Wednesday 21 December 2011

Looking forward to 2012

2011 has been a great year for ultra running in general with fantastic races all over the world, amazing performances by so many people and obvious growth in the numbers involved in the sport. Personally, I've had the chance to meet so many runners, including many who I'd only seen in magazines and have had my belief reaffirmed that there's no other sport like it in terms of friendliness and camaraderie. So I'm very thankful to everyone who's helped me do the races and been part of the experience.

In terms of reflections on the year gone by, Rocky Raccoon 100 was obviously a high point and I didn't expect to have such a near-perfect race there, with a 12:44 Course Record and the chance to race against some great runners. In many ways it just made the rest of the season a disappointment as I set my sights so high for Comrades in May that I raced too much in trying to get fast enough. But I still had a lot of fun along the way at some great events. Then I basically only ran trail ultras for the rest of the year but played catch-up on the recovery so am looking forward to a little time off right now that the season has ended.

Next year I'll be racing less but still want some road races in there as I found I really missed them in the last six months. They're also great for providing the speed work that can sometimes be put by the wayside when trail running.

So if I'm racing less I have to be a little more selective, although it means missing out on some great events that I'd love to return to, including Boston, Comrades, Mt Hood 50 and Waldo 100k. Luckily there're lots of top class races left and I had a look at to help me decide (and to make sure I didn't miss out on anything I might not have heard about).

Below is what I've decided on so far, based on what I know I'm able to fit in logistically. I'm looking forward to seeing you all out on the trails and roads, so please say hi if you read this and can recognize me out of a costume. In particular it's difficult to choose which 100-milers to run since these take the largest commitment and Hardrock and UTMB, in particular, will have to wait for another year (maybe never for Hardrock if the lottery odds keep increasing).

4 Feb - Rocky Raccoon 100, TX (including a talk in Austin post-race)
4 Mar - Napa Valley Marathon, CA (Elvis Guinness World Record attempt)
31 Mar - Badger Mt 15k, WA (including a talk the day before at the 100 mile pre-race dinner)
29 Apr - Eugene Half Marathon, OR
5 May - Miwok 100k, CA (no costume this time)
23 Jun - Western States 100, CA
31 Aug - CCC 98k, Italy/Switzerland/France
29 Sep - UROC 100k, VA
Oct - Tri Cities Marathon, WA
Dec - TNFEC Championship, CA

It doesn't look like enough as I prefer to race most weekends, but sensible Ian is prevailing over tired-legs Ian. I'm also really looking forward to the Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats starting in Feb and coaching people to some great results at races that include Western States.

On a lighter note, here are some general ultra predictions for next year:

1. Mike Wardian will win at least one really major trail ultra, finally proving that he can find his way through the woods as well as run fast.
2. Several people will run under 14 hours for 100 miles on various surfaces and at least a couple will break 13 too.
3. Western States will be run on the normal course and won't be as fast as the past two years.
4. Some men you've never heard of will win big ultras in the US but you'll have the same names for the women at the front of the top races.
5. China will join the ultra bandwagon, train up some marathon runners and send them to races to make them the 'Salomon' of 2012. These runners will then run away at the finish line and claim asylum.
6. North Korea will try to copy this 'success' but their runners will run away before the starting gun even goes off.
7. Races in the Euro area will become very cheap (to the rest of the world) as the currency becomes monopoly money.
8. In the quest for lighter and more minimalist shoes, one company will come up with the idea of injecting shoes with helium, which will lead to hilarious accidents on course as people with squeaky voices limp into aid stations.
9. Ultra beards will go out of fashion.
10. A tribe from the Amazon will be discovered who run all day and night in Hoka-like shoes and have done for centuries. A book will be written and Scott Jurek will race them.

Then something that probably won't happen (unlike the things above):

1. Hardrock's RDs will love having a fast field so much they'll change their entry criteria for 2013.

Bring on 2012! Assuming the world doesn't end.

Friday 9 December 2011

All-Star Running Retreats in Vegas

Something I've been working on for a while with Gill and Francesca of Bad to the Bone Events (the Ultra Race of Champions 100k Race Directors) is a new way to do running camps. So we thought about what would make it fun and exciting and came up with 'All-Star Running Retreats'.

For 3-days/4-nights, based in Las Vegas in February (16-19th), I'll be joined by Geoff Roes (barely needs an introduction but if you're reading this blog you certainly know he won and broke the course record at Western States last year, as shown in the new film 'Unbreakable'...which is an incredible watch). And road and trail demon, Devon-Crosby-Helms (current USATF 100k road champion, Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and course record holder at JFK 50).

Hey, even if it's just those two guys and myself out on the trails, including around Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire, I know it'll be fun. But the whole point, of course, is to offer runners of all abilities the luxury Vegas experience (including the Blue Man Group, the Strip etc) mixed with the great trails out of town and the chance to learn from and socialize with some of the top ultra runners out there (plus me shepherding it all).

Below is the full press release but if you're interested then have a look at the website here. It will be a lot of fun and I can't wait to meet more runners at the retreats.

The press release, is as follows:

December 9, 2011, Charlottesville, VA— From the folks who brought you UROC 100K, the groundbreaking, rule-changing Ultra Race of Champions, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports founders J. Russell Gill and Dr. Francesca Conte are excited to announce a new concept in running camps for 2012. Not a grueling boot camp for runners, or a dense, pack'em in (runners and miles) seminar, All-Star Running Retreats allows runners to combine the fun of a weekend getaway at a unique destination with running and learning from some of the fastest and knowledgeable elite ultra runners competing today. The February retreat will take place over three days and four nights in Las Vegas, NV. It will feature Ian Sharman (US Trail 100 Mile Record Holder), Geoff Roes (Western States 100 Miler Record Holder) and Devon Crosby-Helms (US 50 Mile Champ; 100K US National Champion and world class chef).

