Best Value Ultramarathons In The UK

It has to be said that there are some ridiculously priced events out there. Perhaps capitalizing on the growing interest in the ultramarathon scene, costs for some events have shot up and some other established events have followed suit.

There’s an excellent resource from Climbers.net that lists the best value ultramarathons in the UK.

“This simple page lists some of the best value ultramarathon races available in the UK. In contrast to expensive new trail and ultra events created by commercial event companies, there is still a very healthy (and growing) number of low cost, great value events all over the UK. All the races on this pagecost less than £1 per mile!

Of course “value” doesn’t just mean the cheapest ultras, so the table also includes brief details of what you get for your entry fee: number of CPs, food/water, T-shirt, medal, etc.”

It does include The Highland Fling but appears to miss out a number of other, equally low cost Scottish Ultra Marathon Series Events. Perhaps the most notable omission is the D33. I can’t find the price for next years event on the website but, certainly in past years, the event has cost approx £10-£12 putting it well below £1 per mile!

Salomon Running TV S3 E02

The latest instalment from Salomon TV focuses on Anna Frost, winner of Transvulcania 2012. I challenge anyone to watch this and not be moved. Having been consumed by running myself these past few years, the video struck a chord. Anna appears to have once again found her love of running after coming to the realisation that “Running really is just running”. It’s not the be all and end all of life, as much as having it in your life can be good and beneficial. For me, it took parenthood to make me realise that, whilst running still has its place, the world doesn’t stop turning if a training session doesn’t go to plan or, indeed, if that session doesn’t even happen.

“Anna Frost has spent the past 8 years wandering the globe competing in some of the worlds top trail races. Her win at Transvulcania in 2012 cemented her place as one of the top ultra trail runners in the world. Following that race, Anna was plagued by a string of injuries and forced out of the racing circuit. As a result, in late 2012 she decided to return to her home in Dunedin, New Zealand. In this episode Anna reconnects with her identity and roots as she questions what running means to her.”

The Finish Line

Feeling well and truly moved after watching the second video shared on www.pixelscotland.com today. It wasn’t until partially through the video that I realised the story was not just about coach Jim Tracy, who had recently been diagnosed with the degenerative ALS, but also involved Hollan Reynolds, the girl who literally crawled over the finish line in a show of absolute determination.

I was moved the first time I saw the footage of her crawling across the finish line on all fours but, in the greater context, as the final finisher in a team that rallied together to get Jim Tracy his eight state championship, it is even more remarkable and moving.

The Finish Line from Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG on Vimeo.

Walk, Run, Play, Learn, Move #Livebarefoot

“Your feet have all the technology you need and our shoes let them do their thing. Combining modern technology with ancient wisdom our revolutionary shoes let you’re feet behave as if they were barefoot. Explore and enjoy nature and #livebarefoot. Any time, anywhere it’s all about moving barefoot. We are Vivobarefoot and we let you #livebarefoot.”

Thanks to Vivobarefoot for sending me a pair of Breatho Trail shoes to try out.

A full review will follow in due course but first impressions are really favourable. Aesthetically, the navy/sulphur colour combination really stands out and, as far as comfort goes, they provided a perfect fit straight out of the box, with a lovely wide toe box to facilitate toe splay.

One thing that I particularly like is the sole – 2.5mm with 4.5mm multidirectional lugs for grip out on the trail. The sole is touted as being puncture-resistant, and I certainly feel that bit more assured running over uncertain terrain than I have in the past.

They have only recently arrived with me so, as I said, full review to follow in due course. In the meantime, here’s the specifications for the Breatho Trail:

  • Upper Material: Breathable Mesh
  • Upper Description: Breathable Duo Mesh: Comfortable and lightweight, this mesh allows ventilation and airflow around the foot
  • Collar/Panel/ Lining: Dri-lex lining with lycra collar: Lightweight, performance lining for moisture wicking and superior comfort
  • Sole Unit: V – TREK
  • Sole Thickness: 2.5mm sole with 4.5mm lugs
  • Sole Description: V Trek: Multi-directional ‘V-teeth’for the steepest, muddiest, wettest terrains. Ultimate off-road traction and sensory feedback (proprioception)
  • Closure/Lacing: V-Lock Lacing System: Zigzag webbing eyelets make sure the foot is secure in the shoe
  • Weight (grams): 250

“Trail running with barefoot feeling and breathability. A lightweight, breathable shoe that’s a natural fit for trail loving feet. The Breatho Trail’s Duo Mesh and anatomic zigzag lacing structure give a comfortable ‘second skin’ fit. Your shoes and your feet will move as one, no matter what nature throws at them.”

I didn’t quite appreciate just how wide a selection of shoes Vivobarefoot produce and, with lifestyle, road, trail, hiking and kids shoes, there’s definitely something for everyone.

