A lesson for us all

There is something instinctive in human nature for the amateur to celebrate the professional. Radcliffe. Rudisha. Kimetto. We watch in awe as the extraordinary achieve the extraordinary. But there is something more extraordinary than this: the ordinary achieving the extraordinary.

That is not to say that Colin Dear is ordinary. Ordinary humans do not run marathons and ultramarathons. But Colin Dear is no Kimetto. But then Kimetto is no Colin Dear.

On a Friday afternoon, the head of media slipped out of the gates of his Croydon Continue reading

Cutty Sark

Lessons learnt about running in London

After five years of living in London, I am escaping to Edinburgh in July. Escape is the apt verb. I imagine I’ve run around 10,000 miles in just about every London borough. This is what I have learned.

The perception of danger is greater than the reality

And this makes me sad. Rarely have I felt in danger in London: an I-am-going-to-be-stabbed/attacked/mugged-danger. The perception of danger is ever-present, however. Across Tooting Bec Common in the dark? Never. Down the wooded track that is a summer shortcut? No way. You know what might happen. And that’s enough.


Passing runners do not make eye contact Continue reading


The Grand National: England’s greatest cross country race

The year is 1876. Queen Victoria is ruling an empire; Benjamin Disraeli is her Prime Minister; Thomas Edison is seeking a patent for the telephone. At Buckhurst Hill in Epping Forest, 32 men gather at a pub, The Bald-Faced Stag, for the All England Cross Country Championship. It is mid-November and it is raining. South London Harriers’ James Gibbs is the race leader when the paper-trail denoting the course vanishes. The athletes blunder blindly through the forest, groping for the route. The race is voided. Amid the shambles, an English national cross country is born.

The year is 2015. Parliament Hill is abuzz and oozing. The multi-coloured flags of innumerable running clubs flutter in the breeze. Lines of tape have long replaced paper-trails. Some 8,797 runners Continue reading

Greenwich foot tunnel

London’s (satirical) answer to the Bob Graham Round: the Inner London borough summits – 41 miles, 12 summits, 6 hours

I looked down on London from The Shard recently. London – from some 300 metres up – is serene. It is also appallingly flat. Even the Crystal Palace ridge, away to the south and positively Ben Nevisian (to the Londoner) is smothered by perspective. It made my plan – a London equivalent of the great mountain rounds of the Highlands, the Lake District and Snowdonia – descend further into the realms of nonsense.

I was to run between the summits of the 12 Inner London boroughs, starting in Hammersmith and Fulham, travelling east to the Isle of Dogs, passing beneath the Thames to Greenwich, then turning west to gain Wimbledon Common. Together, these dozen summits add up to 957m – a slouching Scafell Pike. At no point would I venture higher than 134 metres above sea level. Utterly pointless. But then, is not that the point?

You will have heard of some. Hampstead Heath? Crystal Palace? Shooters Hill? Familiarity is likely to dry up there.

Down here in London, we are stuck with the capital’s vertically-challenged undulations, while our highest points have been built over, buried under concrete or adorned with telecommunications paraphernalia. The highest point within the M25 circle, far away from urban chaos in the North Downs, is 270-metre Botley Hill. They stuck a telecommunications mast there, naturally. I could hanker for the airy heights of the Lake District. Or I could make the most of what London has got.

There was no rationale. I had a free day. And having completed the Bob Graham Round in 2012, I liked the idea of satirising the iconic Lakeland loop in the streets of London, swapping mist-shrouded summits and knife-edge arêtes for iPad-touting tourists and cracks in the pavement.

I would travel solo, unsupported and Alpine-style with a budget of £15, a topped-up Oyster card and an iPhone. If and when I needed food and water, I would stop at a shop. You do not get that luxury on the Helvellyn range. While the Bob Graham Round commences in Keswick, beneath the imposing Skiddaw, I found myself in grey Harlesden on a Tuesday morning, feebly equipped with a wad of maps photocopied from a London A-Z. A yellow highlighted line indicated a proposed route, linked with red crosses that marked the dozen summits. Apart from a two-mile stretch around Streatham, I had not run a step of what I reckoned would be a 35-40 mile route.

