Tuesday 30 November 2010

Anti-chafing and clothing advice for the ultra runner

This is my first advisory posting. Several people have said to me that I should impart some of the knowledge I have built up over the past 14 years. I have just emailed the following advice, based on personal experience learned the hard way, to an ultrarunning friend who is in training for a major challenge. While I was composing the email I thought it might benefit a wider audience, so here it is.


1. Never wear conventional underwear. It's not up to the job of so much movement for so long in damp conditions. (You will know that dampness comes from sweat even if the weather's dry.)

2. Never wear compression shorts or longs. They squash the cheeks together, increasing friction and guaranteeing chafing betwixt same.

3. If it's at all cold, avoid smooth base layers with high Lycra content (e.g. Skins, 2XU, etc.) because it's too cold on the skin, acts like a heatsink and sucks the heat out of you.

4. Never wear cotton (I bet you already knew that anyway).

5. Never wear a loose-fitting technical top as a first layer. The material acts like a file as it moves over the nipples, rubbing them raw.

6. Never wear double skin socks. The layers easily ruck up against each other, creating ridges, pressure points and blisters.

7. Never wear shoes that allow excessive forefoot movement or ANY heel movement, to reduce blistering.


1. Always wear running shorts with liner as your underwear. If it's warm it's all you need and very comfortable, indefinitely.

2. If it's cold enough for leg covering, wear tracksters (brushed material is warmer) over the shorts.

3. If it's raining but not too cold, lightweight windproof trousers (e.g. Montane, fist-sized when screwed up) are all you need over the shorts.

4. Always wear a tight-fitting base layer up top (I favour NikePro short-sleeved or sleeveless shirt, which is lightweight so doesn't suck too much heat out with its Lycra content). This allows you to wear whatever you want on top without any chafing worries.

5. Wear well-padded socks to help fix your feet in your shoes. (This depends on whether you are lucky enough to have 'shoe-shaped' feet, and how snug and comfortable the fit.) I find Thorlos to be the best.

6. As a final insurance against chafing, use a lubricant, but not petroleum jelly ('Vaseline'). It dissipates too easily when it gets warm and loses its effectiveness. For the feet I use Sportslick, plastered top and bottom. For the undercarriage regions I use 'Brave Soldier Friction Zone Advanced Skin Protectant'. Despite its dodgy name it really does work a treat. I have proven it up to well over 30 hours. Both are American products.

Monday 29 November 2010

Famous Grouse fell race. 5.2 miles with 1,240’ ascent. 29/11/2010.

As I had no event organised for this weekend, I had already decided to run my local Woodbank 5k Parkrun on Saturday, where I got my second fastest time with 23:29. (Please be advised it is a very hilly course and times are slow, so they are, to be sure, honest gov....) I finished 12th, and second in my age group. [That might sound more impressive than it is. There were only 33 runners. The frigid conditions might have put them off.] With acknowledgement to photographer Jon-Paul:

While there, another runner asked me if I would be doing the Famous Grouse fell race the next day. That sowed a seed in my mind. After returning from a party in the evening I logged onto the FRA races calendar and found it. It was only down the road and I wanted to have a go.

After another outrageously frigid night – unprecedented at any time, let alone in November, it’s even come a month earlier than it did last year – I found myself driving to the Famous Grouse pub in Birch Vale in good time to register for the 11am start. It would be my third short, sharp, furious fell race this year and my fourth ever. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the air was calm, yet Daz H's thermometer measured MINUS 16°C on the way to the race. Global warming my a*se. The ground was rock solid and lightly sprinkled with the snow that had fallen on Friday night. There was a healthy turn-out of runners – several fellow Stockport Harriers but the club most in evidence was Pennine Fell Runners with their distinctive red and yellow vests.

