The Places We Run – The Mudcrew Story

The Places We Run – The Mudcrew Story

It is no secret that Nicky and I love our trips to Cornwall. We’ve tackled some truly amazing events in the county. Mudcrew have hosted much of our fondly remembered Cornish running. It was my great pleasure to catch up with Andrew Ferguson (Ferg) and Jane Stephens who make up ⅔ of the Mudcrew team. 

Mudcrew’s Black RAT (32 miles) was the first event I’d ever done in Cornwall. That was back in 2015. My beautiful lady wife had successfully completed the Red RAT (20 miles) in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The RAT (or Roseland August Trail) was also the first ever Mudcrew event, in 2011. That first year saw the 32 and 20 miles versions plus an 11 mile, White RAT.

Jane congratulating Nicky and myself at the end of the Black RAT
Andy Trudge waves off the RAT buses.
The start (at 5 past midnight) of the 64 mile Plague at the RAT

The RAT festival of trail running has expanded to now include The Plague (the whole of the Black RAT in both directions!). 2019 saw the introduction of BOYD24 (Bring Out Your Dead), 24 hours of repeating the brutal last section of the RAT course. Truly for the lion hearted!

Mudcrew is headed by Ferg, Jane and Andy Trudge. Jane was the last to join the team after co-founder Jo Lake went on to new challenges.

The first RAT was an ambitious undertaking with coach transport for nearly 500 people to three different start locations and 32 miles of coast path to be marked and checked. Ferg was relieved that the first year was such a great success and made the effort that had gone into creating it worthwhile.

It was a huge learning curve though. I didn’t finish marking the course until 5AM the day of the event, I was exhausted before the day even started.”

There weren’t the number of trail events companies that we are now spoiled with back then. Those that did exist were putting on some epic events, most of which Ferg had taken part in. Yet he felt that there was scope to add a bit more to event day than these early companies were offering.

Although they were commercial pioneers, we thought the events lacked passion…….. We wanted to put on a party afterwards, with camping, so that everyone could chill and enjoy a social evening together….. The RAT afterparty is now legendary.”

I think this picture of Nicky and I, with good friends Jan and Martin, sums the RAT trail festival just perfectly

Social media was in its infancy back then and the Mudcrew team were out there using the old school method of handing flyers to runners at other races. At The Grizzly (an epic trail race in East Devon) they tucked 1000 leaflets under car windscreen wipers. As the success of that first RAT proved, Ferg’s belief that they were offering something new and different was lapped up by the trail running community. 

Jane was already a fan by the time she joined the team:

I ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff! MudCrew had been going for a couple of years when I came on board, so I was lucky enough to join an existing company with a great following. Apart from helping out at club level, I was fairly new to the game. My first event as part of the team was the RAT in 2015…… it was amazing, I was so glad I took the plunge.

Andy, Jane and Ferg have naturally found how their individual strengths help the Mudcrew team work so effectively. Ferg points to Andy’s exceptional organisational skills:

Andy is quietly behind the scenes doing all the crucial stuff, dealing with permissions, councils, timing and safety, financials, all the real important stuff that I would be terrible at!

Ferg takes responsibility for the course and crew, plus their social media whilst Jane is, as Ferg explains:

..super organised, the smiling front face of the company, she lives and breathes Mudcrew and the sport.”

Jane tells me how when it comes to race day, the team effort culminates in the incredible experience us runners are treated to:

During the event we work very much as a team, doing what needs doing. Ferg tends to stay out on the course and Andy and I look after race HQ. I deal with the finish line and awards etc.

The much coveted ARC 100 buckles

Mudcrew’s other flagship event is the Arc Of Attrition. A winter 100 ultra marathon, ran entirely on the South West Coast. It is both revered and feared. With good reason. The finish rate is around 50% in a good year! A 50 mile race has been added to the weekend in recent years. Sharing a finish line with the 100 and starting on the stage of the iconic Minack Theatre, it is no ‘baby’ ultra marathon! 

The ARC has been digging itself into my brain since I first learned of its existence back in 2015. I even wrote a piece (here) about how I would *never* entertain such a challenge…..

I had a place in the ARC 50 for this year. I was taking it very seriously, I’ve run recees on the whole course and was training hard. Like so many of us, my challenges are on hold, which is obviously frustrating, but health must be our priority. The amount of work Mudcrew put into creating these events means these frustrations must be tenfold for them. 

As a competitor I’d been kept informed about the incredible lengths to which Jane and the team had gone in order to make the event Covid safe:

We had an incredible plan ready for the Arc that was really tricky to get right but the latest lockdown meant it was impossible.”

Both Jane and Ferg say that their favourite memories as race organisers are all about seeing those final runners through the finish line on both the RAT and the ARC. On a personal level, Jane also treasures the moment she got to present her own daughter with a RAT trophy.

A special Mudcrew welcome for all finishers

Jane and Ferg are proud of the standing and reputation their events have earned in the trail running and ultra marathon communities.

Ferg, as will we learn later, is a fan of the big ultra marathons around the world and is chuffed to link The ARC to that world.

I’m most proud that the RaidLight Arc 100 is now made it to Western States Qualification status. It was a personal ambition of mine for the race

Janes ambitions for Mudrew are simply:

To continue to grow our flagship events and to be a name known everywhere synonymous with great races!

Ferg agrees, also pointing out that they have plans to extend the scope of their latest event to be announced, The South West Traverse. This will hopefully be the next event they host, if Covid risks and restrictions are sufficiently reduced by then.

As well as celebrating every single finisher in their events, the level of elite athletes who seem to be drawn to Cornwall to take these challenges is also a source of much pride.

Both Jane and Ferg say it can be frustrating when some participants don’t understand the work that goes into their events, sometimes bombarding them with queries when they are at their most busy, in the days immediately before race day. Or indeed afterwards, when they finally allow fatigue to take over:

One of the busiest times for emails/ questions is immediately after a event when all you want to do/ can do is sleep … we can go 3 nights without sleep (or very little sleep) on the Arc sometimes.”

Mudcrew has quite a large loyal army of volunteers who help make race days so special, the ARC Angels are credited by many runners as the reason they managed to complete the event. Jane too says that their crew are the reason the events are so successful. She also has the support of her husband who, along with her daughter, make each event a genuine family affair. Although she does say “The thing I miss the most is being able to take part!

In fact, carrying on the family theme, when asked who inspires her most Jane replies:

My daughter and my close running friends.

Jane is also grateful to the support Mudcrew have received during the most challenging of years for events organisers:

Jane with daughter Emma

It has been an extremely difficult year granted, but I love how supportive the running community has been on the whole. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made (with cancellations of the RAT and the ARC particularly). It is made a little easier when you get messages supporting our decision.

Ferg also draws inspiration from local running legends such as Jo Meek and Paul Maskell.

Definitely Jo Meek , a good friend who has raced at the very highest level seemingly forever. She continues to train like a ninja and is as competitive today as ever … she shows no sign of slowing down or losing her zest for the sport

Paul Maskell is a GB 24 hour team runner who manages to mix training with family and a full time air ambulance paramedic job. 24 hour track running is by far and away the hardest discipline in the sport of ultra running, I have crewed enough of them to see how it has broken the very best in the UK.” 

The ever smiling Jane, with local running legend Paul Maskell

Mudcrew haven’t offered any virtual events during this challenging time, letting others fill that gap in our race plans. Ferg doesn’t find himself tempted to get involved but Jane has completed a few in the last year to keep her motivation levels up. She wasn’t able to create a “Lockdown gym” though, as her garage doubled as the Mudcrew store. 

Both Jane ane Ferg are clearly motivated runners, as we discover whilst delving into their impressive trail and ultra marathon accomplishments.

Like so many of us of a certain age, they both came to this wonderful sport relatively late. Ferg, around the age of 40, had finished his football career and was looking to fill that void:

I missed the social aspect and the exercise when I was too old to play anymore. I quickly found out that I was never going to be fast and that I soon got fed up with road marathons. I got into the trail ultra scene in the early days, around 2007. I did the very first Classic Quarter when there were only 18 entrants. I loved it and quickly got addicted to distance trail running.”

Jane seems to be equally addicted, she started her running journey almost 10 years ago and her glittering array of achievements in that time is extraordinary:

I started running in 2011 and ran my first marathon in 2013. I then ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff!

I have run approximately 75 marathons and ultras to date.”

Amongst this eye watering list of achievements is the 145 mile long Grand Union Canal race, which she rates as her proudest achievement to date. Jane has completed both the 100 and 50 mile versions of Centurion Running’s South Downs Way events saying the 50 is probably her favourite – “I loved the 50 because it was the second half of the 100, but in daylight!

Ferg enjoys most of the local events, he tends to support them all. I’ve bumped into him at quite a few over the years. He gets frustrated at the lack of passion he finds at some events, but has high praise for some of the South West’s epic trail races:

The Grizzly, which I’ve done at least 15 times…. As a Race Director I can see what a massive amount of work goes into it, with a mind boggling number of runners. I also really like Bys Vyken events such as the Cousin Jack, I love the passion which David puts in (Bys Vyken RD, see my interview with him here).