Finding the summit of Hammersmith and Fulham – a roadside close to a Travis Perkins depot – and soon after Kensington and Chelsea – the exit to West London Crematorium – set the tone for the day. Great dollops of poetic licence cannot dress-up what was to come: lots of pavement-trudging, lots of head-scratching, lots of reflecting on the sense of all this. Even the highest point of the day, Camden’s Hampstead Heath, is located arbitrarily on the side of Spaniards Road, rather than the heath itself. Once around the heath, I was flying down Highgate Hill, past the summit of Islington and down into the recesses of London’s great smog-filled bowl. Dashing through Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Along the Regent’s Canal. Into the Isle of Dogs. Places I had never seen before, places I may never go again.

A school pupil on a trip jogged alongside me in the Greenwich foot tunnel. ‘Where are you going?’ he demanded. ‘Wimbledon Common,’ I said. ‘Coming?’ He stopped abruptly, laughing at the unfathomable notion.

The pavement radiated heat as I ran the first mile of the London Marathon en route to Shooters Hill, the distant summit of Greenwich. Then came an unremitting, sweltering slog to Crystal Palace and – as I climbed Sydenham Hill, the exertion of the day beginning to overwhelm my legs – I moved past the 30-mile mark. My left foot had felt uncomfortable for some time and as I ran along Crystal Palace Parade a mild niggling became a sharp, sudden pain. I sat on a wall on Westow Hill, the meeting point of four boroughs but the summit of just one, Lambeth, feeling sorry for myself – a feeling that intensified to Streatham Common. I thought of Tour de France riders who continue hopelessly with broken bones. They get back on their bicycles, nonetheless. I gulped the long-distance runner’s equivalent of a shot of EPO – a can of Coke – and vowed to get on with it and get it done.

I did. The last five miles through Tooting and Wimbledon were not pretty, but Putney Heath, the last of the dozen, was mine. The top was a prominent tump, a rare non-concrete summit among the Inner London boroughs. On closer inspection, a lump of concrete jutted from the summit. The irony was not lost on me. It had taken me a shade over six hours to get here, running 41 almost-exclusively pavement miles, powered only by a cheese sandwich and copious amounts of caffeinated liquid. My feet were pulsing. Still, I have had worse Tuesdays.

I recommend no-one to repeat this endeavour, not unless you happen to share the inexplicable desire to visit the summits of the Inner London boroughs in one continuous loop. I think of it now as a journey, not a run: a journey that brought me closer to this complicated capital city. I glimpsed the best and worst of London: from the genius of the Greenwich foot tunnel, the towering symbols of business that rise from the Isle of Dogs and the near-wildness of Hampstead Heath, to the sprawl and stench of London’s takeaway culture, the Eltham street on which Stephen Lawrence was murdered and unceasing groan of traffic.

A grand tour of Inner London. Going as high as geography will permit. Re-discovering a city. Sometimes the most pointless of exploits serve the greatest purpose.

The summits –

  • Hammersmith and Fulham – Harrow Road (45m) – the road-side opposite a block of flats
  • Kensington and Chelsea – Harrow Road (45m) – exit of West London Crematorium
  • City of Westminster – St John’s Wood Park Road (52m) – road junction of St John’s Wood Park Road and Boundary Road
  • Camden – Spaniards Road (134m) – the road-side above Hampstead Heath
  • Islington – Highgate Hill (100m) – road junction of Dartmouth Park Road and Highgate Hill, close to Lauderdale House
  • Hackney – Seven Sisters Road (39m) – the road-side overlooking Finsbury Park
  • Tower Hamlets – Bethnal Green (16m) – a road bridge over the Regent’s Canal in Bethnal Green
  • Greenwich – Shooters Hill (132m) – the highest point of Eaglesfield Recreation Ground
  • Lewisham and Southwark – both Sydenham Hill (112m) – road junction of Crescent Wood Road and Sydenham Hill, close to the Dulwich Wood House pub
  • Lambeth – Westow Hill (110m) – road junction of Anerley Hill and Church Road, in front of the Grape and Grain pub
  • Wandsworth – Putney Heath (60m) – a prominent tump at the northern end of Wimbledon Common

Regent's Canal

Regent's Canal and summit of Tower Hamlets

Isle of Dogs

Greenwich foot tunnel

Cutty Sark

Putney Heath

A version of this article featured on the Guardian running blog in July and the November issue of Men’s Running.