The race began uphill, which is how it remained for around two miles. With lungs burning and breathing deeply and heavily, everyone was running. It was good to be able to throw all caution to the wind and push to the limits all the time without having to worry about blowing up or saving something until later. This is a test I very rarely get to do and should do more often because it makes me feel so awake and alive! I feel as though I have my mojo back. With acknowledgement to photographer Mike Barry:

On that first ascent we joined the Bullock Smithy Hike route on its final climb to the ‘Chinley Churn’ checkpoint, then descent to ‘Peep O Day’ cottage (which was used many years ago for a TV drama, the name of which I cannot remember). From Peep O Day we departed from the BSH route, turning sharp left back on ourselves to contour along the hillside to eventually climb steeply to the track we climbed at the start. This was the first time we were forced to walk. I did some overtaking on this section. Then it was a sharp right turn and downhill blast back to the finish, where I got overtaken by a runner I’d overtaken on the final climb. He seemed to glide past effortlessly. I’m thankful to say my knee was not holding me back. It was simply lack of quadriceps strength and, perhaps more importantly, lack of confidence in my legs.

My time of 49:20 got me 63rd place out of 109 finishers. I don’t know if I will ever get to finish in the top half of an out-and-out fell race. Perhaps I might if I practice enough. All things considered I was well chuffed with this result. To average 6.32mph (9:29/mile) with that ascent is not bad for me with my total absence of any speed training. However, my puny effort is put into perspective by all those 62 in front of me. I never cease to be astounded at what the real, serious fell runners can achieve at these races. The first two finished in a shade under 37 minutes. It puts me in awe, quite frankly.

Apparently, this is usually a muddy race, but not this year. On its 21st running, the conditions were said to be among the best ever. Let the global cooling continue.

We finished in the pub for prize presentations and a choice of soup and roll, chips, cup of tea, and “Dobs” (a warming, sweet, watery white wine version of mulled wine is the best way I can describe it). Of course you could have beer if you really wanted it.

There were several spectators and photographers out on the course braving the cold weather. (We runners were alright because our extreme effort meant that we had our own internal furnaces going on.) See the links below for the crop of pictures that show the amazing conditions we enjoyed.

Steve Temple

Neil Coverley

Mike Barry

Richard Sieppe

Wensleydale Wedge 23mi. 21/11/2010.

Sunday 21st November brought typical Wensleydale Wedge weather – cold, damp and breezy, with a temperature hovering just above freezing. Just like in previous years, the shower came down as sleet, then snow as I drove over the steep, narrow, twisting pass from Muker to Askrigg into the breaking Sunday dawn.

At registration, Askrigg Village Hall was crammed with the usual suspects and a few new faces, ready to sample the delights of Wensleydale one more time or for the first time. I noticed an army lad among the throng (he had “Army” printed on the back of his shirt and his severe haircut kinda confirmed it). It’s good to see military personnel using an LDWA event for the purposes of combining training with leisure (dare I say pleasure?). There can surely be no down side to such an arrangement.


Our military personnel past, present and future = honour, responsibility, respect, upstanding defenders of our freedom. You go wherever and do whatever your country asks of you. Your country salutes you.


The route, saturated and swilling from all the recent rains, undulated through ten checkpoints at Semer Water Bridge, Stalling Busk (near), Stake Edge and Side Well/Heck Brow/Knotts (ubiquitous 'Areas of Shake Holes'), Thoralby, Eshington Lane, Freeholders’ Wood, Low Thoresby, Castle Bolton and Heugh. The exceedingly wet conditions underfoot made it ‘interesting’ at times, while the sprinkling of icing sugar snow on the windy tops before Thoralby got us in the mood for winter. I missed taking a picture of it sadly, because I was too busy competing with the other runners around me and not wanting to lose any time. At this point I was just keeping up with a group of three women who had just caught up with me (not that I’m saying I get any more competitive because they’re women).

