Monday, 29 October 2012

The Relationship Between Performance and Fatigue - With Illustrations from the Beachy Head Marathon


This blog was going to be my Beachy Head Marathon race report, but my quick update told quite a bit of the story.  So instead I will try to reply to a comment left by Dale in response to my UltraStu story.  So this race report will be slightly different, with some ideas first, then some application to the Beachy Head Marathon.  I will try to keep the post to marathon length rather that an ultra!

Nearing the Finish of the Beachy Head Marathon

In some of my previous posts, which I since have edited and now made available as articles, I have introduced my Race Focus Energy (RFE) Fatigue Model.  The more of the recent academic literature I have read, the more I am convinced that my RFE model has many, many merits.  I have just finished reading an enlightening book titled "So It's Tough Out There, Is It?" written by Barry Durdant-Hollamby.  Who?  No, I wouldn't expect many runners out there to have come across any of his writings, however, what I am discovering is that my enhanced understanding of trail running, for example, in realisation of simple concepts such as 'Your expectations largely determine your experiences", is applicable to ALL aspects of life.  Barry's book, on communication within business, has helped me realise this.  Oops, sorry, I got side tracked there!  It was the quote at the end of his book that I wanted to share: "A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous, and then dismissed as trivial, until it finally becomes what everybody knows." William James.

At the end of the Beachy Head Marathon, I was chatting with one of my training mates Kev, and his brother Ian, who had both just finished the marathon.  Ian asks me "What do I need to do to prevent me from running out of energy towards the end of a marathon?"  His question was referring to biochemical / nutritional energy, with additional reference to physiological fatigue.  I gave a quick reply with something like, you need to understand the Race Focus Energy concept, and commented that a brief explanation wasn't really possible there and then.  So Ian and Dale have prompted tonight's blog post.

The Race Focus Energy (RFE) Fatigue Model was developed in response to the existing scientific model of fatigue, known as the 'Catastrophic' model, being rather flawed.  Tim Noakes, known for his book "Lore of Running", and now more recently his book titled "Waterlogged" was probably the first person that encouraged me to start thinking 'laterally', with his Central Governor Fatigue Model.  My RFE model takes on board his Central Governor model, but builds on this, with specific application to trail running. 

The three components of my RFE model are:
(i) Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
(ii) Race Focus Energy (RFE)
(iii) Muscle Activation

But most important is that the BRAIN is CENTRAL to these three components!  In a recent Tim Noakes academic article published back in April titled "Fatigue is a brain derived emotion that regulates the exercise behaviour to ensure the protection of whole body homeostasis" Noakes lists the many many factors that have been shown within the research to alter endurance performance.  This large list includes:

"The biological state of the athlete at the start of exercise including the emotional state, the extent of mental fatigue, or sleep deprivation, the state of recovery from a previous exercise bout, the level of motivation and prior experience, the degree of self-belief, including superstitious beliefs. Factors specific to the event that alter performance include monetary reward, prior knowledge of the exercise end-point, and the presence of competitors, especially if they are of similar ability. A number of chemical agents including the stimulants–amphetamine, caffeine, pseudoephedrine, modafinil, and the dopamine/noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor bupropion as well as the analgesic, acetaminophen, or the analgesic naloxone, or the cytokines interleukin-6, or brain IL-1β have all been shown to alter exercise performance as do placebos.  Psychological skills training can also improve subsequent exercise performance.

Conscious deceptions that improve performance include using the Ramachandran mirror to observe the non-fatigued arm when working with the opposite, listening to music, the provision of inaccurate information provided by a clock that runs slowly or of the actual distance to be covered, or of the pace of a prior performance that had been deceptively increased by 2%, or of the true environmental conditions in which the exercise is being performed and the athlete’s real core body temperature response. Factors that influence performance and which are likely sensed subconsciously include the degree of arterial or cerebral oxygenation, the size of the muscle glycogen stores, the extent of fluid loss or, and variables relating to the rate of heat accumulation.  Pre-exercise whole body cooling can also improve subsequent exercise performance, including cooling to the lower body, the upper body, the neck, or palms.  Rinsing the mouth with carbohydrate improves performance perhaps by acting on specific brain areas. Running downhill and the presence of muscle damage or muscle soreness are all associated with reduced performance further."
However, the most important observation made by Noakes is: 
"Potentially “everything,” not just those factors identified above and in the figure below, can potentially affect athletic performance.  But that the most important of these effects begin and end in the brain."

Hence, why the RFE model, which has Race Focus Energy at its core, which is situated within the brain, which could be alternatively referred to as mental fatigue, or running out of mental energy, is now being recognised by recent research.  So in terms of fatigue and performance.  The brain is monitoring so many factors all at the same time.  The brain then sub-consciously controls the amount of 'discomfort' it 'passes' onto you, in response to it's 'concern' over potentially being damaged.  The brain controls the level of Muscle Activation both directly, and indirectly via controlling the level of 'discomfort', which affects your Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which subsequently affects your Race Focus Energy (RFE) and Muscle Activation. One of the functions of TOTAL training that I frequently refer to, is to alter the brain's subconscious 'concern' when experiencing different situations, by having experienced them before!  Therefore having previous sub-conscious 'awareness' of the potential concern, so thereby adjusting the 'thermostat' level, so concern is no longer 'initiated' at such a low level, i.e. there is a reduction in the brain's safety margin / safety reserve!  (Perhaps more on this in another post).

Endurance running performance is not only influenced by all the factors highlighted by Noakes, confirmed by published research, but many other factors, based on my experiences, including: life stresses at work or within family / friends, excitement, enthusiasm, expectations, enjoyment etc. (More details on these other factors that I consider are also important, are described in the RFE article, and illustrated in last year's Beachy Head Marathon race report.)  So performance is influenced by an overall balance of, as Noakes puts it"Potentially “everything,” .

Back to my UltraStu story and the comment left by Dale: "It seems the subject of your story didn't put too much pre-race mental focus into his race? Does this not conflict with the message of most of your posts? Yet he surprised himself with his performance."  Yes, Dale is correct in that I place a lot of importance on having positive realistic expectations, as this will influence the direction that the RPE - RFE arrow is pointing, i.e. consuming more or less RFE corresponding to a certain level of RPE, but also influences one's actual RPE.  So why was it that the subject in my story was able to perform so well?  I conclude it was due to the massive positivity he was receiving from being cheered on, from the excitement, absolute buzz of performing so well.  Hence why I talk about the spiral effect.  Performing well, creates a buzz, creates positivity, which further enhances performance.  It is why 'break-through' races occur.  The break-through is simply 'getting onto' the upward spiral!  The extent at which performing 'above' your expectations, if interpreted positively, can enhance performance can not be underestimated.  At times there is a sense of feeling 'indestructible' as if you are a 'superman'.  Talk to any athlete who has just achieved an extraordinary performance, where it is clearly recognised as one of their best performances ever.  Do they reflect on, recall the difficulty of the performance.  Yes, they may be well aware that they were working at a very high intensity, i.e. they had a high Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  But more often than not, they will comment, that even though they knew they were running hard (i.e. a high RPE), it just felt tremendous, it just felt positive, it just felt great!  They should be the most fatigued they have ever been, as a result of performing to the best they ever have, but they don't.  Yes, the massive effect of achievement.  Watch the end of a race, or a football / rugby match.  The winners always appear to have 'boundless' energy.  The losers are totally wiped out, absolutely no 'energy' left at all, but yet both teams, have worked equally as hard!

In addition to the 'buzz' of performing well, the subject in my UltraStu story, also probably had an enhanced performance because there wasn't the usual worry, the often performance limiting 'burden' of wanting to perform too much.  The 'need' to perform, the over analysis of performance, simply thinking about it too much, can hinder performance.   Come race day, the preparation is complete.  During the race, in some ways, it is best to relax, and simply let it happen.  Have belief in your preparation, be within the present moment, and enjoy that moment without any worry or anxious anticipation.


This year's Beachy Head Marathon was won by my work colleague and training partner Rob Harley.  Rob is an exercise physiologist, so he has been 'conditioned' on the now 'dated' way of thinking about performance.  In that it is pretty well entirely determined by physiology, your genes, what you are born with, with some influence due to physical training, up to a certain level, but the overriding concept that performance is determined by physiology.  Well over the last few years, on many, many runs, I have discussed with Rob my differing views on what determines performance.  He started of with my ideas being totally wrong, then 'softened' a bit to, could have a minor role to play, and more recently he has beginning to be more accepting.  Frequently he would state that it was my physiology that was the cause as to why I always beat him in running, previously by over 30 minutes at the Beachy Head Marathon, which gradually over the years, as he became more aware of what factors influence endurance performance, this margin of being beaten was reduced to only 17 minutes, last year, where he finished in 5th place to my 2nd place. 

Then just Tuesday last week, I performed identical physiological tests as he had recently carried out.  We finally had some good quality, reliable physiological data to confirm whether it was my physiological characteristics that 'caused' me to always beat him, or was it due to all of the other factors that my RFE model refers to such as: positivity, expectations, enjoyment, visualisations, etc.  What did the data show us?  In terms of physiological measures, there are three key variables; VO2max, lactate threshold, and running economy.  (Go to a previous blog post for details on these variables.)  Rob's VO2max was far superior to mine, our lactate threshold's were identical, and only was my running economy better than his.  But when our running economy was expressed relative to our VO2max value, the values were very similar.  Rob couldn't believe it.  He immediately questioned the validity of the data.  Were the gas analysers calibrated correctly?  They were!

Rob therefore had a real dilemma.  He could no longer limit his expected performance in relation to me due to his assumed physiological inferiority.  It was hard for him to believe, but him always getting beaten by me was now within his control.  It was due to his limited TOTAL physical preparation.  Yes, his physical preparation was good, and this year had been probably the best it had ever been.  However, prior to viewing the physiological test data on Tuesday he would have never  given even a tiny glimpse of a thought towards beating me.  Just as in the quote from Barry's book above, Rob was finally at the stage where he accepted my ideas on factors that influence performance.  He finally knew, what I already knew, and what eventually others will know! 