Running the summits of the Inner London boroughs

Doctor Andrew Murray is at it again. Not content with running from Scotland to Morocco, galloping up Mount Kilimanjaro or jogging to the North Pole, he has this week announced that he is going to run the 10 highest Scottish mountains in one day.

This is why:

‘We are doing this because we had a free Saturday and fancied a challenge.’

Reasons do not get better than that.

‘We’ is Andrew and his running mate, Donnie Campbell. Campbell has form: he once ran 184 miles from Glasgow to Portree without stopping to sleep.

I fancy a challenge too. And I’ve got a free day. Next week. Tuesday, July 15.

I am yet to find a running mate, however. Donnie Campbells are hard to come by.

You enjoy your iconic, windswept, idyllic mountains, Andrew and Donnie. I have a different plan, a making-the-most-of-what-I’ve-got plan:

To run the summits of the 12 Inner London boroughs in one day.

That is – in order and in a clockwise arc – the highest natural points in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Together, these summits add up to 957m – a slouching Scafell Pike. Think of the whole thing as a satire of the Bob Graham round. Utterly pointless. But then, is not that the point?

I am not sure how long the run is – it could be 30 miles, but 40 may be nearer the mark – and I am not sure how long it will take. It is perhaps best not to know. I’ll probably have to drop-off and pick-up my daughter from nursery, meaning around eight hours will have to suffice. Any longer and a 16-month-old girl is going hungry.

Down here in London, we are stuck with the capital’s vertically-challenged undulations while our highest points have been built on, buried under concrete or adorned with telecommunications paraphernalia. The highest point within the M25 circle, faraway from the urban chaos in the North Downs, is 270-metre Botley Hill. They stuck a telecommunications mast there, naturally.

I looked down on London from The Shard very recently. I can confirm that London – from some 300 metres up – is appallingly flat. Even the Crystal Palace ridge, away to the south and positively Ben Nevisian close to, is smothered by perspective.

Nonetheless, my response to Andrew Murray is this.

  • He is calling his challenge the ‘Big 10’; I’ll call mine the Little Dozen.

  • He is doing his 10 in one day; I will do my dozen in one day.

  • His 10 add up to more than 10,000m; the Little Dozen do not exceed 1,000m.

  • He will start on 1245m Ben Lawers; I will begin on College Park, the 45m summit of Hammersmith and Fulham, a concrete summit standing precisely 1200m lower than Ben Lawers and close to a Travis Perkins depot.

  • He will finish in the Cairngorms on 1291m Cairn Toul; I will end my journey on Putney Heath, the 60m roof of Wandsworth.

  • His Big 10 has never been done; I can safety assume nor has the Little Dozen.

  • His obstacles will include boulder fields, perilous cliffs and knife-edge aretes; I must take account of rambling, iPad-touting tourists, low-flying pigeons and cracks in the pavement.

  • He is running to showcase the benefits of regular exercise; that will do for me too.

  • While Andrew and Donnie will have to do battle with the A82 and A9, I will run continuously through Europe’s greatest capital, bowling by Lord’s, crossing Hampstead Heath, hot-footing along the Regent’s Canal, through the Isle of Dogs, under the Thames, across the Greenwich Meridian, past the old Crystal Palace and wombling over Wimbledon Common.
  • And, of course, I have a ‘free day’.

The summits

  1. Hammersmith & Fulham – College Park (45m)

  2. Kensington & Chelsea – Harrow Road (45m)

  3. City of Westminster – St John’s Wood Park (52m)

  4. Camden – Hampstead Heath (134m)

  5. Islington – Highgate Hill (100m)

  6. Hackney – Seven Sisters Road (39m)

  7. Tower Hamlets – Bethnal Green (16m)

  8. Greenwich – Shooters Hill (132m)

  9. Lewisham – Sydenham Hill (112m)

  10. Southwark – Sydenham Hill (112m)

  11. Lambeth – Westow Hill (110m)

  12. Wandsworth – Putney Heath (60m)







Respecting your elders at the Bewl 15

I frequently train with runners in their forties and fifties, and by doing so I am often led to reflect how ‘they put me to shame’ – be it through their commitment to athletics, their speed in spite of their advanced years, or their impressive never-say-die endurance. While there is the excitement of watching young and emerging athletes burst onto the running scene, there is something far more inspirational about seeing runners at the other end of the age spectrum continue to perform into their senior years. They prove that age really is a number.

