Friday, 18 August 2017

I'm glad I didn't finish the Autumn 100 ultra-marathon

Love running with my Ridgeway peeps
I was half expecting to be angry at myself. Why go so far and then stop? I'd run 75 miles, and had a flat marathon to go and then it would be over. If I finished I'd have another medal (and I love medals) and I'd be able to slap the backs of my fellow runners with equal glory and everything would be fine.

But I asked myself a question and then took a decision that ended my race, and surprisingly, I never felt any real regret or anger at myself.

Why I run

If I look back at my life, I chose to run for several reasons:
  1. My friends were playing tag and I wanted to join in with them
  2. It was cheap and I could run in any conditions with any gear
  3. I was good at it
  4. I noticed that I lost weight
  5. I thought it was the right thing to do for my overall health
Why I signed up for the Autumn 100
  1. Because at the end I get a medal
  2. I love the reactions from people when I tell them I'm running 100 miles
  3. I love the reaction from people when they realise that people, in general, can run that far
  4. It makes me stand out
  5. I get to meet great people and hear a bit about them
  6. I'm keeping up with my running friends on their adventures
  7. I don't want to say no
  8. I don't want to be left out
Gotta beat Jimmy to that photo opportunity
If I compare the honest truths of the points above then I can see a clear line between what might be considered a healthy social outlook to one that's somewhat selfish, sensitive and with something to prove. I'm not sure I've explained myself well enough here, but overall I feel as if I'm running for the wrong reasons.

I can't say exactly when the switch occurred. I'm also not saying all of the points above are right or wrong, and I'm sure they change for each run as well, but I knew when I was sitting in the chair in Goring I couldn't use the ultra-marathon points to generate motivation to get up and go*. 

So that's why, just for me, I'm glad that I DNF'd

For me to admit defeat and walk away from an easy-ish victory is a big thing for me. I'd finally asked the question, 'why am I doing this?' and I came up blank. And that was the decision made. No pressure, no desire for a trinket and a t-shirt I'll never use. No success social media posting. No 'business-as-usual' Sean's done it again. Nope, this time I was honest with what my feelings had said and I'd have to face that I, Sean Parry, knowingly allowed myself to fail.

For me, that's huge.

Still love a good run and a good photographer

But, I still had a great time

  • I got to spend hours, and hours, with good friends to share stories, trivia and experiences that otherwise I would never have got a chance to know
  • I saw familiar faces and felt genuine joy knowing they were out there too
  • I got to see a bunch of the countryside I'd not seen before
  • I ran 75 miles and came away with a few blisters. Go body!

How will this event affect my future running event decisions?

I won't run the Ridgeway again anytime soon, that's for sure. I hate that trail.

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* Well technically that's a lie. I'd asked myself the question of why I was doing this. Came up blank. Took the decision, but waited for a friend. If fates had aligned, then I would have ran in support of that friend, and I was even annoyed that I left them before**, but as the hour slipped by I was resigned to my decision and stepped out of the race.

** Call me sentimental, silly or creepy, but when I saw my friend, who had taken the decision to not carry on the run but did so anyway, come up only a few miles behind me I was half-tempted to turn and run with them adding the extra miles to my run. A little fantastical perhaps, but for me knowing that there's someone out there that's willing to go that extra mile in support of someone, anyone, is a deeply held belief for me. How different would our runs have been had I made that decision? And on a similar note, that's why I think volunteers who are giving up their time are simply awesome.

Garmin data for the nerds (75 miles of 100)

Still a bloomin' long way

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Howies Run Shorts are the best shorts for ultra-marathons that I've ever tried

I don't usually do product reviews for clothes as they either work or they don't. But when you run an ultra-marathon what might work fine for a regular run or even a full marathon can quite literally fall apart at the seams on a run 4 times as long.

I've tried many different shorts over the years, mainly from Nike, but also from Adidas, Salomon too. They've all been running shorts and they've all served me very well in training and on shorter events.

