Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The two parts you need to convert a Chris King ISO hub from 9mm to 15mm

To convert a Chris King ISO SD front hub from 9mm to a 15mm you need the two following items form Chris King.

In a later blog post I'll show you how to make the conversion.

Hopefully this will help someone. I'd have appreciated this when Googling for the answer!

  1. Chris King Front Axle 15mm for Small Diameter ISO Disc Hubs
    Product number: PHB324
  2. Chris King Low Profile Adjusting Collar for Small Diameter Front ISO
    Product number: PHB702
NB: These items will not work with the "LD" or Large Diameter ISO hub, which is the 20mm variant of the Chris King ISO hub.

You can view these parts and everything Chris King over on their website.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The impact of a motorbike commute on my fitness

I used to ride a Brompton to the train station every morning. A mile and a bit. Then another half mile at the other end to the office. I did this 5 days a week and whilst the accumulated distance was probably just less than 20 miles in a week, the effect was that it kept me ready for fitness.

Sprinting the bike to the next light or making sure I stay in the harder gear on the hill or even just hammering the hell out of the Brompton for the sheer joy and sensation of speed, those 20 miles gave me a little fitness; something that riding a motorbike doesn't.

I used to do those 20 miles, and then I'd run once a twice a week at work. Now that I commute on a motorbike, I find I rarely have the space for a gym kit in the bikes top-box and when I arrive home after concentrating on the road for 70+ minutes, I feel mentally drained. I'm down to 1 run a week now and that's at the weekend.

Brompton M3L. My old Seanie-slimming machine
I also used to sometimes swap out a Brompton day to instead partially run and catch the train so I can do a half marathon. But now having given up on public transport and no longer having a monthly train ticket, the thought of having to run all the way home (about 25 miles), is sometimes a little too much for most days. Of course I'd still have to buy a ticket at least one way or sign myself up for 50 miles around a full days work. And I'd be running with a pack full of work clothes and odds and sods too.

I'm not the greatest planner for training and I'm lucky enough to survive without proper (read: even adequate) training, but I am starting to notice the impact of my daily routine losing those 20 miles.
BMW F800 ST. My new Seanie-fattening machine

In an odd way too, it's actually made me reel away from even riding to work. 25 miles on a fast road bike is nothing. I can easily do the 50 in a day too, with work clothes and stuff in the back-pack, but now that I don't even ride even a little bit. The effort to get started again at the moment feels too large to even try.

The point isn't that motorbikes are a bad choice for commuting, they're definitely not. Motorcyclists are the happiest of all commuters (I read that somewhere). The point is that change to my daily routine, whilst minimal, has affected my overall fitness. The effect of which may start to change my lucky streak with a lack of training and preparation for the events that I love doing.

So either I put in some extra runs or a bike ride each week to keep the fitness, or I accept that I will need to adopt more rigorous and specific training plans for events or reduce the frequency or distance of my beloved ultras.

In the mean time I'll be grinning ear to ear on my new motorbike.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The shock, pain and tears of my first 100 mile ultra-marathon

I'm sick and I have a headache. I've spent two days resting with my feet in the air. One of my toes is missing all of it's skin on one side and looks like rotting road-kill. My left hip is jutting out a good inch, my left ankle is making a scratching sound and when I close my eyes I'm seeing lucid fast-moving shapes that keep me awake at night. Oh and to top it off I've broken out in hundreds of spots on my back, chest, neck and face.

I'd like to honestly make a joke of it and say that I won't ever do another race, and then to do the ol' switch-er-roo and be telling you about my next one before the end of this post. But the truth is I'm in shock. It's not the injuries or illness though, it's the sheer supreme effort I had to muster to get myself to the finish line.

I know that I could do it again, I'm just not sure whether I'd want to. In fact, I'm not 100% sure whether I want to run any ultras again.

Teary eyed and near beaten

As I walked to the finish line I held back my tears. Those tears were not because I had completed an epic run across the North Downs, over 10,000 feet and 104 miles, it was because it was finally over. I could stop. I could lay down. I wouldn't have to fight, dig deep or push on. I could rest.

A good few times had I wished serious injury on myself along the trail. A solid justification to share with friends and family as to why I didn't complete the full event. And I'd believe it for a little while too. But soon after I'd know my own shame and lack of conviction and it would haunt me.

I told myself that if you don't want to do it, then stop. It's only a race and no one will care either way. Heck, I think my wife would appreciate me bailing out early. But why then did I sign up? Why was I even out there? Why did I even start to have a hope of getting in under 24 hours?

Why did I run the 100?

Was I simply showing off? I've always loved the phrase 'your ego is writing cheques that you're body can't cash', but never found someone to use it on. Ironically, I can now use it on myself. It goes without saying that I didn't train properly. Logging into my Garmin account it shows that in the past 2 months I'd run 135 miles (a lot for me) and that was over 18 runs with an average of 7.5 miles a run. The longest being 17.12 miles. That's actually not as bad as I was thinking it was, though I certainly wasn't ready to complete the race and to finish it in good condition.

I wonder perhaps whether I was simply just naive? I'd done the Ridgeway at 86 miles and I had very little training done before that. I'd survived and did a good time under the circumstances. Surely the NDW100 couldn't be that much harder? I'd run the NDW50 in just over 10 hours in May. Surely another 50 won't need more than an extra 10 + 4 hours? 10,000 feet isn't that much elevation over 100 miles, right?