Come race day, he no longer simply accepted that I would run away from him.  He stayed in close contact.  Then believe it or not, he overtook me on the long climb between Jevington and Alfriston, around 6 miles.  Rob was now in second place, not too far behind the leader.  The realisation that he had broken through his previously imposed limitations was overwhelming.  He caught the leader and went to the front.  Rob was leading the prestigious Beachy Head Marathon, leading over 1700 runners.  He was in the front!  Even though he knew he was running at a high intensity, and hence was experiencing a high RPE.  However, due to a downward RPE-RFE arrow, running significantly faster than he had ever run in any of his previous five Beachy Head marathons, there was only minimal demand on his Race Focus Energy (RFE).  Yes, it was hard, it was tough, but 'somehow' he was able to maintain the fast pace!

With around 8 miles to go, as he reached the iconic Seven Sisters, a runner joined him and the other runner in which he had been alternating the lead, to form the lead pack of three, side by side.  This third runner then gained the lead and run off into the distance for what seemed an assured victory.  Rob drifted behind, and as he told me later in the pub, he thought to himself, "If I finish in 3rd place, it will still be a good result".  So there wasn't really great disappointment at losing the lead, as he felt more than content with a 3rd place finish.  At this point in the race, I was still around three minutes behind in 5th place, around 100 metres behind 4th place.  So there was a huge gap behind Rob to 4th place.

As the race passes through Birling Gap (less than 4 miles to go) Rob is still in 3rd place, with the leader nearly out of sight, probably around one and a half minutes ahead of Rob.  By this stage, not that Rob knew it, I was on my own in 4th place and now only around one and a half minutes behind him.  Although I was further down the field than I had ever experienced in my previous ten times of running the Beachy Head marathon, rather surprisingly I wasn't in a negative state.  I was actually still enjoying myself, and feeling that I was running quite well in terms of the effort I was putting in, but for some strange reason, it was just not flowing, the rhythm, the smoothness, just wasn't there.  As I gradually pull in Rob, with 2nd place less than 100 metres ahead of him.  I begin to feel content that finishing in second place will be fine.  Yes, I simply reminded myself that I had won this race seven times previously, never finished worse than in 2nd, and Rob had never beaten me.  The interesting conflict I had experienced so far throughout the race was trying to deal with 'overcoming' the argument that I had spent significant time trying to convince Rob, that there was no logical reason why he couldn't actually beat me.  Yes, it was rather bizarre.  In some ways convincing Rob that it was possible, had also convinced me that it was possible.  My self expectations had been altered!

With three miles to go though, I was back on track.  Yes, I will finish second, to the leader way out in front.  Just as Rob, with 8 miles to go was reasonably content with 3rd place.  Although I was still in 4th place, I had decided that I would be content with 2nd.  A good result considering it wasn't really 'happening' for me today.  Little did I know that with less than two miles to go, as I had gained to within a minute of Rob, who by now was closing down on 2nd place, that Rob had changed his expectations.  He began to believe that he could actually finish second.  So instead of nearly running out of energy, which Rob up to a year ago would have simply concluded was biochemical/nutritional energy, but now wasn't so sure, Rob felt he still had sufficient energy, Race Focus Energy.  He picks up his pace, moves into 2nd place, and then immediately sees the leader ahead struggling.  He can't believe it.  There is the chance, something totally unimaginable, that he could win this prestigious marathon with over 30 years of history.  The buzz, the positivity, the excitement is unbelievable.  The suffering from the cramping fatigue legs he had experienced between 8 to 2 miles to go, had suddenly disappeared, his pace further increased, and much to my despair my closing of the gap to Rob was halted.  Rob hits the lead with less than half a mile of downhill running to the finish line.  Nothing is going to stop Rob now, he is 'indestructible'.

Me, having decided back at Birling Gap that I was going to finish a respectable 2nd place, had no other option.  Rob was 'flying' in both physical, but more importantly in a an emotional sense.  So I simply had to overtake the other two runners.  With only half a mile of downhill running left, I first had to move into 3rd place and then close still quite a large gap to the previous leader.  The focus, the rhythm, the flow, the energy, for the first time during the race finally return to me.  Where they had been all day, I don't know.  With some reflection and analysing hopefully I will work it out.  But at this moment in time, I was on a mission.  I mentioned above that although not performing as well as expected I wasn't in a negative state, but now I was absolutely buzzing, the excitement at running these two guys down was amazing.  As the descent starts to get really steep, I guess about 250 metres from the finish line, I move into 3rd place.  Then I finally draw level with 2nd place as we come off the steep grass slope onto the final 50 metres of road, both of us nearly having a potentially horrendous spill as we collide into each other as we pass through the narrow gap adjacent to the cafe.  As I regain my balance, my stride, I have lost half a metre, and now less than 40 metres to go.  Amazingly though, I still don't doubt that I will get 2nd place, which is rather strange, bearing in mind that I only managed to avoid getting last in the fathers 60 metre sprint at school sports day a few years back, only because there was your ideal 'heart attack' Dad also running, (who is only just visible in lane 1)! 

School Sports Fathers Race - Displaying my Sprinting Qualities!

With less than 3 metres to go, I finally manage to move ahead, and the official results show that I beat Paul Barnes by 0.2 seconds!  Daniel Watt finishes 4th, eight seconds behind.  Meanwhile, Rob Harley is still in a state of absolute shock, trying to comprehend the unbelievable that has happened, winning by 47 seconds.  Which only became achievable once he removed his own self-imposed limits!  Susie Casebourne was the winning women in a time of 3:31:29.

Well, I think its a good time to conclude this blog post.  I hope the above has answered your question Dale, and also provided some context for you Ian.  To briefly summarise, performance is affected by many, many factors, but some factors have a larger influence than others.  With positivity, enjoyment, and being within the present moment, combined with not limiting your self-expectation, being the most influential factors!

Time to sign off with a quote from Chrissy Wellington, multiple Hawaii Ironman World Champion: 
"Pain is little more than a conversation between your body and your brain, this is another reason why a fit mind is so important.  The brain is programmed to protest us, and that can mean imposing limits on what it thinks we can or should do.  Constantly push at these limits, because the brain can be way too cautious."  Chrissy Wellington, (201), page 142, A Life Without Limits - A World Champions Journey.

All the best as your re-consider your self-imposed limits.


PS  It isn't too late to donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity I was running for to raise both the profile of the charity, and a wee bit of money.  Unfortunately I didn't win the race, but hopefully there will be a photo of Rob and I with the mayor of Eastbourne within the local press, as with both of us working on the Eastbourne campus of the University of Brighton, coming first and second, it provided an interesting news item.  If you are interested in making a small donation, please go to the JustGiving page that I have set up. Thanks.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Beachy Head Marathon - Quick Update


Just a quick update on today's marathon, the eleventh consecutive time I have raced the Beachy Head Marathon.  Going into the marathon I was feeling reasonably confident of going quicker than last year's 3:02.  Weather conditions today were pretty chilly, plus quite a strong northerly wind, so a bit tough going out, but the wind really helped coming back.  So overall the wind probably added around two minutes to last year's conditions.

A finish time of 3:10, therefore eight minutes slower than last year was a bit of a shock!  I felt like I was putting in a decent effort, but just didn't have the flow!  It just wasn't happening.  At half way I was down in sixth place, so the pressure was really on to move up the field in my local marathon.  At half way there were three runners quite close together, probably around 3 minutes ahead, then I wasn't too far behind 4th and 5th place.

With quite a bit of effort, including a very, very tight sprint finish I ended up 2nd.  So a reasonably strong second half.  The only runner I couldn't catch was my work colleague and training partner Rob Harley, who finished 47 seconds ahead.  Achieving a fantastic result, with a PB!  Last time I share all my training and performance ideas with him!

Full race report in a few days.

To those of you that raced today, hope you all had enjoyable runs.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Beachy Head Marathon Preview


Just a quick post tonight to inform you that this Saturday I will be racing the Beachy Head Marathon for my eleventh consecutive time, and for the first time I am hoping to raise some money for a worthy charity - The Teenage Cancer Trust.
Prior to last year's race I produced the following slide below for one of the talks I was doing.  The slide displays my finishing times for my previous nine Beachy Head Marathons and my weekly training mileage during my marathon build-up.  I haven't counted up my mileage this year as I have been taking a slightly different approach.  I have been getting a bit of a 'hard time' in that I am 'cheating'.! That I am getting an unfair advantage of other competitors!  What is this cheating?  Well I guess it technically isn't cheating, as it isn't illegal, but it isn't really something your 'typical runner' can access, unless they had some spare hundreds of pounds.  What is it?  Altitude training, or more technically termed "Intermittent Hypoxic Training". 

Yes for the last four weeks I have been running in the University of Brighton's (where I work) altitude chamber.  I have been monitored by two Sport and Exercise Science Masters students, Andy and Sally.  The altitude intervention has consisted of running for one hour, three times a week, within a hypoxic environment, with the percentage oxygen set at around 14.1 - 14.2% (compared to ambient oxygen 21%), which is equivalent to running at an altitude of around 3200 metres above sea level.

Looking into the scientific literature, there are mixed results whether such a short term (4 weeks) intermittent (only 3 x 1hour per week) intervention produces any benefits, however, one of my colleagues Dr Gary Brickley, coach to a number of paralympic cyclists and triathletes, has found that a short term altitude intervention has really 'brought on' the athletes he coaches, including four time Paralympic gold medallist Sarah Storey, and Paralympic gold medallist David Stone, as described in this article. Looking at the journal articles it appears that the intervention doesn't alter blood physiology, even when there are significant improvements in performance.  However, the physiology researchers therefore hypothesise that the improvements must therefore be to changes in the muscle physiology.  My interpretation is slightly different, however, I will wait to see if there are any significant improvements over and above my expected performance during the race on Saturday.