The dates for the 2012 Las Vegas winter retreat will be February 16 through February 19. All training runs will take place on the most scenic trails in and around Las Vegas, including Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. Each retreat includes all meals and accommodations, two daily training runs focusing on different aspects of running and training, roundtable discussions with the All-Star staff and social activities, including the "must see" Blue Man Group on the strip. 

"The concept of a running camp is not new, but the combination of an All-Star staff with different strengths and knowledge bases, plus a unique destination like Las Vegas certainly is. The retreats will focus not just on the mental and physical aspects of running, but will also include the social aspect of running--Vegas baby!" says Gill. Retreat Leader Ian Sharman adds: "I am very excited about running and spending three days on the trails around Las Vegas. I have been to Las Vegas many times, and I know how much it has to offer."  Lead Runner Geoff Roes, who spends much of his time in Alaska, echoes that sentiment with enthusiasm: "I can't wait to run in Vegas in the winter!" The retreats will also showcase other qualities of the All-Star athletes, including the culinary knowledge of Devon Crosby-Helms who focuses her cooking on the perfect foods for endurance training. Crosby-Helms will offer a cooking masterclass for all the participants. 

Maintaining their "best of the best" motto, Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats will house participants at the Vegas retreat in a luxury mansion, which they will share with the All-Star staff and other participants. "This will foster the close culture already present in the sport of ultra running," says Conte  "while taking advantage of the best that Las Vegas has to offer." While the philosophy of the All-Star Running Retreats is to offer participants an exceptional opportunity to interact with the All-Star staff in a unique environment, the winter retreats in Vegas also represent one of the best, early training opportunities for runners to get ready for any spring or summer race. 

To learn more about Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats and to register for the January or February dates, visit

About Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports
By directing premiere endurance events, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports strives to motivate athletes of all backgrounds to challenge themselves. For almost 10 years, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports events have reflected owners' Gill and Francesca's decades-long knowledge and passion for running.  

About Ian Sharman
Ian is a Brit and started running 6 years ago after seeing a TV documentary about a race across the Sahara. He kind of got addicted and started running races most weekends around the world, mainly in Europe. Then he moved to the US in 2009 to get married and found the ultra culture to be even more fun this side of the pond and makes it his mission to race the most interesting courses and most competitive fields he can find globally. Ian is also a coach. 

About Geoff Roes
Geoff grew up running cross country and track in school and then after nearly 10 years without running much at all he found his way back to running because of his desire to get out into the mountains and explore his surroundings. He considers ultra running to be the perfect blend of mountain exploration, high level competition with some of the best athletes in the world, and plenty of time for personal introspection. He can't think of anything he'd rather be doing with his life right now.

About Devon Crosby-Helms
Devon is a certified personal chef specializing in organic, natural cooking as well as special diets. She runs her own personal chef company, Fast Foodie, in San Francisco. Also, she absolutely loves to run and enjoys trails, roads, and every surface in between from distances of a marathon up to 100 miles.

Sunday 4 December 2011

TNF Endurance Challenge Championship Season Finale

The main chase pack with the eventual contenders soon after dawn. Photo from the TNFEC Facebook page.

Yesterday was the big 50-mile showdown of the year in San Francisco, courtesy of The North Face. We had almost the entire team there for TNF Endurance Challenge Championship and runners came from all around the globe to see who was the fastest (and to win some prize money, ideally).

Marin County is the perfect race course and hosts numerous great races, including the Miwok 100k. And on top of that we had summer-like weather for the area which led to a beautiful red sunrise, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, blah, blah. Basically it would have been great for a fun run, but I think everyone just ran so hard we probably appreciated it most after the race.

irunfar covered the race in detail before, during and after and posted a round-up of results here. No doubt it was a whole load of fun for everyone and there's only so many races where you get to race such a quality field, so everyone was visibly buzzing at the prospect.

In advance of the race it looked like any number of men could take the title if they ran a perfect race and probably around five women had a shot at the win in the ladies' race. But one thing was certain - nobody would be near the front if they only had an ok day, or even a good day.

As most people thought, it started off with a huge pack of maybe 25 men together at a fast pace against a gusty wind, plus the lead women stuck very close together as well. However, two of the Salomon guys flew off even faster, Gregory Vollet and Christophe Malarde, although they later dropped. The pack just flew along and within an hour I had dropped a couple of minutes off the pace from choosing to run a more sensible pace...although still pushing hard (I had a 5:24 mile in there).

Sunrise came and the headlamps were dropped off at Muir Beach aid station, 12.7 miles into the race. A flatter section followed and we could see each other properly now. That was a nice change as I'm not an experienced night runner and my headlamp was like a floodlight so when I ran behind anyone wearing white I got blinded by the reflected shine - Lizzy Hawker unintentionally dazzled me a couple of times (in more ways than one!) as she surged along at the front of the women.

Jason Loutitt from TNF Canada ran up the long, gentle climb to the Cardiac aid station at 18 miles just ahead of me then I latched on to have someone to talk to for a while. It was kind of surreal to be running this race since I found that each runner I approached turned from being a skinny anonymous guy to someone I either knew or had heard of and admired. It made Western States seem relatively uncompetitive even though there were a few notable exceptions from the start list who I won't list out (but Bryon Powell did here).