Did I allow myself to get side-tracked and too busy? Work is always full-on, training takes time and there's a million and one things to get done. I don't know how people fit so much into their lives.

Did I follow others too easily? Did I really know what I was getting myself into?

And as I type this, I don't know. I'm emotionally drained and throwing words into this blog to help me make sense of what just happened and how I feel about it. I'm in shock.

Three days later

I'm sat in bed with my feet up. I feel calmer, less emotional, but I'm still not clear on how I feel about running another 100 or even running at all. Originally I had planned to sign up for the four 50 mile runs from Centurion Running next year. I even went to fill in the form, but something stopped me and I just backed away.

On reflection, I wonder whether it's mostly because I came up against my limits. I've always wanted to meet my limits, but now that I've gotten close, I'm not sure whether I like its company.

Seven days later

I'm OK now. The shock has passed, I'm sleeping better and I'm starting to think more clearly. I feel almost silly on how much the run has affected me this past week. I don't like the weakness, but I honestly have no one to blame but myself.

I certainly don't want to repeat the feelings I felt, so if I do run another ultra, and especially a 100 miler, then in order to not feel that crappy again I need to train and prepare properly.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

2015 North Downs Way 100 ultra-marathon race report

Having run the North Downs Way 50 in May, I felt like I was prepared enough for the 100. I had my confidence, my uncanny ability to scrape through and it was only another 50 miles, right?

28 and a half hours later, I realised that I had almost very nearly bitten off more than I could chew.

Start at the start

I can't quite describe the feeling I felt at the start-line. I'd been there not but 4 months before standing ready to start the North Downs Way 50 and it all looked the same. Similar faces, brands and kit. Yet this time there was a sense that I was about to start something I wasn't 100% sure I could finish. And it wasn't off to the greatest start either.  I'd forgotten to apply the damn vaseline. I'd had a bad case of the 'butt-pinch' in the SDW50 and I was dreading the same. It was playing on my mind, but I'd have to wait for a private lathering opportunity to present itself.

Oblivious of what's to come
I tried so damn hard from the off to make sure I kept my pace down. I didn't want to blow up or burn off all of my energy, so I just kept the pace simple, I didn't over-take and I didn't chase anyone down. And you know, I even enjoyed it. I had more time to look around, I felt more comfortable and more in control of the day.

Oh yeah, the toenail guy!

I don't recall much of the first 20 or so miles. There were some checkpoints, staffed by such enthusiastic and helpful Centurion Marshalls. I didn't stop long, as per my strategy (Pah, I don't know the meaning of the word!) and after filling water bottles and stuffing my face with a few chosen delicacies, I was back off on the trot.
This photo does the North Downs Way no justice

It wasn't long before I fell into a stride with another runner, Paul McLeery. Yes, the very same chap who shared his toenail plucking antics the night before the race on Facebook. We got chatting and we shared a lot in common. We both had similar views on giving things a try and both agreed that if we screwed up today, we had no one else to blame but ourselves.

I'd soon let him push on as I almost landed flat on my face and needed a few strides to recover. I'd later catch him up in the night section and he'd return the favour a few miles before the finish on his way to a flying finish.

Steam-roller Han!

It was shortly after Box Hill where I met up with the steam-roller that is Ilsuk Han. I'd met Ilsuk a year back on the Ridgeway event and what impressed me, and still continues to, is that he walked the second half of the event. Most people might think that was the easy option, but I have nothing but respect that he simply got on with it. I'd have given up. And it was a similar message this time, "It depends on how much you want it, right?", he casually offered.
This was a really tough hill on the 50, but
was nothing on the 100. Go figure

I didn't get a chance to hang onto Ilsuk's musings for long as his smooth strong pace and almost care-free attitude saw him draw into the distance within a few minutes of me waving him on. He'd go onto complete in under 24 hours.

Being honest with myself

In my minds eye, I had hoped that I would be ahead of Ilsuk and Bex until at least the 40 or 50 mile point. I knew his training had been strong, but I figured that if I was able to get far enough ahead of him, knowing that he wanted the 24 hour, then so long as I held on from the half way point I'd make it just fine. It didn't pan out and he had looked so strong that I realised I was in for a world of hurt.

Bex, another Ridgeway running fiend, had been ahead of me since maybe mile 15-ish, but I had always kept her relatively in view along the straights, but she too had disappeared and I wouldn't see her again until briefly at the half-way point.


Yet another Ridgeway runner was out on the trails on the Saturday, Tony Trundley. Tony was a great help to me on the Ridgeway run and a great chap to chat with. We'd also met each other on the NDW50 as he was out for a training run and did the same for the 100. He'd told me that he managed the SDW100 in under 22 hours and that really impressed me and bouyed me up. I love a good success story! We departed almost as quickly as we'd met, but something tells me I'll be seeing him along the NDW again in the future.


Oooh, that's going in my
For the next 15 miles, that led me into Knockholt Pound, I was pretty much on my own. The recce knowledge from running the NDW50 helped immensely. Especially when someone had said that a prior check-point was only a mile away. Bull! whilst I appreciate the spirit of your offer, if you don't know the exact distances, please don't give me any whiff of how long you think it might be. You'll have me in tears. In the 50, I'd believed someone who said it was "just under a mile" and it raised my hopes to think it was so close, and then it was a full 2 miles.