The usual swapping of places with other runners was going on as usual. Any runners in front were used as targets to aim for and haul back, usually after having overtaken me. Sometimes it worked if they tired, sometimes it didn’t. Army lad and his friend became the next targets after darting in and out of the halfway checkpoint at Thoralby while I loitered over a Marmite sandwich (which simply had to be done). I set off in pursuit towards the self clip checkpoint at Eshington Lane. As I joined the track out of Thoralby I began to hear the hysterical, high pitched yapping of a dog. Eventually, in the valley below me to the right I saw a group of sheep, hemmed in against the stream and fence and swerving backwards and forwards as the source of the yapping, a small white terrier, ran among them, snapping at their legs. The shameful owner was standing about a quarter mile away in the next field, whistling pathetically every so often while his mutt went about its sheep worrying unfettered. Nothing had changed by the time I had climbed over the brow of the next hill. With my farmer’s hat on now, I don’t know about shoot the dog. Shoot the owner as well, the useless, dilatory specimen.

A climb to the A684 on the outskirts of Aysgarth brought us to a short descent to the church, where Sunday Service was due to begin. The doors were open and the organ hummed quietly from within. Over the road bridge, the sharp right turn towards Freeholders’ Wood brought the familiar WW direction sign implying that runners and only one walker take part in the event. If you wonder what I’m on about, do the event next year and you’ll see what I mean.

Having navigated successfully the fields on the approach to Castle Bolton, I saw that my quarries had built up a bit of a lead and were already on the lane up to the castle. Once onto the lane I heard another barking dog, this time a bigger one. I looked to my right and saw a chocolate Labrador-type dog face-to-face with a sheep at the edge of a field. What is it with dogs and their sheep-worrying obsession? As the dog went from side to side, the sheep turned to face it at all times, standing its ground. Every so often it went to head-but the dog. The stand-off and barking continued as I climbed out of sight and earshot.

At the Castle Bolton checkpoint I grabbed a couple of orange segments to suck the life-giving juice out of them and, with bright orange 'gum shield', set off running westwards on that l-o-o-o-n-g, undulating track . As the miles passed beneath my feet I gradually overtook the three women with whom I had been running on and off for most of the event. On the approach to the trail bike practice area I saw my quarries again. I seemed to have gained on them a little. I wondered if I could catch them again before the finish if I pushed just a little harder. I tried my best, at which point I was suddenly overtaken quite comprehensively by another bloke, who had crept up silently from behind and sailed past effortlessly as if as if I was standing still. Where on earth did he get all that energy from at this stage in the event, when everybody is usually flagging?

Undeterred, I pushed as best I could over the new footbridge and got quite close to my targets on the next short sharp climb. Shortly before the final checkpoint a farmer to my left waited for me to run past before opening his gate to release his flock of sheep onto the fell. The three women were far enough behind (out of earshot by now) to not be inconvenienced by the crossing flock.

My targets were stubbornly out of sight now. The terrain did not allow a far enough view any more. I checked my watch as I approached the last checkpoint at Heugh. I had just exceeded the 4:04 I had taken to complete the whole event in 2008. Not to worry. It came as no surprise and I was not dispirited. I had been looking forward to the final 1.2-mile blast across the fields to the finish and all I wanted to do now was give it my all as if I were on for a PB anyway. I loved every second as I competed with myself, pushing the limits, lungs bursting and heart rate into the 180s.

I was happy with my final time of 4:22. It may have been 18 minutes outside my PB and I may not have reeled in my ultimate targets, but the outcome was a darned sight better than I managed at last weekend's Six Dales Circuit, and I didn't feel trashed by the effort this time.

The few pictures I took are here.

Monday 15 November 2010

Six Dales Circuit 25mi. 13/11/2010.

The weekend after Snowdonia I ran my first 5k Woodbank Parkrun since 26th June. It was a struggle but at least my 24:08 wasn't a Personal Worst for this hilly course.