Ferg has also completed the Grand Union Canal Race as well as an ever growing list of epic events from across Europe and beyond. These include such classics as The Spine Race, Leadville 100 and The Golden Ring 100 in Russia.

I love to combine the sport with travel and have done several other major and low key events in Europe and beyond.”

These adventures are on hold for now. Jane and Ferg both have grand plans for 2021 if health and restrictions allow. Jane has her place in the legendary Marathon des Sables held back from last year, while Ferg has his eye on The Dragon’s Back multi day race in September. Along the way he is hoping to race in Spain and The Azores with further trips to South Africa and Thailand at the end of the year.

One fantastic Mudcrew event neither Jane and Ferg have mentioned is The Scrooge. Sadly the venue is no longer available for this Christmas trail running extravaganza. Many in the trail running community, particularly Nicky and myself, have very fond memories of dressing up in festive costumes and joining Andy, Ferg and Jane for some festive fun in Mevagissey.

In Praise of 2020 #3 Maps and Apps

First they tell me my entire record collection is in my telephone, now it seems there are maps inside my watch.

I know I’m old school, but surely there is witchcraft at play here!

Weeks spent exercising close to home, months spent shielding, avoiding contact with everyone, events cancelled, holidays postponed, shocking and anxiety inducing news day after day. We were ready for some adventure.

Charlie joins us for the shorter runs

We are lucky that we get so, so much pleasure from simply being outdoors. Walking the dog, running and once the weather and regulations allowed, swimming and cycling.

One thing we found helped us massively was to have an adventure once a week. On my day off work, we would create a route and drive to somewhere relatively local. After a longish run exploring some new trails we would treat ourselves to a snack of Double Deckers and cold Diet Coke (we take our sports nutrition very seriously!)

A city boy by birth, I am not a natural map reader. It hasn’t been unheard of for us to not actually be where my finger is pointing to on a map! In fact I’ve made a few navigation errors since I’ve been attempting these longer trail ultra marathons. I remember coming up behind some runners I’d already overtaken once in the Gower 50!

Elite athletes’ recovery nutrition

What a boon then, when I upgraded my running watch to one which can tell me which way to go! It felt like an extravagance. But not being into cars, flashy clothes etc, I reckoned I should use the extra pennies I’ve earned this year to invest in something which I would actually use.

And with it we’ve been on so many adventures………….

Nicky said it feels like being on holiday. After weeks of confining herself to very short trips from home, what a joy to go somewhere else and explore.

It’s so simple, even I can create a route!

Here’s how we do it – we find the trails and lanes on the paper map in the comfort of home, then create a route on the app which accompanies the watch, following the trails we’ve found. Then we sent it to the watch. I shit you not!

So Nicky and I get to joyfully skip around the countryside knowing that my watch will vibrate (honestly, I’m not making this up!) to warn me if we’ve gone off route. We’ve been caught out a couple of times: once we ended up wandering across somebody’s lawn. On another occasion, a landowner had build an ugly block wall across the entrance to a right of way!

Mostly, it’s been a succession of joyous adventures washed down with increasingly elaborate post run nutrition. What started as a drink and snack started to become a full on picnic as autumn arrived!

As we make our plans for 2021 (with the obvious caveats), it would be too easy to stop our adventure runs, particularly as Nicky starts to build towards her Ironman triathlon near the end of the summer. The running in most triathlons is on flat and even surfaces and so 15 miles of rocky, muddy and hilly coast path is hardly specific training. BUT, it really is good for the soul and so we will be substituting some of her longer runs with a few trips out into the countryside.

Love is….

I heard a great phrase on my favourite running podcast, Running Commentary as the festive season approached. Rob Deering, when asked about whether he might have new year’s resolutions, said he was going further and more in depth with his plans for 2021. He is creating a manifesto for the year. I really like the idea of this. There is no ‘new normal’, no going back to ‘the way things used to be’, there is only what we have. Right here. Right now. It’s the only place we can live. So I’m thinking about what I’d like to achieve as ‘me’ in 2021 and setting out just how I’m going to go about that.

As I said, everything comes with caveats as the world tries to juggle ways to keep us all safe but keep us all moving too.

But that is all for another day, another blog………

We really are thankful for our health and the health of our loved ones. We are also grateful and aware that we are lucky enough not to have to worry about jobs being safe. With this in mind, we know that we can keep planning to be outside, taking every opportunity to enjoy the wonderful coast and countryside we are blessed with being surrounded by.

Badger Trail Events

“We will get through this, we must be patient, races have and will come back.”

Kev Day, with the sort of positivity we all need.

My series looking at some of the characters behind trail running events in the South West continues as we meet Kevin Day from Badger Trail Events.

Kevin and Denise Day are the fabulous team behind Badger Trail Events. This really is a team operation. In fact Kev (he prefers the shortened moniker) goes to great lengths to point out just how motivational Denise is throughout this q & a. He reminds me of me, and not just because we are namesakes: Like I do with Nicky, he sees the whole of life as being faced by a team of two. 

Badger Trail Events’ first race was the Ooser Marathon in March 2018. The race having been launched in November of the previous year. Kev had taken a break from the whole world of routing and planning trail events, having cut his teeth as part of another of Dorset’s event organisers. 

Many of us were already fans of Kev’s routes, having enjoyed some of White Star Running’s great offerings, such as The Giant’s Head Marathon. Whatever the reasons for his departure from that organisation, it isn’t really any of our business, nor is it particularly relevant. Anyway, as it has turned out, it has meant even more Dorset based events for us to choose from.

Kev is always pleased to see us!

Before we delve into the birth of Badger Trail Events, a few personal memories. At those earlier events, Kev was part of the great atmosphere and was always out on the course, checking in with the aid stations, the tail runners, making sure the leaders were going the right way and generally offering banter and encouragement. I particularly remember on a baking hot day, Nicky and I being pleased to see him magically appear in the pick up truck with bowsers of water to hand out in between official drinks stations. 

Oh, and he always had his badger sporran on display, hence the ‘I felt the badger’ badges which became stuff of Dorset legend. Nicky certainly earned hers!

I digress. His self employed handyman business had already taken a back seat to race organising and he found himself encouraged to dip his toe into going solo. Except he wasn’t alone. Denise and a few close friends managed to convince him to stage The Ooser. A route was already in his mind and so Badger Trail Events was born.

Denise nervously took a step into the limelight to be Race Director. Kev concentrated on getting the route just right and reverted to his role of being everywhere at all times on race day. The support and encouragement of their network of friends (who really should get a mention; Rose, Mike and their son Elliot, known as ‘mini-badger’, as well as Jenny and Beverly) meant that this first time event was a huge success.

“The day went well. Denise was a little scared being RD (she hates speaking to crowds of people). But she did a great job. I was out on the course following the front runners and keeping an eye on the sweepers, whilst trying not to be sick with worry. I got back with the last runners to the news all went well.”

The team Kev and Denise have put together delivered The Ooser again in 2019.  Around 500 runners tackled either  the marathon or half marathon. The route explores Dorset’s hidden and forgotten trails, ancient woodlands, farmland and featuring plenty of mud, water and hills.

They managed to get two events staged in between the lockdown periods this year, and those who were able to run were quick to complement the Badger Trail Events team on how well they had been staged.

“You and your team did the best job. I managed a few events between July and now and none were as well organised and thought through as yours. Also, you have the best routes and medals and the meanest of hills” 

Social media is full of praise for all of Badger Trail Events’ Races

Both Kev and Denise have been heavily involved with creating and supporting, not only their own events, but also Parkrun and Junior Parkrun. From personal experience, I can also confirm that they are likely to pop up at all sorts of races, helping out and cheering on the runners. I remember Kev appearing nearing the finish line of The Dorset Villages Marathon one year, as I stumbled towards it!

During the first lockdown, Kev was liaising with other event organisers and Parkrun, constantly looking at ways in which running could be a community event again. 

I asked Kev how he was feeling about 2021 for Badger Trail Events in light of, you know, everything.

“Positive. That’s all you can be. The Ooser is due to go off on the 4th April, The Hellstone in late May / early June (sorting dates with the landowner) and hopefully, The FUBAR & SNAFU will happen once again at Bovington.”

And Kev really is positive when it comes to future events, a lesson to us all. Referring to the Ooser again:

“What with the vaccine and also the covid measures in place, we may get back to the 800 runner mark.”

The Hellstone is a marathon, half marathon and 10k set in open countryside, with “devilish hills”, a stone circle and even a cricket pitch. 

As for the Bovington races, they are staged at the tank museum and tank driver training grounds. Having raced at Bovington on a Kev course, expect a bit of mud! FUBAR and SNAFU? You’ll have to google it!

