Robbie Britton and inov-8: two great things come together

Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I'm sure he'll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/
Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I’m sure he’ll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/

I have recently had the chance to get to know ultra runner, adventurer and all-round top-bloke, Robbie Britton and we have crossed paths at a number of events – almost literally at the Bristol half marathon last year when he was pacing a group (did they have any idea of the caliber of the runner leading them along, I wonder?) as I ran past on the road back into Bristol. I was gritting my teeth and trying for all I was worth to hang on to 75 minute pace. Robbie looked as cool as a cucumber as he floated up the hill with a peloton of runners glued to his back. He easily managed to shout some encouragement to me. I could barely wave in response!

The last time Robbie and I met for a coffee, a few months ago, we were chatting about plans for the future. I was getting ever more embedded in freestak work and the launch of Like the Wind. Robbie was clearing the way for a tilt at ultra-running stardom.

Well, I am pleased to say that I have managed both of my targets – freestak is growing daily and Like the Wind issue #1 is out.

But what about Robbie? How is he getting on?

Pretty bloody well is the answer. Having been crowned 2013 UK Ultra Runner of the Year, Robbie has now announced that he is joining inov-8 as one of their sponsored athletes.

He is already a fan of their shoes and has raced in them quite regularly. Inov-8 are looking for committed athletes to join their team. It is a match made in heaven!

What’s next for Robbi-v8?

So having joined the inov-8 team, Robbie has announced that he is not resting on his laurels (presumably the same ones that he picked up in Athens at the end of the Spartathlon). His next big race is in a place very close to my heart – the Canary Islands, where I just spent a glorious week with Julie – where Robbie will take on the Trans Vulcania in La Palma on 10 May.

Robbie’s thoughts about the Transvulcania are typical from what I know of him:

I have been to La Palma once before, taking in a few epic days in the mountains before setting off to sail the Atlantic in a boat built by a crazy old man advertising for crew on Gumtree!

At 51 miles, Transvulcania is a little bit short for me but it has more ascent – there’s 2,000m in the first 11 miles – than the 24-hour stuff. I will go there, chuck myself in the mix and see what happens. I am always up for challenging myself.

Winner, winner, Robbie Britton
Winner, winner, Robbie Britton

I really admire the fact that Robbie is up for challenging himself, whether that is on a relatively short 50 miler or over hundreds of miles on the roads in Greece. He’s always up for giving it a go.

In the spirit of having a crack at all sorts of different events, Robbie is also going to resume international duties and take on probably the most iconic trail ultra of them all:

I have the World 24hr Running Championships. The target this year is a top-10 finish. I’m already feeling good about my chances as I feel fitter and stronger than I was last year.

And what year would be complete without a trip to the Alps? The 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) was shortened due to awful weather conditions the last time I ventured to Chamonix in 2012, but the atmosphere of the race got into my blood and this year I will return. I can’t wait.

Interview

I had a few questions for Robbie after he told me about the inov-8 link-up and being the thoroughly lovely bloke that he is, he was happy to answer them for me:


SF: What is it about inov-8 that attracted you as an athlete?

RB: I love their shoes and the fact that lightweight is king for the kit. When I race I want my kit to be as light as possible because running 100 miles is difficult in the first place. It is great to be supported by a British brand and to be able to take that to races across the world.

SF: What are you most excited about in the coming 12 months?

RB: Most excited about… So much. The competition in TransVulcania, the chance to fight for Team Medals in the World Champs (The Mens & Womens Teams are both strong enough to contend this year) and then all the British runners at UTMB, we’ve got a good bunch going!

SF: If you could take on any challenge, what would it be and why?

RB: One day I will travel to both Poles on foot. I had to step out of my Antarctic expedition (www.south2014.com) to concentrate on my running but I will get there. The Antarctic continent is the toughest place on earth and the men who have lived and died there inspire me. Oh and Western States, because I have to race that one day.

SF: Who inspires you to train and race as hard as you do?

RB: I take a lot of inspiration from explorers & mountaineers, people like Walter Bonatti and Doug Scott, who crawled off the Ogre with two broken ankles. In the World of Sport I admire anyone who gives their whole to compete at the highest level. Mark Cavendish is an great athlete who trains hard and races as if nothing else in the world mattered. [Obviously Robbie intended to include me in this list, but probably ran out of time… or something like that…]


What about inov-8?

I am a big fan of inov-8, both the company and the products. As a business, they seem to be completely authentic. The people I am in contact with there – hello, Lee, Natalie and Matt – are all committed athletes themselves. They really walk-the-walk and I think that makes all the difference.

I also think their gear is great. I was lucky to have one of their Race Elite 260 Thermoshell tops in my bag for the UTMB CCC and it is a constant companion when I am out running or fast-hiking. It is just warm enough for after a race or as an emergency top when out and about but scrunches up really small and weighs very little (well, 260g as the name suggests!) Julie has a Race Elite 140 Stormshell which is a super light-weight waterproof jacket that is perfect to carry in your pack and pull on when the weather suddenly turns. It was ideal for when we were running in Gran Canaria last week and we went from warm sun by the coast to snow at 1500m above the sea inland.