Fortunately, I had other cheeky things on my mind as I ran into the half-way point.

Half-way; 50 down and a billion to go

Bex was here and Ilsulk wasn't that long gone. I must have been doing better than I was expecting. Awesome. However, I was a little concerned about Bex. She looked in pretty bad shape and if I was a betting man, I would have thought she'd out on the lash. Tough lass though. I last saw her leaving the aid-station barking to her pacer "right, let's go". Such a toughie.

I spent 25 minutes at the check point gathering my gear for the night, getting some food in and sorting the blisters that had shown up. The feet weren't actually in that bad a shape and after a few minutes fettling with plasters, I was bandaged up and ready to get going. The pasta and mince was heaven sent and just a few minutes off the feet was bliss too.
Actually taken at mile 51 with bugger all
idea of the pain that was yet to come

I waved my goodbyes and got a solid handshake from one of the marhsalls who wished me all the best. He deserved a medal all on his own for his enthusiasm and support.

Mile 51

It was a little eerie. I'd left the check-point at a walk and fell into a jog once I hit the trail. It wasn't until I hit a gate and looked back did I realise I was alone and that I was about to begin another 50 miles of running. On any long run I'd always had someone else there. A helping hand. Someone to chat to and help navigate. But now it was just me and I'll be honest I felt a ping of excitement and I broke from a jog into a hobble. It was still at this point I had hopes of a sub-24 hour finish.


If Ilsuk was a steam-roller, then Wioletta was a steam-train. I don't remember at all at what point we met on the trail, but we'd go onto be trail companions for 30 to 40 miles. Whilst she thanked me for the company over the course of the night, it was really my thanks to her that was the more honest truth. We kept each other in good company and had some good laughs. She was tough on me too. No more than 20 minutes at any aid-station. No dawdling along the flats. It was all "we run?" and we'd be off regardless of my input to the decision. And that was just what I needed.

The North Downs Way 100. 104-ish miles from Farnham to Wye
It wasn't until mile 90 or so that I had to let go of the steam-train. You see, there was a patch of grass that looked too good to be true. I just had to lay down and get 2 minutes rest. That 2 minutes probably turned into 5 or 10, but it was a well deserved power-nap. At this point, it was early morning and there were more runners out on the trail than I had seen all night. It was time to get back up, catch up with Wioletta and get this done. Unfortunately for me my worst fear had come true. I had clearly been slowing Wioletta down and no matter how fast I warbled towards the horizon, I just couldn't catch a glimpse of her. It wasn't until a crew checkpoint when I was coming in, and she leaving, did I see her for the last time. She wagged her thumb at me and with that taunt I'd never see her again.

I gotta say it hurt. I love connections with people and I really wanted to finish together. But she was clearly the stronger runner and was possessed to finish and get the run over as quickly as possible. She'd go onto finish a full 90 minutes before me. She's awesome!

That's a lot of hill

The last 10 miles

After that crew check-point, of which I grabbed another cheeky 5 minute power-nap, I couldn't quite get into a run. My hip, which had plagued me since before the half-way point, was now so bad I was worried that I'd be risking long-term injury.

I don't remember being in agony, but I do remember being exhausted, both physically and mentally. The photo below, whilst I hate it as a photo of me, does catch a glimpse of the exhaustion and relief I felt when coming into the finish. I walked the majority of the last 10 miles and I was 100% happy with that. I was happy too for Bex to come cruising past me like she was out for a casual 10 miler. Legend.

I felt no pressure to run or to get in before others. There was even an old chap who pipped me to the finish in the final metres, but I didn't care. I was too tired to do anything about it, too emotional to care about competition and too relieved that it was finally over.

Ultra-marathons aren't good for the modelling career

And yet it still wasn't all over

We still had to get home. Ruth, who had lovingly stayed up most of the night helping me at the aid-stations, and camping out at the crew stations, to make sure my Garmin was charged, I had what I needed and still had a pulse, was equally suffering from a lack of sleep. And so the route home went via a few different service stations to allow both of us to sleep every 30 minutes. I can't really thank her enough for the help, encouragement and support.

So next time I'm booking a hotel and making a weekend of it.

I was genuinely trying to smile in this photo! Just couldn't quite muster it.
And this one. Too tired to even smile after running 104 miles and earning the coveted buckle...
Guess I'll have to do it again next year to get a better photo.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Review: Trail Addiction back country riding in Les Arc, France

I've always wanted to ride alpine mountains with open vistas, huge elevation and challenging riding. As a relatively tame mountain biker, it's the stuff of my dreams.

Having made the decision that I was going to tick it off my bucket list, I had a good Google session trying to find the right place. I'm risk-averse and believe in paying-for-what-you-get, so I wanted a decent place to stay, good guides and guaranteed good biking. All the reviews seemingly pointed me to Trail Addiction.

Trail Addiction

The photos on the website really sealed the deal for me. I could imagine myself on the pedals of the riders who were shredding the downhill and traversing the alpine meadows. Sign me up!

The booking process was pretty easy and flexible for payments too. I also emailed Tim, the Ops guys, a few times asking questions and the responses were really helpful (and showed their passion). I had no reservations and booked the Back Country week at the very start of the season.

Totally 'borrowed' from the Trail Addiction website

Back Country week

At the top of one of the up-lifts
Rather than using the up-lifts all week and spending the week descending, which I don't think I, nor my bike, would survive, I opted for a Back Country tour of Les Arc and surrounding areas. The idea of spending the day on the bike up and around the alpine mountains conjured up a sense of adventure and challenge.