Kev and Denise certainly aren’t desperate to flood the market with new races, but they are constantly on the lookout for new and different venues. When pushed for ambitions with regard to future races, Kev had this mouth watering teaser:

“We would love to do something along the lines of the Barkley Marathon (“the race that eats it young”). We’re on the lookout for a route……”

When it comes to their own running, Kev quickly wants to talk about Denise’s incredible achievements and skip over his own. Before we delve into Denise’s rather impressive palmares, a little story of how Kev got into running. Those of you who read my piece on Bys Vyken will know that David (Bys Vyken’s founder) found motivation in chasing a friend when getting into running. Kev is the same. Having played football, rugby “union of course!”, cricket, raced motorbikes and even represented Dorset at pool, He found himself goaded into a running challenge:

“I was 20 ish….. A Scottish guy I worked with had entered a 5k run. He boasted how quick he was (he’d had trials with Rangers F.C , so was fit). To shut him up, I entered too, saying I would beat him. Doh! 3 months of training, over Blackhill in Bere Regis, paid off on the day, I beat him by around 10 feet!”

Kev didn’t really know about running clubs and just carried on training on his own. He got faster and fitter (running under 20 minutes for a hilly 5k). But, he’s far more interested in sharing Denise’s story….

“Denise’s journey into running started even later. Approaching a certain age (editorial licence used here!), she was worried about putting on weight…….. she worried about it so much we bought a dog……. a great excuse to get out and exercise”

Dogs are such an important part of life in the Badger household. In all weathers, every day, Denise and the dog were out there. She then felt the urge to start jogging during a walk and before long had found out about Parkrun and was keen to be fit enough to run one.

Max

With Kev pretty much stopping his own sport, he became, alongside Max, Denise’s cheerleader.

“I helped, cajoled and encouraged Denise to get out and run. I showed her how to land on her feet, all about cadence, what to eat, getting her mind right and so on.”

This worked too as before long they were celebrating a non stop mile. A month later they were again elated as Denise completed her first Parkrun. She slept for 2 hours afterwards, but a runner had been born. As Denise told me, Max the dog became her ever faithful training partner.

“When I started running seriously in 2011 (training for my first ever race – The Great South Run, because of a work challenge) we had Max. He did all my training with me including first marathon the year after (2012 London)”

Denise – thankful for the fittest dog in Dorset!

L – R Max, Daisy and Bear

Max was joined by Daisy a few years later and the dogs went on every adventure. Sadly Max passed away earlier this year. Daisy wasn’t lonely for too long though as the wonderfully named Bear has now joined the gang.

“Denise has done most of the races in Dorset. She has also done the Chamonix Half and Full and the Ex to Axe, a nasty 22 mile trail race, also her first (and possibly last) 100k run. She’s still running and one day I’ll make her do the Ooser (maybe year 5 in 2022).”

Denise remains motivated to keep fit and keep going, with Kev always in support. His own motivations are (like so many we meet in the great trail running scene) philanthropic:

“I’m always motivated by those who think they can’t, then they do. I’m inspired by the younger runners who try their hardest week in week out at parkrun, and get better. I suppose I’m motivated by the slower runners and those who are trying their hardest.”

Kev is a bit of a talent spotter too. Noticing young runners showing promise at Parkrun and being instrumental in getting them teamed up with coaches to try and realise their potential. Denise too likes to encourage and be a role model. Her own daughter has started to really enjoy exercise with the example shown by, and with the encouragement of, her Mum. Another runner born, with a marathon planned for 2021… 

I ask everyone in this series what their proudest running moments have been. Kev is sure that Denise would say her 100km ultra marathon. And Kev himself? “What Denise has done”!

The couple are rightly proud of the achievements of Badger Trail Events so far, as well as humbled by the fact that so many people choose to run The Ooser as a first marathon. As Kev says, “it’s not flat!”.

Kev acknowledges that this venture deprives him of any financial security or space in his home (something Brian of Winding Paths also told us in his interview). Sometimes he questions his sanity too. BUT, both him and Denise are inspired and enthused by the runners who sign up to their events and make race days so special.

It has been an absolute pleasure to catch up with Badger Trail Events’ story and I’m sure this most inspiring and popular of couples will take their events from strength to strength. 

River Deep Mountain High

PureTrail Events

“Running is still the oxygen of my life. I couldn’t live without it.”

Mark Brooks, PureTrail Events

Mark Brooks, along with Steve Skedgell, started PureTrail Events back in 2015. Their first race was The Dartmoor Volcano, a 10 (ish) mile tour of South Dartmoor, one of Mark’s favourite training runs.

In a loud world, where we are bombarded by a cacophony of social media noise, Mark is refreshingly quiet. Yet, as we delve deeper, it turns out he has rather a lot to shout about. More on this later…….

101 runners tackled that first Dartmoor Volcano, and the feedback was great. With this first success behind them, Mark and Steve set about finding other new and exciting routes to share with us.

Mark already had the seeds of an idea in his mind;

“I’d been thinking of starting a trail running enterprise for quite a while and it seemed like the right time. Trail running had exploded since around 2010, probably 5 years before that to be honest, when races, even long races (ultras) were being course-marked”

As Mark goes on to say, the likes of myself (born in a city, struggles with an A to Z never mind a OS map and compass) were finding these new style events so accessible. Mark had completed the UTMB (the first of his 6 times!) in 2008 and saw just how big trail running was becoming.

His own trail running goes way back to 1985, often in self navigated, low key events. These attracted only those who could tackle both the terrain and the navigation. After moving to the South West in 2008, he “immediately saw the potential with the Coast Path and The Moor for what I loved to do – go trail running!”

The PureTrail Running Group – held on Wednesdays but sadly on pause as we speak, as so much of our social activity is, was also started in 2015. This created a community which could share in the local knowledge of Mark and Steve and also became the core of the volunteers on race days. All abilities are welcome and encouraged and as many as 30 turn up to enjoy a different moorland adventure each week.

Mark & Steve Will Be Hoping To Dress Like This Rather More Often In 2021!

“This year has been a nightmare really”

Mark sums up neatly how 2020 has been for event organisers

“But anyway, we’ve survived and 2021 looks more promising although events on Dartmoor are still looking a bit iffy. Time will tell. There’s a lot of vested interests on Dartmoor and runners (events companies) always seem to be bottom of the pecking order.”

PureTrail’s next physical event is Race The Light on 19th December (this being written on 12th December, so hurry!). Nicky and I had a fantastic evening tackling this event in 2018 and I even wrote a blog about it .

It will be pureTrail’s 3rd event of 2020, having cancelled so much, including their much anticipated trail running trip to Greece.

As we saw with Winding Paths and Bys Vyken, PureTrail have also come up with a different take on the ‘virtual’ challenge. They have introduced the Solo Series where we are being encouraged to get out and try the routes of PureTrail events which are taking place later in 2021. Tackle the route of their new event, The Coleridge Way Ultra during January and then the also new for 2021, 100 mile Dartmoor event in February and The Tsunami Ultra route in March. There will be final finishing positions at the end of each month and a goody bag of souvenirs (including discounted entry off the physical events) for finishers. 

I’ve been so impressed with the way our local and smaller events organisers have stepped up during this challenging year. I strongly recommend checking these ‘solo’ challenges out.

Yours Truly in Race The Tide – Photo by Mark Brooks!

Regular readers will know that Nicky (my rather amazing and gorgeous lady wife) and I do a lot of events together. Well why not check out the blog post I wrote after Race The Tide half marathon in 2017, or this one, from after I’d ran the marathon in 2018. We went back to run the half again in 2019. One of my favourite ever events. In fact, of the marathons I’ve ran solo, this would definitely be my favourite.

Mark himself is certainly no stranger to the world of running.

“I’ve been running literally all of my life. Did my first marathon in 1985, first Ultra in 1986 .. a 40 odd mile navigating event across the Brecon Beacons. ‘The Omega Run’ it was called, it was organised by a bunch of lunatic ex SAS guys.. this first ultra nearly broke me.. but it didn’t,  and as you know.. that’s what happens – you’re hooked”

He loves the adventure of the longer events, 50 miles and over, where the only certainty is the lack of certainty. That uncertainty took a different form for all of us this year, Mark was booked in for a 7th UTMB, the Lakeland 100 (which would have been his 4th) and the Transylvania 100.

As I have with all the interviewees in this series, I ask Mark about his proudest moment as a runner. He has a special place in his heart for that first UTMB; 

“Quite a few memorable moments.. but I think finishing the UTMB for the first time in 2008. It was my first 100 miler. I couldn’t believe a race could be so relentless. So much ascent. 2 nights out. Hallucinations, dehydration, the works! Every moment of the last 24 hours of it thinking to myself ‘NEVER AGAIN! Convinced that I was never ever going to do this ridiculous, stupid race ever again, and anyone who did was basically insane.”

