight and I’ve missed the GFA cutoff for London 2022 anyway so it would be 2023 at the earliest. Watch this space!

Selling London Marathon Medal 2021 & 2022 edition!

If you’ve read the post last year you’d see that largely out of boredom and a curious desire to see if I could, I listed my Virtual London Marathon 2020 medal and tee on eBay.

Some were listed as much as £400 but I went for what I thought was an excessive but just about achievable price of £80 and sold it in minutes for more than double the entry fee.

For 2021 at the London Marathon expo during the bag drop queue I saw just how nasty the finishers tops were. Nothing about it relates to the iconic course, the history of the race or anything. The same design was on the medal. It’s just a poor play on 2021 looking a bit like 26.2 (if you squint) and looks largely like a misprint. In a horrible colour. Many people needed help to understand the concept or joked that it was a medal for 2621.

Looks like it’s made of chocolate?

I checked eBay on Thursday night and there were still listings for 2020 medals and tees but none yet for the 2021 so I stuck a listing up for something I didn’t yet have, priced at £150 Buy It Now and wondered if anyone would take me up on it. The decision was made a little easier knowing I wasn’t in great shape so wasn’t about to sell the medal from my all time PB race but rather a (hopefully) enjoyable run around one of the best marathon courses looking for pubs.

I promised both would be unworn and offered postage first thing Monday if paid before.

I received an offer of £90, very tempting.

Also a full price offer from a man called Angel who wanted to meet me after we’d both run the event and pay cash. Full asking price and no need to go to the Post Office? Result. After a confusing series of messages we both managed to meet outside the Salsa club on the embankment and he checked the medal and happily passed over the cash.

I didn’t ask him why as by that point I was desperate for a wee and three beers in. He was from Cuba I believe so possibly just wanted an extra medal and top to show off when home. Worth noting that when New York and other majors are £250+ entry fee then £150 for a second finishers set is possibly a more reasonable price in comparison.

As a side point, below is a photo (not mine and can’t remember where from, so sorry if yours) of the 2021 marathon medal and the Abbotts age group championship medal. One is a beautifully made representation of the iconic course. One looks like the result of a school design competition with insufficient entries.

2022 update!

Managed to get a last minute charity spot for London 2022 and although it came with a lower fundraising target it was still a struggle to meet.

Decided to repeat the previous year’s sale and listed the medal and tee on eBay again. This time the medal actually looked good but there were no sneak previews of finishers tee.

Being short on fundraising I upped to £175 this time and was the first and only listing at the time. I ran the race, had a great day out and when I checked my phone after the race I was delighted to see it had sold and full payment made.

There’s now a good few packs for sale on eBay but mine is currently the highest sale price and really helped bump the fundraising.

Worth noting insurance for postage if such a high value price is more than you might expect. Was closer to £10 all in.

London Marathon 2021 – Expo Advice

After nearly an 18 month wait, London marathon is finally here. As it’s a bit different this year here’s some tips on the Expo (yes we still have to go, yes I still don’t like them).

NOTE – no under 18s are allowed, this is enforced. If they’re teenagers and you can leave in the coffee shop whilst you collect the bib it’s not a big issue. If you turn up with a toddler on way home from school you’re going to have to go home and come back another day. Or find the least child-kidnapper-looking person to mind them.

Expo is once again at ExCeL which is an arse to get to and ThEy LiKe tO Do StuPiD CapiTAlisAtIoN.

ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock , 1 Western Gateway, London, E16 1XL

Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show opening times:

  • Wednesday 29 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Thursday 30 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Friday 1 October 10:00 to 20:00
  • Saturday 2 October 08:30 to 17:30

Getting there –

Still an arse to get to.

The closest station to the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show is Prince Regent DLR.

If you drive it’s a bargain £20 to park. I’m told there is an Asda about 20 mins walk away, near Beckton station (thanks Gary!)

I’ve literally purchased cars for less than that.

Drop bags –

This year to minimise touch points you have to take your drop bag to the expo – there are NO DROP BAGS AT MARATHON START

In theory the organisers have posted you a drop bag (big clear drawstring bag) for you to take along and drop off at the Expo. Mine, like many others didn’t arrive but don’t worry they have spares at the Expo (update – mine arrived the Friday before London, a full week later than promised).

