Thursday, 20 November 2014

Endurance not Endure Once - This is what it is

Have mentioned this on my own page, am going to mention it here. Here's the deal.... This is a sort of an e-book but it's basically a pdf file and you can only read it on your computer. Is very short - around 6,800 words, and contains some writings of mine in the vein of 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run'; some stuff about plans for Grand Union Canal Race in 2015 and why I didn't do Thames Path 100 in 2014, about whether I think there are cliques within ultra running, first bit is quite political and is about the inequalities I see in life, why they upset me and why it's not too healthy to think that everything is awesome. Also includes an interview with Olympic marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich, which is a preview of an upcoming book I'm close to finishing, and some writings I did in 2002 whilst riddled with insomnia that read like a modern day Marcel Proust.....kind of! Also includes some embarrassing photos! Now, the cost of this is £1.50 - I will e-mail you the file if you think it's worth this amount to read it. If you don't, you don't. The reason I'm selling this is quite frankly because I really need the money and I'm hoping £1.50 won't leave anyone else out of pocket, but if a number of people pay the £1.50 then they get to hopefully have an entertaining read, plus get an interview with someone who knows what it's like to win an Olympic marathon. What's more, I promise to pay back the £1.50 by paypal as soon as I can afford to. This will be on a first come, first served basis. All of this may make me seem like a nutter, but to be honest the horse already bolted long ago on that score, and so if you don't want to lend me £1.50 to read this then don't. If you do then that would help me more than you can possibly imagine. It's your call : ) .....

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Let's run 148 miles then

Today it's Wednesday 12th November. Yesterday I found out that in 2015 I will be running Grand Union Canal Race; a race that's been on my wish list for quite some time, and means as much to me as running the Oner did in 2013. Of course as happens before every ultra race I enter, delusional thoughts of winning enter my head. For this race I believe the win is pretty much out of the question, as the number of fantastically talented ultra runners lining up at the start will be more than I can remember any time since I've been following the race. My early tip for the win has to be Mark Perkins. As far as I know this will be the furthest distance he's raced so far, and over a race of this distance raw speed will be less of an advantage than it would even during a 100 miler, but you just can't argue with a 14 hour and 13 hour 100 mile finish within the same couple of months of summer 2014. These would mean that even if he was to take it pretty steady he'd get to the 100 mile point some time before the likes of me would, and so will have a huge head start when it comes to commencing those final 48 miles.

A more realistic, although still extremely difficult, target for me would be to aim for sneaking a sub 30 hour finish. I have a feeling there'll be more sub 30 finishes than usual next year. Last year there were three, with another couple of people being close. What would it take to do this?

Well, what it would take would be around 12:09 minute miling upon average for 148 miles, just to sneak under 30 hours. How doable would this actually be? Well, I'm guessing there may even be one or two times during the race when I want to take a break for around twelve minutes and nine seconds to eat something proper; if this was the case that would mean there'd have to be enough miles to cover that, plus all of my other shorter stops, that were run at far enough under 12:09 minute miling to build enough of a cushion to allow for the stops. Chances are also that especially during the second half of the race there will be a number of miles that are slower than 12:09. On flat terrain I would fancy my chances, if fully fit, of being able to grind out plenty of 12:09 minute miles through doing a little bit of a run/walk later on in the first 100 even, and would hope that I'd have been able to complete the first 50 in something around 9 hours without taxing myself all that much. If I was able to do the first 50 in 9 hours and the second 50 in 10 hours 30, say, that would leave another 10 hours and 28 minutes (let's be safe) to do the last 48 miles. That would mean an average of 13:08 minute miling for the last 48.... not necessarily very easy I'd say. Especially as near the end there will quite possibly be a few miles that take a crazily long time, just because of how exhausted I'll be and how much pain I'll be in.

All being well, on the flat I can walk pretty fast normally, and could probably relentlessly post low 14 minute miles just from a steady power hike, so with a bit of running thrown in then 13:08s would be pretty doable, but how possible would this be after 100 miles have already been completed? Would I only be able to jog at 14 minute mile pace? The truth is I just don't know, because I've never gone past 80 miles on foot before at the time of writing. I just have no idea how my legs, or my mind, will cope. Perhaps I'll still be able to move but just won't feel much like it. Perhaps the desire will still be there to keep moving but my legs will just say "Naahhhhh, mate!!!" Maybe I'll have a new lease of life at 122 miles and bust out a 4:30 marathon to get to the finish (would be a pretty amazing feat at that distance.) Maybe the last ten miles will take four hours. I just don't know.