As for shoes, I think that inov-8 have a great range of running shoes, although I am particularly a fan of the trail shoe range that inov-8 produce. I know that Robbie is a big fan of the X-Talon 212, while I have really enjoyed running in the Trailroc 235 and the Roclite 315 for longer stuff. But I think there is something for everyone if you want a shoe to tackle off-road running.

Greatness assured

So there you have it: a great athlete teaming up with a great brand. Greatness is assured. I have to throw in a plug here and say that Robbie was very kind and contributed a story for Like the Wind magazine which if you get a chance to read it will resonate with his comments about wanting to give his all when he trains and races and also the fact that he admires people who hold nothing back.

I think that the final word should go to Robbie who finished answering my questions with a quote that he should have embroidered on his inov-8 racing kit:

Racing is life, everything else before and afterwards is just waiting

Steve McQueen

Says it all, really!

 

 

You can read more about Robbie joining the inov-8 team on his blog post at: http://team.inov-8.com/2014/02/25/great-britton-an-ultra-committed-athlete/
inov-8 designs and manufactures naturally fast, stripped-back products and shoes with best grip for committed athletes across the globe. Born in the UK in 2003, inov-8 now trades in over 60 countries and remains passionate about delivering performance through innovation. To learn more visit www.inov-8.com

Eat, Run and Talk – an evening with Scott Jurek

Bloomsbury Publishing is possibly most famous for taking a chance on a book that had been rejected by almost every other publisher in the land. It is all about a quiet, shy young boy who came from a difficult background which was full of challenges and who, it turned out, had magical powers allowing him to do things that no one else could. This shy young boy went on to do battle with fearsome foes and struggled with personal challenges, always giving his all in a pursuit of a higher ideal, whilst joined along the way by a cast of weird and wonderful companions who added colour to his already extraordinary life.

Who am I talking about? Well that description could apply to Harry Potter as easily as it could to Scott Jurek. This evening, however, it was Scott and not Harry that I was invited to see taking part in an interview at the Bloomsbury Institute in central London.

Eat and Run – My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

IMG_0037Bloomsbury are the publishers of one of the most captivating and extraordinary books about the ultra running scene that I have ever read. Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, describes the twin forces in Jurek’s life – his amazing ultra running and his conversion to veganism.

Scott appeared in the ultra trail running world with a bang in 1999, when he entered the Western States 100 and won it, beating ultra running legend Tweetmeyer in the process. In all Scott went on to win that race seven times.

Of course it wasn’t as though Jurek had never run a race before or hadn’t trained for the Western States – he had been turning himself into one of the worlds best ultra endurance athletes for years, through his tough, physical childhood, through a love of cross-country skiing and through a passion for trail running, driven to run ever harder by friends and acquaintances who saw the potential in him.

At the same time, Jurek had decided that he would run better if he modified his diet and ended up becoming a vegan.

Food and running – the perfect combo!

And this is what the book that Scott has written is really about – ultra trail running  and veganism, both of which he seems to be particularly good at. In each chapter of the book there is a story about running which runs through the entirety of Jurek’s 20+ year career along with a number of vegan recipes at the end of each section. This is what makes the book such a fascinating read – not only can you marvel at the incredible athlete and what he has achieved… you can also have the same lunch as him.

At the event tonight, Scott elaborated on a few things in the book. He talked about the fact that he has been driven to be the best runner he can be for over 20 years and yet it is only after 17 or so of those years that he was able to make a living from being a full time athlete. He also talked candidly about the fact that he will be 40 in a few weeks and that he thinks long and hard about when to stop competing at the top level – when he will allow himself to run in the mid-pack and simply enjoy the experience of running rather than having to compete. Don’t worry though, that is not going to happen soon: Scott revealed that at the very least he would like to take on a few more iconic ultra trail races, regain his US 24 hour record and challenge the world record and try his hand at a few multi-day stage races. So that’ll take him at least another few years!

Jurek on Jornet

But talk of retirement also included a discussion about the new talent emerging into the ultra trail scene and one question from the floor asked Scott what he thinks about Killian Jornet and his Summits Of My Life activities. Scott said that he understands the concern in some quarters about the things that Jornet is trying to achieve, but like other friends of Scott, including Alex Honnold the climber and Uli Steck the mountaineer, there will always be people pushing the boundaries and that those people are necessary.

Scott Jurek’s approach to racing

Scott talked a little about racing and his approach. This was all part of a discussion about his scientific approach to racing. Scott talked about the fact that many in the trail running community in the US frowned upon his interest in, and use of, scientific testing to try to improve his performances. Scott had extensive testing done, looking into his VO2 Max measurements (between 97 and 98 in case you are interested) and his lactate threshold measurements. The former was very high while the later was decidedly average, suggesting that Scott’s background in cross-country skiing had driven his VO2 Max up but his sport was always going to be based in the endurance sphere as he doesn’t have much in the way of top-end speed. He admitted that his marathon PB is 2:38 and that he has often beaten runners with 2:15 PBs once they get on the trails.