By the 22.8 mile turnaround the leaders had spread out slightly but there were still a lot of guys looking strong, as well as a few who looked burnt out. I was 11 minutes off the lead and knew I'd have to kick it up a notch to have a chance. I tried but couldn't speed up as planned so suspected I'd be in for a hard day and was right. I've spent the whole year trying to fit my training around a race calendar I selected without much concern for recovery and it's kept me the wrong side of the fine line every runner tries to maintain, although I had a longer rest before this race to try to correct that. Lesson learned for 2012, but I still had almost 30 miles to push through and if I blew up then a whole load of guys would take advantage and zoom past. It's pressure, but it's a hell of a lot of fun and one of the biggest draws of racing for me and many others. Just because the day wasn't going to plan, it merely meant moving the bullseye to doing as well as I could.

I can generally judge my fitness off my marathon times and at the moment I'd struggle to go much below 2:45 (as shown by the 1:21 half marathon as Elvis which wasn't particularly comfortable six days earlier) so knew I was lacking pace compared to the guys I had to race. In comparison, back in February when I felt great I reckon I'd have run under 2:30.

So each part of the course was now broken down into running aid station to aid station, based on running bits of it in other races and vague snap-shots in my memory from looking at the course map. Then I was concentrating so much on power-hiking up from Stinson Beach aid station (mile 28.2 at sea level) that I found myself on a path with no markers. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a marker but had recently seen a couple of runners ahead, so wasn't sure if I'd gone wrong. Then a couple of minutes later I see the markers coming from the side as my path reconnected with the correct path. Not a good sign and it mentally knocked me off whack so much that I thought I'd have to disqualify myself for not running the course (I mentioned this to people at the end but my Garmin showed I basically ran parallel to the course for about 5 minutes and may have even added a minuscule amount of distance).

The rest of the day was bright and the wind had died down to make for perfect running conditions and barely any mud. I had no idea what position I was in but at least I was moving up the field gradually as some of the early leaders faded back. It's hard to see talented guys having a bad day but on the trail isn't the time for too much sympathy as it's a race after all and there's always post-race to dissect the day in detail. All you can do is try to avoid bonking yourself, managing nutrition, liquids and pace. But as I passed super fast youngsters, Matt Flaherty and Jordan McDougal (my new team-mate who I only met just before the race) at Cardiac 2 (32.9 miles), I could tell I was hitting the carnage amongst some of the genuine contenders.

Around 25 miles in. Photo from Drymax Socks.

Black and white always looks better even though I was barely moving. Photo from Brett Rivers.

After a few more miles and catching a couple more 50-milers amongst the 50k runners who were now running the same route to the finish, the remaining climbs and descents were smaller and less technical with less than 1,000ft each time. The pace had slowed down at just the point that it should have been increasing  and nobody looked comfortable.

Miles went by without injury or incident but I felt rough until around the 38.9 mile aid station. At least I was moving through the field and nobody passed me until new TNF team member, Mike Foote, caught me at Muir Beach 2 (42.6 miles) and looked really strong as he powered uphill. At the same point we caught Mike Wardian who had a rare bad day and felt sick.

On the final climb after Tennessee Valley 2 (45.5 miles) my efforts were rewarded by catching a couple more guys but then I heard grunting behind me and saw Anna Frost and her pacer moving up the hill. She was as unstoppable as a glacier, but considerably faster and seemed to be red-lining even though she didn't look like she was going to need to slow down. My power-hike/run combo up the hill lost me a little time but I was with her at the high point and with just three miles of downhill and flat to the finish. I wondered what had happened to Lizzy Hawker, who'd led earlier and looked unbeatable, but later found out she'd had to drop due to an achilles pain.

Anna was on a mission and even a 5:20 mile downhill from me barely gapped her. Although I obviously wanted to avoid being chicked, my main focus was to chase down any remaining men who were just ahead but there were only marathoners and 50k runners within reach. I virtually collapsed on the finish, knowing I couldn't have tried harder on the day. 6:55 was my time but Anna was just a minute behind, running one of the most impressive 50-mile trail runs I'm aware of to beat the world's best female trail ultra runners. But maybe not as impressive as a blood-stained Mike Wolfe who crushed the course record and the competition in 6:19 to place him in strong contention for Ultra Runner of the Year. Amazing stuff, although I can't help thinking that there seems to be a TNF policy to have the whole team named Mike.

Mike Wolfe after his win. Photo from TNFEC's Facebook page.

Also, don't miss this video from the Endurables covering the race at the front:

Or this video from Salomon covering their athletes at the race:

irunfar covers the whole event in more detail and shows off the variety of great performances out there in Marin, but I'll also mention Ellie Greenwood who added this race on at the last minute because it looked fun even though her season was meant to be over...and still almost won, running 7:07 for 2nd and 16th overall. Full results are here. And congratulations to everyone who ran. A truly great day and inspiring to everyone there.

So goodbye to the 2011 season. It's been fun and exciting for me as a runner and a fan, but there's some improvement to target for 2012.

Monday 28 November 2011

Seattle Half Marathon and Cyber Monday

Yesterday I dusted off the Elvis suit for its 5th race (previous ones being Guinness World Records at London 2007, Rome 2008 and Seattle 2009, Miwok 100k 2011) at the Seattle Half Marathon. It was the last of my 2011 runs to help support and raise awareness for the work done at the Starfish Greathearts Foundation to help AIDS orphans in Africa, so if you're feeling generous, please donate here (UK) or here (all others).

The race was wet and windy and it didn't help that I forgot to bring a belt, which is essential for a one-size-fits-all costume. Instead I had string to hold up wet trousers, which meant they slipped down and chaffed more than usual. However, it was fun to be part of the 11,000 people running the marathon or half and to not do the full race for once, although the hilliest section is within the last few miles of both courses so that wasn't avoided. I think Amy and her sister, Megan, kind of enjoyed it as their first half marathon and longest run ever, but they may be cursing me a little bit today as they limp around.

I did spot a guy in a Spiderman suit walking around the finish after I'd eaten some food but I couldn't be 100% certain he'd run or not. You never know.