And in reality, it was exactly that. We did spend a few days on the up-lifts as they were available, but this offered an opportunity to get relatively familiar with the kind of terrain we would be dealing with and how intense the regular trails are in comparison to my homely-softy-southern UK trail centre routes. I was immediately surprised by the number of rocks on the trails and whilst they would get bigger, more technical and more 'gnarly' later in the week, it was a thrill to be riding something that challenged me straight away.

Van up-lifts FTW!
The duration of the descents was awesome. I won't knock the up-lifts, they provided a serene and comfortable ascent of the mountain and then allowed the group to shred back down refreshed. Whereas I'm used to having to pedal to earn my descents, I don't think I gave each run more than 5% of pedal strokes that I normally would on a regular trail. It's downhill all the way!

The main bulk of the week was spent using vans for uplifting to locations and then either ascending further by bike or dropping down from the drop off location. I don't remember any details of exactly where I was, or even what day it was, but I do remember loving pretty much every trail. I was easily pushing the limit of my capabilities and familiarity with technical terrain. I also hadn't realised quite so much how steep descents affect my bike set-up. For example, I usually run my dropper to allow me to sit in full 'XC-mode' when needed, but for these trails, the post was slammed and the dropper spent most of its time slammed too.

I can't really do the trails justice by describing them, but suffice to say it was like Bike Park Wales or that long descents at Afan, but harder, longer and with more rocks. Lots of rocks. If you love the speed of BPW but want more natural terrain, then you will love Les Arc.

At the Hut

Hut trip

Trail Addiction offer an additional option where you get to stay in a remote hut for an extra £95. It includes an extra few hours of riding, a great evening meal and some awesome views. However, when we heard that the group who weren't going on the hut-trip, and therefore hadn't paid the £95, had gone to the hut the day before we were going, the collective group was a little cheesed off. It didn't quite make sense.

View from the Hut
And I guess this shows one of the fundamental issues I experienced with Trail Addiction, the lack of communication. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it could be that this was the first week of the season and every one was getting back into their roles. It also wasn't helpful that Trail Addiction were host to a bunch of journalists looking at the new Shimano XT 11 speed stuff; and then on top of that too they were also out marking for the Enduro 2 event that they were putting on... But regardless, I'm a paying customer and at times it felt like we could have been communicated with more.  There was no end of confusion around the hut-trip. Plus each day we had no idea what was going to happen and I never quite got the sense of a really fluid business. For example, they ran out of soft drinks on the Tuesday and we didn't get more until the Friday. I don't drink beer, so this was pretty annoying. It wouldn't stop me from not going again, but I'd definitely take the opportunity to ask as many questions up front as possible and get extra supplies any time I went near a supermarket.


I stayed in a room shared with 3 other guys. The room was very spacious and had a decent sized en-suite. The cleaning service was pretty basic and I only had the one towel for the week, but otherwise no complaints. Well, apart from the flies. If you go in June, expect loads of the buggers.

Food was great, in fact it was so much better than I would have expected at a decent hotel. The chef had prepared delicious salads to start, a tasty main and gob-smackingly awesome desserts. The only issue we faced was that the portions were pretty meagre at the start of the week. Discussions were had and the sizes improved pretty quickly. Lunch was a baguette, fruit, biscuit and some chocolate. All fine and all devoured.

Bike and kit

I brought my regular trail bike, a Cannondale 2013 Trigger 1. I upgraded the wheels to Flow rims and Chris King hubs for that added sense of durability and robustness, but so long as your wheels are straight and strong, even a regular set of trail wheels would have been fine.

I had XT brakes on my bike and went there with a used set of pads on and, whilst I brought 4 spare sets of pads just in case, I left with the same set and with plenty of life left in them. I did ding my rotor, so would definitely take a spare next time.

I wish I had brought a quick release seat-clamp, and that's with a dropper post too. There are plenty of up hill trails that require your seat to be as high as you can comfortably go. There are even hike-a-bike sections too, but few and far between.

I rode on XT trail SPDs as that's what I'm used to, but the group was roughly a 50/50 split between flats and clipless.

Hans Dampf certainly seemed to be de rigueur for tyre choice. I used those too and loved them. If I went again, I'd put a Magic Mary up front for even better control at the expense of rolling speed.

I wore baggy shorts, tech jerseys and padded shorts. The weather is changeable and at times I had my waterproof jacket on and on some cold mornings two jerseys on as well. The afternoons were warm enough to get away with a single layer. Oh and bring knee pads. Elbow pads were rare, but bring them if you have 'em.

No one wore goggles that I saw. It was all sunglasses.

Also, don't go 'full euro' either. I kid you not, I saw a group of guys on downhill bikes, armoured up to the hilt and wearing full face helmets and goggles, but... wearing lyrca shorts. Oh heck. It was possibly the most ridiculous thing I've seen on a trail.

The views never got old


You can never be sure what kind of people you'll meet, but I have to say that this was one of the best groups of random strangers I've encountered. Overall great people, with a few nuts rolled in for good measure.


A great mix and everyone was genuine and pretty nice. There are a few who comes across as mad hatters, but getting to know them during the week was a fun experience and they were great guys; eclectic choice of music and driving skills aside...