What you put in the drop bag would normally be dependent on weather on the day but given you’ll need to pack a few days in advance based on dodgy forecasts I would suggest:

  • Warm dry clothes (full set including pants in case really wet)
  • Change of shoes & socks. Some people like those recovery sandals by Oofos. Those people are on a government watch list.
  • Raincoat/poncho
  • Bin bag for wet stuff
  • Wet wipes to pretend you’re clean
  • Recovery food
  • Battery pack for phone or USB lead and find a café to steal their power
  • Directions on where to meet loved ones – you may well have lost your phone and can’t remember which pub your husband is waiting for you at
  • Plasters for any blisters
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother)

What you need for the Expo –

  • Negative lateral flow test – either the text or the email. You’ll need to show this to staff to enter the Excel and again when you collect bib
  • Drop bag (or just the contents, they have spare bags if yours never arrived like mine)
  • ID to collect bib – I don’t think this was well publicised but there may have been documentation with the drop bag I never got that covered this.
  • QR entry code – either on the email sent before or install the official London Marathon app on phone & login as per the emailed instructions you should have received on Wednesday this week. It will also confirm your bib number if you never received the drop bag.
  • £20 parking charge if driving – machines take card. Or first born child.
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother) or if you want to wear in the expo. Maybe 20% of attendees and 50% of the staff had them on.

When you get there –


Head to hall S8 first. The event staff may want to see either the Covid test or your QR entry code on the app it seemed a little random what and who they asked.

This is where you drop off your bag and must be done first. Even if you don’t intend to have anything for after the race you must drop off the empty bag for them to put the finishers tee, medal, drinks and other goodies in. This is to reduce touch points.

From a rough estimate of the attendees when I went approx. 50% were taking the spare bags as either they hadn’t received one or had lost it. The volunteers have fat permanent markers to label up with your bib number. This is where the app is handy to check your bib number.

If you’ve not done a big race before then showing your bib at the end gets your bag back and is proof of ownership. No bib = no bag or at least a very long argument on why you lost your bib and trying to prove you’re not not some sort of weirdo with a fetish for stealing tracky bottoms and awful sandals.

For London this year your bib is printed after drop off and the crate your kit bag will be in at the end is printed on the bib along with start wave. This does reduce waste and needless bibs but as people found out on Saturday of the expo added enormously to the queues. Some reported total of 4hrs queuing for bag and bib.

Photo from Karly @karly_runs

Oddly despite picking the size of the finishers tee during registration, at drop off you get in the queue for whichever size top you fancy and they check your bib number against your name, add in the finishers top of that size and take it to the back for further bits to be added. Potentially this means you’re not guaranteed the size top you picked at registration if you’re one of the last to attend on Saturday, or it could mean they have a huge surplus of sizes due to the expected drop outs and the virtual race. This is yet another reason I wish they offered something like Tree Not Tees where instead of plastic tops shipped around the world that are often unused they could plant a tree instead. In the case of the finishers tees for 2021 this is even more relevant as they are NASTY. Mine is going straight on eBay.

Finishers top. Sold mine.


Head to hall S10, the event staff will want to see your QR entry code on entry. They didn’t seem to ask for Covid test. If you bring someone else with you they will also need a Covid test. As above, no under 18s allowed. Big issue for some and not well publicised.

Once in the registration desks are first and for normal runners they’re dead ahead of you. If Good For Age or Championship then find the appropriate desk for that.

The volunteers at the desk will want to see your Covid test, your bib number, and double check the name against your ID. As on previous years you can collect for one other person but need a letter authorising it and a copy of their ID.

Then they stick the chip on the bib and hand it to you. No big bag of goodies like previous years, literally a bib and some safety pins. Personally it made the whole expedition seem even more pointless. A four hour round trip, £20 of parking, to collect a piece of paper they could have posted (although given how unsuccessful the drop bag postage was maybe using address stickers isn’t their forte).

You are now done and can go home.

That man is daring to use the entrance as an exit to avoid the stands – arrest him!