Moving on another week, Six Dales Circuit is one of my old favourites. The limestone countryside of Derbyshire is truly beautiful. I first did this event in 1999 (two months after the moon was blown out of Earth orbit, for those who used to watch Space 1999 - remember September 13th 1999?). I felt as though I was making a comeback; after a solid run through to 2007, other events (really the Runfurther end-of-year parties) meant that I could not do this in 2008 and 2009, so 2010 felt like a comeback year as I reacquainted myself with Biggin Village Hall once more. Furthermore, this was the first Long Distance Walkers Association event I had done since Elsecar Skelter on the 14th August. I was amazed at the turn-out of walkers on the early start. The LDWA is alive and well. It was good to be back to a no-pressure outing in the countryside and to meet so many old flames.

This year the route returned to my preferred clockwise route after changing to anticlockwise in 2005. It took us through Biggin Dale, Wolfscote Dale, Beresford Dale, Lathkill Dale (see picture above), Bradford Dale and Long Dale via checkpoints at Hartington, Monyash and Middleton. Somehow the ascents always seemed less onerous in this direction, but that perception was no aid to me this year. Poor preparation in the preceding week, culminating in a pre-race evening dinner of prawn salad, did not provide the optimum conditions or fuelling for a decent performance. The body was weak and the legs were clumsy, so I enjoyed the scenery and the checkpoint food (cheese oatcakes at Monyash Village Hall), chatted to fellow shufflers and took more pictures than of late along the way. Unusually for this event, the sun shone throughout, so I didn't mind being out for longer than usual. The catching-up afterwards in the village hall lasted for nearly three hours and it was nearly dark by the time I left. I don't ever remember staying for so long after this event. It was good to be back. Allow me to leave you with this gem from Bradford Dale.

For the record, my times over the years for this event are:
1999 - 5:59
2001 - 6:17
2002 - 5:17
2003 - 5:47
2004 - 4:36
2005 - 4:27
2006 - 4:26
2007 - 4:23
2010 - 5:06

As you can see, I've gone downhill a little. I hope it was worthwhile because here are the pictures.

Next weekend is Wensleydale Wedge from Askrigg - another old favourite of mine.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Snowdonia Marathon. 30/10/2010.

Snowdonia Marathon
Judging by the lively, year-round ‘SNOD’ thread on the Runner’s World forum, the universally positive comments, the number of converted marathon first-timers and my own personal experiences over 5 consecutive years of running it, this must be the best marathon in the country. For a ‘road marathon’ it isn’t half bad for those who run mostly off-road hills and trails. This year, on its 28th running, it was made even better by some route improvements (a bit more off-road trail on the first descent and a nice downhill finish straight onto Llanberis High Street without the detour back around the back of the village).

The new route required a road start closer to Llanberis to make up the distance lost on the other two modifications, so shuttle buses were no longer needed. We got to start in the correct direction with a nice bit of downhill to start off with, instead of in the wrong direction followed by a 180-degree right turn onto the road. On the first descent, after the sharp right turn at Pen-y-Gwrd, we were soon diverted right through a gateway and onto a stony track that descended more directly and more steeply to Bryn Gwynant, where we rejoined the road. I could not believe my luck as I let rip down there in my element, and to think this is regarded as a road marathon.

We were challenged by the weather as usual. It may not have been quite as cold, windy or wet as it has been in previous years, but when the showers came, they really came. It all added to the excitement and challenge of this race. It just wouldn’t be the same without the adverse weather conditions to add spice to the experience and give us something to talk about afterwards.

I was in my usual survival plodding mode and getting overtaken well into the second half until the true order got sorted out. The regular water stations provided excellent support. I had my own water bottles and only needed an occasional refill, but a few cups of electrolyte drink really hit the spot and kept the energy flowing.