When using them on an ultra however, even 50 milers, I've often found that I have to make sacrifices, such as more frequently adding lubrication to the nether regions or adjusting my running gait so that I'm not rubbing material against a part of me. Overall they've completed their purpose to hide my nether regions from the eyes of others and kept them warm and dry too, but always at a price. And they've always meant an uncomfortable few days post-race recovery with the familiar penguin waddle.

The shorts ride a little, but you don't particularly notice it
(goofy gait and arm swing, models own)

Enter the Howies Men's Run Short

These are different. Firstly, they only come in black and offer 4 sizes. I'm a medium (32 - 34" waist). They're also quite 'floofy' as they have an excess of material around the crotch area. Which at first looks odd and can be somewhat distracting. However, when out running, they are not only very comfortable, but best of all they are the least distracting too.

The inner short means that you don't have to wear separate under-wear and everything stays 'tucked-in' like you would expect perhaps from a set of snug boxer shorts. There's no movement, but the material is soft and comfortable and friction free.

Centurion Running North Downs Way 100 2017

I ran the NDW100 this year and went through a few different types of weather (bright sun, humid cover and pouring rain) and with temperatures ranging from 10 at night to just over 25 during the day. Not too extreme a temperature change, but notable when you're the one running through them.

And the shorts shrugged it all off. I did apply a generous helping of Vaseline to the nethers at the start, and usually I'd have to re-apply during the run and change my gait, but this time I had to do neither. They remained itch and scratch free the entire time. There was no build up of heat-spots and what was even more impressive was that there was no discomfort post-race.

Merino run vest is light,
wicks well and remains super comfortable.
I have 4 of these vests they're that good
I have 3 sets of these shorts and at first I suspected that the all-polyster construction would leave these as training-only shorts, but I took a punt with them on some longer runs and haven't used anything else since.

Matching running vest

A great one-two combo is to match the shorts with a Howies Merino vest or top. I've got a bunch of different merino tops from Howies and they're easily the best run tops I've had. In fact, I probably should have written a dedicated post just for them.

Howies stock

Howies are a wonderful company. They're ethical, care about the environment and the products they make, but are always offering new clothing lines. Which has led me to panic that the 3 sets I have may be the last I'll ever have. As soon as they're back in stock, I'll be ordering more.

Check whether they have your size in stock for the shorts and for the running vests.

Worth noting that I'm not a Howies ambassador, I didn't get anything for free and no one asked me to write this. I genuinely believe they offer the best short for running an ultra-marathon that I've ever tested.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Merida Big Trail 800 first impressions and recommended upgrades

In summary | She's big, tall and fat. A little heavy as well, but boy does she roll well.

I've ridden the bike twice now and already I already know I've made the right decision.

I've only ridden a semi-fat once before, and not for long, so didn't really know how well it'd feel or work even. I took the plunge on this bike as I wanted something a little more fun than my current bike (a Niner ROS), and boy did I make a good choice.

Maxxis 3C full quality tyres as standard

I'v;e captured a few photos and thoughts below that may help you to make a decision about whether to get this bike yourself and what you can expect when it arrives.

Where did I buy it?

I bought the large Merida Big Trail 800 from Lakes Cycles in the UK and got a 9% discount over the RRP. Bargain for the spec and quality of the bike.

I'm 5' 11" and I bought the large. There's so much stand-over clearance on the bike that a Medium would have had too short a reach and I'd have had my knees around the stem when seated. On the ride I did wonder whether an XL would have fitted as well. 