I got a close-up view yesterday. The Bewl 15 around the eponymous reservoir in Sussex doubled as the inaugural British Masters Athletic Federation multi-terrain championship. Competitors helpfully had their age category numbers pinned to their back, be it 35, 40, 45 and so on. The age categories went up to V75, with Mike Rosbrook, who consistently knocks out 24 and 25-minute parkruns, the oldest of the lot. From the start in Wadhurst and downhill to the reservoir, the veterans were flying. After around four miles I found myself running uncomfortably quickly even to stay in the top-10. As the race split, so I found myself running with two others: the leading contenders in the M50 race. One was Todmorden’s Paul Brannigan; the other was Graeme Saker. Brannigan and I set the pace, taking it in disorganised turns to lead. Saker – seemingly – clung on for dear life. I would look back, see he had lost two or three metres, assumed he was ‘done’, only for him to claw his way back. As a trio we overtook a runner from Stafford, then a Burgess Hill athlete; a Beckenham runner would come later.

The game of cat and mouse went on until mile 10. After moving a few metres ahead on a road climb, I glanced back to see the pair side by side. Once on the brow of the hill, Brannigan attacked, charging downhill. I couldn’t keep up. Nor could Saker. Brannigan was now a snatched glimpse around a corner. Still we raced hard. I could hear Saker’s steps behind me; he hadn’t given up. As Saker and I converged on the aforementioned Beckenham athlete, Saker pushed past me, charging after Brannigan. I wasn’t about to give up either. A minute later, I was back in front of Saker and chasing Brannigan. Sneaking up behind him on the final half-mile climb towards Wadhurst, I caught Brannigan on the line. I apologised profusely. He was non-plussed. His race was against Saker – who finished 30 seconds behind us – not someone almost 20 years his junior.

The results were telling. I was fifth overall but first senior (under-35). Only a quarter of the top-20 were, like me, senior athletes. Thirty athletes – 20 of them V35 and above – breached the 100-minute barrier for 15 miles of undulating trail. There were 10 new age-category records.

Inspiring. Running life begins at 35?

In the spirit of the Tour de France, chapeau veterans, chapeau.

One day, I will, hopefully be like you.


The unpredictable art of running blogging

I have been blogging for some years. I was a writer and journalist first. My original purpose was to support the publication of my first book, Heights of Madness, and my second and third books thereafter. Over time, graduated into a running blog – a blog that last week pleasingly surpassed 50,000 visits. Writing permits self-expression, reflection and can be a carthotic process, but writers also write to be read. As I tell my students, writing is meant to be read. Writing must have an audience. Writing must provoke a response.

What is always surprising, however, is what people want to read and what becomes popular. Every blogger will empathise with the time you spent hours crafting the apparently perfect blog, adorned with beautiful images and scrupulously edited, only for very few people to engage with your masterpiece. And then there is the blog that you knocked into shape in 10 minutes while on the bus or the train from somewhere to somewhere that racks up hundreds of visits.

What I have learnt about blogging, particularly in the overcrowded market of running blogging, is that if you don’t shout, no-one will listen. The most successful blog posts – and I certainly don’t mean the best written, most interesting or most entertaining – stem from exposure, be it on social media or the traditional media. The cream does not always rise to the top.

To mark 50,000 visits for and in the spirit of if-you-don’t-blow-your-own-trumpet-you-don’t-get-anywhere these are my most visited blog posts.