Runners of all shapes and sizes were there, and I was reminded once more that outward appearance is no predictor of speed. I got overtaken by a man in Halloween fancy dress (I assume) which involved a wig and a long cape. I thought how hot it must have been to run in as he slowly disappeared into the distance. Another time I was aware of a strange squelching sound behind me that was taking a very long time to catch up. When it eventually did, I realised it was the man’s minimalist running shoes that reminded me of Plimsolls. He slowly disappeared into the distance too. I also heard afterwards that someone ran the race in Vibram Fivefingers. Ouch!

The final climb from Waunfawr, over the top past the old slate mines and down into Llanberis was as memorable as ever. I had enough left in the tank to not walk (I hesitate to call it running) all the way to the top. I joked to one of the many supporters cheering us on, who remarked that I looked as fresh as a daisy. I must admit I was feeling pretty good at that point. On the way I was noticing the ominous blackness to my right over the mountain. The next shower was beginning to make itself felt by the first spots of rain, but this looked altogether more dramatic. As I neared the summit I saw a bright silvery flash from the blackness. “That was a bright camera flash”, I said to myself, “and why would someone be taking pictures over there?” Of course I knew what it was. I waited for the rumble, which soon and protractedly came a-booming.

I couldn’t care about the rain but I did care about getting struck by lightning. I felt a rush of adrenalin as I summited the final climb. Despite my minimal clothing and slow pace compared to ‘real’ runners, I was still working hard enough to keep quite warm. Even my lightest weight showerproof top would have caused me to overheat, so I never bothered putting it on.

I had overtaken countless runners (who were walking) on the climb, and hoped that I hadn’t overdone it for the descent. Not on your life! I blasted down the other side like I always do, taking it carefully at times when the running became skating as my road shoes slid down the sodden grass with flowing surface water. The rain was getting heavier. Everyone else seemed to be standing still. I expected a bit of competition when we reached the first bit of tarmac track and solid footing, but it never happened. Everyone still seemed to be standing still. I suppose it was quite steep for road runners, but not for trail runners! My quads were doing their thing and the knee was not complaining. I was so in my element at last. I had waited over 4 hours for this and it was as good as I had imagined.

The rapid overtaking continued onto the road proper and I wasn’t slowing down. The rain was turning into a deluge now. Still no-one was catching me. I passed the junction where we used to turn right back out of the village, but not this time. It was a left turn, still downhill, then right to the blow-up finish arch in 4:15. Wow. I had expected 4:30 because I had been feeling anything but race fit, but I surprised myself by equalling my Personal Worst of last year. What a result. A commemorative slate coaster was thrust into my hand by a marshal and a silver sheet was draped around my shoulders to keep me warm as the deluge turned to hail. The timing was perfect. I was thankful for the sheet’s protection from the worst of the impact.

My heart rate averaged at 170 beats per minute for the 4 hour and 15 minute duration of the race, and it peaked at 184bpm (no doubt on the ‘sprint’ finish). I had little or no after-effects in the legs in the following week. My limitation is my cardiovascular system. It defines me as a plodder.

I and several others from the Runner’s World forum had accommodation in Llanberis for the weekend. Pete’s Eats kept us fuelled simply and cheaply (I had two dinners after the race). We rounded off Saturday night by a drink or five and a right good Karaoke session in the hotel lounge bar until midnight. What a fantastic weekend we had.

I only took a few pictures after the finish. S4/C, who televise the race every year, were at the finish line later on after I had showered and changed at the hotel, which was conveniently located close by.

Monday 8 November 2010

Runfurther 2010 end-of-series party. 23/10/2010.

The weekend after the final race in the 2010 Runfurther series of ultra marathons saw the end-of-year party and prizegiving. The Runfurther team, I suspect mostly Karen MacDonald, organised a superb weekend in Hope, Derbyshire. Saturday's proceedings started with a 3-hour orienteering score event in the afternoon. The rain was offputting so the turnout may have been a little poor. I was the last to set off, which was a good move because that was the cue for the rain to ease off. With my map extract, tally and marker pen issued by Karen I was off, feeling a little like a headless chicken as I tried to orientate myself, decide how to get as many checkpoints as possible in the most efficient way possible, and work out where I needed to go to reach my first chosen checkpoint. I decided I needed to cross the main road from the pub and up the lane opposite.