Just like a game show where they hate to see you leave empty handed you need to wind around the expo to the exit as going back out through the entrance would be impossible.

Presumably due to Covid and being close to other marathon majors the expo is pretty poor this year. None of the big brands like Nike, Asics, Adidas, Brooks are there. New Balance as the main sponsor are there, and for trainers there’s Hoka (if you like clown shoes, I actually do) and On (if you like squeaky shoes that pick up every damn stone, I actually don’t) but that’s about it.

Buying kit just before race day is never a good idea but this year there’s not really the option. The charity stalls are there and a few of the specialists in underwear etc but the selection is poor. If you went to The National Running Show in Farnborough this month you’d have seen far more brands.


I love London Marathon but as with all Expos this is awful and pointless. Get home and do something useful like rest or have a massage. I managed to be in and out in 20 minutes and even then felt like a waste of my time.

Did I mention I hate expos?

Pre-London Marathon Thoughts – Adjusting your goals

The race that wasn’t

It’s the week before London Marathon. On Sunday 3rd October 2021 I will be running an event I entered the ballot for in April 2019, found out I had a place for in October 2019 and expected to run in April 2020.  Then Covid happened and it was delayed until October, then became Elite only (sadly they don’t consider me elite, something to do with being fat and slow) and I think it went to April 2021 (the memory mixes all the postponements up), before finally settling on October 2021.

My original plan for London was to actually focus on a marathon and train properly. Previously I’ve either run multiple marathons in a year, often several in a month, or been focusing on ultras so used them as catered training runs with the odd one run at pace if I felt good and got some surprise PBs. I finally felt it was time to see what I could do with a dedicated focus and see how much under my 3h13 PB that I’d run two weeks before a 100 miler I could actually go. This coincided with winning a local sponsored athlete program to receive running gear from Up & Running Milton Keynes, a training plan from Clean Coach Katie (now The Running Hub) and sports massages from Rudi at The Treatment Lab. It’s a measure of quite how much time has passed that the other athlete, Anastasia, is days away from giving birth having grown an entire human in the intervening period.

With the coach! This was likely before I suggested a 500 mile month would be fun.

You can read how training went on my blogs from January 2019 onwards. I was a little stiff and slow from the previous year of ultras including Transgrancaria, Milton Keynes 24hr and Lakeland 100 so initially the goal was to drop mileage, rebuild my body, get me into shape and begin to build the focused speed work with a couple of half marathons in training to judge progress. High mileage and demanding races in 2019 had meant I was now working hard to go sub4 when previously sub 3h30 could have been considered achievable on most marathon courses.

For the first few months the training all went very well. I wasn’t yet back to where I wanted to be yet but was definitely making big improvements in the right direction and having the accountability of a coach really worked. No need to map your own runs, just look at the plan and do it. Even if it sounds a horrendous session and you want to sack it off you go and do it. I was also doing this odd stuff called ‘strength and conditioning’ by Katie and running specific exercises from Rudi.

After a suitably painful interval session.

Sadly Covid stopped being a weird thing happening in China and became something big and scary over here. By mid-March I could see the writing on the wall and that London was likely to be gone. There were still some who believed it might happen but then some adults still believe Boris is fit to hold office. The loss of London did dent my enthusiasm in the critical final month of training before the planned taper. It’s hard to run vomit-inducing intervals in preparation for a race that looks doubtful at best.

Then the inevitable happened and London was postponed. The hall at Excel that had been expecting to welcome thousands of runners for the Expo was now an emergency hospital for Covid patients that thankfully was never needed.

Yep I grew a lockdown beard and won ‘London’

I ran my own virtual London at a steady effort on the day it should have taken place, skirting strangers as suddenly they were a disease vector or potential carrier rather than a person. When I got to the critical 18 mile point where in a race you’d begin to knuckle down and tough it out I decided to keep the effort steady, avoid stressing the body and save my best race for an actual event so jogged in a 3h32ish. It was a clear sign that the proper training plan from Katie had worked as I was back to where I had been before Lakeland ruined me and in a race environment would definitely have been looking at something much quicker, especially if I’d maintained the effort for the final month of training rather than sulking. In the alternate non-Covid world I would have hopefully been targeting sub3h05 with anything over 3h15 as a disappointment.