Next weekend is the big showdown at the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50 miler in Marin, by San Francisco. It's looking to be the hottest trail race competition of the year (sorry, UTMB), as you can see from the irunfar preview of the men's race. Just needs a couple more Salomon guys from Europe and it'd have pretty much every elite who's fit on the starting line. So it should be great to catch up with people and to meet a load more I've not bumped into before.

Finally, since it's Cyber Monday and I have a couple of coaching spots left, I'm offering 5% off my prices on my coaching website for anyone who commits today only (up to midnight PST).

Sunday 20 November 2011

Return of Elvis

Seattle marathon 2009

After a few weeks off running and plenty off racing, I tried a 5k last week and hated it. Annoyingly it was a PB, but only because the course was short and my actual speed was barely above marathon PB pace.

Luckily I have stuff that does interest me more coming right up. Firstly, there's the Seattle Half Marathon in a week where I'll be returning to the course where I last got the Elvis marathon Guinness World Record (2:42). Just half the distance this time, but faster and for charity. As with earlier in the year, I'm trying to help out the Starfish Greathearts Foundation, who help AIDS orphans in Africa. If you'd like to help me support this worthy cause, donations in the UK can be given here or other nationalities can donate here.

Given this time of year is Thanksgiving (for 330m people, anyway), it's a good time to remember how lucky most of us are and how much we take for granted, so please help the charity out if you're amused by or like my odd efforts to raise awareness.

After taking that race fairly easy, I have the final big showdown of the year at The North Face Endurance Challenge Final. This is shaping up to be a seriously competitive 50 miler, probably the best field I've ever heard of in a trail 50 (better than last year - check out some of the top names from all over the world on this list). Should be really fun to hang out with the world's best and be part of such a speedy field in one of my favorite places to run - Marin.

Enjoy the 'holiday season' as they say over here in the US and good luck with your races or off season fun.

Also, if you're thinking of a Christmas present for a runner, I have a couple of spots left for coaching and it's an ideal present for a distance runner which could help make their 2012 season the best yet. More details here.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Mountains and Colorado

I just came back from my first trip to Colorado and was lucky to meet up briefly with two of the most iconic ultrarunners around today (I'm sure that would make them blush if they saw it), Scott Jurek and Geoff Roes. And if that isn't enough, I also had the UROC 100k RDs, Gill and Frannie (also very accomplished ultrarunners) to run with. These guys showed me some of the trails near Boulder, the mountain ultra hub, including going up Green Mountain and another run up along Eldorado Canyon to the Walker Ranch Loop.

Above Eldorado Canyon, CO

As above

And again

Heading up out of Boulder (L-R: Geoff, Gill, Frannie)

One climb done, heading up Green Mt next (L-R: Scott, Gill, Frannie and Geoff)

Halfway up Green Mt, CO

Gill at the top of Green Mt

Scott on the top of Green Mt with a decent view of multiple 14ers

Imagine that on your doorstep, right by Boulder

Gill and Scott on Green Mt

UROCers heading back down Green Mt

Anyway, I had a blast even though I struggled to keep up in their home territory. I can see why so many fast runners live around the area and how they get so good at running in the mountains - if I had that on my doorstep I'd be out there most days too. Luckily I now have Bend's mountains so I can do my own smaller version with less altitude but still with some 3,000ft+ climbs straight up. Speaking of which, I went up Mt Bachelor twice a few days before the trip to Colorado before the first snowfall of the year, which felt tough (2,700ft in about 2 miles, peaking at 9,100ft).

I also love fast running and roads, but being out in these kinds of places with such genuinely friendly and relaxed company is just plain inspiring. Bring on the snow and the snow shoes!

The photos below are around Bend, mainly from the hikes up Bachelor last week.

Friday 4 November 2011

New coaching website

I'm sure anyone reading this will be literally bursting with excitement at the thought of me making my blog-style coaching website into a proper website, but I did it anyway. Very interesting from my perspective learning a bit about websites, so here's the finished product.

I'm now coaching people across four continents so if you're a current or aspiring marathoner or ultrarunner who wants to improve and learn more, contact me soon if you're interested before I run out of spots.

You could even buy a coaching plan for a Christmas gift for that special runner in your life (do I sound like an ad man or even worse?).

Tuesday 25 October 2011

International road marathon comparison - M-Z

This is the second part of my marathon comparison posting covering marathons M-Z that I've run and so it's just for ones I can write about first-hand. Part one is here.

After each description I show my estimate of how many minutes to add on to your perfect time due to the course/conditions for a three hour marathoner to give a comparison. Like this: ADD X MINUTES

Marrakech Marathon, Morocco (January) - Maybe not the most effective organization but it's a great city to visit and weather will tend to be at least comfortable, but possibly hot. The course is mainly outside the old town with the souks and windy little side-streets so has some desert-like views but it's all on flat roads so is very fast if the heat stays low. ADD 2 MINUTES

Napa Valley Marathon, California, USA (March) - Scenic point-to-point run through the Napa wine region with your weight in wine as a prize if you win (they're smart - the winner is unlikely to be big). The course rolls slightly but is quick in general with comfortable, if potentially wet, conditions. ADD 1 MINUTE

New Forest Marathon, England (September) - A scenic run through this forest in the south of England on roads with very small trail sections. Some gentle rolling paths and wind can slow the pace slightly but generally a relaxed and enjoyable smaller race. ADD 3 MINUTES