Jurek also talked about how he fuels his races, again taking a scientific approach. He sets his alarm on his watch to go off every 30 minutes and consumes 25 grammes of carbohydrate so that he feeds his neuromuscular system as if it was on a constant drip of fuel.

The end of the evening

And it was perhaps the need for refueling that brought the questions from the audience to a close, signaling the end of the evening’s entertainment.

Scott, true to his nature, which is exemplified by his tradition of staying on the finish line of the races he runs to welcome home every other runner, agreed to sign as many books as required by the people in the room and allow each of them to have a photo taken. That meant that there was a steady stream of smiling people plunging from the Georgian splendor of Bloomsbury Publishers’ HQ into the cool night air, clutching their copies of the book and almost certainly inspired to do more – to follow in the footsteps of a man whose magical powers are actually not all that magical at all. Who really, for me, embodies much of what it is to be an ultra trail runner: modest, enthusiastic, a lover of nature as well as hard-working, competitive and determined whilst at the same time compassionate and friendly. I just wonder what he’d be like at Quidditch…

And you thought the UTMB was ‘ultra’: Philippe Gatta & Berghaus take on the Great Himalayan Trail

I am happy to admit now that I was pretty nervous about tackling the UTMB CCC with Julie, my wife, a few weeks ago. We were aiming to cover over 100km, with more than 6,000m of vertical ascent, in one go. By foot. Without motorised assistance. Ourselves.

However, I am obsessed enough about running to know that the CCC is nothing special as far as distance is concerned. For goodness sake, it was the shortest of the four races that week in Chamonix! And I know people like James Adams, he who ran across America.

So I am aware that there is always someone going further, higher, faster and all the other Olympic ideals. Especially in ultra running (which by the way should be an Olympic sport, rather than one of the thirty three types of sailing… but that is for a different blog post).

GHT map 2
Philippe Gatta’s Route… looks hilly!

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 15.33.41The most recent mad man… I mean ultra endurance athlete, that has come to my attention, is French mountaineer Philippe Gatta who has a pretty impressive CV of challenges including completed the Seven Summits challenge where he climbed; Mt. Everest, Vinson, Carstensz, McKinley, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. He has run a bucket load of ultras including the Marathon de Sables (and was probably the only person there who could pronounce the name of the race correctly) and the Himal Race in Nepal which consists 405 miles and 23,000 m of elevation gain to name just a couple. You can read more about him here.

And now Philippe is heading off to run the Great Himalayan Trail, a 1,700km run along a route that connects some of the world’s highest and most challenging mountain peaks. He is aiming to complete the route in 40 days which will make the Great Himalayan Trail the equivalent of 40 marathons in 40 days at altitude.

I actually love these sorts of challenges and I wish I had the drive and bravery to tackle something like that myself. I love the fact that not only will it be a challenge for Philippe physically and mentally, but there is also masses of logistics involved and the added joy of a load of new and highly specialised kit that will be required. As a bit of a kit geek, I had the chance to drool over some of the new Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 15.34.38Berghaus kit that is being developed for the challenge at the Outdoors Show in Germany earlier this year. It all looks fantastic and I have been told that there will be a chance to try some of it out and give you a first hand review… I guess I just need a chain of 8000m+ mountains to go and practice on!

In the mean time if you want to follow how Philippe and his team, including his wife I believe, are getting on, click on this link or check Berghaus out on twitter @therealberghaus

Hot dang! An ashmei merino wool product review

Disclaimer – please read this: I want to make it really clear from the very start that as the co-owner of freestak, I work for ashmei supplying social media marketing services. Stuart, the owner of ashmei, was very generous and sent me some ashmei kit to try out and run in. However this blog is very much an “all views my own” thing and I don’t allow my work at freestak to influence my writing here, so this review is my honest feeling – I don’t write about what I don’t like!

ashmei product review

I recently received a rather lovely package from the team at ashmei – a white fabric bag containing a Running Merino Sweatshirt, a short-sleeve merino + carbon jersey and a pair of 2-in-1 Shorts.

I have been wearing then quite a bit since they arrived, but on Sunday I had the opportunity to really give the short-sleeved top and the shorts a proper outing – the 28 mile Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series marathon on the Flete Estate in Devon. You can read my race report here.

Perfect conditions

Due to a bit of disorganisation (freestak has been very busy!) Julie and I ended up getting up at 3am to drive to the race start. This all added to the sense of adventure and the brilliant, golden sunrise, as we passed Stonehenge – shrouded in mist – with a massive, forlorn-looking moon hanging in the sky in front of us, is something I will remember for a long, long time.

The sun came up and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful day. It was also going to be warm. Hopefully my ashmei kit would cope.

ashmei performance

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 21.34.53As we started I was wearing my ashmei short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, the 2-in-1 shorts from ashmei, Runderwear from RunBreeze, calf guards from Compressport, socks from ASICS and Mizuno trail shoes. I also had my fantastic new pack from Ultimate Direction (a present from Julie). Finally I had on a running cap from Sugoi and my Naked Runner shades. Sorted, ready to go!