The intervening year and a bit between fake April London 2020 and actual October London 2021 were a mixture of highs and lows. I ran some daft lockdown challenges like the accumulator in May (1 mile further every day to complete nearly 500 miles in a month),  and the rule of 6 (6 miles on the hour every hour for 6 hour) as well as a few marathons and ultras but approached Xmas 2020 feeling a little jaded and lacking in mojo.

Final day of the Accumulator. Finishing a 200 mile week and 500+ mile month.

As much as I’m naturally an introvert and all my running mates are typically idiots the loss of company on runs for much of the year, coupled with few races to target saw me finish 2020 undertrained and overweight.

It’s mates like this (even when one is having a meltdown) that you need!

I normally do at least one 100 miler a year and had only managed to fit in the track 100 by Cockbain Events. It followed a month or so of minor niggles and combined with threatening tsunami weather was enough for me to sack it off after marathon distance and record only my second DNF. 

This is a man on the way home from the Track 100

Another few weeks of pathetic runs followed. I forced myself out over Christmas with the government approved single buddy (Boris had promised to save Christmas so naturally most of the UK was in lockdown) and subjected a sequence of running mates to slow and whinging runs in an attempt to get some form and pattern back to training.


2021 started and I planned to hit it with the enthusiasm I had at the start of 2020. Running in groups was still banned so largely I subjected poor Chris to multiple stints of run backs for an out of shape runner, angry at his lack of performance and waddling mass. I resolved to lose weight and hit the spring events close to race weight. Or at least without my own gravitational field. What those spring events might be was anyone’s guess. As with 2020 I was making decent progress and getting a glimpse of some form, but then I tore my calf in late Feb and was off running for three weeks. The helpful Rudi had recommended two weeks of rest but given much of England was underwater anyway it wasn’t a huge effort to push it to three weeks. It was a little alarming how easy it became to not run. With lockdown in place I wasn’t even missing out on club runs, parkruns or races, it was just solo runs in the rain or annoying Chris that I couldn’t do and it didn’t seem a huge hardship to sit on the exercise bike in the warm and dry garage watching Netflix instead. Maybe I’d stopped being a runner?

Eventually I started a few tentative runs again and unlike most of my returns from injury kept the distances short with at least one rest day between. It was frustrating to be in March when I’d hoped to be approaching peak fitness and instead be the least fit I’d been in probably 7-8 years. Of course I consoled myself with the rubbish we runners are told “Every run is a gift”, “You’re still lapping everyone on the couch” and all the rest but ultimately when you’re struggling to complete a run you’d have done as a cool down after a hard effort none of them really worked.

Due to poor planning on my part and a few rescheduled races I had a very uphill climb with the 100 mile Thames Path in May, the 50 mile Rose of the Shires a couple of weeks before, and a marathon the week before that. 6 weeks to go from tentative jogs to 100 miles was ambitious but nearly worked. I finished the marathon (scraping sub4), completed the 50 miler (over an hour slower than my previous attempt) and got to 68 miles of the 100 before dropping. I wasn’t injured I just ran out of motivation and was disappointed at my performance. As with the 50 miler I was destined to be much slower than my previous attempt. Younger fitter version of me was kicking my arse. Clubmate Gary had popped out to say ‘Hi’ at the critical point my enthusiasm vanished and I took the nice warm DNF bus home to Milton Keynes.

Halfway at TP100 or what for me was the TP68.

A similar decision was made at the MK24 (24 hours to run as many 6 mile laps as you could). The previous event I’d won it with 104 miles, went home for a shower and came back for the awards. This time around I was laps behind younger fitter me and the other actual runners so at 40ish miles decided to call it a good training run and gave up. DNFs were now something that happened to me. A lot. Also ‘a lot’ was the phrase that could be used to describe my weight. My goal to lose 5kg in 2021 was now only 6kg away. Bugger.