The race itself is an unknown quantity, so how will I train for 148 miles? Until relatively recently my thoughts would just have been to stack my training with plenty of mileage, but the small amount of wisdom I've accrued in the time I've run ultras to date has told me that more important will be to just get into the best level of fitness of my life so far, which will be through quality training rather than volume of mileage. I plan to do some long runs for sure, but I don't plan on being out on my feet all day and night at any point until I line up at Gas Street, Birmingham next year. During late April and early May next year I'll be putting in some big weeks in all probability, just to get me ready for the sheer distance, but most training weeks would consist of somewhere between 40 and 60 miles in all probability, and would include speed sessions; speedwork will make a huge difference to how easy it'll feel in those early miles to be trotting along at 9-10 minute miling. The easier that feels the more likely I'll be able to sustain it for a good number of hours, which is what I'm aiming for. I'm aiming to find a pace at which I could literally run all day, and when I see everyone storming ahead of me early on I'll stick to my pace, and possibly reel some people in as the dusk starts to fall.

I've made the mistake in pretty much all of my previous ultras of starting too fast and then somewhere between miles 20 and 35 having some extremely slow miles due to cramp or similar issues, then feeling a little better later on but having lost too much time in the middle to achieve the kind of time I was aiming for. This will be different; 148 miles is an incredibly long way, and so the one word I will have on my mind will be sustainability. Anyway, enough talk. Time to train.....

This - . It's the story of my life, but is more wholesome than the One Direction song of the same name. I didn't drive all night to keep anyone warm, for that would release an unnecessary amount of car fumes into the atmosphere. That's not to say I didn't dump toxic waste anywhere, but it was all into my own body as a response to a world that frightened and confused me when I was a child, and this persisted into my late teens/early adulthood. This nearly made me lose my health and sanity for good, but then I discovered the endorphin high and have barely looked back since. The posh word for it is ecotherapy, for me it's linked with being close to creation, but whichever viewpoint you take it can't be denied that being outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other is nature's anti-depressant. That's what the story is about.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What's this? It's the first draft of the introduction of my second book. No release date yet

“She’s done 40 marathons in 40 days you say? Some of them took seven hours, none of them were even sub 4? Not really marathons then are they? Besides, my mate Stobbo has run a marathon every day since Easter with a 40kg rucksack on his back. All sub 4.”

I smile politely.

“But that’s nothing. My mate Langton can pull a marathon out of the bag any time he wants. Any given day he can go out and run a sub 3, and he doesn’t even train in between.”

I nod, and make my excuses, the voice of Crogger getting ever fainter as he tells my disappearing back about his mate Scullin, who came 14th in the Marathon des Sables last year, after running 10 marathons in 10 days the week-and-a-half leading up to the event.

This encounter did not really happen, but it could easily be a real event, as the marathon has definitely moved on from when I first learnt about it as a child in the 80s. The day I watched London Marathon on TV for the first time, and in my confused child’s brain somehow believed that the singer Meatloaf had won. Or has it?

Legend has it that the first marathon was run by a Greek chap named Pheidippides, who ran around 25 miles to proclaim victory in war to the people of Sparta, after which he collapsed and died. If anyone had been thinking of shooting the messenger they were too late. However, rumour has it that this legend is not true, and in fact our mate Pheidippides actually ran a double Spartathlon. A what now? Well, every year in Greece there is a 153 mile footrace called Spartathlon, where runners have 36 hours to get from Athens to Sparta via a course with over 70 aid stations along the way, each of which has a strict cut-off time. The overall time limit is a reflection of what is believed to be the time Pheidippides took to run from Athens to Sparta a few hundred years BC to gather armies to help in the war. Apparently he then did the reverse leg only to find that the war was already won, but luckily modern participants don’t have to run back to Athens ….. doesn’t mean a few haven’t over the years, mind.

The modern race came about after three British runners from the RAF were intrigued by the story of Pheidippides and set out one day in 1982 to prove it was true, by completing the run themselves in a similar length of time. It seems only men named John considered that it might be possible, for John Foden, John Scholtens and John McCarthy were that band of merry men. They had a support crew along the way, which Pheidippides did not, but they still had to put one foot in front of the other enough times to carry them from Athens to Sparta. All three managed it in between 34-39 hours, thus proving to the world that this tale of the plucky Greek ultra runner may just have been true, and now Spartathlon is a huge organised race each year, which attracts some of the craziest athletes from around the world.

Nick Papageorge was a fresh-faced 18 year old running enthusiast when he crewed for the band of Johns back in ’82, and he is understandably proud to have been a part of such an event.

“Over the 2 days I ran with John McCarthy and John Foden, as well as Nigel whose surname I can’t remember, who stopped on the Friday night after Ancient Corinth.”

Not a John, you see?

“I remember stopping with McCarthy for a little rest in the middle of the night when we heard gunfire and thought it might be hunters after us, so having to leg it through some fields.”