Of course, we know how this goes now……

“Then, as I crossed that finish-line, the UTMB finish-line.. 6 deep with spectators, the previous 37 hours just melted away into some euphoric haze of sheer exhaustion, delight and such pride in what I had managed to do. I sat down on the steps of the church there behind the finish line and decided right there and then to sign up again next year.. and do better..!  And so I did.” 

Lining Up For UTMB With Fellow South West Runners Duncan Oakes, Steve Wyatt
And Luke Scott Elliot

He adds that he feels an immense sense of achievement in any long race and remains motivated by the chance to push himself, to see just how far he could go. Having the opportunity to travel to events in other countries adds further adventure and excitement to the races. That’s the addiction of this wonderful world of trail running. 

No two runs are ever the same, Mark says he “has to keep things fresh, always!”

“Winning is not what it’s about at all, not for me, and not for 95% of runners I guess”

Mark Brooks.

I should point out that Mark won the very first Spine Challenger in 2012 and was also first across the line in the 2015 RAT Plague in Cornwall. His humility left these facts out until much later.

We need to look back up north for Mark’s favourite UK race. He has completed the Fellsman (61 miles across the North York Moors) a mere 9 times. The event is already a victim of Covid for its 2021 edition, so Mark will have to wait a bit longer before he makes it 10! 

Mark also drops UTMB Oman into his list of memorable events;

“Priceless, the memories will stay forever, I guess that’s it, you’re creating memories, living your life, doing stuff you love doing.”

Kilian Jornet is in a class of one as far as Mark is concerned. He is honoured to have shared the trails in events with Jornet and sees him as doing everything with the right attitude;

“Everything he has done he does with humility and his passion for the mountains goes beyond his desire to win races. I really respect him as a runner and as a human being. I’ve been in a few races with him and I’ve felt I’m right there in that moment with probably the best of all time, what he has done is awe-inspiring.”

Amongst Mark’s other inspirations are Lizzy Hawker, Jasmine Paris and the legend that is Joss Naylor.

So what about his proudest race director moments? 

He doesn’t single any event out, just having the satisfaction of knowing that all of the different pieces of organisation have aligned on the day. He hopes for every PureTrail event to be the best experience for everybody involved or taking part;

“Trail races are great places to be, or they should be… positive and happy gatherings of people doing what they love to do.”

Mark doesn’t feel that he’s necessarily had to ‘sacrifice’ anything since starting PureTrail, but acknowledges;

“When you turn a passion into a job it can take on a very different role in your life. Running was, and still is to some extent an escape from the mundanity of day to day life.. the stresses and problems which we all share. I can’t escape like I used to be able to.. as I’m always thinking about the next race, even when I’m out running.”

There aren’t too many events which require a boat trip to the start line!

PureTrail already offer a diverse, challenging and inspiring set of events, including the amazing Lundy Island Race, a location where very few will ever get to run, never mind race. Mark therefore says he’s looking to improve and expand on the events already in PureTrail’s repertoire rather than be guilty of further saturating the market in locations which are already well used.

Mark is concerned by the growing trend of organisers seeking to profit from locations where another already hosts events. There is a real possibility of this becoming a barrier to permissions being granted for future events;

“Unfortunately, that’s lost on some organisers, but then some event organisers are in it purely for the money, not for the love of the sport. If we’re not careful we could lose a lot of races due to closure of certain sections of the Moor and the coast through overuse.”

PureTrail’s European adventures are to be expanded with the addition of Outer Edge, which we are told to ‘watch this space’ for.

Mark maybe the quiet one, but once asked about his passion, his glorious trails, he could go on and on. His enthusiasm and excitement are infectious and inspiring. With this much love for the sport of trail running it is hardly any wonder that PureTrails’ events are rather special.

Bys Vyken

Cornwall Forever

“Lots of questions, but to be honest I needed no time to think in answering them.”

David Andrewartha, Race Director at Bys Vyken Events and Cornish Trails

In the next of my articles looking at the characters which make up our fabulous trail running scene here in the South West, we head across The Tamar into Cornwall.

Bys Vyken, a truly Cornish phrase, used as slang to mean anything positive but is from Kernow Bys Vyken meaning Cornwall forever.

Bys Vyken is in its 5th year of existence now. It feels like a gift to us trail runners. Founder, owner and race director, David Andrewartha created the company as a result of a rhetorical challenge from the organiser of a local race.

David had been running for about a year. Actually, he knows exactly how long:

“April 7th to be exact. I remember it better than my first kiss! My then partner (now wife) was nagging at me to join her for a run for almost 6 months. Eventually I gave in and ran for about 3 or 4 miles.”

During the next year he trained harder and harder in an attempt to beat a running friend, eventually managing this at a local race. I won’t repeat the phrase David used to describe how hard he had pushed himself, but it did result in him ducking under the finishing funnel tape to relieve himself of his breakfast.

“Lucky Charms…… yes, the cornerstone of any nutritional start to a day.”

Sadly, this led to confusion when the results were published. David found himself placed behind his friend and nemesis, prompting him to message the organisers to see if this could be rectified. The reply he received simply said “I’d like to come to the next race YOU organise”. As you will read, David likes a challenge….

The opportunity arose the following March with Bys Vyken’s inaugural event, The Cousin Jack Classic. Hosted on St Piran’s day, David used the event to raise funds for a local Christmas light fund. He had 100 runners through word of mouth and social media, and the most Cornish of events was born. 

The Cousin Jack has now grown to become a legendary trail running event. It is a celebration of everything Cornish, particularly the incredible Tin Coast and its mining heritage. Little Jack is as tough a 10km race as you could find, the Classic itself at 18 miles, now starts at the iconic Miners’ Chapel in St Just. The Cousin Jack Ultra meanwhile tackles the whole route in both directions.

I dragged myself through the 35 mile Cousin Jack Ultra in 2019, read about that here. This year (2020) I volunteered at the event and my beautiful wife, Nicky, ran the Classic and we made a little video.

Race briefings can’t get more Cornish than this.

From that first event David has tried to immerse his runners in the magical atmosphere and history of his home county.

I have maintained my passion and enthusiasm for Cornwall through every single event, giving runners something that nobody else sees or does in the county.” 

At the time of writing, Bys Vyken are about to host their first live event (Dec 12th) since The Cousin Jack back at the end of February. Fordh Sen Mighal is 11.5 miles of road and trails following the St Michael’s Way from Lelant to Marazion. The route follows the UK’s only Designated Route Of Culture and, like The Cousin Jack, it is quite wonderfully Cornish.  And if The Cousin Jack takes your fancy, entries for 2021 are now open.

The Fordh Sen Mighal start

Staying motivated has been challenging for David. He has so far had to cancel or postpone 5 events and it has been a brutally tough year financially. As he explains, the way he runs Bys Vyken is more about what it gives to us runners than what it gives back (financially).

“Being an RD doesn’t get you steak and a Tesla when you run your business with your heart and not your head.  Again, nobody gives more than me in this county and race after race it becomes even more of a proven fact. This is because giving people a couple of hours to forget about their shit means more to me than taking them for every penny and milking them for all they have. I never organise a race I’d not want to do myself.”

As lockdown arrived in March, David admits to a few days of dropping his head and fearing the future, “sulking” as he puts it. But then he started thinking about how offering virtual events might help keep his loyal customers motivated. He created events such as Laps In Lockdown, Dark Clyde Of The Moon and The Goat (I waxed lyrical about this here). This served to cushion some of the financial blow and supported local charities too. 

Bys Vyken’s mascots have become stuff of legend amongst the South West’s trail runners, and using them as the face of events has helped raise £4000 for The Eve Appeal (in memory of David’s Mum). Being a man who likes a psychological challenge to accompany the physical effort, he also ran a marathon in his garden!

If you’re quick, there may still be places in Smiling’s My Favourite, Bys Vyken’s Christmas Day virtual challenge. 

Let’s go back to April 7th 2014. David was, by his own admittance, not in the best of shape:

“I was almost 15 stone and had many habits which were not correlative with being an athlete! My first achievement in running was simply getting off my fat ass and taking the first step to becoming a better person.”

Quitting smoking, drinking and mixing with the ‘wrong crowd’, along with other habits which maybe aren’t compatible with a healthy lifestyle have all played their part in contributing to becoming that better person he talks about. There have been many lows along the way and he has suffered existential crises and at his worst moments has found himself questioning everything.

David is very keen to credit those who have given him hope and reason at these low times. Most recently, Colin and Laura from Run Venture Running Hub

“They pulled me up from circling the drain during this time and gave me a job, which doesn’t just help with the bills, but helps with my head too.” 

He describes Colin as the Brian Cox of independent running stores and is thoroughly enjoying working there. Colin and Laura are definitely the sort of characters I’d like to feature in this series.

Before we move on to David’s own running achievements and ambitions, I should let him answer, in his own words, the question, “What is your proudest moment as a race director?”