Getting there

I flew into Geneva via British Airways (there's a decent lounge in the airport) and took the £45 transfer (each way) from Trail Addiction. It was easy, no fuss and worth the money. I was on holiday and didn't want to faff with getting my own transport or relying on taxis.

Would I go again?

Sure I would. They have another place called 'Destination X' which offers similar back-country riding, but more technically challenging. I'd even be tempted to go back and do the same holiday because it was that good. Apart from a few trails on day 1, we didn't ride the same trail twice! - I want to go back and session some of the trails to get better!

The cheek of the Irish!

Top 10 recommendations for a holiday with Trail Addiction

I'll leave you with the top 10 lessons that I learned from my stay and hope they're good recommendations for your holiday.
  1. Take the airport transfers Trail Addiction offer; it's the easy choice
  2. Be honest about your skill level on the booking forms
  3. Set your bike up for descending; big front tyre, tubeless, slammed post
  4. Bring a quick release seat clamp if you need to raise your post / dropper for the hill riding
  5. Don't forget your bladder (you'll drink a lot during the hot days)
  6. Bring extra snack food for in-between meals
  7. Bring swim shorts for the hot tub
  8. Bring a euro plug adapter for charging your tech
  9. Get bike insurance (and the good stuff too!); we had two hospital visits in the week
  10. Bring a positive give-it-a-go attitude

Photos from the week

Could this BE any more Alpine?
Garmin traces for the nerds

Here are all my Garmin traces from the week. I kept forgetting to start my watch, so they're quite erratic, but it gives you a sense of the locations and elevation.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Trionium Midsummer Munro 2015 race report

I'm not sure what happened, but I was in a bit of a daze the whole way around. I think maybe because I had recently run the North Downs Way 50, along some of the very same paths, I was expecting to run an ultra and therefore plod along and switch off. Don't ask me why, I really don't know. I just remember being very surprised that the event had ended and I was collecting a medal.

I love medals. And Trionium always have a good one. I also love the t-shirts they give out too. Good quality and I really like the added touch of including everyone's names on the back. This year we also got a small bum-bag, which did make me laugh. I told myself "A bum-bag? This isn't the 80's people, who would ever use one of those?" as I begun placing all of my bits and pieces into it and marvelling at why I hadn't thought of it before. A real keeper for my next run to help manage the essentials before and after a race. Fashion be damned!

Proper bling
But I digress, I really should be telling you about the run. This year the start was a little different. We started at the top of Box Hill, in the Old Fort car park. I had no idea there was such a significant car park up there, no did I know about the cafe. Or the hundred plus cyclists raging up and down the hills. I'll certainly have to come back with my own road bike.

I've done it again! Back to run. So we started by the Old Fort and then instead of heading out and taking a left to the steps, we headed right and then down the hill by the Zig Zag road all the way to the bottom to where the start and finish usually was. In a way, this new route was almost as cruel as the steps. Filled with energy, and with the assistance of gravity, the horde of eager runners sped down the first hill like a bat out of hell. We even ran all the way back up too and of course inadvertently blew ourselves up before we'd even begun.

I made a mental note that this would be a long hard run and so decided to pace myself. I'd learn later on that I probably need another mental note to turn the speed back on too.

Anyway, the steps, as ever, were cruel and delightful in equal measure. I took the wise course of only running most of the steps and allowed the traffic to slow me to a walk to gather my breath and then to 'speed' away once there was a gap. I was particularly delighted to see that the chap in first place was only just returning to the stairs as I was at the bottom. Not too far ahead I thought.

The Midsummer Munro 2015 route - view Garmin trace
The cooler weather was certainly welcome. Starting at 08:05 meant the sun was yet to really come out and that meant I could run harder without blowing up. I still needed water at every stop for the first half, not for hydration, but to cool myself down. But a gentle shower later on kept me cool and allowed to chug away up and down the hills.

One benefit of an out and back route is that you can work out in what position you are. At the half-way point I was in 40th place and I was happy to stay there. I recorded every time someone took over me, and I them. Whilst I was happy with 40th, I didn't want to be 41st (who likes odd numbers?) and so kept pushing. And with only a few KMs to go, and feeling really great, I should have shot off and made a mark, but I didn't, I plodded along and bided my time.

The second time on the steps was easier. I walked more of it, breathing hard in the humid air and allowing even gentle traffic to slow my progress. I still made a good go of it at the bottom of the steps, 'rushing' past a few unsuspecting runners. I was expecting others to make a break for it, but nothing came. I made up the 10 places pretty much on those steps and then cruised into 30th place at the finish just around the corner.
The two steepest points at either end were the 222 Box Hill steps

Oh, and whilst I was running into the finish, I saw that someone had dropped an energy gel. I hate that. We're trail runners, we're meant to be better than that. It's obvious it wasn't done on purpose, but we should take better precaution to not drop our stuff and litter. So, as I ran by, I reached down to grab the gel and at that moment, at that very moment, both legs decided to spasm and cramp. Like a puppet I hopped between both legs over the last 50m to the finish. Terrific.

Peace. Photo credit: 'Gaz'
Having had issues with my car on the way to the event, I had to leave pretty quickly, but it was nice to see that everyone who had finished were still milling around and clapping as other runners came in. I would have liked to have stayed and met a few of the runners. Especially those who I had passed and was giving mental credit to for running a particular part so well, or pacing me, or making me laugh or whatever. Alas, til next time.