This was only my third score event. The first one was a Dark & White event from the Pindale Outdoor Centre just up the road a few years ago, when I got back an hour late and lost all my points. The second was the Runfurther party from Ambleside a couple of years ago. Although it's supposed to be fun and no pressure, I can't help getting stressed by it because I cannot help being competitive, yet I cannot run and survive, make my brain work to read the map and compass and understand which direction I have to go. The eyes see but the brain fails to link everything together. Call it old age, or have too many brain cells been killed off by the passage of too much wine under the bridge. What? Hic!

Anyway, as I set off up the lane, confident of where I needed to go, two young female cyclists came towards me and asked which way to Hope. After a second for the brain to whir (accompanied if I'm not mistaken by a faint smell of burning) I thought to myself: “I know that”. I felt chuffed that I had familiarised myself with my surroundings so quickly. “Just go to the end and turn right”, I said confidently. Off they went. Then a voice from within suddenly screamed at me. “Oh NO! NOT RIGHT; LEFT!!” I had forgotten which way I had turned in to the pub carpark on my journey from Hope and I had already forgotten that I had crossed the main road from the pub. What an utter shambles. I was anything but orientated. I ran back down the road towards them and shouted several times but they didn't hear me. I'd just told them a pack of lies and sent them on a wild goose chase towards Sheffield. I hoped that they had more common sense than I had and they would realise the fundamental error in my defective verbal instruction that I had helpfully reinforced by gesticulation to the right, just to confirm that I knew my right from my left. Racked by guilt, I ran backwards and forwards feeling even more like a headless chicken to find the left turn I had been looking for, since I had now lost track of my position on that first lane. That set the tone for the afternoon.

A visit to a checkpoint was confirmed by writing down its 3-letter code on our tallies. As I bumbled, backtracked and floundered my way across the hills and valleys, my path crossed with others' paths as we followed our chosen routes. I found myself running with Sarah Rowell for a while. I knew where I was going at that point because it involved (for me) an out-and-back on familiar ground – part of the Long Tour Of Bradwell route. Sarah joined me having run down from the top of the hill on her quest to bag all of the checkpoints within the 3 hours. She dropped me on the next climb.

As I continued to head off on wrong headings (NE instead of SW, SE instead of NE, setting my compass SE instead of SW and backtracking from the right heading to the wrong heading because the compass said so – you name it, I made that mistake), I found my way to a checkpoint that wasn't there. After 5 minutes searching in vain and with a little over 10 minutes left before the 3 hours were up, I decided it must have been stolen, gave up searching and decided to head for base. Off I ran confidently and soon found myself on another section of the Long Tour Of Bradwell route. Something wasn't ringing true between my path and the one on the map. I was 90 degrees out again, off the map and heading towards Bamford, though I didn't know it at the time. Still, I recognised the path so I carried on because I felt committed. Ever been there?

Once out on the road I made the inspired guess to turn right. I asked of the first pedestrians I met the direction back to Hope. “To the end and turn right” was the reply. On my way I passed the station. Ah, right, time to apply my intelligence again. If that's the station (Hope station of course, what else?) and I need to turn right to Hope, I need to turn left to the finish. I turned left and started running towards Sheffield. Yes, you guessed it. ANOTHER navigational error. I can't even get it right on major A-roads. After a mile or two of not recognising the road I'd driven along a few hours earlier, it dawned on me that the station wasn't Hope station after all. It must have been the next one down the line (Bamford, but since it was off my 'maplet' I didn't know). I turned around, stressed and cursing my stupidity, to trudge all the way back to the pub in the rain (which had returned on cue, just to cement my self-misery) to give Karen back her marker pen 20-odd minutes late and see how many points I'd lost.