“My proudest RD moment is every moment I’m an RD because I get to do it with my best friend. My wife. Sally is the heartbeat of Bys Vyken because she’s my motivation to wake up in the morning. Without her I would never have been a runner and without her I’d probably not be passionate about anything.”

Not a dry eye in the house.

As for running, where do we start. How about the quirky? David has completed the Southend Pier Marathon (that’s 11 times up and down the pier), the Shepton Mallet Prison Marathon (just the 78 laps of 2 wings and an exercise yard) and, naturally, The Multi-Story Car Park Marathon (I dread to think!). 

Because:

“The organisation and the love and passion from the marathons helped me to discover myself and combat my own mental health.”

The Endurance Life Classic Quarter and White Rose 100 are amongst the other highlights of a rather full and varied palmares. 

His proudest running achievement so far came this year, during Storm Alex. Having trained harder than ever, he became only the 5th person (and first Cornishman) to run the entire Chesil Beach from West Bay to Portland. (He beat the time of the previous runner to complete it, which is the source of much satisfaction!)

Is he finished with that then? Nope:

“My next ambitions in running are to spend 24 hours on Loe Bar and to be the first person to run Chesil both ways.”

David’s ambitions for Bys Vyken are uncertain. The accumulating debt and increasing number of people jumping on the bandwagon are making the future look less sustainable. We runners can only support Bys Vyken’s events and hope that there is a bright and long future ahead for the most Cornish of Cornish running experiences

For me, the fact that Bys Vyken offer that depth of local passion and history (as well as the most stunning places to run) will hopefully mean that David and Sally will be the first choice when runners are choosing their Cornish Trail adventures.

Let’s have the last word from David. Those of us luckily to know him will have noticed that he wears his heart on his sleeve, speaks his mind (like it or lump it!), can be industrial with his language and lives life like he means every second of it. I was never expecting political correctness when interviewing David (and there has been some editing!) but it has been a joy to get a feel for the passion he puts into creating a special Cornish day for any of us that take on one of Bys Vyken’s events.

“So what, David, has being a race director brought to YOU?”

“Being an RD has brought me people I’ll always love and people I’ll probably never like. But both kinds of people spur me on to remain a better human that will never spiral back to those pre running days where falling asleep in a Tesco bag I’d just thrown up in was the highlight of my weekend.”

Find Bys Vyken on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, bysvykencornishtrails@gmail.com

See mine and Nicky’s video from another brilliant Bys Vyken event, The Smuggler’s Scuttler.

Winding Paths

Over the years this blog has featured so many races and events which I’ve attended with my amazing lady wife Nicky. Pretty much all of them have been hosted by small outfits creating amazing events just for us. I’m sure we can all be guilty of taking this for granted.

I thought it would be great to delve behind the scenes and have a look at the sort of characters who make up this wonderful world of trail running in our region. We can all be guilty of scrolling through life, picking snippets from a blur of social media nonsense. We miss out on engaging with some great people. And some great stories.

First up is Winding Paths, the brainchild of local runner Brian Lewis. As with all events companies, 2020 has not been kind to Winding Paths. But, a succession of cancelled events hasn’t stopped Brian from pushing ahead with his plans for the company. 

Only in its second year, Brian set the company up in June 2019, it would have been easy to let his initial enthusiasm slip during this challenging year. He hasn’t let that happen though and still strives for the very best routes, medals and finish line locations.

The loyal following Winding Paths has already acquired (social media is full of stories from those who enjoyed his events so far) is credited with keeping his motivation strong.

“what has kept me going is the very supportive comments, messages and emails from participants of my events”. 

Brian’s events do have a wonderful community spirit about them. As well as the runners, he has a great army of volunteers – friends, family and other runners all donating their time to make each event possible. Brian knows that Winding Paths’ events are nothing without this crew and he looks after them well to thank them.

As the pandemic became the author of the 2020 story, Winding Paths were immediately informing participants of their options when events were cancelled or delayed. This has been another reason why so many are staying loyal. Brian is determined to take the positivity and encouragement he gets and use it to arrive in 2021 on the front foot, looking forward.

As we speak in late November, Brian’s next physical event will be The Final Countdown, which, by coincidence, was also Winding Path’s first event on New Year’s Eve last year. 

Winding Path’s Summer Trails event was a welcome bit of ‘normality’ for those that managed to grab a place.

The Final Countdown 10k starts and finishes in the Dartington Estate and runners get to sample some of the best countryside (and mud!) that South Devon has to offer. Sold out in its first year, the route gives Brian the chance to share some of his favourite trails with the rest of us. Numbers are restricted this year and the event will feature a series of starting waves, but it is still a great chance to end the year on a muddy high. The staggered starts, and all the other measures Brian has taken, keep the event Covid secure without taking away from the atmosphere. 

Winding Paths were one of the first to host a Covid secure event when regulations permitted them back in August. On a scorching weekend, he managed to get 150 runners to complete either 5km or 10km in a series of waved starts. It was an enormous success. Those that took part waxed lyrical about the sheer volume of work which had clearly been undertaken to create the event. It is staged on the same course as his Totally Muddy races.

Brian also set up an ambitious virtual challenge – participants linked their Strava (other apps are available!) accounts and were given from May until December to complete the total distance of the South West Coast Path. The 300 places he created soon sold out, his 12 Runs Of Christmas virtual event has been similarly popular, with all the slots already taken.

Brian is very much a keen trail runner, and like so many of our local running leaders has a naturally philanthropic nature. He has been leading run groups for a few years now and when regulations and time allows he offers guided runs on his favourite trails. 

Just one of Brian’s many running achievements he doesn’t boast about – The London Marathon

When asked for his proudest moments in the world of running, his generosity of spirit again shows itself as his first thought is for the achievements of others. For five years he has coached, motivated and encouraged a couch-to-5k running group. “there is nothing that beats seeing a non-runner improve, shed the doubt and run their first 5k.”

But he can’t help but swell with pride when he sees one of his own events succeed. When pushed he’ll even allow himself to accept that his own running achievements are a source of great pride.

Brian’s initial motivation was a personal challenge. He was already involved with THHN (Torbay Holiday Helpers Network), a fabulous charity which supports families with seriously ill children, or those that have been bereaved by offering holidays, making memories to be treasured for families in their dark times.

He would attend THHN fund raising events, some of which included running, and would always dismiss invitations to don some trainers and join in. 

His interest was secretly piqued though. He was already organising events such as the fun runs and schools challenge which accompanies the flagship local road race The Torbay Half Marathon. He was inspired by the 20 THHN runners who had completed the half marathon and the following day he attempted to break into a run himself.

“I was out walking along Cockington water meadow and I decided to try and run for a bit, stopping anytime anyone came in sight” 

He was back the next day. And the next. He had the bug. A watch and some decent kit soon arrived and he had entered his first 10k (The Totnes 10k) a mere 2 months later. Those initial 1 mile runs soon grew as Brian himself started to get shrink! The running encouraged him to improve his diet and before long he had lost a considerable amount of weight and was running for the pure pleasure of feeling fit and well.

Brian even turns his own running success into the success of a fellow runner. He has special memories of The Totnes 10k and ran it ‘virtually’ this year. Managing to find way to share this with somebody else, he used the occasion to accompany a friend on the exact course to help them best their previous time on the route

I have no idea whether Brian has a trumpet, but he isn’t inclined to blow it very often if he has!

A festival atmosphere at the City To Sea Finish Line

Those first runs were back in 2014. In September of that year Brian was Race Director of the epic City To Sea ultra marathon and marathon. He is hoping that Winding Paths will make him just as proud as he is of the 4 years in which he was at the helm of City To Sea. It is a major fundraiser for THHN and is a stand out fixture on the South Devon run scene. Selling out every year, it takes a herculean effort to host. Over 60 volunteers to organise, plus the festival at the finish line, Brian is right to celebrate its incredible success. 

Brian cites Luke Tillen, the THHN founder, as being a massive motivator and mentor throughout this journey he has been on. Luke’s own ultra marathon and fund raising efforts led to the birth of The City To Sea ultra marathon and quite possibly Brian’s own adventure in running. 

Brian was also Race Director for The Pennywell Challenge, another THHN fundraiser. Nicky and I enjoyed this challenging 10k back in 2018 on a very hot evening!

He feels that the first year of City To Sea as a Race Director will take some beating – everything was new, locals moved signs and tape which caused massive on course headaches and the event was even longer back in those first years. Up well into the night marking the course, then up in the early hours to chaperone the fleet of transport to the start, runners were on course until 9pm the following night.

You can feel and sense the emotion, even 6 years on, as Brian explains:

“the event was over but we had to go up on stage, in front of everyone and the compere did a speech, going backstage myself, Luke and Carolanne (who helped with the fun day and music festival) were all in tears at the fact we had done it, we had actually done it, that was a very proud moment.”