It was warm by the time the gun went at 8:50am and within a couple of miles the arm-warmers were in my pack (Julie did say ‘I told you so’!) but apart from that, my kit choices were spot on.

The merino jersey was great. It is reasonably fitted without being skin-tight, which meant that there was no rucking and the top grabbed any sweat and wicked it away, without restricting breathing or showing off my love handles. The heat didn’t bother me and the top was entirely itch-free. Even my back – which is usually very damp after running for 5 hours with a rucksack on, felt drier then normal.

The shorts did benefit from the Runderwear (please check it out – I think it is utterly genius!) and the merino inner shorts gave a nice level of compression without cutting off the blood supply. Despite the heat, there was no chaffing at all. As we passed another runner in our ‘marathon’ race who was wearing the same shorts, I thought how nice the shorts looked, which is an added bonus.

Race result, kit result.

In the end Julie and I took just over 5 hours for the 28-odd miles. That is quite a long time on your feet and especially in the heat.

I was worried before I started that being hot for that long would make for a pretty uncomfortable run, but not so. The merino seems to do exactly what it says on the tin and wicked the sweat away nicely. I didn’t itch and there was no chafing.

So I would say that for long, slow runs and ultra marathons, the ashmei kit is great. The shorts would be too heavy for me to race anything up to a marathon in. but for hours on the feet, I think the ashmei kit is an ideal choice. Once I have washed it, I’ll post an update. And in the mean time if anyone else has any experiences with or thoughts about merino wool for running apparel, please let me know.

Book review: Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith

One of the things I love about running is that at it’s heart is a purity that doesn’t exist in many other sports. There is not much that is contrived about trying to get from one place to another as fast as you can. There are no balls, or rackets, or off-side regulations. There are hardly even any rules (except follow the prescribed route). Somehow running is about something that human beings have had to do to survive since the dawn of our species.

However under the broad umbrella of running as a sport, there are myriad different events – from track sprinting to ultra-distance trail races and from elite events such as the Olympics to mass participation events such as big city marathons and ParkRuns. When I started running, the easiest form of running – and the one that appealed to my sense of wanting to take control – was road running. But as my interest in running developed, I discovered other types of races and one book, above all, gave me the impetus to take my running off-road. That book was Feet In The Clouds: A Tale Of Fell Running And Obsession, by Richard Askwith.

FITC coverAskwith is an accomplished writer, currently employed as the Associate Editor of the Independent and this, along with his determination and dedication to become the best fell runner he can be, makes Feet In The Clouds a wonderful read.

Much like Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi, Askwith’s book opens with a chapter that simply grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. You are immediately sucked into a world where physical exertion, doubt, fear, ecstasy, history and camaradery are all an integral part of why its participants are involved. If, like me, you are interested in what you are capable of, Feet In The Clouds is a very direct challenge: could you? Would you? Should you try any of this at home (or on a hill near to home)?

What is also wonderful about Feet In The Clouds, is the way that Askwith tells of his considerable personal challenges and exertions within the context of a sport that has its fair share of heroes and heroics. This tends to do Richard the disservice of diminishing what he himself achieved. But it also paints a vivid picture of a minority sport within the wider sport of running, which has quietly and unassumingly carried on for generations (although sadly, more recently perhaps, waned more than waxed). Richard writes about and indeed meets many of the unsung heroes of fell running like Joss Naylor, Pete Bland and Angela Mudge who work tough jobs and race tougher races.

In that sense, the great fell runners that Richard describes are like many of my heroes from the golden age of road running like Bill Adcocks, Steve Jones, Mike McLeod and too many others to mention: men who worked five or six days as well as running 120 miles each week and completed marathons in times that should make today’s pampered professional runners blush.

If you need any more convincing that this is tough sport, how about this for a race course!

If there is any slight criticism of Feet In The Clouds, it is the forensic level of detail that Askwith brings to bear on his chosen sport. Every so often there is a  chapter which is a look at a month of fell running and that is perhaps too much detail for the casual reader.

But then again, fell running is not a sport that is for anyone casual in any sense. The epic races, reckless down-hill charges, hard lifestyles and deep community that makes up fell running is not for the faint-hearted and whilst some people might not understand the significance of a race up and down Scarfell Pike or Snowdon or the challenge that the Bob Graham Round represents, that in no way diminishes what amazing feats the characters in Feet In The Clouds achieve (the author included) and a re-issue of this book is the perfect antidote to the Olympic legacy of multi-million pound sponsorship deals, Olympic stadia and corporate endorsements. This is a book about getting out there and doing it.

So I really recommend that you get a copy… then lace up your fell shoes and go and get out on the hills. It won’t be long before Richard Askwith’s tale of obsession becomes your tale of obsession – just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

 

 

Feet In The Clouds is published in paperback by Aurum Press and will be in shops on 9 May 2013, priced at £8.99.

The good people at Aurum have sent me a copy of Feet In The Clouds to give away, so head over to the freestak Facebook page for a chance to win the book.

