C2C Finisher Photo

C2C 20180113_083700This Country to Capital (C2C) finisher photo comes a bit as a surprise. It looks unexpectedly positive and does not fit with the more gloomish race report. How did I manage to produce this smile and even look rather together than undone? A mystery. Yet, I have to say, that the dark thoughts about the race have lifted a bit and I do feel like going out for a run now. The thoughts of giving up running, which I entertained during the last 20 miles of that C2C race become more and more distant memories. And how could I give up, having already committed to at least two marathons in 2018? Helsinki in May and Snowdonia in October. Especially the Snowdonian one did take me many attempts to get into. In previous years I had always missed the very short time window of a few hours to sign-up. Now I finally got a place, how can I think about giving up running? Exactly.

Thanks to www.adrianhowesphotography.co.uk for the picture.

The Country to Capital Battle

Here I stood in Wendover at the start line, 45 miles ahead of me and only little hope that I would actually finish this race, the Country to Capital Ultra from Wendover to Little Venice, London. My biggest concern was moving forward in cold temperatures for around 8 hours, getting eventually cold myself, especially when it turns out that I can’t run anymore and have to walk. The man flu that spoilt my last two races in December was finally over, but still, it was not only until last week that my running had felt remotely back to normal. I had not thought I would make it to the start, but here I stood. The weather and temperature turned out to be the best possible scenario. After spending hours of overthinking what to wear, how to wear it and into what I could change if I cooled down too much, I think I finally got it: Long-sleeve woollen base-layer, with second, loose layer on top and wind resistant gilet over that. My hydration backpack had enough room for another wind resistant jacket and a very light and loose windbreaker with hood, just in case. I felt prepared as I ever would be, maybe the runners equivalent to a princess having to attend a royal wedding, finally happy with her choice of outfits. I was happy and positive. The organisation at the start was flawless and the runners around me seemed to be a nice bunch. And so we went. The first half leads through the Buckinghamshire countryside and it almost felt like home turf. I had done countless recce runs and two years ago even unofficially run the first third of the race supporting a very good friend. I enjoyed feeling confident about the way, while others messed around with a booklet of route instructions that are handed out to everyone. My respect to any runner who actually made it based on instructions only. In addition, I had familiarised myself more and more with this dynamic.watch app for my Garmin, where you can upload the route and see the way as a red line on your watch. This year’s event even had a little diversion going on, the organisers made the new route available for download and I had it on my watch. Which really helped, because there was no other runner in front of me to follow and the alternate route lead along a busy road which felt intuitively so wrong that without the reaffirming red line I would have been more than worried. And then I looked behind and noticed that while none was in front of me there was a bulk of runners behind me. Whether they knew the route or just followed me I don’t know, but it would have been a devastating thought leading others the wrong way. So all went well until we hit the canal, roughly the halfway point and then Check Point 3 at mile 25, with 20 more to go. I did start to feel tired, changed into the extra jacket, stacked up on my favourite energy gels (from GU, which were offered for free, GU being a supporter of this event), exchanged nice words with the friendly marshals, supporters and fellow runners and carried on.Suddenly the sun made an appearance over a nice stretch of the canal and everything had seemed to work so much better than I could have dreamed of. If felt like being on cloud nine. And then I fell. Not really, but metaphorically: From cloud nine down to… ehm… the majority of bad stretches of the Grand Union Canal I guess. What a horrible sight. I am still not sure what was the chicken and what was the egg. Fact is my running morale suddenly went downhill. I felt so tired that I abruptly stopped and walked. I was not injured or badly shaken, just, well, had enough. Other runners were passing by, one I remember saying how she hates the last 20 miles and that this canal is really soul destroying. Usually, I am quite resilient against bad environments affecting my mood and it was probably not the canal which caused this sudden shift, but it surely did not help. So I dragged myself along. I never got back into a proper running rhythm. I did not get cold either though, I had enough to eat and drink on me, but it was such a bore. My mind started to wander and the places it went to were dark and twisted: I should stop, this is not the experience I signed up for – even if I finish, it is almost a lie because I am so not enjoying it – am I progressing as a runner at all? – I probably could have done the same 5 years ago, walking along an awful canal, with so much littering, industrial decay and run-down corners wherever you look – but why would anyone want to do that? – and I am a rubbish runner anyway, bad biomechanics, too lazy to do proper training, not really progressing – I should retire, I should stop and retire from running – I will never run again in my whole life. I got my phone out looking for the next train or tube station, reading Facebook best-wishes of friends that I felt I am lying to, by giving the impression running an event like this is worthwhile. The negative thoughts continued to spiral, a proper running depression in the midst of an event, something I had never experienced up to this point and I still don’t know why I actually carried on walking. Whenever I tried to get back into a jog my left knee started to hurt more and more, probably a physical sign of being a mental bad state. Eventually, I reached Check Point 5, the last one. After hours of feeling almost walking by myself (the canal stretch is not only ugly but also lonely) nice faces were talking to me and said only 6.5 miles left. In my head, thinking about 45 miles, it was 8 miles left, but it turned out the course is about 1.5 miles short. Somehow that simple turn in my favour gave me a final boost. I managed to get back to something that is worth to be called running and even my knee pain got a bit better. It got dark and I ran/walked the last miles with head-torch. And so I made it. I really made it. It felt a bit surreal, especially after all the negative thoughts that I had been entertaining for hours. It is always great to arrive at a finish line, especially one that is right next to a canal behind a bridge with spectators cheering you and then getting the medal and a nice cup of tea. I felt like crying. I lingered a bit around to enjoy this moment as long as I could. The majority of runners had already finished. I came 184th out of 305, with a time of 8:37:05. I got quietly changed into fresh clothes and went off home, wondering what this event was all about and how my running future might look like. I did not feel euphoric or like a winner. Is there maybe another kind of battle that despite finishing I lost on the way?