Since that first year Brian has gone on to achieve so much with his own running. He has clocked up 20 marathons and ultra marathons, the longest of these being 34 miles. He cites his first 50km event as his proudest running moment, completing the event only a year after starting his running journey. He discovered how easy it could be to lose runners in events that day –

“at one stage around ten of us took a wrong turn ran about 100 metres through waist high stingers, realized we were going the wrong way and had to turn around and run back through them, but the joy of finishing was amazing.”

Brian celebrating running over 100 miles in a week during lockdown. But will he attempt the century non stop?

I like to consider myself an ‘ultra runner’ and those that know me will know that I came within a whisker of being a 100 mile ultra runner last year (read about it here if you fancy), so I was eagerly awaiting Brian’s answer to the question “what are your next running ambitions?”

“Dare I say, I have one eye on a 100 miler, I said I would never do it, as while I enjoy shorter night runs, I am not sure about running through the entire night, but recently I have thought that now would be the time to try.”

In fact, Brian has a 50 mile event lined up already for next spring, a stepping stone to the century? I reckon he’s got it in him!

Brian’s ambitions for Winding Paths are about creating fabulous events to be enjoyed by all who enjoy the trails, whether they are chasing at the front or taking selfies and soaking up the views further back. He is trying to have options for all – the Total Coastal event (frustratingly put back a couple of times in 2020) is scheduled for April next year and features a bruising ultra marathon from Kingswear to Shaldon on the South West Coast Path as well as equally challenging but considerably shorter half marathon and 10k routes.

There are sacrifices of course, and Brian can sometimes need to be reminded to take his Winding Paths hat off during family time! He acknowledges that working from home has helped him fit everything and he is getting better at balancing his life whilst still giving his energies to planning his events. 

It is telling that Brian’s positivity and relentless humour both shine through when asked what he’s most looking forward to with Winding Paths in 2021

“I am really looking forward to 2021 with positivity about the events, I am also looking forward to having a dining room that is not full of medals, t-shirts and two gazebos.”

Find Winding Paths – Twitter Facebook Instagram brian@windingpaths.uk

In Praise Of 2020 (#2)

A Tale Of Three Hoodies

March 2020 was a month of fear and food. When Sainsbury’s unleashed the 12 pack of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs onto the shelves, how could I refuse as I anxiously did our shopping after work. Everybody was fighting their own battles, shielding their loved ones, trying to understand the world as it shifted on its axis around us. And for some of us, Creme Eggs were a coping mechanism.

But we needed better, longer term and let’s face it, healthier ways to survive our times. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was after hoodies!

Oh, and challenges.

In stepped many of our favourite event and race organisers with ways of challenging us ‘virtually’ in our running. Huge races got involved, including the Great North Run and London Marathon. Even better though, local, less high profile companies were finding ways to keep our running mojo up.

I threw my hat in the ring of Cornish race organisers, Bys Vyken, as they created the wonderfully titled Dark Clyde Of The Moon virtual 100 or 50 mile challenge. It worked! I gave myself 14 days to complete the 100 miles. There was no time limit (you can still enter in fact) but I decided to really go for it. At that time I was more comfortable away from the more popular trails and sea fronts and found myself running quite obscure, and very hilly routes.

My goals are still to accomplish epic distances on the type of demanding terrain Bys Vyken are so renowned for. So hills are where I need to train,

Nicky completing the Cousin Jack, a Bys Vyken event, almost the last pre-lockdown race.

Hoody #1

Rather proud of this magnificent medal

Bys Vyken must have been reading my mind because the next virtual challenge on offer was The Goat. The task: to run the equivalent elevation gain as the highest 40 hills in Cornwall in a fixed time frame. Bloody made for me that challenge. As ever, my beautiful lady wife took up the challenge too and we’re both now proud members of the goat academy! Not only that, there was a rather lovely hoody as a souvenir.

With our love of Cornwall, being lucky enough to call Dave and Sally from Bys Vyken friends and the epic medal and hoody this challenge was a perfect distraction from the world around us.

Hoody #2

The last ten years have seen a deluge of running communities appear on the internet. Ways of recording our exercise and training transformed by the devices we wear and the apps we use. I was lucky when I started running back in 2007, I almost immediately stumbled upon the lovely running community Fetcheveryone.Com There I found a place to keep a track of my running of course, but also forums of fellow ‘newbies’, a directory of events taking place, blogs and inspirational stories and just the best bunch of people.

Me and my brother, both long standing ‘Fetchies’
I have spent much of 2020 following this advice!

Jump forward 13 years and despite all of the competition out there, Fetch goes from strength to strength. As many of us have found this year, the ‘performance’ based analysis and competitive nature of more bullish sites hasn’t really sat comfortably with our mental health. Founder, Ian Williams, has kept Fetch as almost a cottage industry. There is no charge for any feature and never will be. Fetch survives on its advertising income and the goodwill of those of us happy to make a monthly donation. Whilst it feels like sharing your running life with a couple of mates, there are actually 100,000+ users and 2020 has seen many come and join us.

And, of course, I’ve recently acquired a much needed Fetcheveryone hoody.

Visit Fetch for the best people, great running data stats, a comprehensive event guide, blogs, games, forums, podcasts……

Hoody #3

Here in the South West of England we are blessed with thousands of miles of paths, lanes and trails, plus every sort of terrain when it comes to choosing which gorgeous routes to run on. Any regular readers of the blog will know that I am at my happiest when running out in the open air, particularly on the coast path.

Well, a very old friend, Jamie (back in the day we both managed public houses in Totnes) was almost born on the trails of South Devon. Jamie decided a few years ago to combine his passion for trail running with his natural gregarious and philanthropic nature and create an online space for us all to share these wonderful trails.

Trail Running South West founder, Jamie Bullock
Every day the group page is filled with lovely images from the South West’s trails

And so Trail Running South West was born. A Facebook community which has grown to over 4000 members in nearly 4 years. Jamie is not just a keen runner, he is often found volunteering at trail events hosted in the region and even hosts the quirky, always sold out Stoke Gabriel Carnival 10k (I’ve volunteered at the event a couple of times – I even wrote all about it here)

The TRSW Facebook group is a great place to share in others’ runs as the feed is flooded with amazing photographs from around the peninsular.

Local organisers keep us up to speed with upcoming events and gatherings using the page too.

Bumping into Jamie at aid stations is a regular occurrence when running events.

As the group grows, Jamie is adding more ways of engaging and sharing the community he has created. Obviously, for me, the best of these is the introduction of some Trail Running South West merchandise, not least, the rather toasty hoody!!

Visit the Facebook group for the great merchandise but also to find out where to run and what events are (hopefully) planned around the South West.

And rest assured I’m going to be toasty this winter!

The Colours Of Autumn Running

I once ran with headphones. Well, earphones really. It wasn’t for me.

So many runners do love music on their runs. Or podcasts. What a great way to keep up to speed with your favourites. It simply isn’t for me though.

I prefer the rhythm of my stride, like a perfect metronome counting out the time signature of my efforts.

Or something.

It’s more like random stomps giving away the uneven swing of my legs as they chaotically guide each foot to the floor. Nobody has ever shouted “Oi! your beautiful running gait is pure eye candy for the endurance sport enthusiast.”

In fact, back when I ran with a training group, the coach described me as “running like a drunk man herding cats”! This is the same coach who, at a training session on an actual running track, was calling out the lap splits as we all went through 400 meters in our 800 meters reps. As the speedy guys and girls whizzed past he was calling “60, 65, 68” etc, informing the athletes of their pace. As I trailed through some way behind the young and the athletic, he called out “Thursday……. Friday…..” Ahh he’s a wit!

Where was I? Headphones, earbuds, ear phones. They are just not for me. I tend to avoid roads and so I’m never really looking to drown out any ambient noise. And, joking aside, I really enjoy the sound of my feet striking the ground, the different rhythms of uphill, downhill and flat and the textured layers of sound created by the wide variety of surfaces once I get away from the concrete, paving slabs or tarmac. Who doesn’t enjoy the squelch of deeply packed fallen leaves on a damp day?

Autumn running. Marvellous isn’t it? It’s the colours. Man, those colours. I don’t mind repeating my favourite trail routes, they look, feel, sound and even smell different on every visit. The time of day, the season, the wind speed and direction, rain, sunshine and the direction I’m running in all vary the sensations the run rewards me with. And I keep coming back for more.

An old favourite is this route
so lucky to have it on our doorstep

I was on one of my favourite long and hilly routes last weekend and I found myself so in tune with my running that it was almost dream like. The weather was changeable; strong winds, hail storms, mist and drizzle, heavy rain and gorgeous bright sunshine all made an appearance over the 26ish miles of South Devon’s finest trails.

For some reason, I started focussing on colours. Every surface varying its shade with the changes in the weather. It was like choosing a paint texture. The gloss sheen on wet, freshly fallen leaves, giving them an almost mirror like quality. The flat matt of a grazing pony’s fur as it stood in shadow. The subtle, fine silk of moss on a north facing rock. And so it goes on.