Runners At The Sharp-end #6: Tom Payn

I was introduced to Tom by my coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. I knew of Tom from some of his amazing race results, but I didn’t realise how hard he has worked to become the inspiring runner he is and the struggle he had to overcome illness to turn himself into a marathon runner. Now, after a pretty stella marathon career, Tom has turned his hand to ultra distance racing and bested a very strong field at arguably the toughest ultra in the UK. Oh and he does all this whilst jetting around the world as part of the athlete management team at Run Fast. Well, I think Tom can tell his own story best…

Tom on his way to winning the Ring O'Fire ultra marathon

 

To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?

I joined my local running club when I was about ten years old and have been running ever since. I started as an 800m runner but never trained more than three times a week until I was an under 20. I had some decent results coming 4th in the English Schools and AAA’s 800m as under 15, and medaling in the AAA’s at both under 17 and under 20 level. I can’t remember my first ever 800m race but know my personal best times were 2.02.6 as an under 15, 1.56.2 as an under 17 and 1.52.8 as an under 20. This remains my best time as once I went to university I had a little break from athletics to enjoy the “university life”! Once I had enough of enjoying myself I started running again with Birmingham University Athletics Club under the guidance of Bud Baldaro and instead of returning to the 800m I gave the 3000m Steeplechase a go. Again I had decent success at this being ranked in the top ten in the country for three or four years and getting my best time down to 8.47. Once I had finished University at Birmingham I moved down to Portsmouth to start a job as a technical sales engineer for a filtration company. As I was now on the south coast I hooked up with Nick Anderson in Winchester and he started to coach me. During a volunteering trip to Sumatra I contracted Leptospirosis also known as Wiels disease, this put me into intensive care and to cut a long story short, at the end of my time in hospital I had lost so much muscle I could only stand for a few seconds before I had to sit down again as my legs couldn’t support me. This made me reassess my running and I decided to make the switch to marathon. Six months to the day after I had first stood up for a few seconds in hospital I was on the start line of my first marathon. I ended up running 2.24 and although I was disappointed with this time, looking back it was quite impressive. Since then I have run about 5 marathons getting my time down to 2.17.29 at the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan. Since then I gave up my long term job to become a full time athlete, this didn’t quite go as planned but I did have an amazing 6 months living in Kenya and ended up getting my dream job as an athlete agent/manager. I have now just embarked on a new vocation as an ultra-distance runner.

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I have been running for as long as I can remember. I joined my local athletics club at the age of ten probably because one of my school teachers thought I would be quite good at it.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

I’m not currently being coached by anyone but have had a number of coaches through the years. My first real coach was a guy called Dave Needham who coached at my first club, Colchester & Tendering AC, he was a great guy who kept me injury free and enthused about running up until I joined university. At University I was coached by the one and only Bud Baldaro, one of the most inspirational coaches I know. If you ever had any doubts about your running ability, 5 minutes with Bud and you believed you could beat anybody! After Bud came Nick Anderson who helped me achieve most of my current personal best times and helped me get the opportunity to train out in Kenya. Since then I have briefly been coached by Gavin Smith whilst I was in Kenya. I think Gav will be a great coach and if I came to him at a slightly younger age I’m sure we could have done great things together.

(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

I would have to say the biggest influence on my running would have to be my parents, they have always given me great support and guidance with everything I have ever wanted to do in my life and I know I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.

What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

I can’t think of the best piece of advice I have ever been given but the best piece of advice I could give is just enjoy it. People put too much pressure on themselves to perform but if you just get out and enjoy it I guarantee you will run much better.

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

I am not much into gadgets and gizmos when I run, I like to keep it simple with just some nice comfy, technical running kit. So I would have to say my favourite bit of kit are my Adidas Tempo running shoes. I use these shoes to do most of my mileage. I find they give a nice bit of cushioning and support but they are light enough that you always feel like you can run fast.

What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

Tough question, as I have had so many races that stick in my mind. These are probably my top three in chronological order.

  1. Barcelona 10km (2007) – This was my first race running for my country and I won. It doesn’t get much better than that!
  2. Bristol Half Marathon (2008) – My first big race win and one of the few times I felt like I was absolutely flying. Winning such a high profile race with big crowds was one of the best feelings of my life.
  3. Fukuoka Marathon (2009) – Marathon running in Japan is a national sport, so the support for this race was crazy. I ended up running on my own for 25miles but the support of the crowds pushed me onto a pb of 2.17.29
What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

Consistency. I think this is the most important part of training. Some people can do some amazing sessions but if you can’t train consistently you won’t see that improvement.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

Don’t stress, just enjoy running.

Do you stretch enough?

Does anyone??

What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?

I think the state of running in the UK is in a pretty poor state. I’m sure there are many, many things that could be done to improve it but I don’t have the time to write it all down now!

What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

I’m currently reviewing my running ambitions having only just completed my first Ultra Marathon. As with any target or ambition, it takes hard work and dedication to achieve so that is what I will be doing.

Please complete the following:

I run because I just love to run.