There were two positives in this period. At the rescheduled Milton Keynes marathon despite a hot day and an undulating course I managed to dig in for a 3h44, my best marathon effort in probably a year although far from the relaxed jog I would have hoped given this would have been the time I paced had the Covid arrangements allowed official race pacers. The other was the return of club runs and in particular what I named the Totally Terrific Trail Thursdays where we took the club runs on tour and tackled some of the amazing trails around Milton Keynes. The combination of running mates and beautiful routes restored my mojo as we inducted new runners to the challenge of trail running.

Some people find the trails a little more challenging than others.

With this uplift in enthusiasm I stood on the start line of the Wendover Woods 100 miler. It’s a formidable course, with similar elevation to the Lakeland 100 but more manageable 10 mile loops and actual trails rather than vague suggestions of how to get across the terrain. It was only the second running of the event and the DNF rate was expected to be high. The one big advantage for me was that I hadn’t run it before so for once younger fitter Mark could not beat me, even if the hills and mud did. Despite the usual up and down nature of a 100 and a serious “I want to go home” moment at half way I made a decision to finish and stuck it out. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty and it cost me two pairs of shoes but I was finally back finishing 100 milers.

Mr Stick and I. Wendover is hilly.

Endurance was back (albeit very slow endurance) so I needed to concentrate on getting some speed. I was gradually ramping up the pace on the weekly 9 mile Brickhill runs and getting back towards respectable figures. We managed to get a holiday in Gran Canaria when Covid allowed and I spent 10 days hitting daily core and spin classes with some crossfit and gym work, with running as a seasoning on top. For those 10 days I lived the life of an (often drunk) athlete and came back feeling amazing. The afternoon we landed home was a local 10k. Having no idea on performance I set off at the back and ran at a controlled effort. Every climb seemed effortless, every runner in front a target to pick off. I crossed the line in 41 minutes. Not a PB but so much removed from the lethargic performance of the past year I was elated. I even finished thinking I could have pushed harder, not the usual “everything hurts, kill me now” of a fast 10k. I had now added speed back and it was only just August. With London in early October I had two months to build on this and record a decent time at London. Everything was looking good.

Then it wasn’t. The day after the 10k I began to cough. A lot. My temperature rose and it was looking like classic Covid symptoms. Multiple Covid tests proved otherwise and I was just suffering from a bad man flu.  It passed in around a week and I began to feel a little better, even attending the Redway Runners Beat The Barge 5 mile race where once again younger fitter Mark beat me and I recorded a disappointing time for a hard effort. It felt like running through treacle but I was so desperate to be back running I ran anyway. In hindsight I returned too early as the next week I was hit with some sort of sinus infection that saw me unable to eat for over a week and mostly stumble from bed to office as best I could before returning to bed. Regrettably I missed the Greensands Ridge Relay, my favourite local ultra that I’d been looking forward to since it was cancelled in 2020.

In this period I probably spent 16 hours a day in bed debating ramming a knitting needle through each ear to relieve the pressure. Everything I swallowed caused a sudden pressure change in my head and made we want to cry or gag. I only managing to sleep in brief windows between the various pain meds kicking in. My best night’s sleep was when I complemented the meds with a couple cans of beer in desperation. I felt that rough at the time I didn’t even care for any medical issues I just needed sleep. This all sounds whinging but for the best part of 2.5 weeks I was the sickest I can remember being in my life and when I finally emerged the other side I was the lightest I’ve been as an adult and weak as a kitten as a result. The massive jump in speed at that 10k now looked laughable as I slowly returned to running for seemingly the fifteenth time since Covid first became a thing and at a painful, deep chested amble.

Having (finally) learnt my lesson not to come back too quickly I was a little more tentative on the return this time and tempered my need to maximise the remaining 6 weeks before London against being well enough to actually finish it. Being woefully off the pace for the 6m40s paced 4 mile run from Redway Runners I instead dropped to the 7m30s paced group where I also struggled to keep up. At my fittest my marathon pace is around 7m20s so failing to hit a slower pace for just 4 miles is humbling.