New York City Marathon, New York, USA (November) - The world's biggest marathon with multiple start areas and routes that stay separate until several miles into the course. This one has to be on every marathoner's to do list despite the fact it's fairly tough due to the bridges acting as nasty hills. If you want to run fast here then you need to qualify to be at the front but the times required are tightening from 2012 due to the popularity of the race (for a senior man it will be 2:45, with times dropping for masters' age groups). It's a fun race with a chance to see plenty of NYC, much of which you might not need to really see, so this is really about the experience and it isn't cheap (I can't think of a more expensive entry fee for a road marathon). Don't expect to be running in those early miles or where the starts merge later on unless you're very near the front. ADD 3 MINUTES (much more if not in the front corrals)

Newport Marathon, Oregon, USA (June) - An ideal race to go for a time plus some scenic views of the sea, a large bridge and along a river in the beautiful Oregon coast. Small enough that everyone can run immediately but fast and flat enough to let people nail the race, especially since the weather tends to be ideal for running. Only remotely difficult bit is a tiny hill in the first few miles, unless you decide to do the oyster challenge and eat as many oysters as you can as you go past the oyster farm on the way out and heading back (current record 80 oyster shooters).  ADD 0.5 MINUTES

Night of Flanders Marathon, Belgium (June) - The marathon isn't the main event here as it's more focused on the 100k which has previously been the 100k World Cup race. But the courses are the same and the 100k just includes more loops through the countryside and small Flemish villages. The novelty here is that it starts in the evening and so some of the marathon is in the dark while most of the 100k is. Flat, slightly windy and with each lap going past weekend revelers in bars (who seem to be oblivious to the race). ADD 2 MINUTES

Oakland Marathon, California, USA (March) - Oakland doesn't have a great reputation and has very high crime rates, even though it's just across the Bay from San Francisco and near much less dangerous places. The marathon starts with a gradual then steeper climb up to Piedmont, which is the rich part of town and takes an effort. Then after 10 miles there's downhill into Oakland proper and flat, speedy roads. The front-runners spread out so if you go significantly under 3h pace then you'll run though much of the dodgy part of Oakland solo. So each time you see a cop blocking a road for the race, you'll be happy. This shouldn't be an issue for most people but I felt unsafe running along (having run through ghettos in Africa and several third world countries). ADD 3 MINUTES

Oslo Marathon, Norway (September) - A course that mainly goes along the bay in one of the richest and most expensive countries in the world. A chance to see Viking ships but if you want to do a Scandinavian marathon then Stockholm is prettier and more fun, not that this is a bad race at all. ADD 1 MINUTE

Paris Marathon, France (April) - Starting along the Champs-Elysees by the Arc de Triomphe so that it's a very wide start allowing the field to spread out on the very gentle downhill. Then you get the chance to see most of Paris' sights, two very French parks and a finish back at the Arc de Triomphe. Fast course, beautiful course and it includes a trip to Paris - highly recommended. ADD 1 MINUTE

Portland Marathon, Oregon, USA (October) - Although Portland is a very green city in every way, this course shows less pretty parts of town and has a big bridge crossing around 16 miles. A relaxed atmosphere and not too large a field, plus a focus on making the race good for beginners and be female-friendly means this is a chilled race. People aren't fighting for position at the start like at many races. It'll probably rain and could be cold and windy so this isn't a super-fast course but is good as a first race or if you want to avoid the over-competitiveness you get at many races (particularly near the front). ADD 3 MINUTES

Prague Marathon, Czech Republic (May) - As my first marathon, this feels particularly special to me and Prague is always a great city to visit, particularly the ancient old town where the race starts and finishes. The course has been improved slightly since I ran it but still involves some running on boring roads away from the center. Fast, although some people may not like the flat cobbles near the start and finish. ADD 1 MINUTE

Quebec City Marathon, Canada (August) - Not many marathons in August but this is a fun one that includes a chance to see a large part of the city along the water then finish at the bottom of the old town. Easy first half including some bike paths then there's a steep climb up to a big bridge halfway through and a prevailing headwind to the finish which can really slow everyone down. ADD 4 MINUTES

Reykjavik Marathon, Iceland (August) - Iceland is an interesting place to visit and the race coincides with their summer festival so the locals do the two things they're famed for - drinking heavily and being promiscuous (the latter is just what I've heard). The course is mainly along the Atlantic coastline and typically is windy, plus even August is generally cold. So even though this course isn't fast, it's the road marathon I've done the most and somehow led to four PBs in a row. But beware that if you run faster than 3h pace you'll be on your own for most of the time. ADD 2 MINUTES

Robin Hood Marathon, England (September) - This race in Robin Hood's locality in Nottingham follows the half marathon route, which is quite hilly, then heads off around man-made rowing lakes where there can be headwinds. A medium-sized marathon where a Brit is almost guaranteed to bump into a runner he or she knows. ADD 2 MINUTES

Rome Marathon, Italy (March) - This is one of the best road marathons out there and even has a quick course. Undoubtedly the most impressive city marathon course given you run past so many world famous sights (unlike, say, London which avoids most tourist areas). Starting and finishing at the Colosseum then including the Vatican, Roman Forum and everything else you'd want to include on a trip there. Some cobbles but they're flattened and shouldn't be an issue for 99% of people. Do this race and fit in a longer trip to Italy if you can. ADD 1 MINUTE

Salt Lake City Marathon, Utah, USA (April) - A net downhill, but starting at almost 5,000ft which takes a tiny toll on sea-level dwellers. The start is around dawn with the views of the mountains surrounding the city just starting to be lit with purples and blues, so that distracts you at first before some rolling hills. The half starts at the same point then splits off a few miles in before joining back up near the end. Some freeway running but generally a decent course for views. ADD 3 MINUTES

San Francisco Marathon, California, USA (July) - Even though its at sea-level with mild weather, this is probably the hardest city marathon course I've seen given the significant hills (ok, trail runners, it's flat in mountain terms). Starting pre-dawn means cold and probably misty conditions but the main draw is the chance to run over the Golden Gate Bridge on an out and back. I loved the course despite the fact it slowed me down a lot. Great excuse to visit a cool city too. ADD 4 MINUTES