I was booked into the pub B&B for the night, so I wasted no time in checking-in and warming up in the shower ready for the evening's festivities. I might be the world's worst navigator under pressure but at least I'd got some exercise in that débâcle.

The bar was buzzing with ultra runners and their other halves by the 7pm 'Champagne' reception. We enjoyed a slideshow of images from the year's races over drinks, conversation and dinner (and what a fantastic spread the caterers laid on for us). All the prizes and presentations were made to the series winners, some of whom unfortunately couldn't be there due to other commitments. Next came what we had all been waiting for – the talk and slideshow from Stephen Pyke of his Scottish Munro-bagging record earlier this year. Spyke smashed the previous record of 48 days and 12 hours by completing the challenge in 39 days and 9 hours in spite of unseasonably cold and snowy weather for its duration up to the beginning of June. In addition to climbing the 283 peaks, he had to run, cycle and kayak between them. He raised a laugh when he said in all seriousness that he never considered himself to be an ultra runner. Spyke, if you weren't before you are now ;-)

The evening began its wind-down with the cutting and consumption of the Runfurther cake – the best one so far – a rich fruit number that wasn't too sickly and went wonderfully with a double brandy. Everyone had dispersed by midnight and I staggered upstairs to my waiting bed.

On Sunday a few hardy souls mountain biked or ran a few miles in the hills in bright sunshine to put the shine on a most excellent weekend, while Yours Truly made an early exit home up Winnats Pass to catch up with the weekend's chores. Thanks Karen for organising a fantastic climax to the 5th Runfurther year. Bring on 2011. I only took a handful of pictures in the evening (sorry).

Next year's provisional races were mentioned, but since they are not yet finalised I have been asked not to publicise them. We must wait before we commit ourselves. There's still plenty of time anyway.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Runfurther series race 12 of 12. Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham 50mi. 16/10/2010.

Apologies; I know this report is a few weeks late but I've been busy.

I returned from my final US destination – San Diego – via Chicago and Frankfurt just in time to get myself sorted out and repacked, then get some sleep before a Friday pm drive over the watershed to Wath-upon-Dearne. As I arrived at the hotel I was watching two weeks of dry weather getting undone by a torrential downpour. It might not be too bad by Saturday, but the ground certainly couldn’t be as dry as it was last year.

Around 05:45 on Saturday I had to fight my way out of a darkened, bolted and barred hotel, setting off the alarm in the process. They had not risen to provide the early breakfast as promised. I made the short journey to Dearne Valley College in time to see the early (6am) starters sent on their way, some of whom I would never catch. I was registered on the later 7am runners’ start as usual, but this year I had come to realise that, thanks to all the business travel I was not race fit, pure and simple. Many familiar faces were present, some only seen occasionally. I had not seen Mike Blamires since last year’s Round Rotherham. It was a good reunion of old friends.

After our send-off speech we were set off on our way into the breaking dawn. The street lights in the early stages meant that we could manage without head torches, and so began a day of running at the limits of sustainability, which turned out to be a lot slower than it was last year. I was getting overtaken from the outset and those who were behind me last year had soon disappeared ahead out of sight. Duncan Harris made by far the quickest overtake. He must have had a late start. Ooh, the pressure. I just resigned myself to the usual, which was ‘surviving the moment’ to the best of my ability for as long as it took until I’d finished.

As I plodded along by the rubbish-filled stream and canal towards Elsecar, getting overtaken all the while, a glance at my heart rate monitor showed 176 beats per minute. That could not continue. It needed to be 10 – 20bpm slower if I was to survive the day. I eased my pace even further but could not get the rate below 170. “Stuff it”, I thought. “The only way I’ll get it down is to walk, and I’m not doing that so soon. I’ll just carry on for the 2 hours or so until the inevitable blow-up occurs, then take it from there.” I knew the routine. I would only take walking breaks when I was forced to, then the all-too-familiar survival strategy would commence of walk, fuel, wait for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th winds to kick in, try to run whenever possible and enjoy the scenery and camaraderie along the way. It would be a serious comedown after my performance of last year but as long as I was making forward progress, a DNF would never enter my mind.