And there will be a next time. Being honest, the event wasn't too hard this year. I could have tried harder and next year I certainly will need to because it's that time again for the Picnic Marathon!

Huge thanks to Rob, the team and the volunteers that put in the effort to make really great and unique event. Really thought this group had been the best volunteers yet!

Learn more about the Trionium Midsummer Munro event
Garmin trace for the Midsummer Munro

Monday, 1 June 2015

Bedgebury Forest mountain bike trails review

On a recent family holiday near Hastings, UK, I Googled "Mountain Bike Trails Hastings" to find something to fill a day with. You can never be too sure what the trails will be like, whether it's tamer than you'd imagine or perhaps too extreme. Fortunately, Bedgebury Forest trails are a good solid red that's as fast and as fun as you make it.

Getting there

Bedgebury Forest is easy to get to from the M25, junction 5 and there's plenty of parking. There's a fire-road right from the car-park which takes you to the start of the trails so it's easy to get stared. Parking is £10 for the whole day, which is pricey for what I usually pay, but £10 on a day out for new trails was worth it. I waste more money than that at the cinema for less fun.

Post code: TN17 3SJ

The car park is a pay-to-leave, so when you rock up, park, get the bike out and get riding. Don't faff with the tickets just yet.

The trails

I didn't see any blue trails whilst I was out, but even the reds, and the one black I rode, were quite tame. If you can ride a regular blue, you can ride a red here.

I did two laps of the red and they took around 45 minutes each. The navigation between the different trails is first rate and it was very obvious where I needed to go next. All the trails have names, but apart from Cardiac, which I only remembered because a few guys were in awe of how difficult it was going to be (it's not that hard), I've since forgotten them.

Actually no, the first trail was called Genesis, but it was closed for repairs (May 2015) so I didn't get a chance to ride it. Oh and I also remember the last trail too, Cake Run, which is aptly named because it takes you right back to the start and towards the awesome café.

Anyway, back to the trails. There's lots of variety here. Hills, flats, tight and twisty, flat out fast and a bunch in between. They've even got rocky sections, which on a tall Cannondale Trigger 29er is more faff than fun. I loved some of the trails; blitzing down the chutes and railed the berms. I had heard the berms were quite small for the speed, but some of them were massive and I had no trouble flooring it and staying gripped in all the way down.

Beginners are welcome

There's not much in the way of jumps along the trail and anything jump worthy can easily be rolled too. Perfect for beginners. In fact, there were a lot of people out with families and kids. Give them space and they're fine. There are plenty of places to over-take and fortunately everyone was kind and wise enough to let me pass once they realised someone was behind them. Oh wait, there was a really odd section that had a few large jumps (3 feet), but they seemed really awkward. You'd have to hit them flat out to take-off from one and land on the other and then repeat it immediately and then straight into a berm. It looked awesome, but I just ended up rolling the jumps. It just didn't make sense in the context of the trail.

The black run

Laughable really. It's not a black run, but I remember reading that they had to classify it as such because there's some 'air-time', which constitutes a black grade. In reality, the 'jumps' are now so worn in that you can easily roll them. Still, it was a fun little chute.

The café

It's a decent job with a great view of the lake and plenty of seating. They also have a tonne of places to plant the bikes so you don't have to lean them up around the place. Nice touch. Food looked nice, but I opted for a cold drink and a delicious ice cream. Pricey like the car park again, but meh, it was ice cream.

Bike hire and store

I didn't go in as the place was heaving, but there's a bike shop there that hires bikes and says it sells equipment. It didn't look massive, but I'm sure they'd sort you out if you had an emergency, or direct you to the nearest bike store. If you just want to get a bike and ride, then this place is perfect. Book in advance though, most bikes were gone when I was there (Bank Holiday weekend mind).

Would I go again?

If I was in the area, sure I would. It's a place where you can get faster and hit the line a little better each time. I'm in doubt that there's probably hidden trails too, so it's worth exploring and asking the bike store for info.

I live a good 90 minutes away, and for me, it's not a place I would specifically travel a 3 hour round trip to go to again. Where I live, Wales is a 4 hour return trip and that makes much better sense.

In summary, definitely worth a ride if you're in the area.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

2015 North Downs Way 50 ultra-marathon race report

I'm running the North Downs Way 100 in August and needed a suitable recce of the route. I figured once I'd started the 100 and got half way, it would only be a matter of then holding on and hobbling to the end. So the North Downs Way 50, which runs the start of the 100, sounded like a perfect option to familiarise myself with the route and get in a decent long run before the big day.

The route

For some reason I had expected the route to be similar to the South Downs Way 50, with its rolling hills and vistas stretching to the horizon. And whilst the North Downs has some of that, it also has a lot of covered forest track. There was also more road than I was expecting too.

North Downs Way 50 Garmin elevation profile
The route was easy to follow and Centurion did a good job of marking the way with ticket tape and little arrow signs. If the South Downs was straight lines, the North Downs was a wiggle, which kept things interesting.

The route starts in Farnham, goes via Box Hill and ends in Knockholt Pound 51.2 ish miles away. I didn't think I knew the route, but as I ran the course I realised I'd biked, walked and run around different parts. I've certainly run the Box Hill steps more than a few times in the Trionium half-marathon Midsummer Munro and their marathon Picnic events (brutally good fun). This inside knowledge will certainly help for the NDW 100.