Santa Rosa Marathon, California, USA (August) - This small town race in wine country is very fast, despite the short sections of graveled trail. Basically a two-lap course along a river with a small field and so an ideal course to go for a PB if you don't mind potentially running alone. ADD 1 MINUTE

Seattle Marathon, Washington, USA (November) - One of my favorite marathons and a good reason to go to Seattle just after Thanksgiving. Not a fast course but lots of running by the water before coming back inland to the finish, which includes some sharp hills. Another race run concurrently with the half marathon, but the half takes a short-cut so marathoners pop out into the back of the pack half runners, which can be really motivating given the mutual support runners provide to each other. ADD 3 MINUTES

Shakespeare Marathon, England (April) - A marathon in Shakespeare's base of Stratford-Upon-Avon which rolls through country lanes for two laps. Usually very close to the London marathon so it tends to include people unable to get a spot there. An ideal way to run through some gentle English countryside without doing a trail race. ADD 3 MINUTES

Silicon Valley Marathon, California, USA (October) - Out and back from San Jose to Los Gatos along a canal for most of the course. The first half is gradually uphill then the return leg is fairly easy and the parks and greenery is better than you usually see in the area (I used to live there). ADD 2 MINUTES

Stockholm Marathon, Sweden (May/June) - Another of my favorites, this involves two slightly different laps across the islands of Stockholm with the only hard part being the double crossing of the long bridge back to the main city. It's scenic, involves visiting a great (if expensive) city, and usually has really pleasant weather although has been too hot a few times.  ADD 2 MINUTES

Tri Cities Marathon, Washington, USA (October) - A small race through all three of the cities that make up the Tri Cities, along the Colombia River. Completely flat except the four river crossings but these hardly affect your speed, although it can be windy so that's the only risk. Great for a PB attempt, but this may involve running alone given the small field. ADD 0.5 MINUTES

Valencia Marathon, Spain (November) - This race used to be in February and filled a gap in the calendar nicely but has since moved to November. A surprisingly good-looking city with some interesting modern architecture which you see along the route. It's also a well-designed course that is completely flat and easy. ADD 0 MINUTES 

Vilnius Marathon, Lithuania (September) - One of the things I love about running is that way it takes me places I wouldn't ever think of going otherwise. Lithuania is one of those places and it's a beautiful small city with plenty of Gothic architecture, windy little streets and, I found, rain. The course varies from old city streets to bike paths through woods plus it's not got any obvious difficulties. ADD 1 MINUTE

Warsaw Marathon, Poland (September) - As with Vilnius, I probably wouldn't have visited this historic city if it hadn't been for the marathon. It's a larger race but not as interesting since it includes some Eastern Bloc-style views of concrete faceless buildings and boring main roads as well as some of the old town. ADD 2 MINUTES

Zurich Marathon, Switzerland (April) - I usually prefer to run in the mountains when in Switzerland, for obvious reasons, but this marathon is executed with typical Swiss efficiency. Plus it has great views the whole way since most of it is out and back along Lake Zurich with the mountains adding a perfect backdrop. The course does have some gentle rolling sections but is still fast. If you miss out on London, this is a more than adequate alternative. ADD 2 MINUTES

I'll try to update this with additional marathons when I run more of them, but for now that's been fun to remember some fantastic trips in the past few years. Hope you find it interesting and useful.

Sunday 23 October 2011

International road marathon comparison - A-L

For a long time now I've been meaning to write up something comparing road marathons I've run since I thought it could be useful for people when deciding which ones to choose. It's also a handy way to preserve my memories. There's a lot of great races out there and many in locations that make for a great trip - a perfect way to see some fantastic cities.

Bear in mind the list isn't exhaustive but includes over 50 different marathons across the world, including a good portion of the most well-known ones, so there's some decent variety.

After each description I show my estimate of how many minutes to add on to your perfect time due to the course/conditions for a three hour marathoner to give a comparison. Like this: ADD X MINUTES

Amsterdam Marathon, The Netherlands (October) - Very fast course with typically perfect weather. Helps to be at near the front but not too big a race. Pancake flat and not necessarily very scenic but it does finish in the 1928 Olympic stadium so you can pretend you're finishing an Olympic marathon around the Great Depression, which isn't that far off the truth. Highly recommended, especially as it's a good excuse to visit the legal(ish) version of Sin City. ADD 0 MINUTES

Arizona Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, Arizona, USA (January) - If you want to have no off season then this is a great one to focus on for pure speed with comfortable temperatures and a slightly dull, but flat course around the Phoenix megapolis. They bill all the Rock 'n' Roll series races as a party but it's probably the most corporate running experience you could ever have (pay extra for VIP toilets at the start!) with less music along the course than many big city marathons. But the point of this one is really to have an easy course that's fast and to get away from winter snow. ADD 0 MINUTES

Athens Marathon, Greece (November) - Not particularly pretty but it does cover the original route from Marathon to Athens which is 24 miles, so it includes a loop to reach the adjusted distance of 26.2 miles. Flat first half then gently up before the last quarter is all downhill, finishing in the 2004 Olympic stadium. Kind of has to be done at some point just because of the history, but no need to do it a second time. ADD 2 MINUTES

Barcelona Marathon, Spain (March) - A great city to run around and a fast course too. Beautiful views of the sea and less overcrowding than at some of the larger city races. ADD 0 MINUTES

Beaujolais Nouveau Marathon, France (November) - a large percentage of people run in costumes and the race is similar to other wine country marathons like Medoc in that it's a way to celebrate the new season's wines. Wine, bread and cheese at every aid station, including pre-race so it's not exactly a fast marathon for most people. The highlight was running down steps into a wine cellar, past huge barrels of wine and an aid station, before running out the other end of the cellar and continuing on the course. ADD 5 MINUTES