I doubt Pheidippides would have heard much in the way of gunfire, but his run may well have been blighted by many other threats of the slings and arrows variety; literal, not metaphorical…. although quite possibly metaphorical too come to think of it. Anyway sorry for interrupting, Nick. Please continue.

“With Foden I recall stories he had uncovered about the Pheidippides run, as well as him drinking water from a well using his hat. Everyone got concerned when he was clearly lost; it wasn’t exactly a well organised run with checkpoints, like it is today.”

Indeed the modern race is pretty well supported, but to me that doesn’t make it an insignificant challenge. Running 153 miles in the heat is a seriously impressive feat, no matter how well supported you are.

“The organisation of the checkpoints, the fantastic Greek friendliness throughout and the in-built security of the runners is brilliant,” enthuses Nick, who ran the race himself in 2013 and described it as an amazing and emotional experience, even though he didn’t reach Sparta, “Added to that, I think that the ancient history involving Pheidippides and his feat, the modern history of the RAF expedition with my own humble involvement, and just the sheer magnitude with heat, terrain and cut-offs make this a great race. Anyone who has stood at the foot of the Acropolis at 7am on the Friday of the start has to feel the thoughts of Pheidippides 2,500 years ago setting off to run to Sparta with a serious message. Anyone who has ever completed or even simply witnessed the run through the blistering heat, and in particular seen the final 800metre run up towards King Leonidas’ foot, marking the end of the race, can confirm that it is a fantastic experience.”

Stirring stuff indeed. However, in modern times some would say that this race is not all about Pheidippides, but is about a man named Yiannis Kouros. Apart from Spartathlon, he is probably best known for holding the seemingly untouchable world record of around 189 miles run in 24 hours, which he did back in 1997. Nobody has really looked like breaking it since. No-one has looked like matching his best Spartathlon runs either. Kouros has run the 4 fastest Spartathlon times in history, and the closest rival of his 4th fastest finishing time is some bloke called Scott Jurek (if you don’t know of his exploits, a quick Google search will reveal all.)

It was said that Pheidippides’ legendary run took around 36 hours. Yiannis managed it in 20 hours, 25 minutes precisely on his best run, which works out at an average of exactly 8 minute miling for 153 miles. Keeping that up over a marathon is considered a not too shabby effort for a recreational runner nowadays, let alone nearly six of them back to back in the heat.

So who is more impressive? Pheidippides or Kouros? If this question was asked on a modern running forum and it instigated a heated discussion between Crogger and Pheidippides’ descendent Constadinos, what might they say?

“Kouros all the way, mate,” Crogger may begin, “He was nearly 16 hours quicker. Can’t argue with that, can you?”

“Impressive, I’ll give you that,” Constadinos may reply, “But how many more aid stations did Kouros have? About 70 wasn’t it? Pheidippides had to find all his own water and food, and he still managed it in a day and a half.”

“Ah yes,” says Crogger, “But what kind of cut-offs did Pheidippides have? Oh yeah, that’s right. None.”

“You wanna talk about time pressure? Let’s talk about time pressure. Kouros had some friendly Greeks with signs not even bothering to tell him what the cut-off times were as he was so far ahead of them. Pheidippides had the weight of an entire army’s battles on his shoulders. He had to go and get reinforcements so all his family, friends and fellow countrymen weren’t slaughtered by the invading armies. You still gonna tell me he had no cut-offs?”

The debate would probably rage on for many an hour. Occasionally somebody may chip in with a quip about trekking poles or Hoka running shoes (the two most common pieces of quip fodder on ultra running forums it would seem), but Crogger would keep fighting his corner, Constadinos would keep coming back and ultimately they would come no closer to agreeing on an answer to the original question.

What’s perhaps more pertinent to ask for this book is why am I writing a book about marathons and not Spartathlons? Why are Spartathlons not run in every major city in the world, or at least between them? Well, I guess there are many logistical reasons, but the fact remains that the marathon is still an incredibly popular pursuit for runners worldwide. As you will read, the way marathons are viewed, the way they are run and what constitutes a decent effort over the distance have changed immeasurably over the years one way or another, but since 1921 the distance of a marathon has been 26.2 miles. It was originally around 25, as this was originally thought to be the distance of Pheidippides’ run, but then in the 1908 London Olympics the course was lengthened so that the Royals could view the finish from their Royal Box at White City Stadium after a lap of the running track. This distance became standardised, and is what we call a marathon today.

For me the marathon is still an incredible challenge, in that to run the perfect race you are literally running as fast as you can over 26.2 miles without much variation in your pace at all. It’s such an incredibly fine line, and over such a distance there are so many things that can go wrong. There is a real art to running a great marathon race, and it’s something I’m yet to be able to say I’ve done myself (I will never be a national record holder, but I still wouldn’t say I’ve yet run a marathon in which I paced it perfectly and it couldn’t have gone any better.) People run a lot further than marathon distance, there are a select few who run a marathon every day before breakfast, but there’s still something about this distance that holds an almost mystical quality for so many runners.