 

 

The thigh’s the limit

Before I get started, I apologise for the terribly cheesy title to this review: I love thinking up snappy and catchy titles for the articles I post on here and sometimes a groan-inducing one will pop into my head. Normally I try to replace it, but in this case, it stays… so sorry about that.

The review today is about quad-guards, specifically the Compressport ForQuad product that Tim at Compressport in the UK was kind enough to send me to review.

What are quad-guards?

Ordinarily I don’t wear quad-guards. I tend to find that compression socks and tights work best for me as a recovery aid after a tough session, a race or a long run. But this summer was the ‘Summer of Ultras’ in my household as my wife Julie and I took on two ultra marathons and all the training that goes with that.

I found that after long training runs – for example a 6 hour run from 10pm to 4am on New Year’s Eve – I would have two issues: sore feet and sore upper-legs, the hamstrings and quads (front of the thighs) in particular. I tried running in compression tights but they were too restrictive around the waist and too hot after a while. So Compressport came to the rescue with a pair of the ForQuad for me to try.

They are essentially a tube of material, the right size to go around the thigh, that is tight and elastic enough to offer support and compression.

Do they work?

These little unassuming tubes of fabric were a God-send! They fit perfectly, with enough compression to make you know that you are wearing them and they are holding everything firm, but not so much that they cut off the blood supply below the knees. They miraculously stay up and I mean they really stay up – after 4 or 5 hours of running and sweating and pouring water on myself, they were still perfectly in place. And during and after my runs, my legs felt great. There was decidedly less fatigue and little or no D.O.M.S, which I can only assume is due to the fact that they hold the muscles in place and reduce damage that way. The fact that they also cured my propensity to get some chafing between my thighs after 4 or 5 hours of running, was a massive bonus!

So there you have my review: I think the Compressport ForQuad guards are brilliant. They definitely reduce fatigue, they eliminate chafing and, possibly best of all, they make you look like an ultra-marathon runner! Worth every penny, just for that…

Show me the evidence

Belief vs. empirical evidence – it’s a bit like a battle between love or magic vs. science or logic. The romantic in me always wants to believe that there is a magic and an art to running, but the truth is, I believe that running is a direct input-output relationship.

If you train and prepare well, you will get the result you want. If you don’t, you won’t.

So when I announced to my coach that after tackling three ultra marathons in three months, culminating in a 130 mile three-day stage race at the end of August, I would like to start a 15 week programme to race a marathon in Italy in December, I thought that he would simply tell me that it wasn’t possible, that I was being foolish.

Instead, he double-bluffed me. He said that me racing a marathon in December would be possible, but he would want to see something before we seriously contemplated the idea…

Evidence

So I have a target, which is not the one I thought I might have. Now I have to qualify for my own challenge, by running at least one half marathon personal best, between the end of the epic-ultra and the middle of November. If I can do that, then perhaps the marathon is a ‘go-er’.

Belief… or naivety

But many runners don’t have a coach who is used to greedy athletes wanting to revisit the sticky honey pot of racing time and time again. And I was reminded of this by a friend who told me of a group of new runners, training for a 10km road race, who had decided – for what reason I don’t know – that they were going to try to run sub-35 minute times on their debut.

I am not talking about seasoned 1500m, 3000m or 5000m track athletes here, going for their first road race. No, these are real newbies – people who have never really been very active or trained consistently. The fact is that they are completely naive and they have picked up the idea that 35 minutes is a good target from goodness knows where. They haven’t even tested themselves – no track sessions, no ParkRuns…

The truth is, maybe I am the one who needs to rethink things – maybe I set limiters on myself and everyone I come in contact with through running, because I don’t believe in magic. I believe in evidence. But then again, maybe a little evidence is always a good thing. What do you think?

Let Simon Wheatcroft show you what is possible

Simon Wheatcroft should be familiar to anyone who has ever said “I can’t”… and let’s face it, that is pretty much everyone in the world. I think next time you are about to allow the words ‘I’ and ‘can’t’ to cross your lips, take a look at this video and rethink what you think you can and can’t do:

Simon and Simon - and I did ask for a box to stand on, but one was not forthcoming!

I was very fortunate to meet Simon recently along with Jay Watts from Born To Plod which is really worth a read as soon as you have finished here! We were invited to meet Simon as guests of ASICS, but it was not like any PR stunt or event I have ever been to. It was one of the most inspiring and heart-warming afternoons I have ever spent for one thing – no disrespect to PR people and the events that put on, of course!

Jay and I were collected from Doncaster station and driven to Simon’s house. He is happy to have complete strangers in his house asking him daft questions because – as you will now know from having watched the video above – Simon needs to be in familiar surroundings (just in case you haven’t seen the video, the most amazing thing about Simon – aside from taking on ultra marathons whilst studying for a degree and supporting his wife and child – is that he is registered blind).

Whilst in the house I had a chance to ask Simon a whole range of questions before we were due to go out for a run and Simon was happy to answer pretty much everything!