Vivobarefoot Product Catalogues:

#livebarefoot

Find out more about Vivobarefoot shoes:

West Highland Way Race 2014

I’ve always advocated that you should ‘Aim high, anything is possible’. Indeed, that’s the name of my blog over on The Running Bug website. However, at least as far as 2014 is concerned, I won’t be aiming high. Or at least, my aspirations will (hopefully) be slightly more attainable than they have been over the past few years.

November has, for the past few years, been a special month. As most readers will know, it’s the month when the ballot opens for the West Highland Way Race and, again as most readers will know, despite the ballot remaining open for the duration of November, there’s always a flurry of activity on opening night as people are so keen to get their West Highland Way Race entries in.

November is also a month where the majority of entrants find themselves on tenterhooks, in a state of uncomfortable suspense, awaiting the all important email of acceptance or rejection. This time last year, I had somewhat naively entered the ballot, not quite appreciating just how much of an impact the birth of my son Harris, our first child, was going to have on my running. Little did I realise just how much of a life changing event it would all be and, I will admit, little did I realise just how accepting I would be of the changes and the drastic reduction in running, both in terms of training and participation. Not that there was much of a choice, but, fortunately, something about becoming a dad changed my priorities and I soon realised that there was little or no time for what, ultimately, can be a selfish pursuit, especially if it involves spending great chunks of weekends and/or evenings out on the trails.

I did make it to the finish line of the D33 in 2013, albeit on a stupidly low amount of training and, by the day of the race, my ‘long’ slow run preparation had not exceeded 11 miles. From approximately mile 18 onwards I suffered, big style, so much so in fact, that a walker that I encountered in the final miles of the race offered me paracetamol! The pain must have been etched across my face for that kind gesture to take place and, believe it or not, I actually did try to convince them that they should consider the D33 for themselves in 2014!

As the year progressed, training dwindled and I soon realised that I was not going to make it to the start line of the West Highland Way Race, never mind the finish line! When it came to finally officially withdrawing, my biggest regret was not that I was pulling out of the race that, just one year previous, had been the driving force and focus of my year. The biggest regret was that I had deprived someone of a place. Fortunately, as more and more competitors fell by the wayside, those runners who had failed to get in via the ballot were given the opportunity to fill the vacant spaces.

Despite not being present at the 2013 West Highland Way Race, I followed it through the night with interest. I still wanted to follow the progress of all involved and, especially, the progress of Ian Minty who, just the year before, had been there to see me to the end of my own WHW Race adventure, despite everything from chronic diarrhoea to projectile vomiting doing its best to derail my efforts.

This year, there is no November anxiety. There’s no concern over whether I will be lucky enough to get one of those coveted spaces. There’s not even any regrets. I have my hands full like never before. I can’t even recall what life pre baby was like and, certainly, have no idea what I managed to do with all of that free time. Surely I can’t have spent all of it running! This year I watched from afar as the WHW Race Facebook group went into a frenzy as the date for the ballot approached. I will no doubt keep an eye on the starters list, to see who the fortunate few are. And I will no doubt follow the race on-line come race weekend.

My training levels of late are such that it would be foolish to even contemplate the West Highland Way Race next year. Thanks to the Running Bug and PUMA, my running did get the kick up the backside that it so desperately required mid year. Having been selected as the PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador for the 1/2 marathon distance, I benefited hugely from the nutritional advice, a structured training plan, and physio support.

Little had I realised prior to this point just why my dieting attempts were doomed to failure as a result of eating too little while training, why my continued use of the Long Slow Run as my preferred/only training method was only ever going to see my performance plateau, and why my ‘ultra shuffle’ running ‘style’ was only serving to slow me down and aggravate ITB issues.

Unfortunately, my PB Challenge didn’t go to plan. With 5 weeks to go to the big day, a niggling calf issue worsened, leaving me unable to train. I found myself unable to run anything more than 2-3 miles before the pain levels became unacceptable.

With the help of some painkillers, some Rock Tape, and the pacing skills of my good friend Allan Bruce, I did attempt to beat my PB as planned at the Great Scottish Run. I hadn’t expected much given the issues encountered over the past 5 weeks but, in the end, ran faster than I have done for 5 years, only just missing out on the all important PB.

It had the potential to be a spectacular psychological blow, especially considering that my failure was so visible, shared with all of my fell Running Bugs. However, I was happy with my progress in the face of adversity, something that running ultramarathons taught me to appreciate.

Almost immediately after the Great Scottish Run, I was unfortunate enough to catch hand, foot and mouth. This rather unpleasant affliction, whilst fortunately nothing to do with the bovine foot and mouth disease, further compromised my training. When my son and his baby friends first came down with HF&M, I checked online and found that it was rare for it to be transmitted to an adult. Obviously this particular version of HF&M wasn’t party to that information as it proceeded to spread amongst a number of the parents and I, unfortunately, suffered more than most. I was reduced to an almost completely immobile, lurching wreck, with feet covered almost entirely in blisters that made ultramarathon induced blisters appear tame.