I decided to enter the 20 mile race at the MK Festival of Running a month out from London. I picked 20 over the half marathon distance as although further I hoped the lack of pressure to try and match a previously achieved HM PB would be better mentally. In an ideal world and with perfect training I would hope to run the 20 miles in under 2h30, ready to push the remaining 6 on race day for a finish sub3h10. As it stood I had a more realistic target of 2h45 with a fall back plan of 3h. I know from experience that if I can run 20 miles in sub3 then I’m good for a sub4 on race day. My performance was nowhere near where I wanted it to be (as evidenced by a hard effort parkrun in over 23 minutes) but I still clung to sub4 as the last vestiges of being respectable at London for a man that had hoped to be taking chunks off his PB and bearing down towards sub3 originally. The run went as well as can be expected. Lack of training and a hot day meant I crossed the line in 2h46 so close to what I expected but confirmed I was a long way off where I’d want to be.

The following few weeks I gradually pushed the effort a little, feeling the weakness of the previous illness gradual fade like a bad hangover. A combination of parkruns and the 730 group gave me two weekly paced efforts to gauge improvement and I gradually moved up the pack.

Another poor diary clash meant I had the postponed Big Bear Warwickshire Ultra (40 miles) two weeks before London. Many training plans have a longer run two weeks out as a final push but seldom are they as much as 20 and definitely not 40 miles. I viewed it as a long training run in my attempt to compress 16 weeks of structured training into about 6. I expected a 4hr marathon with a sucky half to follow as I slowly fell apart and was broadly correct finishing in 6h46.

You can see the suspicion forming that 40 mile training runs two weeks out may not be ideal.

The Monday before London I decided on a last minute entry for the Enigma 5k in the evening and lined up knowing a 5k race so close was ill-advised but would also be my final performance check to estimate my marathon time and work out my pacing. The race went well. Really well. I ran with clubmate John throughout as the lead pair and cautiously opened the taps a little at halfway feeling strong, finishing 1st place in 20m30ish and my fastest 5k since early 2020. As with the 10k it also felt relatively controlled. I certainly couldn’t have ramped up the effort hugely but there was certainly scope to have pushed a little harder and got closer to sub20. It was exactly the confidence boost I needed ahead of London.

“F**k me I’m about to win a 5k”

So it’s now Wednesday, the expo is open (just this one year could they not have posted out the bibs?) and the optimistic Garmin predictor is suggesting a 3h20 marathon. My plan for Sunday is to go out at just under 8min pace and push from mile 18 if I feel good, with an A-goal of sub 3h30, a B-goal of sub4 and if that fails I’m going to find a pub on route, visit the off licence and aim to finish before the coach home.

Fitness and injury come and go, goals change and ultimately running is a pointless hobby we do for fun so I’m learning to be happy with very different outcomes from what I originally planned.

Warwickshire Bear Ultra – Big Bear Events

As is the way of running since 2020 this was a rescheduled event. I’d entered it in 2020 when it was due to take place in October. At the time of booking we were out of lockdowns, and the government were even paying some of your dinner tab to encourage you to go out and frequent restaurants, ignoring that this was slightly at odds with their drive to improve the nation’s health in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. This paradoxical approach is what happens when you elect Mr Bean and his house elf as leaders I guess. At any rate we went into lockdown 3 or 4 (who keeps count?) and it was moved to October 2021. Then London Marathon rescheduled and stole the date so Paul at Big Bear had to re-arrange again for September 2021.

The good news was it avoided the clash so I could run both (my London Marathon 2020 race having moved from April 2020, October 2020, April 2021, and finally October 2021) the bad news was it was 2 weeks before and I was poorly trained. I’d managed to finish Wendover Woods 100 miler in July but since then training had been a little erratic due to work, holiday and a three week stint of flu followed by sinus infection where I mostly stumbled between bed and office, didn’t eat for a week and barely managed to climb the stairs. Were it not for umpteen negative tests I would have sworn I had Covid. I’d managed a 20 mile race at MK Festival of Running two weeks before the Big Bear Ultra but that had done more to remind me how unfit I was than anything else. When you’ve run multiple hundred milers and 100+ marathons then struggling to finish 20 miles is a nice reminder of how far you’ve slipped.