Box Hill stepping stones (note: sausage roll in  right hand
and kidnapped jelly baby in the left) 
No trail run can be without hills and the route had plenty of them. Box Hill steps being the most extreme, but there's still plenty to get stuck into elsewhere. Whilst the start is relatively sedate, it was the latter half that seemed flatter. Perhaps, that as the pace was dipping, up-hill running was an opportunity to use different muscles?

The training

I really tried this time. I really did. I wanted to be fit, I wanted to be lean and I wanted to do well. Alas, a significant change at work led me to have to lay waste to that plan and instead to replace it with late nights, stress and take-aways. I'm grateful for my ability to soldier on, but Justin said it best (and he's said it before too), that "how good would you be if you'd trained?" Maybe by the time the NDW 100 comes around things will have changed? Pah!

The highs

The start was really nice. Lots of people out for a little walkies to the start line. It was a nice way to start and kept things relaxed. I said goodbye to Ruth and the pooch at the start line and set-off. No particular game-plan, but to see how things went and adjust from there.

As I said above, the route was a little more technical than expected. Not tricky technical, but lots of lefts and rights and opportunities to miss markers. It seemed more like a run around the streets from my childhood. Spending the day ducking between houses and shooting between the small walkways behind streets. It was a lot of fun and encouraged speed from me. It also helped that there were other 'kids' around me and that kept my competitive edge turned on. If someone had slapped my back and said "Tag" I would have been transported back to 12 year old me and would have chased after the person in front *slap* "No tags back, nur nur".

It's silly perhaps, but I am a bit of a kid when I'm out there. I'm not racing, so why not have some fun? Specifically, fun for me on a run is speed, hills and challenges. I ran all the hills before Box Hill (my mental time-to-slow-down check-point) and I didn't walk a step. It made me happy and kept me optimistic. It's the similar feeling I get when I complete mini-challenges. For example, I challenged myself that I wouldn't drop below 05:30 kmph pace for a stretch of trail or that I needed to over-take 2 people on the hill. There was one where I needed to take no more than 100 steps on a section (I confess I reduced the size of the section to ensure that I won. Goodness Sean. I know, I know). The most fun was where I needed to match the steps of the person in front of me to try and learn their technique.

Felt like a big kid on a run
Maybe that's how all the time flew by? I don't recall getting to the 10 or 20 mile mark or the 30 or 40.

I do remember the check-points though. Filled with happy smiling people who were keen to help me along the route. "Any bottles that need filling?", "Is there anything I can get you?", "You OK? You're a little red". I thought it cool too that I recognised so many people. I didn't know their names, I'm terribly poor at names and better with faces, but I gave them a beaming smile and a big thank you as recompense for them taking the time to help their fellow runners. I hope to volunteer one day too.

Where usually I find a running partner, for this run I went alone. It was quite refreshing. When I wanted to stop and look at the view, I did. I took lots of photos and enjoyed the moments of seeing others runners coming up behind run on by. I've oft referred to long-distance running as a roving-picnic (which I think I first heard from James Adams), but this run really was. I ran the 7 miles between one check-point to the next and then spent 10 minutes chilling out and people watch. As a day out, it can't be matched. Views. People. Food. Hills. Running. Jelly and ice cream. It's got the lot.

The beautiful North Downs Way

The lows

Being honest with myself, even though the heat was unexpected and increased my level of effort, it wasn't all that bad in hindsight. It made the run a good challenge, but shattered my inner hope of getting in around 9 hours. More fitness and better preparation may have saved that dream for me, but it's a good lesson for the NDW 100.

The funny low point was the finish. What cruel Race Director shows you the finish line and then asks for you to run around a large field before you can get to it? But once I had the medal in hand, it was simply something to laugh about, but it did sting when I popped out into that field :-)

Oh and we'll agree to forget about that little detour I took towards the end. No one needs to know.

The finish

What a jerk. "2 miles to go", he nonchalantly proffered. 2 miles my arse! In his defence, it could well have been 2 miles, or even less, but it sure didn't feel like it and whilst I tried to keep up, I didn't want to. I wanted to walk, to relax, to enjoy the moment. To eat a flump that I carried for the last 49.5 miles. Having an internal heart-to-heart moment, I wanted the run to not be ending around the corner. I remembered back to the Ridgeway Challenge, where 50 miles was still a 50k ultra and then some from the finish line. I remembered the peace, the nature and the utter expanse I felt hobbling through the night, and I wanted it again. I'm not sure what that means to me or for me, but I felt it and that feeling has stayed with me since. Hopefully the 100 will beat such nonsense out of me!

Also, 83rd out of 232 isn't bad. Top third-ish.

Thank you

I have to say thank you to my Wife for putting up with my silly hobby and for transporting me around. I couldn't do it without her (well that's a complete lie, I'd just get a taxi or something, but there's some level of sentiment and mushy emotion had by having her help me).

Hawaiian themed check-point,
of which I was completely oblivious too!
A thank you to Justin Bateman for reminding me (this was all in my head) to have my S!Caps every 45 minutes. Having run with Justin in the Ridgeway Challenge last year and seeing him remain rock steady because of his effort to keep eating, drinking and popping the pills, I did the same and it worked just as well. Of course, I forgot the eating and drinking bit, but 1 out of 3 which isn't bad, right? Great guy and a great running coach I hear too (corrected 'hear' from 'here' just for him).