There are some who train for many months, or perhaps even years, to run a single marathon and then never again. There are some who like the first one so much that they eventually run 10 of them in 10 days for fun, and all at a pace that would be blistering for the majority of recreational runners. In this book the stories of a number of significant marathons are told, from national record holders, prolific marathoners and those who ran a marathon that will always be memorable for a certain reason. Some of the people in this book have run a marathon in under 2 hours, 10 minutes. Many have run one faster than anyone else from their country ever has. How did they do it? What do they remember from those races? Some of these athletes are well known, some are until now more obscure, but no matter how fast or slow they perceive their best efforts to be they all have one thing in common. They have all completed at least one 26.2 mile run that compelled me to get in touch with them in order to write this book.


Other books are available, including one by me, from here..... . It's the story of my life, but is more wholesome than the One Direction song of the same name. I didn't drive all night to keep anyone warm, for that would release an unnecessary amount of car fumes into the atmosphere. That's not to say I didn't dump toxic waste anywhere, but it was all into my own body as a response to a world that frightened and confused me when I was a child, and this persisted into my late teens/early adulthood. This nearly made me lose my health and sanity for good, but then I discovered the endorphin high and have barely looked back since. The posh word for it is ecotherapy, for me it's linked with being close to creation, but whichever viewpoint you take it can't be denied that being outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other is nature's anti-depressant. That's what the story is about.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Behind the spamming (a 5 minute explanation)

Ok, so inspired by a blog post from yesterday (in terms of style) and by some comments recently received (in terms of content) I will put across my side of the story in terms of why you may have seen so many posts about some book I wrote. I've pretty much stopped posting links in facebook groups about it now, but do post about it from my own pages because I can ......

* People read this and have heard my side of the story, and can take from that what they will

* People think I'm posting this for any other reason - I'm not saying people are wrong to criticise, that I've been hard done by, that I'm some kinda martyr for the self-employed or that this is a huge issue - have had some comments about it though, and so am just simply telling it how it is
*There are 400 comments with some people defending my actions and others lambasting them. There's no need for any comments really; if anyone has anything to discuss with me personally I'd be happy to do so via messages but not really on this post as that's not what I want it to be about

* I am self-employed; I have to be in order to live my life in the way I believe it's right for me to. I have deeply personal reasons for needing self-employment to be a success, which are more about other people than me. A fair bit of my income is from book sales, so I have to promote it
*Every time I posted on a group I wasn't thinking "Here, have some spam!" I was thinking "What can I do today to try and make enough money to pay for what I need to pay for? This is something that might help"
*I posted on groups that I thought were relevant to the subject matter of the book and so some people from them may find it interesting to read. If I posted on a group and made some sales through it I'd post on that group again at some point because I felt I may reach more people who might be interested. If I got no sales (or just one or two) through posting on a group I wouldn't post on it again, neither would I if it was a particularly specialised group. Am going to post very rarely on groups from now on if at all

So yeah, I could go on but that just about sums it up, and it would defeat the title of the blog if it was any longer now. Some people may read this and wonder who I think I am to write a blog all about something so trivial, but it was more in response to a feeling I've had lately that I've caused a lot of annoyance by doing something I never intended to cause annoyance with, hence the explanation. I would have got a can of spam and taken a photo of me holding it with a silly expression on my face but I can't justify spending the money even on a can of spam right now. That's it. Love you, bye!

PS - I won't tell you how to buy my book because clearly you already know if you're on the internet

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Money in Ultra Running - Cool Move or Fool Move?

Ok, so if there was a talk show about Ultra running, with the host perhaps being a figurehead of the UK 'scene', and various panellists, what would they have to say about the following question: 'Money in Ultra Running: Cool Move or Fool Move?'

Well, why would that question even need to be asked in the first place? More to the point, who would have a right to say one way or the other? Of course everyone would be entitled to share their opinions, but what do we mean by 'Ultra running' as a thing? Are we talking about official races? Do all races count? Is anyone in charge of ultra running? Does anyone own ultra running?

Prize Money

If we're talking prize money, that's hardly a new thing. Way, way back in the late 1920s Charles C. Pyle, America's first sports agent, offered a colossal $25,000 (a serious, or should I say stupid, amount of money back then) for the winner of the 'Bunion Derby'; a footrace across America he had organised. There was plenty more prize money on offer besides and some of the leading runners of the day jumped at the chance of a big payday for this endeavour that many would attempt in years to come, including by far the most famous instance of a run across the States'; that infamous journey immortalised in James Adams' 'Running and Stuff: the Book' (available from Amazon.)