1. ‘I was there…’ Marking 125 years of Herne Hill Harriers


2. ‘Do you want beans with that?’ A tribute to Stan Allen

Stan Allen

3. Bob Graham Round – SUCCESS!


4. Overcoming adversity and adverse conditions at the Box Hill fell race

 Box Hill village

5. Mont Ventoux

The north side of Ventoux

6. Beachy Head Marathon 2011 – race report

Beachy Head

7. The Bob Graham Round as seen from the water-carrier’s corner


8. The madness of the ultra-distance runner


9. Isle of Jura Fell Race

The finish

10. Running with the horses: Man v Horse 2014




Peckham Rye parkrun: introducing Del Boy’s parkrun

Stick a barcode in me pocket.
I’ll fetch the trainers from the closet.
Cause if you want the best parkrun
And you don’t ask questions
Then Peckham is your one

Where these runners come from
Is a mystery.
It’s like 9 in the morning,
At least it’s free.
But here’s the thing that’s driving me beserk,
Why do owners allow their dogs to lurk?
La la lala – la la la la la (etc)

To a boy growing up in the West Midlands in the 1990s, my only knowledge of Peckham was from Only Fools and Horses. I wasn’t alone, I’m sure. Peckham was dodgy market traders, dingy cafés and Nelson Mandela House. If London seemed big and scary, Peckham was its microcosm.

Peckham has a parkrun now. Or, should I say, Peckham Rye. Big difference that. Like adding Hill to Streatham or South to Croydon. Parkrun is an inherently good thing. David Cameron must love it. Parkrun screams Big Society. Remember that? People independently doing stuff to help themselves, each other and their communities. That is parkrun.

My motivation for running today – I’m not allowed to say racing – wasn’t altruism. It was a fast time. Or a first place – and, as this was the first event, a course record. I had to do something. Those running the 95 miles of the West Highland Way race were making me feel lazy.

Off the field – a perfect 200 – went, down a gentle hill and away on lap one. I picked my through the early enthusiasts to gain second and began to chase down the leader. The course? Three laps. Lots of twists and turns. Gently undulating but enough to see off personal bests. The fast, local boys will still go to Dulwich. It was undoubtedly pleasant.

I was on the other runner’s shoulder with a lap to go, only for him to nudge ahead again. My post-Man v Horse legs were done by his spurt and once onto the lower half of the lap we were both caught in running traffic that prevented excessive recklessness. I settled for second. No first place. No fast time. No course record. Not for me, anyway. What would Del Boy say? He who dares wins. He who hesitates… doesn’t.



Making the top-250: the UK’s real running heroes

It was in January when I overheard two club runners speaking about their seasons’ aims following a Surrey League cross country match. One said his 2014 aspiration was to be ranked among the top-250 runners in the country. ‘What distance?’ his mate asked. The other shrugged. He didn’t mind: as long as he made the top-250 in something.

The runners were referring to top-250 in the Power of 10 rankings, a list of the best UK athletes over a range of distances in a particular year. In the mid-2000s it was my ambition to simply be listed on Power of 10, let alone breach the top-250. Power of 10 was once elitist; runners had to gain a ‘fast’ time to earn inclusion. I remember the 10k cut off being 36 minutes. In those days I couldn’t break 37. Power of 10 has since been thrown open, with every result from front to back (the Edinburgh Marathon was a short-term exception) available to freely view. Whether that devalued the achievement of a sub-36 10k and other equivalent results is another debate.

Power of 10 continues to promote excellence, nonetheless, and the site’s top-250 represent the very highest standards in UK athletics. Such a positioning was an ambitious but viable proposition for the two runners I had overheard. They were presumably members of Belgrave, Kent or Thames Hare and Hounds, and likely finished in the top-50 of the ferociously-competitive Surrey League. They represent the real heroes of amateur athletics, not the professional, paid and sponsored athletes, nor the charity hordes, but the honest club runner who juggles family, work and a multitude of other commitments, and runs six or seven (or more) times a week, covering tens of miles just to perhaps, one day, see themselves pop into hallowed top-250 territory. These are the runners that have my admiration. They are, in the main, lifelong runners. I train with them every week: the 800m specialist who buries himself in training to gain milliseconds; the determined marathoner who seeks to run sub-2.20; the cross country specialist who will stop at nothing to finish first in every repetition.

I stole that runner’s ambition that day: to be in the top-250 of something.

I am not there yet.

As of today…

A 3000m time of 9.34.1 does not even rank me. I am 4.1 seconds too slow.
A 10k time of 34.19 places me 702nd.
A 5k time of 16.28 places me 325th. (A time of 16.13 would make the top-250).

But it is only May.
But I will, hopefully, run faster.
But so will other people.
But this is real running for the committed club runner. The competition is formidable; the competition is the best.