The Merida Big Trail 800 2017


My very first impressions

I didn't like the grips, but they use a 3mm allen key to stay secure

  • Meh, the black paint is OK. Would have liked the blue or the red more
  • Weighs a bit, likely around the 29lb mark I'd say
  • Tyres are big, but not super massive
  • Grips aren't all that
  • Sizing is good. Lots of stand over clearance and good reach. Saddle needs to be further back
  • Bars are nice and the stem is mega short
  • Had to remove the reflectors in the wheels and the massive wheel protector behind the cassette
  • Fork width looks much larger than a regular fork
  • Brakes are basic and I wonder how well they'll work and last
  • The dropper is really nice and I love the actuator on the bar
  • LOVE the soft entry and exit cable points on the frame. So simple, silent in operation and keep the cables away from the frame - all bikes should use this as the new standard
  • Huh, the tyres are full quality 3C models, which means I won't need to upgrade them
  • The wheels were ready for tubeless from the off, just needed the valves and the gunk
  • Wonder whether the hubs will be any good
  • Huh, the wheels have the RockShox torque caps to provide a greater surface area between the hub and fork
  • Saddle looks junk


Fork width and clearance are size-able

My very first ride impressions

  • Yup, the saddle is junk
  • Grips are harsh
  • Tyres make wicked noises
  • This feels like it rolls as well as my Niner
  • Roots and bumps are simply absorbed
  • It's much more comfortable than my Niner
  • I'm impressed with acceleration and speed of direction changes
  • Ha! It's super easy to wheelie (not that I can that well)
  • I didn't notice the weight particularly
  • The dropper is dead smooth and I much prefer the lever over my Thomson on the Niner
  • Gears are perfect - didn't have to think about them once
  • Brakes were surprisingly good and were silent
  • Tyres skidded a few times on wet and rock, but picked up traction again quickly
  • Never once felt out of control

Amazing cable management

Immediate changes and upgrades

  • I changed the saddle to a more comfortable WTB Volt
  • I swapped out the grips for some ODI numbers
  • I converted the wheels to tubeless using 35 mm Stan's valves and 100ml of Stan's sealant
    • Noticeably saved weight on the bike - the tubes are MASSIVE
    • Pro Tip: I needed to use a Schwalbe air canister to inflate the wheels (110 PSI did the trick)
  • Helicopter taped the frame in key areas (prefer some damage to the frame for character)
  • I put the stem at the bottom of the stack of spacers

List of next changes and upgrades

Neat looking, flex for comfort, but isn't
compatible with my butt

  • I'd like a lower stack height headset in time and to cut the steerer tube down - never like the idea of something sticking out the top of the front of the bike
  • I'll toy with the idea of new brakes. I've had XTs for a number of years and models and really appreciate the variable lever point (which the Merida's brakes do have, but needs an allen key)
  • Longer dropper post, lighter wheels and better rear mech are on the wish list, but all items have really impressed me so will only be replaced when they break (if they break)


Look out for a more in-depth review in the coming months.

If you have any questions, then share below and I'll be sure to reply.
__________________________________________________________

More photos


All the bits that came with the bike

Fork uses the Torque caps to provide
a greater surface area between the hub and the fork

Super short 35 mm stem. Lots of spacers for adjustment.
Nice bar too

Deore brakes impressed more than I was expecting

Dropped remote / actuator is the best I've used

Front profile

No touchy! Cables stay away from the frame and don't tangle (lovely)

Loads of adjustment opportunity

Dinner-plate sized cassette and great looking SLX cranks (scuffed after first ride)

Artsy shot


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Hilly trail running routes around Cookham and Maidenhead

Come the Summer, this is the best place to run in Maidenhead
I love to run hilly trails, I feel that there's nothing better than an arduous ascent and a quad-jolting descent to improve fitness and free the mind from the weeks oppression and stress. And as I quite dislike running on the flat, I pretty much only run hills.

Living in Maidenhead I'm lucky that there are a few biggish hilly trails that I can run up and around that suit my particular style.

Here are two of my favourite hill running routes around Cookham / Maidenhead.

Winter Hill* "Beast me" reps


It's 100 feet(ish) tall. Goes up like a rocket and has multiple trails that mean you can always find something to suit both the beginner trail runner and the die hard nut. The shortest run is about 5k (from the car park and after a few reps), but can obviously made to be much longer the more you do. It's also really easy to follow.
*Huh, it's not actually Winter Hill. Thanks Google!