At the start of tonight's blog, I mentioned that I am hoping to raise some money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  Yes, another one of my work colleagues, Sue Keen, approached me and asked if I wouldn't mind trying to raise the profile of the Teenage Cancer Trust, in anticipation that I would be finishing high up the field within the Beachy Head Marathon, and hopefully have my photo within the local media.  She explained how her son, Jamie, was diagnosed with cancer whilst a teenager.  She commented how the Teenage Cancer Trust really helped Jamie and her family during the difficult times, and in really assisting in making the treatment Jamie was receiving as 'pleasant' as it could be, by providing an environment specifically targeting the needs of a teenage patient.  I therefore agreed to run in a Teenage Cancer Trust shirt, and then I thought, with my UltraStu blog hits now having past 56,000, that possibly some of my UltraStu readers may wish to sponsor me and donate some money to this worthy cause. 

Yes, I know all charity causes are worthy, and yes, you are probably 'bombarded' with requests for donations to charity from many of your running friends, so please don't feel obliged to donate.  But I just thought I would mention it to you all, so if interested please go to the JustGiving page that I have just set up.  I am not aiming for a huge target, simply £100.  With around 500 different people reading each and every blog post I publish, I am hopeful that this target of £100 can be raised.

Thanks in advance, 


PS If any athletes out there have had any positive or negative experiences with Intermittent Hypoxic Training please leave a comment, as I am interested to know the results from practical applications, rather than within the artificial environment of scientific lab testing.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Interaction of the Body and Mind - The Process of Resting / Recovery


This post was meant to be about clarifying "what causes performance and what is fatigue" in response to a comment from last week's UltraStu story post.  However, I have been in communication with one of the athletes I coach, and I felt that some of my 'words of wisdom' that I offered her, may be useful, or at least interesting to other endurance runners.  Just a wee word of warning though.  My ideas, are simply that, my ideas!  They are not supported with scientific references from journal articles, and in fact may be considered totally flawed , when based on today's current medical understanding.  But this doesn't necessarily mean the ideas are wrong, but simply possibly means that there hasn't yet been the research carried out, to confirm these ideas, i.e. to explain how exactly the body functions!

As with my previous post, and in fact with all of my posts, comments are most welcome, as it is interesting to receive feedback, so I am aware whether my ideas are 'totally outside of the box' and are therefore interpreted as rather pointless, or that there are other runners that like to think 'laterally' and appreciate alternative ways at looking at things.  I hope you are in the latter category.

Below are some excerpts from an e-mail I recently sent to one of the athletes I coach.  The e-mail was prompted by recent communication I had been having, which included the following comments:

"Well, things haven't exactly gone smoothly on the 'rest' front...    So after speaking to you on Sunday, I did as planned and rested Monday and Tuesday with only relaxing walking....    I couldn't understand why after 4 days off I felt so well, ill!...I am obviously concerned about how rubbish this is in prep for my next race....    Any thoughts? Has this happened to you before? Had these symptoms? How did you handle it and did you find you were fresher when you recovered fully and returned to training again?"

SO (excerpts from) MY REPLY:

The body and mind together are pretty amazing and very, very little is actually known on how they interact.  Take for example, usually after running a trail marathon my legs are so trashed that the next morning I can barely walk!.  But back in August when doing the 3 day Ring O Fire, where I had to run 64 miles on day 2 after 32 miles on day 1, I wake up the morning of day 2, and not one bit of stiffness / damage.  Yes, the intensity was slightly down on day 1 as it was a 3 day race, but only slightly.  I still banged in a 6 min mile during the 32 mile day 1.  So how?  Why was it that I had no stiffness / damage? 

The simple answer was that the body and mind working together knew that I had to run 64 miles on day 2.  So instead of the usually recovery process kicking in the moment I finished the race, because it knew I had another race the next day, the body delayed its recovery process, so delayed the swelling, the inflammation etc. to allow me to race.  What was also interesting was that when I had to DNF midway through day 2, the muscle soreness began!  The body was now ALLOWED to start recovering. 

In one of my previous e-mails I mentioned how if my body and mind was able to do more mileage I would, but I have found that I tend to 'break down' when I up my mileage too much.  One of my real strengths when it comes to ultra trail running is my ability to listen to, to feel, to acknowledge what is happening within my body and mind.  So I am always monitoring, can I do more, am I doing too much?  So I am not being over demanding on myself, both mentally, but mainly physically.  Yes it is often too easy due to enthusiasm, excitement, desire, ambition etc. for the mind to demand too much from the body (if we think of them as separate identities although they are just one).  Hence why many elite athletes suffer from chronic fatigue! 

Now in my recent e-mail I proposed that you take exactly seven days off from training.  Perhaps I didn't stress this number of days, i.e. seven days strongly enough.  What is so magical about seven days?  Well in my experiences, when I have been over doing it, when I eventually finally get around to accepting that I have done too much, and admit that I am not indestructible, 'superman', I find that seven days is the ideal duration of rest.  Now what happens during this seven day rest, is that you are actually ALLOWING your body to recover! I'll try to explain.  The essence of training, is RECOVERY!  Whilst training, you are stressing the body and mind, it then needs to recover.  However to recover requires energy, so whilst in steady training, the body focuses on dealing with recovering from the most recent training bout.  There may be other aspects / issues that the body also needs to recover from, but it seems to leave these other aspects alone, and prioritises the immediate stresses created from the recent training.  So one can see here, that whilst training other issues, that require attention to be dealt with, tend to be ignored, and over time, these issues will develop and slowly progressively get worse.  It is these less immediate issues progressively getting worse, that is probably what causes / leads towards over training / chronic fatigue. 

One interesting thing that you may have experienced within yourself, or read in other runner's reports / blogs, is that during the last few days of tapering, before a big race, just how often athletes tend to start 'coming down' with a cold, or flu like symptoms.  There is always the comment like, "I just hoped that the developing flu would hold off until after race day".  It typically does hold off, and the athlete performs well on race day, albeit, going into the race with reduced confidence due to the worry on the cold/flu developing.  Below is your typical example, from a local running friend who recently took ten minutes off his PB at the Berlin Marathon:
"I was feeling quite groggy in the days before the race; the glands in my neck were sore and swollen, and I could tell my body was fighting a bug of some kind. By Thursday night, I’d accepted a cold was imminent and was devastated... in fact, I was on the brink of emotional meltdown!

Bizarrely, the symptoms didn’t get any better or worse from Wednesday to Sunday, and come the day there was no question over whether I’d start the race. (It’s now developed into a cold, so my immune system was indeed battling something, but as much as I’d like to say it had an effect on me and I could have run faster, well, I can’t – I felt fine once the race started.)

It was faster than I expected to run, I must admit – and I need to thank Richard and Stuart for convincing me that sub-2:30 was on the cards."

So why is it that one starts feeling cold like symptoms when taking it easy during a taper?  Surely, you should feel worse when you are training harder!  No, not if you realise that the body and mind are one.  By deciding to taper, or to have a period of rest, you have informed the body and mind that things will be easier for the next few days.  The response therefore seems to be, that with this surplus energy 'coming it's way' the body and mind then decides to use this energy to try and deal with those underlying issues that it has had to put off, because it was so pre-occupied with dealing with recovering from the stress of daily training.  So the surplus energy from the rest/taper is used to recover from the other issues, whatever they may be.  To deal with these issues, one then senses / feels the flu/cold like symptoms.  It is not that one has just 'caught' a flu / virus, in fact, the issue has always been there, but 'buried' away.  The key aspect is that once these underlying issues have been dealt with, the body and mind are then are to perform at a higher level, without the underlying, background issues 'slowly draining', 'demanding' some of the body and mind's precious energy.

Back to the seven day aspect.  When I have finally sensed / acknowledged that the underlying issue has built up to a significant level, in that it is strongly advising me that it needs attention now, I have found that it takes seven days, for the recovery of this issue to be dealt with.  It takes seven days of rest, to enable full recovery.  Then once fully recovered, one performs so much better.  Hence why I proposed in my previous e-mail that following seven days of rest, you would then absolutely 'fly' during your next race.  Because a taper is a different situation, i.e. the underlying issues have not significantly built up, seven days rest/taper is not required.  The body and mind simply 'grasp' this brief opportunity to deal with these less immediate issues, but it knows that it hasn't got long before race day.  It knows that it has to perform on the upcoming race day, so therefore only attempts to deal with minor underlying issues, in a brief / quick attempt, without risking damaging the race day performance.  And yes, race day performance improves as a result of the taper, because by easing off training, you have reduced the level of background issues that although one is not always conscious of, subconsciously these underlying issues, do draw the precious energy away from the race day demands.  Then following race day, the body and mind are 'told' that training will be light for a few days / a week, and with that message, sufficient time and energy will be available for a more complete / advanced recovery from not just the race, but an opportunity to have a massive go at dealing with everything else, so hence often athlete's immediately come down with a fully developed flu / cold immediately after the race.  It isn't in that they have just 'caught' it, they have always had it (whatever it is???), they have just ALLOWED their body to deal with it.

So, how does this relate to needing to rest prior to an upcoming race.  Time is the key aspect here.  Hopefully having seven days off, which in most instances (in my experience) is sufficient for the underlying issues to be dealt with.  Perhaps, your issues weren't as large as mind, when I need a rest, so seven days isn't required.  Perhaps, your issues are larger, as they have been 'buried' for longer, buried deeper.  Only you will know.  It involves, listening / feeling your body and mind.  Hopefully, you are feeling that it is good, it feels right, to get back into training.  The timing is important, as you need to have run at least 2 or 3 runs prior to the race, of feeling back to normal, to then 'honestly know' that you are 'back on track'.  Without these 2 - positive relaxing cruisey runs, the body may still be using precious energy dealing with underlying issues, and hence not have it available for race day performance.  Yes, the mind will tell the body that it is 'needed' for race day, but if there is worry, doubt, concern that you may not have got over the flu by race day, then this doubt, is actually telling the body, that you are expecting it to still be using up this energy on the underlying issues.  It will therefore take on board this message, and hence will still be processing/ recovering from the 'buried' issues, and therefore 'you will not be over it'.  If however, you have these 2 - 3 positive runs, the doubt / concern will be gone, the confidence will be there, and with this positive confident thinking, just as I wasn't stiff and sore on the morning of day 2, the body will respond by ensuring all of its energy is available for race day performance, it will stop using it on the underlying issues, and hence 'you will have got over' the flu / cold / virus, whatever you wish to label it as.

So I guess the key message here, is that the body and mind act together as one.  The way you think affects what the body is doing, and hence how you feel.  However, to think positively one needs some evidence that things are positive, one needs to listen to the messages from the body.  Remember it is often that these messages have been ignored for so long that a 'crisis' has occurred that has prompted the runner into 'dealing' with the underlying issues.  So one can not simply conclude / assume that a positive powerful mind / mental approach can deal with everything.  It can do a lot, but one needs to accept that one is not indestructible!

To conclude, it is extremely important to honestly listen to your body and mind.  How do you feel?  Honestly, after 'inviting' your body to deal with the ever developing underlying issues, which from communication with you, indicated to me that these issues were reaching 'crisis point', you do need to provide the necessary time to successfully, and completely recover from these underlying / background issues.  Your instinct, honest gut feeling, will tell you, if sufficient time has taken place, and you are ready to recommence training and ready to 'hammer' the upcoming trail marathon.

BACK TO YOU READERS OUT THEREHopefully, my rather lengthy explanation above on how the body and mind work together isn't too far 'out of the box' that it makes some sense.  It is a totally different way at looking at 'what is illness' what is 'catching a flu/virus'.  Understanding how it 'all works' I find helps me in developing my confidence, and I therefore have no doubts / concerns about being able to perform well in a race, after a bout of recovery, as I know that the underlying issues, that had been slowly but subconsciously 'draining' of energy is now no longer, or significantly less present.
Time to sign off with a quote:  "As with many, many aspects of life, more is actually unknown, than is known.  The key is to go with your 'hunches', to follow your 'instincts', and believe in your ideas, even if they may be in disagreement with the currently accepted way of thinking."  Stuart Mills, 2012
May you NOT need to have to adopt a lengthy rest strategy, as you have been attentive, reflective, and listened to your body and mind, and therefore avoided a 'crisis' situation,

PS  Well done to Duncan Harris for winning the last race of the Runfurther Series, the Round Rotherham 50 mile, and therefore winning the overall series with 4000 points.  Sorry that is all I know.  I don't know any other results.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

I think it is time for an UltraStu story!


Yes, another post so soon after my recent Runfurther Championship commentary.  Well over the last few days, one of the athletes that I coach has been in frequent e-mail contact, and was commenting that she was beginning to have some doubts about whether she would be ready for her first race in a wee while, that was coming up shortly.  She just felt the fitness wasn't there, she felt continually tired, and combined with really wanting to perform well, she wasn't sure what to do.

I read her e-mail, read it again, and thought to myself, what words of wisdom would help? I concluded:

"I think it is time for an UltraStu story!"

So I started typing, and hit send.  Below is a copy of what was sent, which I thought maybe could contain some useful messages for other trail runners.  So hence I am sharing it with you.

I have suggested a few possible messages, but I think there are a few more within the story.  Please leave a comment regarding the messages from the story, which is a true story, if it has any meaning to you.

Happy reading,

Stuart, the story teller!

I will start way back in the 1980s.  I have just left secondary school, so I was 18, but went to the National secondary school champs to watch the guys one or two years younger than me who I had trained with.  There was a school kid from the school 3 miles down the road, who didn’t run for our local running club (Hutt Valley Harriers) but ran for the most successful club in Wellington (around 15 miles away).  We therefore knew the guy, but weren’t overly friendly with him as we felt that he had ‘deserted’ our small, friendly, and less successful club (no top runners) to join the ‘superstar’ club that had most of the best runners in Wellington.  Running was pretty popular and strong back then, so loads of good runners and running clubs (probably around 10 – 12 clubs in the Wellington area).  Yes this guy, really wanted to be good, to be more successful that everyone else, so trained with the best.  In the Wellington races he would generally finish around mid-twenties, low thirties, out of around 80 – 100 runners for his age group.  He trained loads, did everything you were ‘meant’ to do re run training; intervals, tempos, hill reps, long runs, stride outs, drills, stretching, etc. You name it he did it!  Then a little over two weeks out from the National cross country champs, out on a training run he got hit by a car.  Nothing was broken, but he had pretty bad bruising to his legs, so was physically unable to run for two weeks, nothing, absolutely nothing.  Then finally on the Wednesday before the Saturday race, he finally managed a 3 mile really slow jog, then Thursday 6 mile jog, then Friday another 6 mile jog with some stride-outs.  For a while he wasn’t even going to travel up from Wellington to Hamilton (300 miles away) to the Nationals, but he had already paid for the fare and accommodation, so thought, what the hell!

He realised that all of that really good training he had been carrying out for the last year, was now all wasted.  He knew there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to achieve the high, improved position from the previous year, which he knew his training was going to create.  The interesting thing in the months leading up to the Nationals, he always went on about all the training he had done, how he had trained with ‘so and so’, yet surprisingly his performance in races were only improving minimally, he was still no better than mid 20s, occasionally he may get low 20s place.  So come race day, he knew that trying to race properly would be an absolute waste of time, due to not being able to train for two weeks, and therefore all his hard earned fitness would be lost.  He therefore thought he would just ‘have a bit of a laugh’ and go out with the leaders, he had nothing to lose, he would eventually ‘blow up’ and finish way down the field!

So the race starts, he goes out with the leaders, in a field of around 250 runners.  He is loving it, the excitement of being near the front in the National champs, something he had only ever dreamed of.  Remember he was only around 20 – 30th best in the Wellington region, so based on that, his expected place at the Nationals would be around 100th. (Wellington was a really strong running region at that time).  The race progresses, it is 6km in length, and the ‘buzz’ he is getting is unbelievable.  It is the last race of the afternoon, all of the younger age groups and girls have run, so everyone is watching this race.  Not only are there the pupils and teachers from his school cheering him on really excitedly at his high placing, but pupils and teachers from every Wellington region school are shouting at him (Wellingtonians are very ‘patriotic’ and supportive of anyone from Wellington when it involves competing against other regions), so he is experiencing something totally foreign, the shouting and support, for him, little old him, is unbelievable.  Totally different to the encouragement he usually received at a Wellington region race, running in the 20s, or at a National race running around 100 – 130th place.  He forgets that he should be blowing up.  He forgets that he has lost all of his fitness from not running for two weeks due to being hit by the car.  He just continues on running and finishes in 3rd place overall.  Yes, third best secondary school runner in the whole of New Zealand!  From that day onwards he was a totally different runner!  When he returned back to Wellington region races, he was never out of the top 3 or 4 places, and occasional won regional races.  Unbelievable, somehow he had improved from mid 20s, to top 3 or 4!

So, a rather lengthy story.  What is the message?  Well  a few actually.  The problems of wanting it too much, therefore focusing too much on the destination, rather than simply enjoying the journey, and letting the destination, i.e. the result look after itself.  The issue of always running in a fatigued state, due to always training, and never actually letting the body rest, recover, and improve.  How one runs to their expectations, and expectations tend to be based on previous race performances.  Often, the expectations will be slightly raised following periods of good training, however, still based on previous evidence, so only slight improvement expected.  And finally, the importance of enjoyment, excitement, the buzz, the enthusiasm, the removal of doubt / worry.  The significance of emotion.  I could expand on these messages in terms of the RFE model, but I’m pretty sure that your understanding is pretty good, so able to expand it yourself.  Probably a few more messages in the story as well, but this e-mail is plenty long enough at the moment.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Racing Ultras: - The UK Ultra-Running Championships


Tonight’s post was going to simply be a brief mention about the upcoming final race of the 2012 Runfurther UK Ultra-Running Championships.  However, I got a wee bit distracted when trying to find out when the Runfurther series first started.  So tonight’s post is going to be a combination of some ‘Mutterings’, but first some ‘Memories’.  (Please accept my apologies in that my memories of the Runfurther  UK Ultra-Running Championships focus on the men’s racing and ignores the women’s racing, but that is because I only experienced the men’s racing, so therefore unable to comment on what happened during the women’s race.  I have however managed to obtain both the men’s and women’s overall series race results for most years.) 

It was back in January 2007, when the idea of moving up to ultra distance trail races first appeared.  It was while on holiday in New Zealand at the time, when just by chance I ended up running over 40 miles for a training run.  Go to my "The Start of My Ultra Trail Running Journey" blog post for  further details.  Although the idea of running ultra trail races was initiated at the start of 2007, it wasn’t until the start of 2008 that I finally began to turn the idea into reality!  Having got back into more frequent racing in 2007 (I raced seven times), at the start of 2008 I was mapping out my races for the year.  Two colleagues at my work (Chelsea School, University of Brighton) were talking about running the inaugural mainly off-road London to Brighton trail race consisting of 56 miles.  This race appealed as a great introduction to ultra trail racing, being the classic journey, i.e. London to Brighton.  At the back of my mind, from my both my marathon and Ironman experiences, in that the longer the duration of a race, the better I performed,  I managed to convince myself that perhaps I could do reasonably well in this race, especially with it being a new event, so maybe not attracting any of the experienced ultra elite runners.  Yes, you can see I still needed to satisfy my competitive desire to be able to consider myself as a ‘good runner’!  Go to my "Marathon Number 1" blog post about my first ever marathon as a seventeen year old, for further details about my first need to classify myself as a ‘good runner’!

Remembering back, it was when searching for some ultra trail races as preparation for the London to Brighton race, when I first discovered the Runfurther UK Ultra-Running Championships, although I recall that back then it was known as the Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships.  Whilst looking around the Vasque website, my ego was given a wee boost when I saw that Matt Giles had won the first two races of the 2008 series.  Before I explain why seeing that was satisfying, I will firstly briefly explain a little bit about the series for those that don’t know much about it.  If I get anything wrong, please leave a comment and I will correct it.

The Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships was initiated in 2006, by Mark Hartell, Karen McDonald, and I also believe Si Berry.  The series consists of 12 races each year, with there being four races in each of the following race distance categories; short, medium, long.  The winner of each race earns 1000 points, and all other finishers earn points based on the percentage of the winner’s time they are behind.  So if the race is won in 10 hours, and you finish exactly one hour behind in 11 hours, you would earn 900 points, as you are 10% slower, multiplied by 10.  So if 2 hours behind, 20% slower, so earn 800 points.  A simple, but really good formula to take into account different length races over different terrains.  The series is determined by adding up the points from the runner’s four best races, provided that there must be at least one points scoring race from each distance category.

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2006

Places unknown

Places unknown

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2007



Allen Smalls

Places unknown

Martin Beale


Place unknown


Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2008
So back to 2008 and I note that Matt Giles had earned himself 2000 points by winning the first two races of the year.  Living in East Sussex since 2002, each year I had raced the Beachy Head Marathon (formerly known as the Seven Sisters marathon) and I just so happened to win it the first four times I ran it. Then in 2006, although not making any excuses, my preparation hadn’t gone to well, having been injured for 3 or 4 months during the summer.  Back then I used to believe that race performance was all determined by one’s physical training (now I know better!)  So back in October 2006, I am on the start line of the Beachy Head marathon with rather low self expectations, and as one’s expectations largely determine one’s performance, I got severely beaten into second place, with Matt Giles winning in exactly 3 hours.  Then to ‘top things off’, I discovered that he had simply run the Beachy Head marathon as part one of the three marathon challenge (that used to be possible then before Snowdon marathon moved to a Saturday), consisting of Beachy Head on Saturday, Snowdon on Sunday and Dublin on Monday.  So seeing his name on the Vasque website one and a half years later, gave me some satisfaction in that I was beaten in my local marathon by obviously a pretty awesome endurance runner, who found running one marathon a simple stroll in the park.

While on the Vasque series website I notice that one of the series races is down near me in East Sussex, and being at the end of July, the 30 mile Downland Challenge seemed a perfect London to Brighton  preparation  ultra race.  Maybe I would get a chance to have a re-match with Matt, and this time I would be physically prepared! (Yes, start of 2008, I still didn’t understand about the integration of the body and mind!)  Come race day, it is a really hot summer’s day.  In preparation for the 56mile London to Brighton, I decided that running with a hydration pack would be a good idea, so the Downland Challenge was going to be my first race wearing my newly purchased Camelbak.  Being a total novice, and knowing no better, I filled up the Camelbak with a 6% carbohydrate solution.  What’s wrong with that, many may be thinking.  I’ll explain later in this story, which looks like it is heading to mega ultra lengths!
I guess around 150 – 200 runners gather at the start of the Downland Challenge, ready for a lap around the village field before the long steady climb past the Jack and Jill windmills, to get up to the ridge of the South Downs and join the South Downs Way.  The gun goes, and everyone just jogs off.  Usually I will blast to the front, but with this being my first ever ultra (apart from the 1992 Kepler Challenge in New Zealand, but that story is for another day), I decide that these guys know best, especially with it being part of the UK series championships.  I hold myself back as we slowly complete the lap and then I am happy as the heart rate rises as the intensity increases as we make our way up the long and steady climb.  We reach the top and I am finding the relaxed pace of this ultra lark quite enjoyable.  A bit different to trail-marathon racing, as the pace feels so much slower, and guys are actually chatting.  So I join in with the conversation, and think to myself, I guess the racing starts later on.  Below is a photo of the lead group of four at around the three mile mark.  I didn’t know at the time, but I am running with Andy Rankin (620), who will get a few mentions later in this blog post, and a chap from South Africa (708).  

 Downland Challenge 30 Miler 2008
It was good chatting to the South African guy, as around seven weeks earlier he had finished the 56 mile Comrades marathon, and I was interested to hear more about this Classic ultra race.  He mentioned that his finish time was I think around 7 hours 30 mins.  I did some quick calculations and thought that didn’t seem excessively fast.  So combined with my assessment that anyone running in football style shorts, rather that proper running shorts, obviously can’t be a decent runner, I was happy to run along in the bunch, chat away, and then plan to hopefully leave them behind when the time felt right.  Yes, I didn’t know it at the time, but the fact that I had high expectations of winning, based on obviously genuine hard fact evidence, such as what shorts they raced in, and a 56 mile road finishing time (bearing in mind I had no idea of the heat or terrain of the Comrades in South Africa), was probably one of the key factors that contributed to my win that day.  Oops, I have given away what happens, oh well.
The race progresses and we reach the first check point/drink station at the A27 crossing, after around 8 miles.  As it is already quite hot, I think it was an 11:00 am start, we must be stationary at the checkpoint for over half a minute, perhaps a minute.  I do recall thinking, should we get a move on, after all this is meant to be a race, but I wait for the more experienced ultra runners.  Anyway at the 15 mile turn around point, (the race is an out and back), it is just me running with Andy.  Then as we start to return back I significantly up the intensity, I drop Andy and pretty well work hard all the way back to the finish.  I guess it is around a third of the way back, that the sugary sweet carbohydrate drink in my Camelbak, which by now is pretty warm, due to the 30 degree heat, is now undrinkable.  So by the time I get to the A27 drink station I am dying for some water.  I take on a few cups, including a few over my head, and then make my way up the tough climb back up to the ridge along the South Downs.  Two miles later I reach the top, and again dying for some water.  The heat reflecting of the white chalk path doesn’t help.  I have loads of liquid on my back, but undrinkable.  I learn my first lesson from ultra trail racing, only put water into the Camelbak and carry the carbohydrate separate from the water.  So the last few miles to the finish are quite a struggle, I am quite pleased that my first ultra trail race is only 30 miles.  Luckily I have a significant lead, so manage to hold on to the win, ahead of a pretty fast finishing team mate from Brighton and Hove Athletic  Club, Gary Woolgar, with I think Andy Rankin finishing 4th (916 points).  I earn my 1000 points, and am really happy with my first venture into ultra-trail racing.  I even win a pair of Vasque trail shoes, a real bonus.  I conclude that I could really get into this ultra trail racing!
So that was my first experience of the UK Ultra-Running Championships.  Andy would go on to finish 2nd overall in the 2008 series.  Also racing the Downland Challenge that day was Martin Beale (900 points) who had finished the 2007 series in 2nd place, and he went on to finish in 3rd place overall in the 2008 series.  The winner of the UK Ultra-Running Championships for 2008 was one of the series creators, Mark Hartell.  The Downland Challenge was the only ultra race from the series that I raced in 2008, however, I raced and won two other ultra trail races that year, the 85 mile Ridgeway Challenge and my target race for the year, the 56 mile London to Brighton trail race.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2008



Mark Hartell

Nicky Spinks
Andy Rankin

Christine Preston
Martin Beale

Clare Kenny

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2009
The following year, 2009, I decide to potentially target the Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships, but this would be secondary to my target race for the year being Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB).  Yes, following my three ultra successes from 2008, with two of these with 1 hour 40mins, and 2 hour 40 min wins, all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, finally after 30 years of running, I finally considered that perhaps I was a ‘good’ runner.  So where do good ultra trail runners race?  Yes, the biggest, most prestigious ultra trail race in Europe.  Yes, UTMB, my ultra journey was on a rapid upward curve, with a new belief in my self expectations!  Little did I know what would follow with this new inner confidence.
First destination for 2009 was the 53 mile Highland Fling up in Scotland, which was one of the Vasque series races.  Running the first mile in the London to Brighton 56 mile race in October 2008 in 5 mins 57 secs (See GarminConnect data) worked well, so I head to Glasgow with a simple plan.  Blast out immediately from the gun, with another sub 6 minute mile and see how many miles it will be before Jez Bragg (UK number one ultra trail runner) or any of the other elite runners catch me.  The field for the Highland Fling was particularly strong, as not only was the race part of the UK Ultra-running Championships, but also a selection race for the UK team to the IAU World Ultra Trail Championships taking place in France later in the year.  Looking back now at my race plan, it amazes me how I had the ‘cheek’ to think that I could simply run away from and beat the best ultra trail runners in the UK.  In my UTMB 2011 race report I highlighted how harmful a downward spiral could be.  But one needs to be also aware of how beneficial an upwards spiral is.  And at the start of 2009, I was in the middle of a massive upward spiral!
Well if you don’t know what happened at the 2009 Highland Fling, I’ll let Jez Bragg describe: 
The start of the race was rather bizarre as one of the runners, Stuart Mills, went tearing off into the distance as if it was a 10km pace. Afterwards he confessed that his tactics were to try and disrupt things amongst the front runners, although no one in the chasing group I was in seemed that bothered, and like me they thought the pace would not be sustainable. As it turned out, Stuart went astray very early in the race and was never able to recover sufficiently to compete like he is capable of. This was a great shame because a runner of his ability was a potentially a great asset to the race.” Jez Bragg
 Highland Fling 2009 - My rapid start - Jez wearing the white cap

Yes, I took off at a pretty quick pace.  Got a good lead, out of sight within the first mile, and then went off course shortly after, losing 28 minutes, which really affected my RPE-RFE arrow, causing it to swing massively upwards, (although I didn’t know about how negativity affects performance back then).  So I attributed my struggling during the last 10 or so miles as perhaps lack of ‘talent’, rather that realising that so many other factors, apart from physiology; such as emotions, anger, negativity can massively affect performance.   However, I was beginning to question my perceive self expectations.  Maybe I just wasn’t as good as my newly instilled confidence was telling me!  I earned a lowly 855 points for the series, finishing over an hour behind Jez, the easy winner.

 Highland Fling 2009 - Finishing - Nice to see a New Zealand flag in the background

Just three weeks later I am on the start line of the next series race, the 33 mile Marlborough Challenge.  In between the two races I had been on an Outdoor Experience camp with students down in Bude, Cornwall. My blistered big toe from the Highland Fling got severely infected, and I started the race in a poor state, still taking antibiotics.  The race commences and although I am well aware that I am not in tip-top condition, I am in urgent need to put aside my disappointing performance in the Highland Fling, to allow me to re-continue along my upward spiral.  I therefore go straight to the front, but there is a lack of self-belief, as I expect that it would be a struggle today.  And as I later discover, what you expect often eventuates.  I therefore ease off and allow two runners to catch me.  I think I recognise the runners, we get chatting, and one is Matt Giles, who beat me at the 2006 Beachy Head Marathon.  The other runner is Allen Small, who had finished third at the recent Highland Fling.  Upon discovering I am up against Matt Giles, his two out of two wins in the series from 2008 convince me, that with my less than ideal physical state today, I will be no match.  The three of us run together to just before halfway, where we join the canal path.  The pace is reasonably quick alongside the canal, but not excessively quick, however, whether due to the effects of the antibiotics, or due to a lack of high expectation, I am unable to stay with them and they quickly leave me behind.
I continue, trying to remain positive, and to enjoy the journey as the course is quite scenic.  But then around the 20 mile mark I receive a massive negativity jolt.  Yes, the perceived rubbish runner from last year’s Downland Challenge, you know the guy, the one wearing football style shorts over takes me.  Even though Andy Rankin had finished fourth up at the Highland Fling, I still didn’t really rate him due to his shorts.  I have since learnt that no matter what shorts people wear they can still be pretty awesome runners (take Killian Jornet and his long white shorts as an example!)  I eventually finish in 5th place, behind Matt and Allen who happen to finish first equal, so both earning 1000 points, (I will come back to this issue of joint first places a little bit later!)  Again my points score is rather lower than I was hoping for.  With 935 points, an improvement from Scotland, but with only 1790 points from two races, I decide that UTMB will take sole priority for the remainder of the year, and I run in no more of the series races during 2009.
The Vasque UK series during 2009 was quite unique due to the introduction of a 100 point bonus.  Yes, it was decided, I presume due to the Lakeland 100 (at 105 miles) being so much further than the other races in the series (Fellsman next longest at 60 miles), or maybe to attract entries to the race, and to help establish the Lakeland 100 as the premier UK ultra trail race (as it has since become). I not really sure of the reasons, but at the time the concept seemed reasonable, that is until the final points were tallied up for the year.

As mentioned earlier, Jez Bragg was clearly the number one UK ultra trail runner in 2009.  Not only had he won four of the series races to earn 4000 points, he had also achieved a very impressive 3rd place in the iconic Western States 100 miler in the USA.  However, due to the 100 point bonus at the Lakeland 100, the UK series champion for 2009 was Andy Rankin, with 4032 points, winning only two races, but the all important Lakeland 100.  During the Lakeland 100 Andy did actually beat Jez, who finished in 3rd place.  So I don’t want to take anything away from his great performance that day, but I along with I guess Mark, Karen, and Si from Runfurther, also felt that the 100 point bonus had had too much of an influence on the series results, so for 2010 the 100 point bonus was removed.  However, come 2010, I was not aware of this until midway through the year, with this misunderstanding over the bonus, possibly influencing the final series result for 2010!
My 2009 racing picked up following Marlborough, firstly with a close second place to Andy Rankin in the Picnic Marathon over a very hilly Box Hill course.  Yes, this guy could run very well.  Unfortunately, the Picnic marathon race in June 2009 was the last time I have seen him at a race.  I heard he got injured, but all I know is that he hasn’t raced any of the UK series races during the last three years.  A big shame, as I would love to race against him again.  I next won an absolutely amazing 57 mile race titled the Classic Cliffs, put on by Endurancelife along the Cornwall and Devon coastal trail, and finished just behind Scott Jurek and Liz Hawker in 22nd place in UTMB, and then had wins in both the Beachy Head marathon and the 30 mile Doyen of the Downs ultra.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2009 (100 point bonus for Lakeland 100)


Andy Rankin

Rachel Lawrence
Jez Bragg

Nicky Spinks
Allen Smalls

Karen Nash

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2010
Yes, during the second half of 2009, my race performances, my self perceptions and therefore my self expectations were resulting in further progression in the upwards direction of the all important spiral. The 2010 year was therefore going to be the year!  Number one focus was the Runfurther UK Trail-running Championships.  I mapped out my four races for the year, starting with the Hardmoors 55 miler in the extreme cold of mid-March.  It was here that I met and was able to chat at length with THE John Kynaston of ultra blog fame.  Yes, John is the person you should blame for these massively long blog posts.  John was my inspiration for starting UltraStu – Millsy’s Memories and Mutterings.  Therefore you will find somewhere on UltraStu, race reports for all of my races since and including the Hardmoors 55 race report.

 Hardmoors 55 2010
Anyway, although a very tough days racing, all went to plan and I got my 1000 points.  Next stop was eight weeks later, with a return to the Marlborough Challenge series race, but this time better prepared both physically, but more importantly mentally.  I had by now begun to realise what really influences performance in ultra-trail running.  My Marlborough race report pretty well explains what happened on the day, except for one factor, which I’ll expand on. As my race report explains, at around the 25 mile mark I get a few twitches from my hamstring, so decide to ease off the pace, rather than risk injury, resulting in possibly needing to walk and thereby losing loads of points.  I therefore finish in 3rd place to Allen Smalls, who wins for the second year in a row improving on his record time. However, at the time of the Marlborough race I thought that there was still the 100 point bonus at the Lakeland 100, my number one focus race of the year.  So one of the key factors that made it more of a straight forward decision to not risk potentially losing loads of points by trying to stay with Allen, was that losing a few points at Marlborough, would be totally insignificant assuming I win the Montane Lakeland 100 and earn 1100 points.  It wasn’t until checking the Runfurther website, after the Marlborough race that I realised that this year there was no mention of the bonus.  Oh well I better make sure I get at least 1000 points from the Montane Lakeland100 then, I positively concluded!
So come the end of July, the 1000 points were achieved with a win which was overall pretty exhausting as described in my race report!  My series win ambition was back on track.  I had 2985 points from my three races.  Which just so happened to be identical points to Jon Morgan, who had the same number of points from his two wins, and a second place finish in the Lakeland 50 race to Andrew James (remember that name!).
 Montane Lakeland 100 2010

My fourth race needed for the series, was the last short race of the year, the 26(27?) mile Pumlumon Challenge in mid Wales.  This was going to be the show down, as Jon Morgan was also racing!  My TOTAL preparation was complete come race day, including a solo recce of the entire course in drizzly rain.  Yes all was set for an exciting battle to decide the 2010 Runfurther UK Trail-running Championship series.  You will have to go to my blog post race report to get the full picture of what happened.  Re-reading the report now, I still feel the report was an accurate reflection of what happened.  Out of all of my now 88 blog posts, this one post still has the greatest number of comments, so important that you read the comments that follow the report as well.
 Pumlumon Challenge 2010 - Mark Hartell dark green shirt and Jon Morgan red vest and cap
To save you a bit of time in reading the lengthy race report, I finished in 3rd place, six minutes behind joint winners (again!) Jon Morgan and Ben Abdelnoor, thereby, only earning 974 points and hence unable to overtake Jon’s point tally of 3985 points.  Jon therefore was the overall winner of the 2010 UK series. 
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2010 No bonus points this year)



Jon Morgan

Kate Bailey
Stuart Mills

Nicky Spinks
Duncan Harris

Sarah Rowell

One real bonus from the 2010 Pumlumon race was having a good chat with many of the ever present Runfurther/Vasque series runners.  It was great to meet and chat with MarkHartell after the race.  Being aware of his many great trail/fell running achievements, including eleven times winner of the Fellsman, Hardrock USA winner, and Lake District 24 hour record holder to name just a few.  To have finished ahead of him was a real boost to the ego!  Meeting another ever present, Martin Beale was also a real pleasure.  His series record over the years is pretty impressive, but I can’t tell you of his achievements yet, as I haven’t commented on 2011 yet.  Probably the most ever present of all Runfurther/Vasque runners is the one and only Nick Ham.  Yes, having read about Nick, and also read his blog, it was a real pleasure to meet ‘Mr Runfurther’ himself at the Pumlumon race.
In addition to the overall series winner, based on the highest points from four races, there is a second competition that is for the person that achieves the most points from as many races as they can manage.  But possibly the most prestigious of all, is achieving the Grand Slam.  That is completing all 12 races in the single year.  Bearing in mind that on frequent occasions there are two races on consecutive weekends, achieving the grand slam is a massive achievement!  Nick has achieved this impressive ultra feat twice, and on track this year to achieve it for the third time.  In total from all of the previous six years of the series, I understand that there is still less than ten people who have achieved the 12 race grand slam within a year.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2011 (Separate points for women)
As much as I enjoyed racing the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series in 2010, I decide that the series would not be my key focus for 2011.  The focus for this year would be a return visit to Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, plus also an attempt at getting selected for the Great Britain team to compete at the IAU World TrailChampionships that was schedule to take place in Connemara, Ireland in July,  (Note; the IAU World Champs only take place every two years).  I would compete in series races when able to, so during 2011 I competed in two series races.  The first series race was, back up in Scotland, the 53 mile Highland Fling.  As back in 2009, the field was extremely strong, with it again being a UK Athletics selection race for the World champs.  My race report goes into detail what happens, but I end up in sixth place, quite some distance behind winner Andrew James, who caused an upset by beating Jez Bragg into second place (race report).  Due to finishing nearly forty minutes behind I earned a rather low 916 points.  One real bonus, which  I would have considered impossible just a few years earlier, was that I got selected to represent GB at the World Ultra Trail Champs!  Yes, the upward spiral had taken me higher than I could have ever imagined.  Amazing what a bit of positivity and self belief can achieve!

 Highland Fling 2011 - Andrew James with white cap, Jez Bragg in white with dark glasses, me in orange

 Highland Fling 2011 - Chasing Andrew James and Jez Bragg (just visible in the distance!)