The journey to the top-250 continues…




I would run 1000 miles…

Barring mishap or the unexpected, by around 7.30pm on Tuesday, midway through an undoubtedly frantic 8 x 600m session on the track at Tooting Bec, I will have run 1000 miles in 2014. It has taken four days and nine hours. It doesn’t sound very long, does it? The venue is fitting, for my metamorphosis from ultra-runner (I had a good innings: the Fellsman, a Bob Graham Round, the Vanguard Way and a South Downs Way 50 DNS that still rankles) to track athlete is nearly complete. The first 1000 miles of 2014 have brought a plethora of personal bests, with times for the mile, 3000m, 5k and 10k tumbling. Nonetheless, the lure of ultra-running is immense. I follow the Centurion Running events of the south avidly; I am jealous of friends preparing for the West Highland Way Race; I want to be the sort of person who even has the gumption to consider the Spine Race.

But I am not an evangelical I’ve-just-discovered-running-and-I-insist-on-telling-everyone-how-amazing-it-is-runner. I have been running since school, for close to 20 years now. I am a running realist. Over the years, running has been dictated by circumstance. When I lived in Inverness, I ran in the hills and mountains. When I lived in Peterborough, I raced on the road. When I lived in Cheltenham, I dragged myself up and down the marvellous Cleeve Common.

The first 1000 miles of 2014 have again been dictated by circumstance. Like being the father of a one-year-old daughter and the tiredness (and transformation in lifestyle) that brings. I vowed that in 2014 I would not travel unnecessarily to race. I vowed that I would not spend lavishly on running. I vowed to do the best I could with what was at my immediate disposal: a superb, high-quality group of athletes to train with, first-class coaching, the undulations and parks of south London, the tracks of Battersea, Tooting Bec and Wimbledon. I have stuck to those vows, venturing only as far as Eastleigh for what was a breakthrough 34-minute 10k.

The next 1000 miles will bring more of the same. More battering of London pavements. More running in circles. More, admittedly, boredom. But, as I said, I am a realist. I live in south London. Where is the sense in calling myself a fell runner or a trail runner or an ultra-runner? Each run will bring me closer to the Holy Grail: the sub-16 minute 5k. The ultra scene can wait…



Conti Lightning Run 2014

The premise of the Conti Lightning Run is simple: teams of one, two or five must run as many 10k laps of a course around Catton Park in 12 hours. The individual or pair or quintet who run the furthest are the winners. I was part of a Men’s Running team that won this year’s event, running a combined 18 laps. For a change, I’ll let someone else do the writing. Guest blogger Mark Morgan-Hillam (below) takes up the story.

Mark Hillam-Morgan

Boxing Day. I’m sat reading my Christmas edition of Men’s Running in the only room in the house where a bloke can get some peace and quiet on Boxing day. (I bet you read yours there too, don’t you?)

The page drops open as if by magic on an advertisement for the Conti Lightning Run. Or, more specifically, on a request from our esteemed Editor for potential members of a Men’s Running Conti Lightning Team. No point entering that though, eh? They must get thousands of applicants. Still, all you have to do is send off an e-mail. No harm done. So I reach down for the iPad – yes, still on the toilet, stop judging me,  and fire off a mail which I hope may stand out from the crowd.

Fast forward to March. As I zip through my inbox deleting the copious junk we all have to deal with, I suddenly land on the name of David Castle. Hang on, I know him… “Mark, if you are still available, and fit, we would like you to be part of the Men’s Running Conti Lightning Run team.” I literally jumped off the toilet in excitement! (Yes, yes, there are other rooms in my house.)

Immediate excitement about the event and the potential for free kit was soon replaced by fear and dread: what if the rest of the team are loads faster than me? What if I pick up a stupid injury on a meaningless training run? What if the wireless isn’t strong enough to reach the downstairs bathroom?

The next two months fly by in a blur of extra training runs and, before I know it, we are assembled at the pre-race briefing at 5.40am on Sunday May 4.

The Conti Lightning Run is a 12-hour race over a country 10km course in the grounds of Catton Park, near Burton-on-Trent. Individual entrants mingle with pairs teams or relay teams of five runners. Here is what I knew about my Men’s Running teammates:

Euan McGrath – ultra runner, UTMB finisher, coach, a 30-miles-before-breakfast type of guy. Sub 36min 10k runner. FAST.