A book was also written about this great race; a book that Adams himself rates very highly, and I won't spoil it by revealing any more about the events that unfolded. However, it would seem that prize money has not always been on offer, as in recent years when there has been talk of different races offering prize purses it has been said that this will attract more of the top runners who are battling hard to be able to make the sport they love their profession.

I guess if we are talking about prize money then this will only have a direct impact on those at the sharp end of the field. If I was to enter the Petzl South Downs Way 100, for instance, there wouldn't be a cheque with my name on it for the win unless there was an absolutely unprecedented number of drop-outs amongst the top runners, equating to basically probably the whole top third of the field. However, if prize purses increase for races throughout the world then we are likely to not only see more of the top runners entering these races, but some who are yet to give ultra running a try could be tempted, which would be extremely exciting for 'the fans.' In contrast to many sports, the fans of ultra running are very often lining up on the same start line as those who make it a sport that even has fans. If there were significant prize purses available at races like Western States, UTMB and West Highland Way Race would we start to see an influx of African runners? Would this be good for the sport?

Unfortunately, there is a commonly held, and probably sadly true theory that an increase of prize money into the sport would see a few cases of doping. What would be the impact on ultra running if there was ample prize money on offer, a top athlete came over to the West Highland Way Race and set a phenomenal new course record, described as 'game changing' by the hype men, but then it turned out he'd done so with the aid of performance enhancing drugs? Would you trust again that any incredible feat of ultra running was done without the aid of doping? Would it call into question any of the previous feats that had been achieved? Would Kilian's Hardrock 100 course record have people scoffing "Hardrock 100? More like 'Hard Drug 100'? Would Kyle Skaggs' record before that have people saying......actually, never mind!

Throwing money at it

So if we're not talking about prize money, and all that may bring, good and bad, are we talking about a kind of commercialisation of the sport? Well, nowadays there is a lot of expensive kit out there - Garmins, poles, shoes, tracking devices, compression clothing, jackets that can keep out arctic winds, buffs that double up as toilet paper.....oh no, that was just a bit of mid-race resourcefulness from someone who later became a successful spartathlete. So yeah, there are lots of companies trying to jump on the back of ultra running and make money, but why wouldn't they? Ultra running has become more popular in recent years, perhaps due to social media and books by Dean Karnazes and Chris McDougall making it more widely known, and through word of mouth. Everyone needs to make money; this is not a communist society in which we live, and so adequate housing, food, clothing etc. are not seen as basic human rights that need to be met by the government; they need to be earned. Therefore if a company designs and markets running shoes for money then of course they're going to say that their shoes are the best. To do otherwise would mean there was no point in making the shoes in the first place.

For me, Henk Van Der Beek put it better than I ever could at Caesar's Camp in his pre-race briefing, saying "I'm old skool. All you need is a bottle." It's nice to have the option of all the kit that is now available, but very little of it is actually essential. Basically as long as you can stay hydrated, eat when you need to, dress for the weather conditions you are presented with and have shoes that work well for you (or no shoes if that's your thing) then you don't actually NEED anything else. Companies are going to try and make money, but no-one is forcing you to buy their products. Some races have specific kit requirements, but if your opposition to buying the required kit is stronger than your desire to enter the race then there are plenty of other races out there, or the nature of the ultra running community means that if you wanted to have a solo attempt at a route you'd almost certainly find a willing support crew.

Can someone buy their way into ultra running success? When I was part of the twitching scene back in my teenage years, there would be an annual year-listing endeavour, where some people would try and see as many different species of bird in the UK as possible within a year. Those at the advantage would usually be the ones with the most money and the most flexible working hours. There are only so many birds that are resident, or part-time resident, in the UK, and so in order to achieve the highest total you have to see as many of the rarities (those that end up here by accident) as possible. Naturally, someone who can afford £600 to fly to Shetland at the drop of the hat for a bird blown off course from Siberia on migration is better placed than someone who can barely afford £60 for the petrol to drive to Yorkshire and back for a similar occurrence. Also, someone who is stuck at work all week for a 9 to 5 job can only claim a stomach bug so many times to dash off to Cornwall for an American vagrant that turns up (possibly in disguise nowadays, as it's harder to pull a sickie convincingly since the advent of social media), and so is less likely to get to as many rare birds as someone who can pretty much choose their own hours. But does this happen in ultra running? Well, I guess in theory if someone can choose their own hours they can train whenever they want, but time is money for the self-employed, and so really this is only a big advantage if somebody has sponsorship and can afford the time to train more. Again, to get significant sponsorship you have to be a pretty good runner in the first place, and so money in itself is not an advantage. Also, someone with more money can afford to run events like Marathon des Sables, but does that make them a better runner? Are they more likely to win prize money on offer at different races? I'd say not. You can't throw money at ultra running and achieve spectacular results; really it's only a significant advantage if you're already a very talented runner. If someone wins the lottery and spends a lot of the free time their money allows training then perhaps they could get to a higher level than they ordinarily would, but would they become one of the best if they didn't already have it in them? There are more ingredients than money that are required to get to the sharp end of the field.

Sponsorship and Media Coverage

So if we're not talking about prize money or money in general, what about sponsorship? Some ultra runners are now sponsored so they can pretty much become professional runners. What benefit does the occupation of professional runner have for others? Well, on the face of it not a whole heap, but people are inspired by the performances of these top athletes, and if that helps to lead people out of unhealthy lifestyles, and the subsequent endorphin highs lead these people to be more focused, more balanced and more determined to make good of their lives then how can that be a bad thing? It's about more than entertainment; the inspiration of top runners can actually lead to big changes in peoples' lives. It doesn't always, but there are many who have turned their lives around after discovering ultra running, and for that to happen there needs to be a certain degree of coverage afforded to it, and performances to inspire. These performances don't just come from those at the top of the field, but people who overcame the odds to run ultras, although often these can be one and the same; a number of top ultra runners have had challenging backgrounds.

So, sponsorship of races - is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, if it allows races to continue taking place then surely it's a good thing, right? Mind you, does it matter where the money comes from? There are events such as the Hoka Highland Fling and the Petzl South Downs Way 100 that are sponsored by companies with a clear link to ultra running, but there was a degree of bemusement in the ultra running community with the announcement of the Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones. What have Carphone Warehouse got to do with ultras? Does this mean there will be people at the race in phone costumes trying to get you to sign up to a contract? Surely that's not what we'd want. Also, in a world in which the Olympic games are sponsored by McDonalds (a bizarre juxtaposition if ever I saw one) are we going to see the KFC West Highland Way Race or the Benson & Hedges Viking Way Ultra one day? (B&H used to sponsor cricket after all!) Despite the amount of junk food guzzled by the average ultra runner during a race, surely there is some responsibility to be promoting a healthy lifestyle, as running is part of this in the first place. People who run across America, such as James Adams and Dean Karnazes have not been shy about their love of a good McDonalds meal, and I have to admit that during the Oner I guzzled more coke than the average person who guzzles quite a lot of it guzzles in a week (possibly!) Is it hypocritical of me to be against any company that is promoting unhealthy habits to sponsor an ultra race? It probably is, but that doesn't mean I can't still know what's right. Personally I'd like to see sponsorship of races staying relevant to the sport. If it becomes impossible to put races on without taking Big Bad Ronald McDonald's money then does something need to change? With the ever-increasing popularity of ultra running it's likely that there will be ever higher numbers of people wanting to do these races. It's already getting to the point where it's difficult to get a place in several of the Centurion 100 milers, and I can only see this going one way. It would be hard to increase the size of the field massively, as you simply couldn't have 3,000 people running en masse along the South Downs Way - there would be huge queues at the aid stations, masses of disgruntled dog walkers and of course more potential for littering and peldrigude-like behaviour from agitated runners who are being prevented from achieving a sub 24 hour time by the congestion up ahead. What are the alternatives? Many popular races inevitably decide the fairest way is a lottery system. You can always volunteer and get a free place for some races, but there is a limit to how many people can do this.

So the increase in popularity of ultra running means a number of races are getting harder to get a place in. The increased popularity of the sport, partly, has led to the emergence of social ultras, which are yet another indication of all that is splendid about the ultra running community. But what is the ultra running community? There are a number of related groups on facebook that already do or are soon to have their own merchandise, but what makes you a part of the ultra running community? Do you have to attend a certain number of races? Do you have to volunteer at them most weekends you're not racing? Do you have to know a certain person, or have read..... actually, never mind! For me, if you enjoy ultras then you are part of the ultra running community, but there has been a certain indication recently that some of those who have been part of the scene for years are a little disgruntled by those who are new to the sport coming along and not having served their apprenticeships, just signing up for a 100 miler without spending years building up to it and buying all the kit but having no idea what it's really for. The same thing used to happen in twitching, and those who'd been part of it for years would get disgruntled, but this is pretty much down to human beings not liking change. Ultra running is changing, and yet it isn't. Ultra running in itself is still exactly the same as it always was. It is simply running further than a marathon. For the reasons I've outlined, I'd say money in ultra running is a cool move; if the ultra running 'scene' becomes too commercial there will always be lower key races that you can go to; races that will be untarnished by commercialism. What sayeth thou?

If you want to read about a series of fool moves interspersed with cool moves, which is essentially what life is, then I wrote this tome about the significant cool moves and fool moves in my life, and about how running changed everything. One of the coolest moves was to get into ultra running, one of the biggest fool moves was almost ruining my health to the point where I couldn't run at all through addictions. You quite possibly know all this already, but there are copies available via this link for anyone who is interested.....