Malaga – Good, Bad And Ugly

It is completed: my fiftieth marathon, in Malaga, one week after my trauma in Dorset. Despite having felt almost hundred percent recovered on the day, it turned out to be an experience in two parts: the good one and the bad and the ugly one. Let’s start with the good part.The good: It was one of those build-ups that are almost perfect. The smooth arrival at Malaga, getting your bearings (and race number) without stress, having an enjoyable afternoon cycling down the Costa de Sol with spectacular views, all that was then topped off by stumbling into the Christmas season opening of an amazingly decorated town centre and having dinner at a truly nice and special gastro bar with excellent food. My apartment was very central and only 10 minutes walking distance to the marathon start and finish, which couldn’t have made getting to the start line any more hassle-free. No getting up at unholy hours to catch unfamiliar buses or trains, no messing about with bag-drops, portable loos or how to make waiting in cold temperatures work. It was perfect: I left my place at 8:30am for the start at 9. The event somehow felt bigger than 3,400 runners, yet there were no hiccups and I could leisurely stroll to the right pen and even had time for stretches. Surrounded by palm trees, a colourful morning sky and pumped up, excited runners I could not have had a better start. And so it continued for the first half of the race. I found my pace and despite still feeling a slight soreness in my quads from the ultra the week before, I had hopes for doing a solid under 3:30 finish. Running along the seaside was very uplifting, the temperatures were around 16 degrees, but it felt cooler because of the constant light breeze and because many parts of the route were not in the direct sun. The runners high came to a sudden stop pretty much after the first half, which leads us to part two.The bad and the ugly: Not long after I passed this inflatable arch that marked the half marathon distance (21.1 k or 13.1 miles) I felt this weird weakness creeping up. Despite having had hitting-the-wall moments before, this felt different. It is not about tired or achy legs, but about “I actually need to stop and lie down”. A feeling I only experienced during the ultra the week before and hoping it was not PTS from this traumatic event, I reckon the cold was still lingering. (I am actually getting sick and tired writing about this damn cold.) I stopped at kilometre 23 (mile 14). Because there were  almost the same distance between me and my bed in the apartment I had to come up with a plan. I decided to do a serious walk-run alternation. And so the work began: Each new kilometre sign was an achievement, the masses of runners overtaking me needed to be ignored as well as the pacemakers for sub 3:45 and eventually sub 4:00 hours times. I had to keep it together, somehow. And again, the weird thing was that my legs themselves were not tired or worn-out, just the overall condition was “feeling weak”. It became an absolute drag and I would lie if I said I enjoyed it. In addition, all the little things start to bother you: Missing or slightly wrong distance markers. Why was there none for 30k? Or for 35? And 38 surely came to early, or not? I can recommend to rather rely on your own tracking device than the markers. Then there was this blue line on the road that normally indicates the shortest route, but here were sections where it definitely didn’t. Other sections had only half of the road closed off and on the other half saw heavy stop and go traffic that produced a lot of stink. There were plenty water stations, which is good, but why do the helpers have to force the water bottles again and again into your face? Even if you just picked one? I know, I am being petty, but that happens when I don’t enjoy myself. However, I managed to get a grip on the last 3 k (or 2 miles) and managed to run them without stopping. The route saved the town centre with the stunning cathedral, nice historic buildings and Christmassy extravaganza to the last, which really helped to make it to the finish. Once passing the finish line, some of the welcomers to honour your effort with a medal turned out to be children with Down syndrome. The runner before me got a big kiss on her check together with the medal from one of those helpers and I got a really lovely smile with mine, which somehow was the most touching way of receiving the medal that I have yet experienced. So I can say my fiftieth marathon did end on a high and it is not all about strength, toughness and endurance, but also about kindness, heart and smiles. Thank you!