In preparation for the World champs I race and win the 35 miles Shiresand Spires series race, and get my 1000 points (race report).  The race win gives me a confidence boost leading into the World Champs, and I manage to run probably my best ultra-trail race to date  in Connemara, and finish in 15th place overall, which also happened to be the first GB finisher.  Only seven weeks later, I have my most disappointing ultra-trail experience, with a DNF at UTMB.  My race report explains in detail the effect a downward spiral can have. 

With regards to the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series in 2011, Andrew James had decided to target it, and by the end of May, it looked like it had pretty well already sewn up the series, with wins at Highland Fling and Marlborough, and a 2nd place at the Brecon Beacons, (all within the space of 3 weeks!), to be on 2942 points.  Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for racing, perhaps over racing, possibly contributed to a reasonable serious injury that put him out of action for the majority of the series. 

So leading into the last race of the series, the 50 mile Round Rotherham, Andrew was still on 2942 points.   There were a number of runners in contention for the overall series win prior to the Round Rotherham, many of them on the start line for series race number 12, to try to obtain the overall series win.  Apparently upon seeing Andrew James on the start line as well, and being aware of his extremely impressive performances earlier in the year, it was just assumed that their hopes were dashed, Andrew was bound to obtain loads of points and take out the series win.  Little did they know that Andrew’s preparation had been less than ideal, which resulted in him finishing in only 8th place and only earning 897 points.  When all the calculations were complete and the tallies totalled up, unbelievably, after hours and hours of racing during the year, there was only 2 points separating first and second place.  Andrew James, although finishing 19 minutes behind the ever present Martin Beale who had finished in 4th place, Andrew obtained a total of 3839 points from his four races, compared to Martin’s 3837 points from his best four races.  The closest series finish to date!  Just to illustrate the closeness of the series win.  After over 24 hours of racing during the year, if Martin had finished the Round Rotherham race only 49 seconds quicker, he would have earnt the extra two points and won the series outright, due to having more points in his fifth race (Andrew only ran four races).  The winner of the 2011 Round Rotherham race was Ian Symington (winning time of 6:47:14), earning him 1000 points for his first time.  His name will appear again when this blog post finally reaches 2012.

Looking at the results over the years, Martin Beale must without doubt be the most consistent runner.  I don't know what happened in 2006, but since then his overall series placings have been: 2nd in 2007, 3rd in 2008, 4th in 2009, 4th in 2010, that extremely close 2nd in 2011, and is currently in 4th place in 2012.  Yes, truly deserving of a special mention.

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2011 (Separate points for women)



Andrew James

Helen Skelton
Martin Beale

Karen Nash
Jim Rogers

Rachel Hill

Finally I have reached 2012.  If you wish to avoid my memories of the previous years, START READING HERE for the 2012 series showdown preview!

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2012 after 11 races



Ian Symington

Helen Skelton
Stuart Walker

Karen Nash
Chris Davies

Gerry Dewhurst
Martin Beale

Catherine Bradley
Only 3 races so far

Only 3 races so far

Duncan Harris

Lucy Clayton

Yes, similar to 2011, the mens Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series is going to be decided on the final race. However, the women's championship is already sewn up.  Yes no matter what happens at the last race of the series, Helen Skelton will be the series winner for the second year in a row.  With 3949 points, this is an outstanding effort.  The minor places are still up for grabs, so still plenty of interest in the women's competition.  But before I discuss this exciting finale to the series, especially the 'cliff hanging' finish to the men's championships, I will first recap my involvement in the series this year. 

My focus race for 2012 was the Montane Lakeland 100.  Because this race now sells out in a matter of days in the preceding September or October when entries open, it is no longer part of the Runfurther series.  I presume that is the reason.  It's a bit of a shame really, as the Montane Lakeland 100 is without doubt THE ultra trail race in the UK.  So the intention was to do series races when they fitted in, but it was most unlikely that I would race four of the series races during the year.  Unfortunately, I had a stress fracture in my foot at the start of the year, and combined with going to New Zealand for a few months I therefore missed the first five races.  The winners of these races included some familiar names, i.e. Jez Bragg, Duncan Harris and Ian Symington, more about them later.  My first and only series race this year was the  Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 mile coastal trail ultra along the Cornwall coastal path, finishing at Lands End.  This race went really well, winning by nearly an hour, and is described in detail in my race report

Following this race, I improved on my winning time from 2010 in the Montane Lakeland 100, but the standard had dramatically moved on in the last two years,so I only finished in 5th place, around three and three quarter hours behind the winner Terry Conway.  I then had the misfortune of having to DNF the three day Ring O Fire ultra race due to repeatedly being sick.  So racing this year has been mixed fortunes for me.  Although I'm hoping to finish on a really positive note at the end of October in my local Beachy Head marathon, which will be the eleventh time I have raced it.

 Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 Mile 2012

Back to the first five races of the series with familiar names of the winners.  You may have noticed Duncan Harris's name above, as getting third overall in the 2010 series.  Yes, during 2010 Duncan emerged as a force to be reckoned with.  I understand that he is a former road cyclist, so he has a background in endurance sport.  In 2010 he obtained his first 1000 points, at the prestigious 60 mile Fellsman, beating eleven times Fellsman winner Mark Hartell into second place.  I have mentioned the significance of the upward spiral and the importance of confidence on ultra trail running performance.  Well it appears to me that following this outstanding and surprising result at the Fellsman, Duncan's performances have improved dramatically.  Following the Fellsman he finished a strong third in the 2010 Montane Lakeland 100, and grabbed 1000 points at the last two races of the series, the High Peak 40 and the Round Rotherham 50 (in a winning time of 6:29:35).  Duncan started the following year, 2011, the same way with another 1000 points at the first series race, the Wuthering Hike 33miler.  Unfortunately during this race he fractured his tibia or fibula, one of these bones, which put him out for the rest of the year.  So it was great to see him back winning again in 2012 at the same opening series race.  This win was closely followed up with a win at the Shires and Spires race in May, beating my course record by 4 minutes. 

An interesting aside here, is that the Shires and Spires 35 mile race in the Northamptonshire countryside is quite a demanding race in terms of navigation, with there being many footpaths, bridleways and country lanes to locate.  Both Duncan in 2012, and me in 2011 had our problems.  Although Duncan beat my course record by 4 minutes and 33 seconds, he actually covered 0.63 miles less than me (36.11 miles versus 35.48 miles).  When looking at our GarminConnect GPS traces; mine and Duncan's, the average running times are identical at 7:13 minute mile pace, however, in terms of average running/moving time (so taking into account time stopped checking the map etc.), then I am faster by one second per mile; 7:06 pace to Duncan's 7:07 minute mile pace.  Also interesting is to see the difference in the mile splits, with me running most of the mile splits in the first half of the race quicker, due to my "Run as fast as you can, while you can strategy", and Duncan running most of the mile splits in the second half quicker.  Although Duncan officially holds the course record, I'll focus on the GPS data!

I highlighted the name of Ian Symington above as the winner of the last series race of 2011, the Round Rotherham (6:47:14).  Well, he achieved his second 1000 points with a win in the Calderdale Hike 37miler in April this year  Since these first five races of the series, Duncan has gone on to win one further series race, the High Peak 40, while Ian has continued his great form with two further series race wins; the Long Tour of Bradwell (33 miles) and the Hardmoors 60. Jez has been busy racing overseas this year, so his Fellsman win has been his only appearance in the series, and his name isn't on the start list for the last series race the Round Rotherham.  A bit of a shame, as his appearance would really spice up this race, not that it needs spicing up though!

So who is my money on?  Ian or Duncan winning the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship for 2012?  Both of their names are on the start list for the Round Rotherham 50 mile.  Back in July at the Montane Lakeland 100 I had the pleasure of running with both of them at various times.  For the first 50 miles there wasn't much between us.  In fact at checkpoint 7, at the end of the coach road, in the very early hours of the morning, all three of us were standing together.  Ian went on to finish fourth, I finished fifth, and Duncan DNFed at checkpoint 8.  However, I have raced Duncan on two other occasions, both in 2010, and the score is one all, so I know he is a pretty fierce racer.  Looking at the finishing times for the 2010 and 2011 Round Rotherham races, Duncan's time is nearly 18 minutes quicker, although Ian has definitely progressed significantly since October 2011.  So taking into account all of this information, sorry Ian, but my money is on Duncan.  All Duncan has to do to win the series outright is to finish ahead of Ian by either 24 seconds, (or 12 seconds depending if 0.55 of a point behind is rounded to one point behind), assuming no super speedster turns up and beats Duncan so convincingly that he earns less than 888 points.  Very, very unlikely to happen!

 Montane Lakeland 100 2012 - First and second climbs - Ian in black close behind

 Montane Lakeland 100 2012 - Second climb Ian and Duncan chasing me down
(Please excuse the copyright abuse - I purchased the prior two Lakeland 100 photos!)

All Ian needs to do to win the overall UK champs for 2012 is to finish within 12 or 24 seconds of Duncan. (I know if I was either Ian or Duncan I would be checking with Mark, Karen or Si at Runfurther finding out what is required!) If this happened, they would both finish on identical points, but Ian would then win due to the following rule: "In the unlikely event that more than one person scores a maximum, the overall championship will be determined by taking the next best scores (above 4 races)."  I wonder if Duncan and Ian are aware of what happens if they finish on equal points?  Is a tie likely?  Well there have been quite a few ties during series races in the past, so quite possible!  Which leads me nicely into some Millsy Mutterings to finish this blog post off.