I started by asking Simon if he had always been a runner and his answer was not what I expected. Simon told me that he has only been running for two years and before that he wasn’t really into sport although he did train in a cross-fit gym and lift weights. Like so many people, Simon started running because it is cheap and accessible and it was something that he could enjoy by running with friends. When it came to choosing ultra marathons, Simon said that the last book he read before his sight deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t read, was Dean Karnazes’ book and that was an inspiration to him.

I asked Simon if Karnazes was a personal inspiration to him and he said that he was along with athletes such as Jenson Button – the Formula 1 driver and accomplished triathlete, Randy Couture and George St Pierre, from UFC and indeed any all round athletes.

Running blind

One of the most amazing things about Simon – and let’s be clear there are a few! – is that he has memorised a route that he can run unaided. I asked Simon how he memorised the route and he said that he started running the route with a guide and was familiar with the area as he has lived in that part of the country his whole life.

As we would see later, Simon uses this uncanny ability to remember every inch of a 6 mile route along with physical clues like the grass verge or the change in texture due to the paint used for yellow lines on the road, to get around his route. He told me that he also uses RunKeeper which provides audio feedback on distances covered. Stuart Miles at Pocket Lint (@stuartmiles) wrote a brilliant piece about meeting Simon and his use of technology that you can read here.

Kit list

I asked Simon what his favourite and most useful bits of kit are. Obviously he said that his iPhone, loaded with the RunKeeper app, are essentials. He is also a big fan of the ASICS 33s – of which ASICS were kind enough to send me a pair, so there will be a review coming soon – which Simon loves because they offer sufficient cushioning whilst being lightweight and low-profile enough to allow Simon to get the feedback from subtle variations in pavement surface or yellow lines, that is so essential for his non-guided running.

The other bit of kit that Simon is reliant upon is his treadmill that dominates the conservatory at the back of his house. This allows Simon to do speed sessions and intervals and even hill sessions and frees him from the need for his wife to drive him to his route or for him to call on friends to accompany him.

Pounding the pavements

After a really lovely opportunity to ask Simon all our questions, Jay and I, along with Mark from the PR agency, headed off with Simon to accompany him on a run along his memorised route. We drove to a parking spot on a turning off a very busy country road. From there, Simon was really unerring.

He runs with a very economical style – perfect for ultra marathons but also the perfect stride for someone who has to feel the ground as he runs. But unless you knew that Simon was blind, there really is no indication that he can’t see anything: he never faltered. Indeed this is part of the reason that Simon developed this route which involves quite a bit of running on the road – when we ran in populated areas and along busy pavements, people had no clue that he was blind and would expect him to get out of the way, which of course he didn’t.

As Jay and Mark and I ran with Simon, he kept up a stream of conversation which only goes to show how well he knows this route, but I can only imagine how scary it must be to be running completely alone without being able to see and not knowing if there will be bags of rubbish or road-cones or lumps of wood on the pavement. For Simon he only becomes aware of such obstacles when he hits them.

The future

As we ran Simon talked about what he has got planned – a sandwich run where he was going to run 26.2 miles, then a local half marathon and then another 26.2 miles to make a sandwich, all in aid of a local charity.

Simon is also in a team for the Thunder Run because a woman called May asked Simon if he would like to make up a team with her. Simon obliged and now there are 9 runners of every ability.

And further into the future, there is Simon’s ultimate ambition – the record for the fastest Badwater ultra by a blind runner. At the moment two US-based brothers, Geoffrey and Miles Hilton-Barber, hold the record at around 40 hours. Simon wants to lower the record to more like 30 hours.

Badwater is a huge undertaking, whoever you are. Hours and hours and days and days of training will have to be done. Hard choices will have to be made. Deep fatigue and injuries will have to be endured. And that is before you consider doing the race without being able to see where you are going. It seems like a monumental task.

But you know what? I don’t think Simon Wheatcroft will ever say “I can’t”, in fact having spent just a few hours in his company, I am firmly of the opinion that Simon Wheatcroft probably can’t say “I can’t” and I for one will remember what he told me at the end of our few hours together for the rest of my life

a little bit of belief can do amazing things

Well, it has certainly allowed Simon to do amazing things and I think that is a lesson we could all do with learning from time to time.

The selfishness of the long distance runner

I worry sometimes that my ‘focus’ when it comes to running is actually sheer, unadulterated selfishness.

I am incredibly lucky that my wife is so supportive, but it nags at me sometimes that she might get a touch frustrated by being woken before dawn day after day as I stumble across the bedroom on my way out for another pre-breakfast run. I worry that she might not appreciate the huge piles of festering kit or the rows of muddied shoes that decorate our home. My wife is hugely tolerant of the many ‘nights out’ that we have cut short so that I can get home in time to get a good night’s sleep before my Sunday morning long run, but for how long? Friend similarly may be getting tired of me being tired, or not wanting to drink until ‘after the next big race’. And how about work? Do my colleagues mind that I spend so many lunchtimes out getting in a quick run or stretching in the kitchen area?

But I like to think that this selfishness might simply be another face of dedication, which as we know is a crucial part of every athletes armoury. And three brilliant books I have read recently confirm this view, both to my horror and satisfaction.