Race Day
As expected from Big Bear the pre-race communication was excellent and I arrived in Rugby knowing where to park (£2 for the day), how to get to the start, with the GPX route on my watch and directions to the start venue at the church about 800m from the car park. Being a short walk from the station it’s also one of the few events in the UK you can get to by public transport. Registration all went well. The race had mandatory kit list but given it was relatively short ultra (39ish miles) and in Summer on decent routes it wasn’t anything excessive like Lakeland 100. A nice touch was Awesome Coffee van parked up so I could get a pre-race coffee and brownie having forgotten to stop for breakfast on the way (like a pro).

After a pre-race briefing we ambled down to the railway cutting where the race started. The route is an out and back with railway cutting for the first few miles and wide enough for people to get into position and then a mixture of country roads, reservoir and footpaths until you hit the Grand Union Canal for the final out section then turn around and work your way back. It had been dry most of the proceeding few weeks and I stuck with road shoes. There were only a couple of sections where it was muddy and unless in future years it’s a proper washout I would definitely lean towards a road shoe as so much is tarmac or hardpacked/surfaced footpath.

The advantage of an out and back is you learn the route (it’s well marked) and can mentally count it back on the return (couple more miles of canal, then that road bit, then the aid station etc) and you get to see all the other runners whether they’re faster or slower than you and can cheer each other on. In my case I knew I was in shape for around a 4hr marathon and then a sucky half marathon to finish so the out leg was relatively fun and by the time I started to fall apart I was already ¼ of the way home on the return leg.

Free photos from Big Bear as they’re lovely!

There’s no real elevation on the route, just a couple of uphills to aid stations and up from the railway cutting so it can be a very fast event if you’re capable. The winner was 4h31 and passed me on his return leg when I was at around 18 miles, with him on closer to 22 miles.

Pretending I’m not hurting…

The weather started with a drizzle but not enough to bother with a raincoat (need one in pack as mandatory kit) and by about 11am had changed to a warm Autumn day. The aid stations are plentiful and three are in pubs so have proper toilets if you need them. I reached the turnaround aid station really fancying a beer but sadly the pub didn’t serve alcohol until 12 so had to head out on the return leg without. I hit the Two Boats pub at around marathon distance just over 4hrs and most importantly they were serving. This is also the pub I stopped at on the Grand Union Canal Race so it seemed fitting to stop and enjoy a cold beer in the sun with Redway Runner clubmate Jim on volunteer duties for company.

Beer done it was just a case of keeping momentum going on the return except for stopping to pet a particularly cute dog along the canal. The lack of training really showed as I was reduced at times to that awkward shuffle normally reserved for the final stages of a 100 miler. My race goal had been somewhere around 6h45 and I finally crossed the finish in 6h46, 23rd of 89 finishers with sadly a few DNFs including Si who I’d first met at Transgrancaria a few years ago. I’m hoping I’m not his bad luck charm. Broadly I’d run a 4h10 marathon, and after a pint and a chat a half marathon of about 2h30 so quite a lot of fade.

Would I recommend it?
Definitely. This would be ideal for a first ultra due to the out and back nature (course familiarity, no need to get a coach back to start etc) and the length at 39 miles is a sufficient jump from marathon to feel challenging without being as daunting as a 50 miler. This also isn’t the sort of event where the sadistic Race Director sends you up and down a massive hill to try and break you. Best of all is no awkward stiles to clamber over. It sounds minor but in the later stages of an ultra when you’re desperate to maintain pace having to negotiate a stile with legs that refuse to bend is demoralising and makes you question your poor life choices.
For the more experienced runners it’s either an ideal training event to test gear, nutrition and pacing or to go for a hard effort on a fast course.

Managed to at least pretend it was sprint finish!

Fixing a NordicTrack GX2 Sport Spin Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little long as standard
Shortened and tensioned

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

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

Runs a treat

Advice for travelling to Spain Summer 2021

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

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

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



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

Before you go – if vaccinated:

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

Before you go – if not vaccinated of a child:

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

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

Before you go – 2 Day tests booked for everyone:

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

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

Check In & Spanish Entry Requirements –

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

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

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

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

Arriving at airport to leave –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival in Gran Canaria –

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

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

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

For the journey home –

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

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

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

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

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

At the airport –

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

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

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

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

Arriving back in UK –

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

Other random notes –

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