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Lessons learnt from Born to Run

After seeing a post on the Ultra running Community forum and thinking about the events of the past few years, I thought it was time to revisit Born to Run, as in the book by Christopher MacDougall. If you've not read it and you run ultras then you followed a different path into ultra running than I did. Before I read it I thought that ultra running was just something a select band of people with far too much time on their hands did when they got bored of running marathons. I was right. However, reading 'Born to Run' made me want to become one of those people, and made me believe that I could. Well, in a roundabout kinda way. It planted the seed of ultra running in my head, and did so in an impossibly entertaining way. I awkwardly glance around the room now when I think of how I was in the months following my reading of this book. Basically I would tell anyone who would listen, and probably many who wouldn't, that the Tarahumara were living the life we all should be living, and that there's this incredible thing called Ultra Running going on in the world without many of us knowing about it. Come on, you need to hear about this, people. Basically I was evangelising, and 'Born to Run' was my bible. When the initial excitement subsided and I got to know more about the sport I learnt that there was a fair amount of hyperbole going on in that book, and that the picture painted of the life of the Tarahumara didn't quite match the reality. The reality was in fact closer to that I'd already learnt of first-hand during my travels in South Africa; that their traditional way of life is under threat now they're learning how life is in the first world and wanting a piece of the 'action.' Many of us westerners believe that their humble existence is far superior to our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life, and many of them believe that our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life is new and exciting, and something to be strived for. I guess it could be said that there are pluses to our way of life and the Tarahumara's way of life. If I had to pick sides I'd say I'll have their day to day life but in a woodland glade on Exmoor or a leafy lane on the Isles of Scilly rather than the Copper Canyons.....and perhaps with the odd hot shower, and a washing machine.
So what is my point? Well, ultra running is awesome, but essentially it's people running from one place to another. When you look a little closer there is a story behind everyone's run from one place to another, and what led them there, but ultimately it doesn't make motorway service stations prepare wholesome, nutritious and affordable food. It doesn't stop politicians from lying. It doesn't stop pharmaceutical companies from making billions from highly questionable drugs, many of which may be doing more harm than good. Once you remember that you can forget what ultra running isn't and celebrate what it is. If someone doesn't 'get' ultra running then they're not going to, no matter what you say, unless they give it a go, and are willing to push through the pain barrier to discover the unparalleled beauty of the colossal endorphin high. Gimme a truckload of 70s LSD and it wouldn't come anywhere near the feeling I have experienced during the latter stages of an ultra run. That feeling of having gone way beyond my perceived limitations, come out the other side and seen the world through unweary, idealistic and tranquil eyes. There are such parallels for life in ultra running. The late Caballo Blanco said that the way to get through life is to have faith in something, and that's the same way to get through an ultra. He wasn't wrong. What ultra running has taught me is that I am capable of enduring a whole heap more pain than I thought I was. At first I felt I could only apply this to ultra running, and not to daily life, but when I think about the person I was three years ago and the person I am now it becomes clear what a difference the running has made. What I gained from ultra running also ultimately led to me getting to know God, but that's a different story for another day (and a few tens of thousand more words.)
What are my final thoughts on the matter? Well, I could talk about this all day, but I recently spoke to Toni Bernado, the national marathon record holder of Andorra, who shared Emil Zatopek's famous quote "If you want to run, run a mile if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon"may I add to that "If the different life you experience from a marathon isn't quite different enough, run an ultra." The messages of Born to Run (not the barefoot running thing, the messages about what ultra running can do for you) are all true as far as I'm concerned. Maybe there was a lot of journalistic license used, but if there hadn't been then maybe it wouldn't have blown my mind quite so much at a time when my mind really needed a shake-up, and I'm sure this is true for many others as well. Ultra running is getting more and more popular all the time, and that can't be a bad thing. No-one owns ultra running; we live in a capitalist society, but ours is a communist sport and always will be, so to speak.
*Signed copies of my book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' are available - am currently running a special promotion whereby a certain number of copies will be FREE POSTAGE (UK only sadly - rest of world has a postage charge). To get hold of a copy please follow this link....... *

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My name is Dave Urwin and I am the marathon champion of Nauru

My name is Dave Urwin and I am the marathon champion of Nauru

Ok, so I can guess what a number of you may be thinking. Of course there will always be a few clever folks around who know exactly what and where Nauru is, but I’m guessing a lot of you are thinking something along the lines of “Nauru?? Where’s that???”

