Monthly Archives: March 2015

CTS Sussex Ultra

I entered this Endurancelife event as another training race in my build up to both Thames Path and TDS later in the year. As a ‘training‘ race there would be no taper, and I would aim to run hard, but not at 100%, as my plan is to be back out and training again only 2 days later.

There are 4 races at each of the Coastal Trail Series (CTS) events: 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra, with staggered starts times. As a result the ultra race was scheduled to start at 8:30, so it was a rather anti-social start to the weekend, creeping out of bed and trying (and failing) not to wake the family. However when I arrived at Birling Gap it was beautiful, with the sun shining, little wind and the promise of a great morning for running.

Registration and the race briefing all went smoothly, but after looking at the complex route map I made sure to concentrate. The Ultra route was effectively the marathon course (a long figure of eight going through Birling Gap twice), followed by the 10k course (a much shorter figure of 8, but still going through the Birling Gap car park twice).

After registration we all walked down the trail to the start line, where after a very short delay we were sent on our way. I was targeting a 5:30 finish, so went off fairly slowly initially, but it was really difficult to judge pace as miles 2 and 3 were up and down the seven sisters. I’ve run the Beachy Head marathon a couple of times, so covered this stretch before, but this time was running the route in reverse, through the first CP at Litlington. However it wasn’t all familiar ground. After running out of Alfriston the route headed up on the South Downs Way, but then forked left and ran beneath the famous Longman, before cutting back on itself and up a very steep climb. We then ran on to CP2 in West Dean, where I filled up my flasks and enjoyed one of the custard creams they were offering – a good choice!

After 15 miles the field was well spread out, so I ran through Friston alone, but then saw dozens of runners heading towards me – these were all doing the half marathon. A marshall directed us all through a gate and down the hill into East Dean. There was plenty of friendly banter and encouragement, and I was really tempted to increase the pace and stick with them, but forced myself to stick to the plan. They had only run 3 miles and had 10 still to do, while I still had 19 more.

We now headed back towards the coast and down into Birling Gap before running up the path to Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head. The route continued toward Eastbourne, but then dropped down what must be the steepest path I’ve ever run to the coastal path and CP3. By this point I was catching a number of other runners doing the ultra race, but also being passed by marathon and half marathon runners, so it was hard to tell who was who.

The route turned back towards Birling Gap, but although I could see the finish area, we suddenly looped round to run away from it again, before crossing the road and joining the route the 10k race was using. I was now running with a real mix of half marathon and 10k runners, who all started accelerating as we passed the ‘1 mile to go sign’. They sprinted off, while i followed behind before seeing the only ‘Ultra’ race marking on the route, directing me away from the finish and back to the start line for lap 2.

This was my favourite part of the race. I was now running alone again, and without the constant distraction of others racing passed all the time, I finally managed to reach that state where my mind seems to detach from my body. While my body gets on with the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other, up and down every hill, my mind drifts off, just keeping enough awareness to make sure i don’t get lost, or stop eating and drinking. In this state I feel I can run all day and night if need be.

I caught a passed a couple of other runner as i arrived at CP4, then shortly after found myself at the path where I had seen the half marathon runners for the first time. So down the hill to East Dean, back to Birling Gap, then back up to Beachy Head for the second time. At CP5 the marshalls had kindly walked up from their checkpoint to the junction. This meant they could make sure no-one would run passed to Eastbourne for a second time. I could turn back here for a steady downhill mile and half run into the finish.

My garmin reported 34.1miles in 5:25:25. The official results are not out yet, but the print out at the finish said 8th place.

It looked complicated but was well marked on the ground

It looked complicated but was well marked on the ground

Ashmei kit review

At the Ashmei Ambassador Day (14th March), I was given a pair of trail socks to try and asked to review them. However all the other Ashmei kit that I have was purchased by me (or bought for me by my wife). I have a fair bit if it, because although it is not cheap, it performs really well.

This Saturday I ran the Endurace Life CTS Sussex race. I had entered the Ultra event, and would have to do the marathon route, and then a lap of the 10k route, all on trails over the South Downs, starting and finishing at Birling Gap.

The weather forecast was for overcast, but dry conditions, with temperatures peaking at 8C. However with an 8:30 start it would be much cooler for the first couple of hours.

As a result I chose the following kit, as pictured below.


Clockwise from top left:

  • Ashmei gloves
  • Ashmei beanie hat
  • Ronhill trail shorts
  • Ronhill arm warmers
  • Ashmei merino + carbon trail socks
  • Montane chief (not a buff!)
  • Compresssport calf guards
  • Ashmei merino short sleeve jersey


The Ashmei gloves and hat come out on just about every run if the weather is cool. They are thin and light, but keep me warm. However if it gets hot, they don’t feel sweaty and clammy. They are also small enough that I can stuff them in a pocket if I need to take them off.

The Ronhill shorts have plenty of pockets for gels, and more importantly don’t cause me any chaffing issues. The arm warmers are a relatively new addition of my running wardrobe but I find it much more comfortable to roll them down when I am warm, than wear a long sleeve top and roll the sleeves up.