The Ghost Runner

I must admit that when it was published I was not all that interested in reading The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop I’m not sure why, but having picked it up a few times and read the notes on the back and having read a few early reviews, it didn’t immediately appeal.

Then a few weeks ago, whilst at the Brighton marathon expo, I heard Ron Hill talk about one of the times he ran against Tarrant in a marathon. Tarrant’s brother and lifelong supporter, who was alongside on his motorbike as Tarrant ran at the head of the field, with Hill tucked in behind him, told Tarrant that he shouldn’t do all the bloody work! I suddenly realised that John Tarrant was an important figure in British endurance running and I should read this book. I bought it from a bookshop close to my office the next day.

I should have read The Ghost Runner sooner. Having always had a slight anti-authoritarian streak (just ask me about my run-ins with TV Licensing recently!) I really felt for Tarrant and his battle to be allowed to run for his country – something that he was banned from doing, thanks to taking a paltry sum in expenses as a teenage boxer.

The book is rather light on details of how Tarrant trained, but what it is not light on is the trials that he faced at the hands of the immovable AAA. It is also full of the impact of Tarrant’s single mindedness when it came to running on those around him: his ever-supportive brother, his long suffering wife, his exasperated employers – the list goes on.

Running On Empty

Having finished The Ghost Runner, my next book was one of my wife’s suggestions: Running On Empty Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America which is the autobiography of an amazing man called Marshall Ulrich.

Ulrich’s story is very different from Tarrants, because as someone still running now in a period of tolerance on the part of those who run athletics and an ultra-runner, Ulrich doesn’t seem to have had to deal with the insanity of shamateurism and the pompousness of stubborn athletics officials.

But Ulrich and Tarrant do share a couple of things – they are both ultra distance runners (Tarrant had a long love affair with the Comrades ultra marathon in South Africa, a love that sadly the organisers did not reciprocate) and Ulrich confesses in his book that he is as ‘focused‘ as Tarrant was.

In one very moving part of the book, Marshall describes how, having found running as a way of dealing with his first wife’s long, slow decline as cancer took hold, he left to go out for a run even as she begged him to stay with her in her distress.

And it doesn’t end there. Ulrich has had failed relationships after the loss of his first wife that he attributes to his running. He acknowledges that family life has suffered. He even planned his epic, record breaking run across America against the wishes of his third wife and you get the feeling that he was always going to do the run, whether she approved or not.

Keep On Running

Having finished Ulrich’s book, I thought that something a little less intense would be in order. I found myself browsing the sports section of a huge book shop in central London and found Keep On Running: The Highs & Lows of a Marathon Addict by Phil Hewitt. The notes on the back promised a “light hearted account of [Hewitt’s] adventures on the road”… but despite Hewitt being what I would call an unremarkable marathon runner – with a personal best of 3hrs 20mins – the same theme emerges.

Because Hewitt is obviously a less extreme character than Tarrant or Ulrich and his targets are less extreme in their nature and duration, there is not the same requirement for compromise on the part of those close to him. But Phil still has to acknowledge that at least his wife, with a young family to deal with, has had to put up with a lot – losing her evenings with him after the children are asleep while he goes out for runs in the dark, traipsing around the London marathon course in the pouring rain whilst pregnant and with a two-year-old and, I suspect, dealing with all the extra washing of running kit that training for a marathon entails (though I might be wrong there).

So what, I hear you ask?

Well, it strikes me that we runners can be a selfish bunch, as these three books demonstrate. I am not saying for one minute that this is a bad thing, because I believe that it is better to be a selfish runner and have all the positive qualities that come with that, rather than a selfish boozer or a selfish gambler.

But these books have reminded me that life is about balance and I believe that every so often it is worth lifting one’s head and considering for a moment whether, in the pursuit of a new PB or a new distance, one is not sacrificing too much. Maybe once in a while, us runners should take our loved one out for dinner, or go away for the weekend and leave the trainers behind or maybe read a book… there are three about running all of which I can highly recommend!

All three of the books are great reads in their own rights.

The Ghost Runner is brilliantly well researched and is written by a writer, so the prose flows and the book was a real page turner for me, filled with uplifting moments, tragedy, inspiration and the odd word of warning.

Running On Empty, written as it is by Ulrich, is perhaps a little rougher, but no less wonderful for that. In this book, the reader gets a warts-and-all insight into what it takes to achieve feats of endurance that would seem utterly impossible had they not been done! A great book for anyone wondering what lies beyond the marathon.

And Keep On Running does deliver what it promises on the cover – a ‘beautiful description of one man’s passion for the open road’ according to Jo Pavey. The book is funny, inspiring, honest and moving. As a runner myself I really connected with Hewitt’s story and only wish I could have described my journey so far with such eloquence.

 

 

 

 

The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop by Bill Jones is published by Mainstream Publishing priced £12.99
Running On Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss and a record-Setting Run Across America by Marshall Ulrich is published by Avery and priced £11.99
Keep On Running: The Highs & Lows of a Marathon Addict by Phil Hewitt is out now and published by Summersdale priced £8.99