A huge thank you to all of the support crew from Centurion. They're jolly, helpful and full of chat. It's quite clear that they're all interested in helping me achieve my goal and they're knowledgeable keen runners too. Really couldn't have done it without them all.

And a final thank you to Ilsuk Han for the extra mi... support.

What did I learn?

Waiting to start
I learn this on every long run: don't go out too fast. But yet, for every run I do. I love it. I love the pace, I love the hard running the sense of progression and running with others of a similar ilk. But every time, without fail, I suffer past the half way mark. I use up all of my energy, I forget to eat enough and then the inevitable decline into hobbling ensues.

I also learned:
  • Running with water bottles banging into your ribs isn't fun - I'll need to move the pack lower down my back and use a bladder next time too for such hot days
  • Remembering when I had my last S!Cap was quite hard when I'm so hot - I managed it, but I wasn't 100% sure whether I'd waited 45 mins, an hour or longer
  • Jelly and ice cream is worth stopping for
  • Taking photos of the route is worth the effort to stop for a minute and take it all in
  • Running with Apple ear-buds is laughable as I had to run holding them in, but I did appreciate the beat of the music for the short time I used them
  • Taking a pain killer and an ibuprofen takes the edge of weary muscles, but keeps me from injury
  • I need to work out how tight my shoes should be. They're fine for the first 25 miles, but start becoming uncomfortable after that. I also end up with bruised feet - I should take myself off to a decent trainer shop and seek their advice
  • If I can run 50 miles, I can run 100 miles
  • Check all clothes-drawers for the right shorts. I had to wear un-matched shorts and t-shirt. Euugghh
If you're looking to run a 50 or a 100, I would whole-heartedly recommend the Centurion Running events. They run two 50's and four 100's. The routes, the culture and the community that surrounds their events is second to none.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rail to Trail West 2015 marathon race report

I live in Maidenhead, but if I had to move to London the one thing that I would miss the most would be the countryside and the hills. Within a 1 mile run from my house I'm in the woods and I don't have to leave them or farmers fields for another 20 if I didn't want to. And of course all along the route you'll find all types of hill; such as the gentle, the muddy, the sharply technical, the abrasively rocky, the slimy and slick, the steep, open or wooded and more. It's a small piece of trail running paradise right on my doorstep. And that's why this particular series of trail runs is perfect for those less fortunate with access to trails than I.

Rail to Trail series

Specifically created for Londoners who are looking for a trail based escape. The Rail to Trail series is a collection of 4 events, North, South, East and West, that offer 10k, half-marathon and marathon distance runs that are all within an hour of London by train. Perfect.


West marathon route
I had found out about the event from a running friend, Ilsuk Han, who had volunteered for them at one of the previous events. He said that they were a friendly bunch and as I knew the area a little from my time on The Ridgeway Ultra, the event pretty much signed up for itself.

The February event starts at the Wendover Cricket Club, and after completing two circular-ish routes to the East and West (see map), ends there 26ish miles later. Having run The Ridgeway I kind of knew what to expect, but with recent rain, and even snow, I wasn't prepared for the mud.

Chat, navigation and boat loads of mud

Huge respect to Ilsulk who has transformed himself into a mileage monster. Steady, calm and confident in his abilities, he impressed me no end. Fortunately, he was also kind enough to stay with me for most of the run (I insisted he run on when things were tough right at the end) and I enjoyed the chat and company immensely.

I mention that Ilsuk was calm specifically because, at times I simply wasn't. The mud was horrendous. Real slop too. Deep and sopping wet and it just didn't let up. Maybe 60% of the course, and especially the second half, was for me at least a case of bracing my core on each step to reduce the sideways twist or slide. I had great shoes, lots of grip and deep lugs, but something was amiss for me. Probably training, TBH.

The route however was very nice. A mix of fields, hills, woods and open vistas, like the one below. In nicer conditions, this would have been one of my favourite runs.

Wonky I admit, but in my defence it was a fair bit windy up there

Would I run it again?

Probably not. The route was great, the organisation was good and the checkpoints were friendly (although lightly stocked). The marathon cost £44.50, which I think is quite high. There was plenty of parking at the train car park, which was a bonus.

So whilst I would recommend this for those who haven't run it, it's not special enough to go back to run it again. A lower price might attract me back, but if it was the same price, I'd rather spend that on a new event.

And don't get me wrong, the event was great, it's just doesn't have the edge over events like the Midsummer Munro / Summer Picnic or the Greensands Marathon that keep me coming back.

To train or not to train?

Smiles, tea and medals with Ilsuk
I'm usually a little blasé with my approach to training. It's obviously not recommended for long distance and at times it gets me into trouble, but for this run I was hopeless. I ran a 5k on the Tuesday of race week and by the end I was glad it was over. Yes, I had run it fast, but I was genuinely happy to be finished. I haven't felt that way about a run in a very long time.

I'm still not quite sure what this means. Am I awesome / lucky for doing a marathon with little training? Or instead am I going to pay the price in time with damaged joints and muscles? Or perhaps am I under-achieving when I'm capable of more? I rather think it may end up being a little bit of each.

I'm still stewing over whether it means I need to change my approach to running or whether I'm in a great place and should carry on. I had thought I would come away from the run inspired or encouraged, but I simply feel indifferent. My next race is the North Downs Way 50 and I will (read: should) need to train and focus to get the most from the event. Time will tell I guess.

Garmin route for the Rail to Trail West marathon.