The big loop was for the dog to get a drink on such a hot day, which she outrightly refused. Ugh.
  1. Starting at the top of Winter Hill in the car park, face the view and run right
  2. Pick up a thin trail and follow it all the way
    • Take the left at the wooden posts a 100 metres from the car park
    • Straight across the roads separated by a drop
    • Take a left at the gravel t-junction
    • Jump the gate ;-)
    • And go straight all the way down to the moor
  3. When you hit the moor, you'll see a hill screaming into the sky on your right with a well worn trail
    • Run up it
    • It has a hidden top, so save something for the end
  4. Once you're up, head left on the trail and catch a breath
  5. After 50 paces run the technical descent (slippery in the wet) to the left
  6. Hit the moor-floor-once-more (ha!), turn around and repeat in reverse what you just did
  7. And keep on repeating it up and down over the same hill
For true leg smashing training
Rather than turning around and running back-up up the technical hill, head left at the bottom for 100 meters and look left (up the hill). You'll see the light trodden trail that I've made into the side of the hill. It goes right up. It's a beast. Run up that, technical route down and repeat. Most I've done is 10 repeats. It's horrible and I love it.

For a running break
At times I need to run-off the hill reps, so at the top of the hill where you take the technical descent, take the right turning just before it. The singletrack is a lovely bumpy feel-good run and when you get to the bottom take a left and after the same distance you just ran you'll see the technical route on your left or you can take the hill rep option a little further on.

Running with a dog?
After a few reps, head down the technical descent and over the wooden bridge. Take the slight left trail from the bridge and head towards the river. There's easy access for dogs to the water, just watch for cows and swans.

Winter Hill and Bisham Wood loop


This is essentially a combination of the run above, and another run the other side of the car park at the top of Winter Hill. It's a varied route with only the end hill to challenge you, but it's 'bumpy' and fun. It's also well shaded, so ideal for midday runs within sunscreen during the week of Summer.

The Bisham part of the loop starts with running in the opposite direction of the above run (left as you face the view from the car park).

This one is harder to follow. Use a GPS if you have one.

This was a run covering Winter Hill > Bisham Wood > Winter Hill
  1. Run along the trail away from the car park
  2. You'll run onto someone's drive, follow the trail to the right of the wall
  3. After a minute or so take the left spur near a wooden post up the hill
  4. Moments later you'll pop out into an open
  5. Run straight ahead into the trees (don't follow the trail left)
  6. Look for the lightly trodden markings and spacings on the ground and openings between trees
  7. You'll end up by a road with a trail immediately across it (you can't see the trail from the other side)
  8. Cross the road and cut across all trails heading far-left for a couple hundred metres
  9. You'll come to a road at some point and follow it right (follow it right on the trail if possible)
    • If on the trail, take the left turnings; until
  10. At the very long and straight bridleway (either on the road or on the trail) take a right and head all the way to the top
  11. You'll come to two wooden gates (take the furthest one from you, not the one on the left)
  12. Follow the trail all around until you come to another wooden gate at the top of a large descent
  13. Take that descent heading right and down
  14. Take the slight up-hill right at the first set of signposts into the trees
  15. You'll pop out near another set of signposts with 4 routes and a wooden gate to your left, take the first right (not the immediate sharp right leading back-up the hill)
  16. Follow this route for 500 metres and then take the left turning down a very steep 'chute'
    • This left turn is from an intersecting singletrack from the right
  17. At the bottom of the chute take a right
  18. Take care when you come to the road - look for cars and cyclists (this is also my, and many others, cycling hill rep route)
  19. Cross over and take the right up the trail
  20. This is a long and hard hill run, enjoy
    • There are also about 30 steps at the very top too
  21. Before you step onto the road, take the left and follow the trail
  22. If you have a good memory the wooden post you come to is the same wooden post at the start of the run, either run the route again (about 2.5km) or continue along back to the car park
If you're after something flatter then the moors make for great fast and flat trail routes. If you run during the warmer months you can get a belting ice cream at the Cookham Moor car park. Sometimes it makes it even worth running the flat for a hill-goer like me.