Jonny Muir – ex-journalist, teacher, author, bloody good 34 minute 10k runner. VERY FAST.

Pedro Upton – a one man running success story. Nineteen stone 12 months ago, now running 37.30 for 10k. FAST.

Euan Mathieson – a bit of a man of mystery, I don’t know his running background. But he’s in the Army, so he’s going to be knocking out 40 minute 10ks carrying a full pack, surely? HERO. STRONG.

Me (Mark Morgan-Hillam) – primary school teacher, just turned 41, very pleased with finally ducking under 40 minutes for 10k for the first time last year. MEDIUM PACED. NERVOUS.

6am – we’re off. Pedro’s up first as it was practically impossible to keep him caged any longer, such was his enthusiasm. Some 39 minutes later, he’s back with us second place; Army Euan is out next and returns looking strong with us still in second.

My turn next and finally, after all the anticipation, I’m out on course. The first half of the course is predominantly uphill with a substantial section of woodland weaving; the second half is predominantly downhill mostly on farm tracks. I’m pretty happy with breaking 41 minutes as I hand on to Jonny two minutes behind the leading team.

Saving Jonny and Euan Mc for legs four and five was clearly a tactical masterstroke as they both whip round in under 39 minutes to put us in the lead by 11 minutes after the first five laps.

And so the day continued; I had thought it would be a lazy day of hard running followed by rest and recuperation between runs. But far from it, I found myself constantly clock watching to ensure I was there to cheer teammates into the finish, offer encouragement where required, to cheer on the Women’s Running team who were also running well, and also to check on opposition times to keep an eye on our ever increasing lead.

As a team we managed to avoid all the pitfalls that can derail a team in an event such as this; no injuries, we stuck to our pre-race strategy, all of us managed to maintain lap times at our level without any major drop–off in performance and, probably most importantly, we didn’t suffer the one catastrophic lap which can blow your hopes out of the window in one go.

As we entered the last hour it finally dawned on us that we were going to win. Army Euan went out at 5.03pm and the only question was whether he would return in time to allow me a fourth lap.  My heart was way more enthusiastic about this than my legs! Euan returned with an extra spring in his step in plenty of time and off I went on what amounted to a victory lap of honour for the team.

With the pressure off and the course practically empty, I enjoyed one of those magical runs where you remember why you put your trainers on in the first place. This will undoubtedly be the only time I will ever get to genuinely ‘win’ a race and the bond I felt with my teammates, who I didn’t even know the day before, was immeasurable.

We made sure that the whole team were there to join me as I descended into the start/finish area for the last time and we crossed the finish line together – a lovely moment to cap a magical day.

Men's Running - champions! Mens and Womens running teams Start as a team, finish as a team!


The agony of the mile

Running and racing is rarely as joyful as the smiling, skipping cover models adorning running magazines would have readers believe. I have had bad times running. And I have had some really bad times. Like climbing a wind-blasted Great Whernside some 55 miles into the Fellsman. Like running the London Marathon with plantar fasciitis. Like descending the treacherous grassy bank of Ben Nevis.

Yet I wonder now if running a mile – a mere 1609 metres around a track – is worse, for I have rarely felt so joyless when running during the inaugural Stan Allen Mile. My number was called for the A race. We lined up. Within seconds, the horror began to evolve. The field splintered in two, with me near the front of a second pack. Our split times at the end of lap one were shouted to us.


Too fast.

Dry mouthed, I persevered without going any quicker. There was to be no more 71s. That would be a physical impossibility. I detested running then, detested the mile, detested the situation I had allowed to occur. This was Great Whernside. This was the London Marathon with plantar fasciitis. This was the grassy bank of Ben Nevis. Along the back straight of the penultimate lap, I contemplated the end. My left hamstring was grumbling. I’ve got an excuse, I rejoiced. One step to the left, onto alluring grass, and it’s over. Even with runners trickling by, it was a step too far. The hamstring eased. I was soon running round the bend into the home straight and a bell was ringing. I needed a 75-second lap to breach five minutes.

I sweated and toiled, chased and hoped. The clock said 4.59 as I passed. I knew better. The truth was 5:00.67. Agony heaped upon agony.