That’s certainly what I thought when I learnt of a man named Karl Hartman running a 3:48:06 marathon there on an unknown date way back in 1968, some fourteen years before I was even born. Little did I know, when I ran my first sub 4 marathon at the New Forest in 2012, I ran through sustained moderate rain and dodged New Forest ponies that thought it was a game to finish in 3:47:38, that I was conquering an island country in Micronesia in the South Pacific. That’s right. Nobody from that nation has run a marathon in less than 3 hours and 48 minutes in over 40 years since the day Karl Hartman smashed it. According to that source of all accurate and trustworthy information, Wikipedia, the island is 21km squared (half a marathon squared) in size, and so I’m guessing running a marathon there involves taking in a fair bit of the nation. It is a small country, and how many people actually run marathons there? I don’t know, but I do know that if I was to gain citizenship then my 3:36:02 at 2013’s North Dorset Village Marathon would be the national record by a colossal twelve minutes. What’s more, I know that performance doesn’t represent the best I am capable of by some way. I have never trained specifically for a marathon; both of my best efforts to date came at a time when I was either training for or recovering from an ultra, and I didn’t go into either knowing I was aiming for the best time I could possibly achieve having trained long and hard to do just that. If I was to really go for it could I set an unassailable Nauru marathon record? Quite possibly not; it’s entirely likely that if somebody was to turn up there and brag about being the new Nauru marathon champion then many of the locals would feel indignation and try and take his crown. Would they? Or would they think “We are from Nauru, we have the threat of potential catastrophes from a rising sea level, the threat of a major unemployment crisis ahead of us and all kinds of things that give us no time for trivialities like marathon running”? Well actually, looking at nations that have levels of national strife almost incomprehensible to us in ‘broken’ Britain, Waheed Karim of Afghanistan managed a 2:28:46 in the USA in 1990, and Sadoun Nasir of Iraq ran a hugely respectable 2:21:54 in Baghdad back in 1982. Couldn’t somebody from Nauru have popped over to London one year to post a sub 3? Surely the London Marathon organisers would have been in favour of giving financial backing to help somebody set a new marathon record for this nation?


So why is it that nobody from Nauru has beaten Karl Hartman’s time? Surely people from there must have run marathons since. It has to be down to the population, right? Well Nauru has a population of around 11-and-a-half-thousand. Ok, so that explains it…..or does it? Russia has a population of around 143 milllion, and yet the fastest time recorded from anyone of Russian origin is Aleksey Sokolov’s 2:09:07 at 2007’s Dublin Marathon, whilst people from the relatively tiny European nations of Belgium, Italy and even Moldova have run faster marathons than that! Yes, Moldova, with its population of 3.6 million, has produced a 2:08 marathoner -  Jaroslav Mushinschi did that at Dusseldorf in 2010. I could go on, and I will – China has a population of comfortably over 1 billion, and yet the fastest marathon anyone from there has produced was 2:08:15. This may be 16 seconds faster than the Moldovan effort, but lowly Bahrain, with its population of 1.3 million, has produced an athlete capable of a 2:06:43. Yes, Shumi Dechasa produced that stunning effort in Hamburg, Germany this very year.


So population has nothing to do with it. It must simply be because Nauru doesn’t produce good athletes. Right??.....NONSENSE!!!! Who has run the fastest over 100 metres and 200 metres since records began? Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. Which nation always wins the 4x100 metre relay? Jamaica. That Caribbean island produces sprinters who dominate the world stage…..and yet the fastest marathon run by anyone from that nation is Derrick Adamson’s pedestrian effort of 2:16:39 way back in 1984 over in Philadelphia, USA. If Jamaica produces such incredible athletes then Adamson, with a time like that, must have had time to get in one little fight during the race, after which his mum got scared and told him he was moving with his Auntie and Uncle in Bel Air once he’d finished….well at least that would explain it if the marathon took place in West Philadelphia. 2:16:39??? For that to happen surely he’d have had to do some chilling out, relaxing and maxing all cool and shooting some b-ball upside of the school around mile 24? Or could it just be because a nation producing great athletes doesn’t necessarily equate to there being brilliant marathoners? Well let me ask you, can anyone name me a world-beating Kazakhstani athlete? No? Then how did Nikolay Penzin, from that very nation, run a 2:11:59 in Prague back in 1978? A time that would still be a Jamaican national record by nearly 5 minutes today if anyone from Jamaica was to run it?


So there you have it. The level of national strife, size of the population and athletic pedigree of a nation have absolutely no bearing on the potential for that place to produce excellent marathon runners. What does this prove?


My national marathon record for Nauru, if I was to gain citizenship, would be pretty solid! ; )
The moment I broke the national marathon record of Nauru!



If you wish to order a signed copy of my book ‘Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run’ , which sadly contains no other fascinating facts about national marathon records from around the world, but contains the story of how I battled addictions and their horrific aftermath to become the marathon champion of Nauru, then you can order one from this link……