The run started as the clouds which had delayed the dawn and denied us a sunrise drifted towards the horizon. The sun appeared above them, candle flame bright and daffodil yellow. Paignton beach, soft sand above the tide line asking for an increase in effort level as every foot strike sunk deep into it, offered the perfect surface to exaggerate the power of the sun. Too coarse to be golden, but certainly more glitzy than a simple beige, Paignton’s sand is perfect for family beach days.

The South West Coast Path dominates the first 16 miles of this route, all the way from Paignton to Kingswear. It is a lung bursting onslaught of ups and downs with a brief flat respite through Brixham. The seaside fishing town rewarded me with sunshine after the eye watering blitz of a hail storm. With everything freshly dampened, the bright sun showcased the broad pallet of the cottages’ colours, looking like they’ve been painted onto the slopes heading down to the harbour. Pastel yellows, blues, pinks, reds…… it really is a living picture postcard.

And what about the sea? What colour is the sea? Under dark clouds and with a handsome swell, the water takes on a full range of military greys. Dark, gunboat shades, almost black, through to a pale matt silver, glints of light reflecting where the sun sneaks down through gaps in the cloud. From high up on Berry Head, with the old fort in the foreground, the vista could be an arty monochrome photograph come to life.

Greens! You want greens. Well, from yellowy limes, a bit like the colour of a Skoda I once owned (I also had a lime green Allegro at one time, and a shit-brown Datsun – I’ve had some horrendous cars!), fragile grasses almost translucent in the low sun. Green is such a versatile colour. From some angles the dark seas take on a green hue as the wave tops briefly capture some extra light. Lush meadows on the cliff tops make a British Racing Green statement whilst tufts of grass on the upslopes sway from light to dark with the wind.

Not forgetting the browns. Dark and blackened cow pats, shiny oak shades in muddy puddles, golden rusts of leaves about to give up and fall to the trail and plenty of beige too in the bark of trunks, peeling to reveal a smooth pale yellowing of fresh wood. Even the flakey patchwork of rusting, burned oranges on long forgotten ironmongery caught my attention on this run.

The blue/black and greys of dark clouds give way to their paler, fluffier cousins as the day brightens. Whites in every shade of the Dulux deluxe range, I was imagining Egyptian Cotton, Lamb’s Wool and Old Piano Keys might be new shades of paint to sell to those who need to impress the neighbours!

This route, on a blustery Autumn day, with the song Four Seasons In One Day becoming an ear worm, shows off South Devon in all of its finery.

Rocks And Roots And Rabbit Holes

Images from a lovely Dartmoor run with Nicky last week

No Lazy Steps

Three years ago I ran my first 50 mile ultra marathon. I might have mentioned it once or twice (you can still read alllll about it HERE). I took a tumble early on in that race, making the remaining 43 miles extremely painful! I’d share a picture of my post-race ankle with you, but to be honest I’m not in a massive hurry to look at it again myself.

Well, I’m planning on attempting another coastal 50 mile event. And I would rather not attempt it on a bulging ankle. So I’ve been rolling out my favourite running mantras as training starts to (and I apologise for employing the phrase which has been wrung out by 2020) ramp up.

The most important of those mantras has to be no lazy steps, no lazy steps, which I tend to repeat to myself when the terrain starts to become, to use another cliched expression, technical. And by technical I mean when there is an abundance of rocks, roots and rabbit holes. But also to be negotiated carefully are steep edges, muddy descents, steps, loose, gravely paths, sheer drops on the side of the trail, standing water (you never know what it might be concealing!) etc etc.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy running with a headtorch

Practice. Practice. Practice.

I heard a great interview with Beth Pascall on Adharanand Finn’s podcast The Way Of The Runner where she explained that there really isn’t any substitute for practice. Not just training to get fit, but specifically experiencing the type of terrain you are training for. I guess it’s no different to any other skill, like writing, playing the guitar, or driving or anything else, it doesn’t matter how many instruction manuals you read or videos you watch you’ve just got to get out there and do it.

Berry Pomeroy Castle in spooky half light on an early run

Never stop learning.

I’ve been trail running and tackling ultra marathons for quite a few years now, but I still like to try and learn something new, improve something about my running every time I go out. I started running later in life and for the first couple of years only ran on the road.

The biggest thing I’ve learned to change is not to trust the ground! Doing laps around Paignton Green on the pavement, I would only need to consider the ground below me a couple of times in a mile, where the curb drops and rises again.

On the trails by contrast, as Beth Pascall says, I need to be reading the ground a few steps ahead. All the time. I guess we learn to cover the ground quicker the more experienced we get on the terrain.

Exploring new trails is very much part of the fun

Running For The Joy Of It

Another major change in my own running from those time-chasing days on the roads is that I really no longer care how fast I run, nor where I might place in an event. Selfishly, the Covid restrictions which mean events starting in small waves doesn’t affect how I might approach the event.

For those who enjoy a good tear up on the roads, racing the girls and guys around them, this has taken some of the fun and motivation out of the events. I’m there to run the best I can still, but really don’t mind what that looks like in terms of time or pace.

The first thing I look at when considering an event is the cut-off time. That becomes my goal, to be quick enough to be inside that. Whatever else I might achieve is a bonus, but sort of unimportant.

After battering myself for a couple of years early in my running career, it is bloomin’ liberating to be running just for the pure pleasure of it.

So on loose rocky descents, covered in freshly fallen leaves and where the light is inconsistent thanks to a canopy of trees, giving the image of running along a blissful tunnel of autumn colour, I slow down to make sure I’m not going to hurl myself to the ground. I think I’ve improved over the years. As I get fitter, I will hopefully be naturally covering the ground a bit quicker without really noticing. But if not, then so be it.

You never know what might be lurking under the leaves! No lazy steps.

Don’t Be A Whiny Git

With all of this in mind, and in response to me becoming a bit of an annoying whiny git a few weeks ago (‘I’m so tired, I can’t do it’ etc!), I’ve written myself a training program.

Blimey!

10 days in and I’m still following it. I want to be fit enough to complete a challenging (and long) trail marathon in a few weeks time and then continue getting fitter for the big 50 mile challenge at the end of January.

I bloomin’ love being on the trails, and this week I’ve rediscovered my love of running by torch light in the dark too. Even if the situation changes for event organisers, and for their sake I truly hope it doesn’t, I’ll still be happy to get out there and enjoy the process.

And After That?

Beyond that 50 mile event next year, I might even be having another crack at *say it quickly and it won’t sound so scary* the big century. I know the phrase never again might have passed my lips after I very nearly got to end of my last attempt! If I haven’t yet bored you with that tale, feel free to check out my blog about it HERE.

You could subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already. guaranteed fresh content every, er, now and then!

Onwards.

……of the year

This is my 77th blog post…… Collectively they have been read over 11,000 times and I’m really quite humbled by that fact.

I imagine all of us bloggers are doing our ‘…of the year’ thingy right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me. So if you’re rather full of these lists then maybe you should look away now……….

20171229_145525-1783135438.jpg2017……………

MOST POPULAR BLOG POST OF THE YEAR

Inspired by some of the naïve errors I made back in my first ever marathon, I wrote this tongue in cheek BLOG POST about ten rookie errors guaranteed to make your marathon experience miserable.

runner in leggings

TOP TEN BLOG-VISITING COUNTRIES OF THE YEAR

Aside from the UK, my rather humble wittering has been perused in 70 different countries – most prolifically in The United States, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, Germany, Finland, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland & India. There’s even been a visit from somebody in Cambodia.cambodia flag

My book reviews are the least ‘viewed’ posts, but as I’ve always maintained, I absolutely love writing them, therefore every single person that might get a moment’s pleasure from reading is an honour and a bonus.

On this note (and I know they’ll be reading), a big “Hi” to Pieter & Samira from The Hague. They made a point of finding us at the Reggae Marathon to let us know they loved the blog – Happy New Year to all in The Netherlands x

PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR

 

A close run thing here – finishing the (32 mile – black) R.A.T. in a fantastic time (blogged about HERE) was a truly magical ‘Team Bonfield’ moment. Successfully completing The Gower 50 Mile Ultra in a time I was chuffed with, despite the rabbit hole incident! Yes, I was so, SO proud to have completed my first ‘solo’ ultra and first 50 miler – read all about it HERE.

BUT – I reckon there hasn’t been a better moment than when Nicky and I pitched up in Snowdonia for the absolutely FABULOUS trail marathon nervous about the 19 mile cut -off. Well, we arrived at that check point, the gateway to the main climb of the day with  about 3/4 hour to spare. I waxed lyrical about that fabulous day HERE.

PROUDEST HUSBAND MOMENT OF THE YEAR

 

As ever, the year was jam packed with moments of inspiration, adventure and achievement, as my beautiful, amazing, truly inspirational lady wife, yet again amazed me over and over again. Every single day I feel more and more blessed to have this incredible lady in my life.

So, she smashed her marathon PB at the North Dorset Villages Marathon (read all about it HERE), came so, so close to breaking 2 hours at the Bideford Half Marathon (chatted about HERE), yes it’s been a year of fizzing along. As I’ve said above, she achieved some amazing results in some epic trail events and combined an increasingly absorbing work life and a challenging, at times, domestic life with training for multiple endurance disciplines.

Yes, Nicky also completed her first triathlon and you can read all about that fabulous day HERE.

Also, there were some amazing proud moments as Alisa, Nicky’s eldest daughter completed her first events, alongside her Mum, as she continued her journey to fitness and on her health drive.

20170909_115647BUT, amongst this year of hectic, wonderful, adventurous and fun weekend challenges, my proudest coat-holding moment was the River Dart 10k swim. WOW – having completed this event last year, she set about attempting to break 3 hours this time. You’ll have guessed by now that yes, indeed, she did!

So amongst a forest of proud moments – read about my most bursting day – HERE.

MY FAVOURITE TEN EVENTS OF THE YEAR

wp-image-1930420776Well, apologies to all the other event organisers but, for the best that trail running gives to me, it has to be the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) from Mudcrew. There are point to point 11 mile, 20 mile and 32 mile options. We have completed the 32 miles in each of the last three years. But – I can’t resist it any longer and the ‘out and back’ 64 miler is on my calendar for 2018! Check out the blog from this year’s event HERE.

 

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Beating the tide!

For quirkiness, brilliant concept, route design, friendliness (I could go on), the Race The Tide from Pure Trail was also a fabulous trail event. (blog, naturally, HERE). As was the already discussed Snowdonia Trail Marathon.

 

Another wonderful trail race was the Coniston Trail Marathon – another great performance by Team Bonfield – read all about this one HERE.

We did some cracking half marathons (including a couple that were supposed to be marathons!), particularly enjoying the great atmosphere at The Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service Half down in Bodmin. My first race as a Vet 50 – scribblings HERE.

 

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The Larmer Tree Marathon – Plenty of ups and downs

 

 

 

The previously discussed North Dorset Villages Marathon is probably my favourite road marathon and this was our second year there. Back on the trails, we also returned to The Larmer Tree from White Star Running for a second year. Yet another race with a superb atmosphere – varied and challenging off road route through the Dorset countryside. White Star offer something a little different to the trail running scene, and provide a lovely balance of true endurance challenges and hearty laughter. Guess what – there were words…. HERE.

 

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The gang…. ready to Frolic…

Also from White Star, was the East Farm Frolic, it barely got a mention in the Blog as we were having a particularly ‘time poor’ period at home around that time. Basically, do as many laps (about 4.5 miles) of an undulating, rural, trail route, on a farm in Dorset, as you either can or want to, for 12 hours. A great, inclusive, fun event with a family atmosphere and camping

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The weather in Wales… t’was grim!

After managing to navigate my limping body around the 50 miles of The Gower Ultra – and what a gorgeous place it is – this was always going to feature in this list. With around 200 competitors and seemingly double that working on the fabulous checkpoints, it truly was a breakthrough for me, in so many ways.

So that’s 9 of my favourite events. We’ve done about 30 this year, so picking 10 (in no particular order) was hard. No ‘of the year’ list, though could possibly be complete without Mudcrew’s The Scrooge the ever popular trail running fancy dress romp through the Lost Gardens Of Heligan. See the blog HERE, Yet again, we took it VERY seriously…….

 

MY FAVOURITE RUNNING ‘THINGS’

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My Karen ribbon. My sister was taken from us aged a mere 44 years and a week (9 years ago). On her last night, I ended up with an item of her clothing, which I cut into ribbons. My brother and I both tie them to our wrists for races and she’ll forever be at the side of the road  yelling “arms, Kevin, ARMS!” as she expertly analysed my terrifying running style. Will be missed forever.

 

fetch logoFetcheveryone.com still my favourite website. Brilliantly evolved under the loving gaze of founder and bloke-in-chief, Ian Williams, there still isn’t an online running community to match it. I would never have got anywhere near where I have with my own running without it.

To hear the man himself talk us through his world, check out his fabulous interview on another of my favourite running things Marathon Talk. This is a weekly podcast presented by Martin Yelling and Tom Williams, I’ve listened to every single one of the 400+ episodes and, as with Fetch, it very much has been part of my journey.

talk ultraOther podcasts I heartily recommend….. Talk Ultra normally fortnightly, presented by the thoroughly engaging Ian Corless who really humanises the sport of Ultra running and manages to gather interviewees from every country, every distance and every ability.

Running CommentaryAnother podcast I’ve not missed an episode of is Running Commentary. On a weekly basis the two comedians and avid runners, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson don head-sets and record their quirky, irreverent, poignant, witty and downright entertaining banter as they run along. These three podcasts make my working week feel just that little bit shorter.

 

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2012 & the start of 2017 when he was challenged by 17 mates to beat 16 minutes for 5k by the end of the year (or end up with their names tattoes on his body!)

Another interviewee on Marathon Talk (he’s appeared on three separate occasions) is the infectious Colin McCourt. From an elite international 1500m runner to a rather portly, sedentary chap, he started this year with a challenge to return to his former speedy self. He charted this progress on his Instagram account and has become one of the best running stories of the year. He set out to lose a shed load of weight and attempt to break 16 minutes for 5km. Check out his Instagram and relive his incredible 2017. I won’t give any spoilers……

 

2017-06-04 15.20.11Oh, and although I’m not into plugging brands (check out my lack of sponsorship HERE) I can’t sum the year up without mentioning my Inov8 trail shoes – I bought them at the Coniston Marathon (BLOG HERE) after the shoe company lent us shoes to run the marathon in! They are, genuinely, gert lush (translation: very good indeed).

2017-11-07 15.47.37Obviously Faith’s (my energetic and LOUD grandaughter) Silver Wellies have stolen the show in any running shoe debate – she smashed her mile fun run at the Templar Ten in them – blogged about (naturally) HERE.

 

RUNNING BUDDY OF THE YEAR 

Probably no surprises here……..

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The most beautiful, amazing, inspirational, funny, charming, adventurous and DAMNED HOT person I’ve ever met – she truly is my world and as long as we’re together then “don’t worry, ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing, gonna be alright”

2017-05-11 06.43.20Obviously, Charlie, the intrepid Border Terrier, is a close second!

 

 

 

 

Now, this being a happy place, there’s no room for negativity, bitterness, moaning, backstabbing or bitching. 2017 has been a challenging year, in many ways, for Nicky and myself, we’ve had to adapt and survive changes and developments in our world and work around the challenges. We’ve been (without bigging us up!) strong and determined, and ‘made it happen’ when ‘it’ didn’t look very likely on many occasions and we have those closest to us to thank for helping us absorb the impact of life.

Riddles, I know, but it’s hard to flamboyantly describe the slow down in the world of someone we love.

So, I’m proud of, and have loved, every minute of our journey together. Yet another year becomes ‘the best yet’ in this world I’ve been blessed to live in. And, yes, I’m proud of my achievements both in running and in life.

BUT, it’s Nicky that fills my heart and soul to bursting point with pride and more love than I could ever have imagined existed in the world……..

Yes, this lady has, in 2017, defied her crazy and demanding job, her crazy and demanding domestic life and her crazy and demanding, er, husband, and constantly, over and over again, pushed her boundaries, gone (literally) higher and faster, conquered new skills and generally been awesome in all of her fabulous endurance challenges…..

For example, she was (wo)man enough to admit that a half was enough at the Portland Coastal Marathon  back in February, came back strong to complete cracking half marathons in Bodmin and Bideford, then matched our previous years time at The Larmer Tree Marathon. Another brilliant half at the Tavy 13 (blog HERE – I fell over!), the quirky and hilly Devonshire Dumpling Marathon (blog HERE)and then a blistering time at The Yeovil Easter Bunny 10k (HERE) before absolutely smashing her marathon PB at The North Dorset Villages Marathon (already talked about up there^^).

Then she beat challenging time limitations with (relative) ease at Race The Tide, Coniston Trail Marathon, Snowdonia Trail Marathon, The RAT etc etc……

Nicky blitzed her first ever triathlon, swam four tough open water events, The Swoosh, The Dart 5k, The Great North Swim and The River Dart 10k (breaking the 3 hour barrier).

Despite the incredible heat, we matched our previous time at The Reggae Marathon (blog HERE)

This is a far from conclusive list, but I think I’ve explained just WHY, I think this lady is extraordinary in every way.

Apologies for this, but  feel I need to include the one event that DOESN’T think Nicky is good enough. Think 5h30m time limit for a hilly trail marathon (12m35s per mile) yet has a cut off of 1h30m at 8 miles (11m15s per mile). Only it’s not ACTUALLY at 8 miles… etc etc. Yup THIS BLOG POST curled a few toes!

Anyway. I truly am blessed….