The Morning of Marathon Number 50

I am getting ready to face my fiftieth marathon. Number 49, the ultramarathon in Dorset last week, proved that even when running more marathons than probably the average runner, starting and finishing can never be taken for granted. This is what I love about the the distance: it makes you more aware of how much you are dependent on grace, because many things are outside your control. I am very excited though, finally feeling better after being affected for two weeks by this nasty cold. I did question my decision to squeeze my fiftieth into 2017, travelling all the way down to Malaga to have a bit of a warm and exotic environment to celebrate. The mental post traumatic stress caused by what I will now refer to as the Dorset-Ultra-Experience made me weary and doubting, if running another marathon the week after (or even at all!) was really such a clever plan. Now feeling better and recovered (I still can feel my quads hurting a little bit though), it feels right again. I have done it before (which, again, does not mean much) and Malaga is a great place. I really enjoyed spending the Saturday here and it seems the perfect place to escape the wintery London and run along seaside and historical buildings at 18 C degrees! Here a few pictures that in took yesterday. Malaga Marathon, I am coming!!!

Dorset Ultra – Paradise Lost

Coming back to Dorset for running an ultramarathon, four years after having done the marathon distance in 2013, did not feel good. Don’t get me wrong, Dorset and the Jurrasic Coast Path, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an absolute stunner. In 2013 I described it with “what paradise must look like” despite being the most difficult route  (and experience) I had ever done. The 2017 revisit was overshadowed by health concerns. Normally I don’t do colds, but 10 days before the event I came down with one that made me stay in bed for a week and when I got up on event day I still felt more like continuing to rest than running 33 miles (54k). It did not help either that I had to get up at 2am, to be ready for running buddy Cathy to pick me up at 3am for the over 3 hours drive down to Dorset. Once arrived I was slightly concerned how cold it felt, the weather forecast promised relatively mild 9 degrees Celcius. My nose was running, my head still a little bit achy, but somehow I managed not to abort the whole thing and avoid having a first DNS (did not start) in my running book. At least I wanted to try, thinking I can always stop and have to deal with a first DNF (did not finish) later.And so it happened that despite not feeling well I stood at 8am at the start line of the CTS Dorset Ultra event, equipped with an extra layer of clothing, first aid kit, whistle, head torch (all mandatory stuff), a pack of tissues (not mandatory) and still wondering what I was getting myself into. The CTS Dorset trail is rated by the organiser with the highest difficulty level 5, for extreme terrain. The Ultra distance, if completed, earns you 3 qualifying points for the infamous UTMB race, which is widely regarded as one of the most difficult foot races in the world, over 100 miles (160k) through Swiss, Italian and French mountains. Here I was with all the gear and a pack of tissues walking up the first hill together with about 250 other ultra runners. The first half of the race went much better than expected. I almost forgot that I was not feeling well. The beauty of the dramatic coastline and the buzz that naturally comes with the start of a race, especially with one like this which offers so much jaw-dropping scenery, helped to lift my spirits. Yet the hills remained daunting. The first few miles had three of them to offer, hills that can only be compared with climbing up a muddy staircase without steps.The big shift happened pretty much half of the race. By then I had lost my pack of tissues (after taking out one that I used), the snot was running down my nose and the reoccurring coughs did not sound encouraging. But I could have dealt with that. What hit me was the very sudden feeling of complete depletion. It was not just about feeling tired. My legs started to destabilise, felt wobbly and having had no experience running with a cold I did not know whether this was normal or concerning. I started to walk even though it was flat and slightly downhill. The legs did not recover. Whenever I tried to resume a light jog I felt there is nothing left to jog on. Even walking was a challenge. Then the unforgiving terrain started to hit back in form of seemingly endless hills and I did not think I would be able to finish. I had almost the same distance again in front of me, was getting colder by the minute and even the downhills started to become more challenging than they should have, due to my increasingly burning quad muscles. At some point, I started walking down the hills backwards, which presented additional challenges but at least it gave my quads a break.It was horrible. I still don’t know what made me carry on. Probably the unclear plan how to exit a scenario like this and the feeling of not wanting to have the first DNF in my running record. This way the second half of the race became the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The fact that I could carry on at all was due to factors outside my control: the mild weather (9 degrees and no strong winds) and the thin Ronhill windbreaker jacket, which I bought two days before and turned out to be extremely useful. In preparation for this event, I had gone into my usual panic mode, wondering what would happen if I had to run at zero degrees and so had decided to spend ridiculous £140 on this jacket, but now I was glad it did. As a fourth layer, it helped to keep me relatively warm and even the hood was very useful when my head started to cool down. So when I came back to the base station and had to go out for the final 6.5 miles to complete the ultra distance I somehow resisted again to stop and carried on. Not because I wanted to, but just because I felt I am not collapsing, freezing to death or hallucinating. I was now used to dragging myself onwards one step after another, completely ignoring time or distance. So I thought “no DNF in my book, and better get this damn ultra thing done”.A decision I regretted half an hour later when I was sitting next to a downhill path stretching my quad muscles. They finally denied any functions and rather cramped. Once I could stand again I tried to move down somehow. I really should have let myself roll down, I am sure it would have been at least twice as fast. It all seems like a bit of a blur now, but the one positive thing is the beautiful sunset I could witness and I even thought about taking pictures. The last three miles, a flat bit before the last steep downhill, I tried to do a forward movement that resembled something remotely similar to a gentle jog. When I reached the last descent I climbed down feeling more like a survivor of a disaster than a triumphant finisher. I had no clue what time it was when I reached the finish with only a few people standing there. One of them was Cathy who did have a blast doing and finishing her marathon. I tried to be gracious and to be happy for her. When I went to return my chip and get my medal, I was told that did not check-in at all check-points and times are missing. I resisted the urge to kill the messenger and said I am absolutely sure I got readings at all check-points and can prove it with my personal running tracking. I need to email the organiser, I was told, and show them the proof of my results for it to be official. Until this happens I did not officially finish. I was beyond any emotions.

At least I got the medal. When I checked the results today I found that they put me wrongly into the 12 miles longer Ultra Plus race and of course for this race I missed some check-points. The email asking to correct this went out. However, I am not sure if the whole thing was worth it. Yes, I did finish and I do assume I get it sorted with the organiser. But I feel also slightly traumatised. The previous positive memories of “running through paradise” turned into “surviving a disaster”. There is no real sense of achievement, probably because one of my main running goals is enjoyment. Saying this, my other goals are “not to get injured” and “to finish”, in that order, which I think I did achieve. Still, I am not quite sure what to think about this experience and I need to let it go for now. Time will tell I suppose.

Update from 04/1/2107: My results are corrected and I am officially a finisher. Time is 8:25:27 and I came 112th out of 146 (not that it has any significance, I am just surprised to see that there were still quite a few fellow runners behind me).

Medal Indulgence

For the last six years, every new marathon medal just went on top of the others, burying the older ones under a pile of newer ribbons and metal. It was time to dig them all out for a little bit of marathon medal indulgence. Here is the documenting picture:They are 48 in total and arranged in strict order: Top left is the oldest and bottom right the latest. Hopefully, I will get to 50 by end of this year. Next one is the Dorset Marathon, along the Jurrasic Coast Path, which has UNESCO World Heritage status. I did the marathon distance back in 2013 and this time I will give the 33.3 miles distance a go. It is the hardest and most beautiful marathon I have done yet, check out the organiser’s video and you get the idea. For the 50th I am treating myself with a winter weekend break and go to Malaga. I booked it a little bit last minute, but it was too tempting trying to complete the 50th before the end of 2017.

Authentic Athens Again

So, here we are again: Five years after doing Athens as my 4th overall marathon, it was time to give it another go (as my 48th). It was a weird mix of going down memory lane, finding some things are not how I remembered them and re-discovering this spectacular event and place all over again. Despite common runner’s knowledge that because of the hilly route Athens makes it a rather tough one, I did not remember it as being so hard. I did remember a steep incline around kilometre 30 to 32 and a constant rise pretty much from the beginning but thought it was ok. My memories were wrong (I should have read my old blog post before). It is pretty hilly and I early had to hold back to avoid risking cramps. The temperature of over 20C was not helping, but at least that was consistent with the first time. The positive surprise was the steep incline was not that steep and ends at kilometre 31 rather than 32. From there it goes all downhill into Athens. The finish in the old authentic stadium, the Panathenaic, was even more glorious than I remembered. This time I took more in. Not sure if they did any restoration in the meantime, but the marble stone everywhere looked just awesome and the scale of this place, the big steps and impressive shape made you feel like running into an ancient monument. Which pretty much is exactly what you do. The Panathenaic Stadium dates back to 330BC, was excavated 1869 and refurbished as a venue for the first modern Olympics in 1896. As part of this, the marathon was revived as a competing distance, following the course that legend tells and finishing in the Panathenaic Stadium, same as marathon runners now do every year. Hence the title: “Authentic Marathon”. When I did it in 2012 there were 9,000 marathon runners (from memory), this year there were 18,000. And you could feel it had the vibes of a much bigger event: Longer waiting times, more runners to dodge, but also more spectators and support. It was great. Another big and consistent plus was the immaculate organisation. The not so easy logistics of getting all these runners out with buses to the start line at Maratonas, lining them up in eleven (!) different start blocks, ensuring there is enough water, loos, wind protection, etc available, getting all the clothing bags efficiently from the start to the finish, all that was done without flaw. So, having done Athens again, five years and 43 marathons later, I am still as excited as the first time. And I have not even mentioned the medal which resembles the Panathenaic and this year comes with a golden ribbon. It’s is the nicest medal in my collection yet. I was a bit surprised though that I did not manage to shave off more time from my first result (I now did a 3:50 time compared to 4:17 before), but I still cannot more highly recommend this one to avid marathoners. It is simply a must-do event and I am sure I will come back – maybe in another five years.

Frankfurt With Friends

One of the great things about running marathons is that it can be very social, while doing running itself is often a rather individual thing. When running the Frankfurt Marathon today I was feeling this connection with the running community more than usual. It was the 8th marathon I did with running mate Michael. Frankfurt is his home turf and to make it easier for me I was offered to join his company’s running team. Some conference rooms in a hotel close to the start line had been booked and we had a great reception there, before and after the marathon. It was great to get one of their T-Shirts and feeling part of a bigger team. And it came quite handy that the company is huge, and the runners come from all over Germany (and the world?) which meant I was not sticking out as the one who does not really belong and could mingle, feeling part of the group. And there was the other thing: the chance to get on the podium and to win a price. Michael made me aware that all the fast runners dropped out this year and apart from one the highest estimated times were 3:30.

It meant I had a fair chance and when running I started hunting down my fellow runners with the same T-Shirt. So I ended up running next to Achim for a while. It is always great to make new friends on the way. Achim was the one who gave me a new boost at kilometre 33, when I started slowing down. He pointed out a strong looking couple in front of us saying, just follow them, they are good. So this is what I did. And it worked and I got some pace back. At one point I overtook Katrin from the vegan running blog bevegt.de. Katrin and Daniel run this (German) site and I listen to their podcasts, because I am interested in a carefree vegan diet. Well, they don’t know that I am their friend and when I overtook her it was an awkward spot with incline, so I did not want to distract her and said nothing. But still, it was nice feeling “connected” even though she had no clue that I did. I ended up overtaking another fellow runner with the same T-Shirt and at some point even Achim had dropped back. So I entered the great Festhalle (Festival Hall) and did the last 200 meters on the legendary Red Carpet. Only in Frankfurt. It was like a big party. And my time was respectable too: 3:28:07. Enough for getting on the podium? I did not find out, because I had a flight to catch and could not stay long enough for the company’s award ceremony. Anyhow, it was a great and unforgettable day with friends and that’s was running marathons really is about.

Update from the day after: Michael informed me that I did make the second place! And I won a voucher, not sure for what though. But hey, this is the first time I won anything in a race.

Devine Venice

The day did not start great: waking up to a weather forecast that has stayed consistent for a week and shows that you will get completely soaked from 8am on, including thunderstorms, is never great at marathon day. Well, I sent up one of those desperate “God, pleeease!?” prayers (if someone can change the weather last minute, it must be him) and got up, still not sure how to get to the shuttle buses that would bring us 30 kilometres out to the start. These busses left at the other end of Venice, Google Maps said one hour to walk. When I chose my accommodation the main criteria was close to the finish, but who could have guessed that finish line and shuttle busses are at the opposite sides of Venice? I bumped into runners the night before and they said just to follow other runners, I would be fine. But I wasn’t. The other runners caught a water-bus along the Canal Grande and I followed them. It took the water-bus 15 minutes for five stops, at least 10 more to go to Piazzale Roma, from where we still had to walk at least 10 minutes to catch the shuttle busses. Against the trend I decided to leave the water-bus and walk the rest. I already missed a marathon start this year and did not intent to repeat that experience. It turned out walking was definitely fast enough, so I caught my shuttle bus together with a countless number of other runners. The bus was so packed that my suddenly inappropriate layers of jacket, jumper and running shirt immediately caused me breaking out in sweats. But there was no space to take the jacket or jumper off, the journey took at least half an hour and by the end I was so sweaty like having been half into the actual race. Anyway, I made it to the start area, a little bit too early for my taste, but better then too late. The looming thunderstorm made me nervous. While I was waiting I was getting cold, the first rain drops came down and I just did not like the scenario that was starting to play out. But against all odds the weather kept up. And I started running in dry conditions. And everything hurt. The kind of “hurt” where you think it is just not your day. Great. At kilometre 15 I had enough. But no options, but to continue. And suddenly there was a shift. Rather than focusing on everything else and that a sub 3:30 is so not going to happen, I focussed somehow on the basics: regular, calm but deep breathing, posture, the road ahead of me. And I found my zone and things got better and even enjoyable. And then came the bit that was almost a spiritual experience. After kilometre 31 the route was leading to a straight line, vanishing into a fixed point and then nothing. Of course this was the bridge leading to Venice. But you could not see Venice, only sense it. The general visibility was good but not clear, and at some point you saw Venice slowly taking shape and materialising at the misty horizon. The feeling was magical and the pull this caused was unprecedented, especially at this point of a marathon, where the going gets tough. This wasn’t tough, it was something else. At that point I realised that it still had not rained and the sky did not look like it would any time soon. Had God really listened to my winging this morning? I felt much loved. The slow appearance of this seemingly floating city, surrounded by water and shrouded in clouds suddenly awoke thoughts of a New Jerusalem descending from the sky. A goosebump moment – with a harsh wake-up in a worldly reality. Once we entered Venice, the route led us through a grey and dirty port/industrial area, which was definitely an anti-climax and it gave you goosebumps for the wrong reason. Once pushed through (two kilometres that felt so much longer than the five before) you had the final four left, leading through all the good Venice stuff that you signed up for:

Seaside to your right, Basilika Santa Maria to your left, running across the Canal Grande on a temporary bridge especially for us, running towards and into the Piazza San Marco with the 41k marker placed directly in front of the glorious Basilika.

The last four kilometres of a marathon had never felt any better. It was absolute amazing, almost divine. What a glorious finish to what started out to be a running disaster in making. I am feeling very thankful.

Going for Ultra – again

In 2013 I had my first attempt preparing for an ultra race. Despite best intentions it somehow did not happen. Now, four years later, I am there again. Still not sure why with all my running it seems to be so bloody difficult to do what all ultra runners do and keep going, However, I should appreciate that I did increase distances, had longer-than-marathon training runs and my first ultra race in form of a six hours challenge. So I signed up for the Country to Capital Ultra race in January. Big thing for me. And a lot of things to get nervous about. First, it takes place in January. While the cold does not really bother me, my worry is the wet cold. Second, there is the awkward mix of trail and tarmac. The first half can really turn into a mudslide when wet, while the second is more hard surface along the Grand Union canal towards the London centre. My running OCD kicks in, wanting to control all possibilities. In order to prepare I have to get another pair of trail shoes, that would also work on tarmac. A visit at runner’s too-good-to-be-true running shop Run and Become sorted me out. It is notoriously difficult to find the right pair of shoes, mainly because of size 13, where shoes start to be comfortable. But it was my day and I am now the proud owner of a pair of Inov8 Trail Talon 250, which needed to be tested. So I went out to one of those infamous “recce runs”. To be honest, I only picked this word up from seasoned British runners, having no clue what it actually means or how it is pronounced, but I did sense it has something to do with checking stuff out. So this was exactly what I did. I caught a train to Wendover, used the smart DynamicWatch app on my Garmin FR630 to show me the way and off I went. The next 39.x kilometres passed by much smoother than I could have hoped for. Despite occasional hold-ups, the route on the Garmin watch did give me the confidence never to get totally lost. In preparation for this recce run (which I now know is military slang for examining an area) I got a bigger backpack than usual, filled with a two-litre water bladder, a nice piece of vegan pizza from the night before and an approach of not getting stressed but see where and for how long my feet will carry me. I did part of this route in 2015 when I accompanied my friend Ruth for her first ultra race, so some trails looked vaguely familiar. The weather was warm but great and I tried not to stress out when I wasn’t sure about the route and at some point I had the vegan pizza and other food and it was all really, really fun. Even getting a bit lost was fun, because I roughly knew (thanks dynamic.Watch) where to go to. So I did end up joining the canal, exiting at Uxbridge and taking a tube home safely.  The new shoes were perfect and lived up the challenge. No sores, no blisters and overall, despite all exhaustion and not really understanding how after 39 ks to carry on for another 33 running, the possibility of finishing my first proper ultra race felt closer than ever before. Happy days.