Belfast Marathon, Northern Ireland (May) - Often windy, rainy and with a few hills to slow people down, yet strangely enjoyable even with sections along a motorway out to the airport. But running through republican Falls Road and loyalist Shankill Road with their sectarian murals is an interesting experience (especially if you're English). ADD 3 MINUTES

Berlin Marathon, Germany (September) - Fastest marathon course I've seen and the multiple world records broken there (the last four men's records were set there...excluding the disallowed Boston 2011 time). It starts on a wide road so the masses get moving faster than at similar-sized marathons. That allows more of the field to have a fast start, although many people still inevitably have to go very slow in the initial miles. Beer at the finish too. ADD 0 MINUTES

Big Sur International Marathon, California, USA (April/May) - Adding the word 'International' shows the aim of having people travel from all over the world and it fills very quickly but has a reasonable-sized field of 4,500 runners. Incredibly scenic along a beautiful stretch of California coastline but this is generally one to enjoy the views rather than go for a time. There's also a Boston 2 Big Sur challenge for people who run both, usually about a week apart. ADD 4 MINUTES

Boston Marathon, Massachusetts, USA (April) - In the US this is the big one everyone wants to get to thanks to the need to qualify, the history and the fact the locals get into it more than for any other marathon I can think of. I love it and it does feel special but it's not the fastest course normally due to cross-winds and those famous Newton Hills. Highlight is definitely the Wellesley girls whose screaming you can hear a mile before you get there at halfway. 2011 had a tailwind for much of the course but the 2:03:02 by Geoffrey Mutai may not have been an official world record due to the net downhill and point-to-point course, but I have no doubt it was the best run ever. This course can be fast, but on average ADD 2 MINUTES

Brussels Marathon, Belgium (October) - Pretty parks along the course and you get to see a good selection of the Brussels scenery including parts of the EU bureaucracy. Warning - your time may be worsened if you sleep through your alarm on race day like I did. ADD 1 MINUTE

Copenhagen Marathon, Denmark (May) - Much of the course is run twice with overlapping loops, but I wasn't very inspired by the course which was fairly average, without too many memorable sights. ADD 1 MINUTE

Dublin Marathon, Ireland (October) - Not a very scenic course, with wind and some small inclines to make it slower. But it gives an excuse to drink Guinness where it comes from and hang out with the Irish. ADD 3 MINUTES

Duchy Marathon, England (March) - One of the oldest marathons in the UK which used to be extremely competitive for a small event, attracting the top British marathoners back when if you ran a three hour marathon you were last. Surprisingly tough course with a beautiful exposed coastal stretch that can be blustery and has to be run past twice. ADD 4 MINUTES

Edinburgh Marathon, Scotland (May) - Net downhill but not a fast course thanks to the majority being along the Scottish coastline, famous for howling winds and rain. Only the first four miles are really in Edinburgh then it heads out along the coast into a prevailing headwind which turns into a tailwind on the return last eight miles, still finishing way out of the city. The out-and-back is lonely in terms of supporters but then has the entire field supporting each other as they run past both ways. ADD 3 MINUTES

Florence Marathon, Italy (November) - The first few miles are downhill so it's easy to go off too fast, then dead flat along the river for most of the rest of the way. One of the best city marathons for scenery as well as being incredibly fast if you don't overdo those first miles. It includes virtually all the main tourist sights in one of Italy's most beautiful (and romantic) cities. ADD 0 MINUTES

Fukuoka Marathon, Japan (December) - If you get a chance, you're male and you're reasonably fast then you have to do this race at some point. Before there was a marathon world championship, this was the effective race where the best male marathoners came to duke it out. There's two qualification times: 2:27 for the A standard and 2:42 for the B standard with each having a separate start. You line up in rows in the exact order of your qualification times and can't drop below a 2:45 marathon pace or you get pulled from the course. It's a unique experience with a lot of crowd and TV support from the marathon-crazy Japanese. So if qualifying for Boston is too easy for you, give this a go. Highly recommended. ADD 0 MINUTES

Louis Persoons Memorial Genk Marathon, Belgium (October) - Not many marathons to choose from in January, especially in Europe, and this one has since moved to October. This is a very small, cosy race with a multi-loop course using bike paths and small sections of easy trail. It's a shame they moved it to the middle of the Autumn marathon season instead of the sparse winter marathon famine. It was a novelty to run this in the snow but that's unlikely any more. ADD 2 MINUTES or 5 MINUTES if under snow

Halstead and Essex Marathon, England (May) - A two-lap course with rolling hills in the Essex countryside. Full of people who didn't get a spot in the London Marathon and plenty who did it too. ADD 3 MINUTES

Hastings Marathon, England (December) - I'll include this even though the race was a one-off in 2008 to commemorate 100 years since the London 1908 Olympics where the marathon distance was defined. It may come back at some point and it'd be great if it does. A rolling course including some beach running near the finish and a generally fun, low-key event. ADD 3 MINUTES

Helsinki Marathon, Finland (August) - I did this to complete the set of Scandinavian capital city marathons and it rained. Surprisingly interesting course with some waterfront running and random city streets. But it finishes in the 1940 Olympic stadium, which is a plus. ADD 2 MINUTES

Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii, USA (December) - The definition of a destination marathon but some gentle climbs and guaranteed humidity and heat mean you'll be slowed. You probably won't mind since it just means more time to enjoy running in Hawaii. And you'll be doing it with a lot of other people since this is one of the largest marathons in the US, plus the out-and-back course lets runners cheer each other on (and lets you see a lot of costumes). ADD 8 MINUTES