When is an ultra trail race not a race?  Well to me, it is not a race when a tie takes place.  Over the last five years (I don't have results for 2006, 2007) of the Vasque/Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championships, there have been quite a few ties for first place.  Just this year, there have been ties for first place at the Shires and Spires, the Bullock Smithy, and the Hardmoors 60 series races.  What is happening here at these races?  Is there anything wrong with a tie for first place?  As I have never been involved in a tie at a race, I am totally unaware how they come about.  But here is an excerpt from Jon Morgan's 2009 Long Tour of Bradwell race report where he finished 1st equal with Allen Smalls:
"It was exciting to be alone out front for half an hour or so, but Allen caught me by the top of Padley Gorge and we ran the rest of the race together. I was slightly disarmed by the ease at which he was able to hold conversation. Very disarmed by tales of his needing to get big mileage in before long events, and running all night in a training run, before doing a days work immediately on finishing...
From Abney onwards it was ground I had been on hundreds of times, but I was paying for my speedy section along Stanage and now it was hard to get the heart rate up to 140. But it was new to Allen, so I led us down through the steep descent to Bradwell, legging it down the main street afterwards. He didn't know quite how spent I was, so I was totally delighted when he agreed to my suggestion of coming in together. A complete result for the worlds worst sprinter..."
So it appears that during a long ultra race, after two runners have spent some time running together that an agreement is made between them to finish in a tie for first, so both of them are able to 'enjoy' the satisfaction of winning the race.  Now I may be getting on 'touchy ground' here, and could possibly upset a few people, but I will continue, after all my blog isn't titled Millsy's Mutterings for nothing!  I know most people run trail races for the internal challenge, the satisfaction within, from running to their best, not specifically racing other people, but mainly racing, or better termed, challenging themselves.  Some people run trail races, simply to enjoy the countryside and the companionship.  The quickness of their time is totally irrelevant.  Then there are others who specifically do trail races, to race others, to challenge themselves against others, and use their performance in relation to others as a guide to how they performed and this performance to others is related to their enjoyment/success from the event.  Different people run trail races for different reasons, and that is one of the real strengths of the trail running community in that it is totally all inclusive.

Back to the tying for first place issue, you will never find me finishing in a pre-arranged tie for first place.  Yes, I may finish in a tie with another runner for a position lower down the field.  I am happy with this concept, as in most situations, unless it is a personal battle against a training partner, or maybe a brother-in-law, then I may not be specifically competing against that single person.  More often than not a trail race is a personal internal challenge, and finishing one or two seconds quicker, by sprinting for 15th or 115th place wouldn't massively alter my perception of my achievement.  But  I do think differently in terms of a tie for the win?  In just about every trail race I have competed in, the winner of the event is acknowledged with either a trophy or a prize, and with the extent of the trophy/prize usually decreasing in size/value in relation to 2nd and 3rd place.  Therefore the race organisers are clearly acknowledging that their event is a race, and they are wanting to celebrate / reward the winner and high place-getters.  So by runners agreeing to finish together in a tie, isn't it removing the race element from the race and depriving the race organisers, the spectators, and the other runners of the excitement and intrigue of the competitive battle?

Recently there has been quite a bit of controversy when in the Berlin Marathon the leading two runners did not compete for the win!  It appear that they had a prearranged agreement on who was going to win.  Below are some comments:

The above image is from the website.  The article is copied below:

Geoffrey Mutai Wins 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon and World Marathon Major Title in Bizarre Finish

After running stride for stride for 26.2 miles and on world-record pace until the final two miles, Geoffrey Mutai edged training partner Dennis Kimetto to win the 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon in 2:04:15 to Kimetto's 2:04:16 in a truly bizarre finish. The win netted Mutai the 2011-2012 World Marathon Majors title and $500,000 and started the speculation of: 'Did Kimetto let his training partner Mutai win Berlin?'What you ask? Let him win?

Yes, that's what we wrote.  Coming down the stretch it did not look like a foot race to win a major marathon, it did not look like a foot race to win anything. Mutai was in front and Kimetto was a couple of strides behind on his left. That’s how it remained until the finish. No frantic kick or grimaces on either guy’s face.  Throw in the fact, the winner of the World Marathon Major title gets $500,000, second place gets $0*, and the speculation that Kimetto let Mutai win is even louder.

Here are some of the live reactions  that were written on the message board as the race was finishing: “This was clearly one athlete letting the other one win. The least they could have done was pretend to fight it out. With drug scandals, etc Athletics takes another dive into the gutter. Would be interesting to see what odds the betting companies were offering”, “this honestly was the most fake-looking thing i’ve seen in a while. Neither even appeared to care for the last 7k they were alone together (sic)”, “I can buy that they were both hurting bad, but even so you would at least expect their body language to change as they approached the finish line. Maybe it was there and I missed it, but they seemed to approach the finish line in the same manner as they approached any other of the course markers” and “the splits don’t tell the whole story here. Kimetto did not even try to sprint, so clearly, he had more to gain by coming second than by winning.”If you don’t want to listen to someone posting on an anonymous message board, how about one of the official broadcasters of the marathon on Universal Sports saying as the finish is happening, “If anything, it may be a preplanned thing you know.” The integrity of our sport is at stake.

One of the unique aspects of sport is that there is competition.  Often it is only the competitive element that makes sport interesting.  Ultra trail racing over the last few years has grown massively in both participation numbers and in follower numbers.  Take for example the new Talk Ultrapodcast.  I don’t know what their current download numbers are but I think their first podcast at the start of this year had in the region of ten thousand downloads.  (Ian Corless if you are reading this blog post, please could you provide the latest Talk Ultra podcast statistics).  Anyway whether one thousand or ten thousand, it is a lot of people who are interested in what is happening in ultra-trail competitions around the World.  Often the podcasts consist of Ian discussing with other runners who they think will win an upcoming ultra trail race.  So there is obviously now quite an interest in who wins various races.  So just as there was outrage at the non competitive finish at the recent Berlin marathon, is it not the same for prearranged ties for first place in ultra trail races?

Yes, I know that ultra trail running is much, much more than competing to win.  But I feel those runners that are privileged to be in a position to compete for a win, should not ‘devalue’ the competitive aspect of ultra-trail racing by not ‘giving it their all’.  For a wee while when I was reading various blog posts on this year's Montane Lakeland 100, I was beginning to feel a bit paranoid, that maybe I was a bit strange.  Maybe I was wrong in enjoying the competitive element of ultra trail racing, in addition to all of the other elements.  Maybe it was improper for me to actually race the ultra trail race!  Then finally, I knew that at least there was one other person who has a similar few to mine, when I read second equal (yes a prearranged tie for 2nd place) place-getter at this year’s Montane Lakeland 100, Paul Tierney’s blog post report, on his blog titled Over trails and hills.  Here is what Paul wrote:

“... there is nothing more satisfying than running long distances in such a beautiful place. It's almost meditative. But that's why we go and do these runs outside of the races we enter. Racing is something I do because it satisfies my competitive side, as well as being a great social occasion, surrounded by like minded people. It wouldn't necessarily matter where I eventually finish the race, as long as I feel I have given my best but there is a part of me that feels I didn't do that by running with someone else. I'm not suggesting that Barry held me back or that I would have finished ahead of him but it stands to reason that if you run for that long with someone else there will be occasions when you dont run your own pace, thus meaning you haven't run as well at all times as you might have. While speaking with Ian Corless of Talk Ultra after the race Barry suggested that "we" aren't worried about racing and that "it's all about the journey". I dont feel that way. I, more than most, love to run in beautiful places like the Lake District. But I'd prefer to "race" when the time comes.”

So as this year’s Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship comes to its conclusion at the final race of the 12 race series at the Round Rotherham 50 mile the weekend after next, I for one am interested in knowing who wins the competitive battle, and therefore who wins the overall championship.  I just only hope that the result is not another pre-arranged tie for first place, with both Ian and Duncan thinking that they would both then end up with 4000 points each and therefore be joint winners of the UK Championships.  This I feel would be an injustice to the sport of ultra trail running, and in some ways could be interpreted as an insult to not only Mark, Karen and Si and their various helpers, who put in loads of time and effort, first creating the series, and then in making it happen and prosper year after year, but to all of the other 286 runners within this year’s series who have tried there hardest to score as many point as they can. 

I think now is probably a good time to sign off, before I potentially upset some trail runners with my perhaps ‘old fashioned’ competitive views!  Instead of signing off with a quote, for a change I will sign off with a thanks.  So to all race directors and race committees, marshals, officials, etc., “I would like to express my huge thanks for all the time and effort, energy and enthusiasm you all put in, to put on ultra trail races.  It is through your massive efforts that you bring so much enjoyment to so many runners.  Thanks.” Stuart Mills

Well done to everyone that has participated in this year’s Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championships.  Thanks for contributing to the great ultra trail community.


I had an enjoyable run last Sunday.  I was aware that the Extreme Energy Vanguard Way Multistage Ultra was passing nearby to my village in East Sussex, so I decided to run along the Vanguard Way to watch them pass.  I met the lead group of five lead runners at Blackboys and they were having a wee bit of trouble navigating the route, as the Vanguard Way isn’t very well way-marked.  So I decided to join them and had an enjoyable hour or so ‘guiding’ the runners for the next seven miles, so they didn’t get lost.  Although at times I got the feeling that they weren’t overly impressed with my non-stop chatting, due to me being fresh, compared to them being half way through the second day of a pretty demanding 70 mile off-road race, and beginning to experience the effects of their strenuous efforts!

Today being the 10th of October 2012 is a special occasion, in that it is 20 years exactly to the day, and pretty well to the hour, that I was completing the 1992 Hawaii Ironman.  Yes, prior to being an ultra trail runner, many years ago, I was an Ironman.  Digging out the photos from 1992 brought back such wonderful memories of such a great race and the great people I met on that trip.  Some who have remained lifelong friends.  So below are four photos from Hawaii Ironman, and maybe my experiences as an Ironman athlete, competing in a total of five Ironman event, will be the topic of a future Millsy’s Memories blog post.  Although it won’t be in the near future as no doubt you need time to recover from this post’s ultra effort, and likewise I need time to recover from the ultra effort in writing it!

Hawaii Ironman 1992 - At around the 8 mile mark

At the finish - Temporary disappointment displayed as a result of a slow run time!

Never ending support from my girlfriend, now my wife Frances

Hawaii Ironman 1992 - A truly wonderful experience!