After approximately a week the worst of the blisters had subsided. However, this was just the start of the recovery process. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but, suffice to say, the old skin needs to give way to lovely new (and very tender) skin. Due to the extent of the blistering, the end result can best be likened to a reformat of your PC. Everything is wiped and ‘reinstalled’, a somewhat painful process that, even after a few weeks, has yet to complete.

Writing this, I should soon find myself in a position to resume training again. It’s going to be back to basics for me. At this point, the only race that I am committed to next year is the Baker Hughes 10k in Aberdeen. Ultramarathons seem like a distant memory and, at this point, my only real consideration as far as ultras go is whether to maintain my 100% attendance record at the D33 ultramarathon. Whether I even apply or not is, at this point, touch and go. Whatever I decide, I certainly don’t want a repeat performance of last year’s PW.

The aim for 2014 is to get that all elusive PB, and not just at 1/2 marathon distance. I’ve never completed a timed 5k. There’s a 10k PB set around the same time as my existing 1/2 marathon PB that needs smashed, and I believe that a sub 4 hour marathon is also attainable. I even have aspirations of running closer to 3:30!

The West Highland Way Race above all others will always have a special place in my heart. This race, more than any other, tested my resolve to finish and the fact that I finally made it to that finish line in Fort William, despite everything that went wrong that weekend, means so much to me. That single weekend ranks higher in terms of accomplishments than years and years spent in education amassing degree and postgraduate qualifications! Whilst a return to the race is most definitely not on the cards for 2014, I hope to again join the eager masses in that car park in Milngavie some day soon(ish!).

All the very best to everyone hoping to participate in the 2014 West Highland Way Race.

Ultra Tales Issue 9

Issue 09 of Ultra Tales covers primarily UK and other ultra event reports from Aug – Oct 2013.

This issue included event reports from the Kennet & Avon Ultra, TDS, Ring of Fire, Hardmoors Princess, 10 Peaks Brecon Beacons, Ultimate Trails 100k, Cotswold Century, Hardmoors 60, Trail of Herts, Tooting Bec 24hr, London to Brighton, Spartathlon, Bear 100, ECF Monster Ultra, Yellowstone 100, Downslink Ultra, Heartland 100, Bideford Bay 50k, Sormland Ultra Marathon, Caesars Camp Endurance Run, Round Rotherham 50 and Stort 30.

This issue contains runners profiles for Richard Felton, Chris Foreman and Shannon Wilkinson.

The issue also has articles on Patches, Fitting in the Long Run, Surviving the Ultra Break, Spartathlon and DNF Corner.

The Foot Strike Debate

I came across the following article on Facebook this morning (seems to be a common theme of late!). After all the ‘hype’ surrounding barefoot/minimalist running and the supposed benefits, this article would appear to suggest that rear foot strikers are more economical than midfoot strikers.

Who’s correct? Will we ever really know for sure? Regardless, it makes for interesting reading. Thanks to The Science of Sport Facebook page for bringing this article to my attention. Well worth a follow for lots of interesting articles.

The The Science of Sport Facebook post:

“This is a really interesting study finding that rear-foot strikers are more economical than mid-foot strikers across a range of speeds (in sub-elite runners). The rear-foot strikers had longer contact times, but shorter flight times than mid-foot strikers.

A few years ago, there was so much “Born to Run” induced hype about footstrike and form and performance and injury. One such promise was that mid-foot striking would improve RE. A few studies have now challenged that assertion, this being the latest one.

As seems typical in these wrongly polarized and simplified debates, the pendulum was swung all the way over to one extreme, but in time, ‘gravity’ brings it back towards the middle, where it is likely to settle, because there are so many ‘moving’ parts that anyone who generalizes, simplifies and polarizes all in one statement is either gloriously naive or just dishonest.

My Vertical Marathon

I came across ‘My Vertical Marathon’ on Facebook this morning. Between 14th and 16th November 2013, Stephen Tennant will attempt to set a new world record, climbing 26.2 miles worth of stairs. This equates to 31 times the height of Ben Nevis and 5 times the height of Everest. The aim is to encourage people to take the stairs on a daily basis and to raise funds for the Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice. The event is being supported by Caledonian Breweries. This looks like being a great challenge.

“A world first attempt to create 26.2 miles of non-stop, pure vertical ascent. A single athlete shall repeatedly climb the unbroken 21 storey stairwell  tower of the Glasgow Hilton hotel over three days starting Thursday 14th of November 2013. We are aiming to not only raise funds for the Prince & Princess of Wales Glasgow’s Hospice dedicated “Brick by Brick Appeal” and Children in Need but to illustrate how easy it is to keep your heart, lungs, legs and bum in shape! We also want to show you how you can set your very own World Record!”