Lake Tahoe Marathon - Emerald Bay Marathon, California/Nevada, USA (September) - Day one of the triple marathon around Lake Tahoe, and each is one of the most spectacular road marathons out there. Not the fastest course thanks to the big climbs and 6,000ft altitude plus most people will be doing the marathons over the next two days too. Fit this in if you get a chance since it's a perfect excuse to go to Tahoe and do so outside of the main tourist seasons, yet often with great weather. ADD 4 MINUTES

Lake Tahoe Marathon - Cal-Neva Marathon, Nevada/California, USA (September) - Day two of the triple or a stand alone race and the fastest of the three days with smaller climbs and a net downhill from the highest point of the three days (7,000ft) back to the lake level. Easy to hammer those downhill miles too fast and ruin the legs, but if you're doing all three days it's easier to be sensible. ADD 2 MINUTES

Lake Tahoe Marathon - Main Marathon, California, USA (September) - This is the biggest race of the three days and the one that has a lot of single day runners. It's also probably the hardest with some nasty climbs up to Emerald Bay and the best road views in Tahoe (where the first days starts). After the crest of the hill its downhill then flat for the last six miles then a barbecue on the sandy beach. ADD 5 MINUTES

London Marathon, England (April) - In the UK this is THE marathon and most people don't even realize there are other ones out there. Most people run for a charity with a huge number doing so in costume and there's a lottery for non-charity entries, although foreigners can just buy an over-priced package to get in. If you want to run a fast time (and you definitely can on this course), then you'll need to qualify with a 'Good For Age' or Championship time to get near the front or you'll be stuck walking with the masses, being deafened by the crowds, especially near the end. ADD 0 MINUTES 

London Marathon - 1908 Olympic Route, England (July) - This course from Windsor Castle to BBC Headquarters may never be used again, but was recreated (without road closures) for a centennial commemoration of 1908 in 2008 by the 100 Marathon Club. Not a great route, including some dodgy areas of town but it has the same appeal as doing the Athens marathon and maps of the course can be found online if you want to try it solo. ADD 3 MINUTES or more if you allow for traffic and map navigation

Luton Marathon, England (November) - A three-lap course with joys such as scary council estates where you may get mugged mid-race, nasty headwinds that somehow follow you around the loop and the chance of cancellation due to icy roads. But it does have a good challenge for a small race, in that there's a three-man relay to race against. ADD 5 MINUTES

Luxembourg Night Marathon, Luxembourg (May) - An interesting twist in this race is that it starts soon before sunset, heading through the bridges and old buildings of the city. As it then gets dark part-way through the race, the final mile has candles lining the route and then finishing in an indoor stadium with techno music and disco lighting. Not a fast course due to the continuous rolling hills but pretty and unique. ADD 4 MINUTES

M-Z marathons to follow next.

Friday 21 October 2011

Coaching website now up and running

Clearly this mountain symbolizes achievement, but even if it doesn't, it's very pretty.

I've finally gotten around to creating a site with info about the coaching services I offer. So if you're interested in moving up to a greater distance, whether it be marathons or ultras, or just want to improve then let me help you achieve your goals.

I started off as a 3:40 marathoner back in 2005 but have had a steady progression to take over an hour off that time and to run the fastest 100-mile trail time in the US ever, so the only limits on what you can achieve are what you place on yourself.

Improvement comes from intelligent training and the runners at the front of the pack are generally the ones who train in the smartest way. It's not just down to genetics, although that obviously helps. I firmly believe that most people are a long way from their running potential.

Click here to find out more.

One extra piece of news that I'll squeeze in here is that I've just joined the Elite Advisory Committee for the Ultra Race of Champions. So I'm really excited to help Gill and Francesca make this into an even more special event after a great first year last month. Press release is here.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Dirty Second Half, Bend

This morning there was a great race in Bend which I ran a couple of years ago too, the Dirty Second Half. It follows on from the Dirty Half in June and has a slightly more difficult course, basically involving dirt and single track with a 750ft climb to half way then back down, plus lots of rolling trails along the way. As a bonus, Krissy Moehl was in town for a Patagonia shoot and ran the race so it was good to catch up with her and to make some new friends. I also wore a florescent North Face vest after the RD warned that hunting season has just started so try not to get shot. I was about the only one who opted to glow in the dark, but I certainly wasn't shot, despite hearing a lot of loud bangs.

I do plan to take things easy to get some decent recovery in, but I think my issue has just been too many long races (50 milers and longer) at too high an intensity and with too little a gap between them. I was sensible enough to not also run the inaugural Bend marathon the day before, but I was tempted. Mind you, seeing a guy finish the half there with bandages, blood and dirt all over him was a little worrying (he'd fallen hard somewhere and smashed his face!).

More short races is a good thing and they really don't leave you as wrecked, even with a significant level of effort. That feeling of (relative) speed is also a bonus as I've not had too much fast running recently and it's just plain fun to zoom along single-track and not have to save something in the tank for later.

The course starts outside Bend at the Seventh Mountain Resort and almost immediately has a short, steep downhill and uphill which gives a good idea of whether the legs feel good. Seven days off running meant my legs had recovered a bit and today was mainly fun running. I couldn't wait until the highest point so that the cruising could begin and the single-track on the way back was perfect for pure enjoyment. I ran much of it completely alone after the lead two guys flew off at an incredible pace.

Finishing was a relief, particularly that I'd felt ok most of the way. But the first two guys were so far ahead they weren't even around the finish any more (1:15 and 1:18 on a course that probably adds almost 10 minutes to your road half marathon time). 1:26 for third was a good result and makes me feel like I'll at least get through the race in Chile in two weeks. A good day out on the trails for everyone.

A few photos from the Footzone running store blog which show the types of trail in the race: