Archive | April 2020

Owter. Buy direct. Help authors

Owter is a new book service which helps authors get a better return on their book sales. I will be recommending good running and outdoor books via my page on the site.

NoMapFirst is Steve Birkinshaw’s ‘There is No Map in Hell’, which tells in gory detail the story of his successful Running the Wainwrights record run of 2014. It fully justifies its nomination for the Lakeland Book of Year (2017). When I reviewed it I described it thus:

He modestly describes the toll it takes as his body gradually disintegrates over the seven days, and also the difficulties the fatigue gives him afterwards. If you like extreme challenges, this is a brilliant unravelling of the preparation and effects of Steve’s navigation to and through hell.

Why not give it a read?  It can be purchased directly (currently with £2 discount) at:

All three of my running books are also available from the same link (two also reduced).

Reflections on Virtual Running


This last week has seen the instigation of a Virtual National Road Relay Championships. It was setup by James McCrae, with the  hope that it would encourage some keen competition for runners in this time of coronavirus lockdown. Rules included:

Run through the innovative OpenTrack platform, athletes will run a 5km leg in their local area, measured by their GPS watch. They will then upload this to the central results platform, which will update over the five days, allowing athletes and team managers to compare performances. The event strictly enforces a run solo rule, as well as discouraging athletes from running in busy areas, to comply with the government restrictions in place.

My club, Barnet and District AC, publicised it internally and we had 14 men and 13 women entered by the closing date. The individual times recorded are not especially relevant here, but for information we had our Men’s team in 108th (12 to score); our Women 37th (6 to score); our Women Vets 13th (6 to score); and the club’s Des Michael was fastest m70 and Karen Murphy second fastest w50.

What is more important, and the reason for this blog post was the reaction of those that took part. On one of our club WhatsApp channels I asked for any feedback, and the following are some of the soundbites that came through from some of those who had run:

“brought us together as a team”
“I also got some weird looks”
“trying to find flat ground with no wind in Cornwall”
“in club vest, trying to perform of the team”
“hard to get legs turning at race pace at 7am”
“impetus to continue with my training”
“in racing time trials on a bike you know there is someone in front and behind”
“harder to upload the Strava data than run the time”

As well as these comments, two athletes chose to offer longer and more considered reflections a day or so after the event, and these are included in full, as they give a real feel for what doing (and preparing for) the event was like:

20170325_143149Alex Horton, Barnet and District ………… I was genuinely surprised to find myself really quite nervous beforehand. I went through the motions of warming up, stretching, doing strides, drills etc, treating it just like I would a road race. Game face on. The only difference being that no one else was there! I thought about how hard some of the guys I would otherwise have been racing would have pushed themselves in their efforts. Took inspiration from the thought they were pulling themselves inside out in their time trials. Visualised burying myself in exactly the same way over the closing kilometre. It was a novel feeling to someone that has been racing for the best part of 20 years and, even though as is often the way with racing; I didn’t get the time I wanted, I loved every second of it!         

alexl2Alex Lepretre, Highgate Harriers …… One of the most obvious differences about a virtual 5k is that there’s not one standardised course, so the first question for me was where to run it. North London (especially Highgate area) isn’t blessed with the flattest of terrain so options were limited. The Emirates stadium has a nice flat loop but it’s also a GPS blackspot, massively overestimating the distance you run so it would have given a very generous time. I thought that was a bit against the spirit of the event so opted for Regent’s Park instead. One loop of the Outer Circle is 2.75m so it would be just over one lap. Rob Wilson from Highgate kindly went before me and scoped out a start point which would benefit from the most downhill so I ended up copying him. It was a bit of an odd feeling walking up to the (virtual) start line as even though no one else there would have known I was there for a race, I still felt a bit of pressure knowing my time would be going up online for everyone to see and compare against. I think the nerves took their toll a bit as I went out a bit quick, clocking a 2:45 first km and 4:28 first mile, and from there it was just a matter of holding on. Had a friend from CONAC who I often train with who had done it the day before and run 14:38 so I had a target to beat. I stopped the watch at 14:34 so I considered that job done. I quite enjoyed the format of the competition and with the race being held over a few days, team positions changed throughout the course of the event, and it certainly added to the excitement. While the current lockdown continues, I would certainly be keen to enter a few more virtual races, but that being said, I’m definitely looking forward to when races resume again and you can race side-by-side with your friends and then grab a beer with them afterwards, either in celebration or commiseration.   

What did I think? I enjoyed the build-up, the banter, watching people recce routes (via Strava), and the times as they gradually popped up on the results page.

Could the idea be adapted for other events? Probably, although anyone else taking the idea forward would need to be very sure they had a good server infrastructure in place, and an intuitive and resilient entry portal.

What other events might be possible? Well, things like the Herts County Relays, other road relays, and even events like the Spring Midweek Road Race Relay that we have locally here. We discussed the latter very briefly on our WhatsApp group, but it does have longer distances (normally 10k) and quite large club presences for a local event (would some club runners be disadvantaged by the tech requirements, perhaps?).

What do you think? Reflections on the Virtual National Road Relay, or on other potential events that might be held, may be left in the blog comments or on Twitter.

Event website:

A new winter Bob Graham Round record – a Compass Sport article

A new article has been added to my blog. It is a report on Kim Collinson’s new winter Bob Graham Round record, which resulted from a long chat I had with him in December, just after he had taken the record. It was published in the February issue of Compass Sport magazine, and can be downloaded here [PDF link].winterBGR

NB: An upcoming blog will give links to several articles I have written in the last couple of years, together with some longer blog posts – hopefully something will be interest to folk in these difficult times of coronavirus lockdown. Many are available from my CV page.