My navigation was going perfectly while hardly having to refer to the excellent, cartoon-style strip maps. I usually have a knack for remembering routes. I was surprised in the early stages by getting overtaken by several groups of runners who I knew had been in front. They had failed to fork left to Elsecar, among other failure-to-fork-left mistakes. Some must have lost a lot of time, but it didn’t take ones so fit very long to race to the front of the field again. Colm McCoy was one of the ones who added extra miles. I remember him last year, on the climb through the woods just after Elsecar, thanking me for showing the way. I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough for you this year, Colm ;-)

As I made my way towards the halfway checkpoint at Harthill, it seemed that ‘every man and his dog’ (and, just to prove I'm not sexist, ‘every woman and her bitch’) had overtaken me, usually with a comment to the effect of: “What are you doing back here, Nick; you’re usually miles ahead”, to which I would reply: “Tell me about it. It’s called lack of fitness”. Somehow I didn’t care. I knew it would happen. I was already resigned to the fact and I had accepted it. Although I was so much slower I was still playing the same mind games, pushing and eking the best performance out of myself. With my perceived effort it still felt as though I was on for a PB. “Just keep pushing.”

By halfway I had found my jogging equilibrium. Shortly after Harthill as I jogged across the fields I spied a familiar figure up ahead. I soon caught up with Mike Blamires, who had overtaken me before 20 miles. Poor Mike now had mental demons going on, had lost the will to continue and was on the verge of dropping. However, he tagged along as we began to talk about anything and everything, and so began a great team effort of mutual encouragement to the finish line. Mike now had an incentive to keep pushing and I had a good reason to keep pushing. These Ultra Marathons are usually lonely affairs as most people push their personal boundaries alone. Now was one of those rare occasions when I got to run with someone. Mike’s and my paces were amazingly well matched.

At Maltby after we had passed through the 40-mile point, Mike checked his watch and commented that we had done a pretty good time for 40 miles (around 8.5 hours I think). He started talking of the possibility of a 50-mile PB. After having been on the verge of dropping, that was a revelation. It was all we needed to keep pushing for our strongest possible finish. We saw the runners ahead as targets that had to be picked off before moving onto the next. We did some good overtaking over those last 10 miles. On the last climb before the final checkpoint at Old Denaby, I was getting competitive and not wanting other runners we had recently overtaken to catch up again, but Mike was beginning to fade. Shaky legs = low blood sugar = food needed, and quick. I offered a Snickers bar. Just one third of it had him motoring up that hill within minutes.

The final 3 miles of fiddly yet entertaining navigation through the arse-end of the back of beyond went seamlessly and satisfyingly as we ran virtually every step of the way, not wanting to get caught by the chasing runners. I felt as if I was on for a PB as well as we ran together to an amazing sprint finish in 10:43. Mike got his PB. Woo-hoo!

As we ran down that final track towards the college, Mike, overflowing with elation and emotion, shouted: “Nick Ham, you are a f----n legend.” No Mike, YOU are the legend. What you did, to finish a 50-mile Ultra with a PB after so nearly dropping out was utterly inspirational. Your success and elation became my own. It made my race so worthwhile, so enjoyable and so memorable. Thank you so much for your company.

The PB glow.

This, the final race in the 2010 Runfurther series brought some super-fast times and impressive performances. Duncan Harris and Harald Aas finished equal first in 6:29:35. The organisers and volunteers did their usual superb job, and Henry Marston's strip maps and course information were the business. It was a stroke of genius to bring this event forward to October.

We had a few rain showers along the way and my camera got its first soaking since its decontaminating wash. It never faltered. The conductive, salty sweat deposits that must have been shorting out its switches and buttons must now be gone. See here for the pictures I took.