The socks are made from from Ashmei’s merino + carbon fabric. They claim this performs 10x better then pure merino at displacing water. Another claimed benefit of merino is that unlike polyester ( the normal fabric used in technical running gear), it has natural anti-microbial properties. In short this means it doesn’t stink! I’ve tested this before, and it’s true. When I go on week long business trips I’ve been able to take a single merino top and run in it every day without gagging when I put on. The same can’t be said for my polyester shorts. I thought I’d really put this claim to the test though, so after getting the socks on the 14th, I wore them on every run. 9 runs and 44 miles without washing before the race. While they didn’t smell ‘shop fresh’, they didn’t smell. I managed to convince my 9yr old daughter that they were clean.

The buff Montane chief is always useful for a cool day, and after suffering terrible calf cramp the 1st time I ran the Beachy Head marathon, I always wear compresssport calf guards on hilly runs.

The Ashmei jersey is now a vintage bit of kit (2011). It’s the original pure merino, rather than the newer merino + carbon but for a cold dry day it is perfect. I wore this one on my first 100 mile race and ran in it from 6am until 10pm when cold weather and slowing progress forced me into a warmer long sleeved top.

So how did it all perform?

Perfectly. I like kit to be invisible. I don’t mean literally like the Emperor’s New Clothes, but I don’t want to notice it. It I can feel clothing rubbing and chaffing, or start getting hot spots and blisters on my feet then something is not working. On Saturday everything worked well. It was cold and windy at some points, but I was warm enough, and I never felt too hot and sweaty, even though the hat and gloves stayed on throughout the race.

The socks caused no problems  – no rubbing or blisters. They are very short, and did let a little grit get into the shoe, but one stop to shake this out and I was fine. I’ll happily wear them again, but would probably buy the mid length sock.

SockCollageOne last point. The socks are now heading for the washing machine. They still look good despite over 75 miles of hard use in the week, as shown by the before and after photo, but great kit should be treated well. The picture at the top is ‘fresh from the packet’, while the below image is after the race.



A Social Race

On Saturday I was up early and dressed in my running kit as usual, but instead of heading out to run for an hour or two, I jumped in the car. Two hours later, I was in Aldbury, pulling into the ‘Industrial Park’ that is Ashmei HQ. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bucolic office location. The farmyard and agricultural outbuildings had all been converted into offices for a couple of small businesses.

The gleaming Airstream trailer told me I had arrived at the right place.
A couple of weeks ago I had seen a Facebook post about the role of Brand Ambassador and applied, and was surprised when a few days later I received an invite to the Ashmei Ambassador day. I was anticipating meeting a couple of dozen enthusiastic runners all competing for the role, before going for a run. I’d done some research, and seen a blog from one of last years candidates. They had all been asked to prepare a 1-minute talk for video on their goals, so I was expecting something similar or worse, and some fierce competition.

Instead, we were all welcomed with a drink and some pastries and I enjoyed a few minutes meeting the other candidates, and having a few photographs taken. There were a range of ages, and abilities, but they all had a huge enthusiasm for running, cycling or tri: be it short course races or Ultra distance. No massive egos on display or any competitiveness, just a great bunch of people chatting about running and cycling.

We weren’t set any tasks or challenges, and instead we enjoyed a brief presentation from Simon Freeman of Freestack about the ambassador program, before an overview of the Ashmei brand from Stuart Brooke. Stuart is the founder, owner, and designer and clearly passionate about creating high-performance quality sportswear.

I’ve used merino wool clothing for years as a base layer when skiing, so I had tried Ashmei in 2011, not sure if merino would work for running. It does. I’ve worn my Ashmei top on many runs and used it for both my 100 mile races. It was perfect in the first race (NDW100 in 2012) but couldn’t handle the more humid conditions on the SDW100 in 2014. Mind you nothing coped well that day. I swapped from Ashmei to a more traditional technical top after 35 miles, and then had to change again at the half way point, as I was soaked in sweat. I’ve been meaning to try the newer merino + carbon range to see how much better this is, but haven’t got round to it yet. In fact, I had turned up for the ambassador day wearing my original Ashmei jersey. Too creepy?

After the presentation, we were all given a pair of new socks to try and invited to join them for a run or ride. I’m not sure how it worked for the cyclists, but for the runners this gave us another opportunity to chat as we ran up a few trails, posing for selfies and group photos before gatecrashing the Ashridge Boundary Run (a 16 mile race taking place that day).

Once back at the Ashmei office there was just time for more cake before heading home. Now it seems the competition has started in earnest, and it’s not on the trail. Instead it’s all happening here on social networks: at least half a dozen blogs, a YouTube video, Instagram stills and video (that’s me on the left – thanks Matt!), and more #ashmeiambassadors tweets that your average marathon.

These runners all know how to create buzz and PR for a brand, so Ashmei should do well with their 2015 Ambassador program who ever they chose! I just hope to be part of it, and even if I’m not, I really enjoyed my morning.

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon – 2015

This race is organised by my running club, Tunbridge Wells Harriers, so relies on volunteers to make it all happen. This year I volunteered to help hand out race numbers before the start, but also to run as a Pacer.

Last year I ran as a 1:30 pacer, but this year I asked to pace the 1:40 group. I’m not training for a spring marathon, so haven’t done much speed training yet, and running 1 minute per mile slower than my race pace would make this much easier than trying the 1:30! We try to have two pacers for each group, and this year I was running with Mark.

It is a tough course to pace, as the first half is mostly downhill, and then you hit the legendary Spring Hill that climbs for over a mile up through Fordcombe village.

One big hill

One big hill

I’ve run the route many times and it is impossible to maintain a constant pace (7:37 min/mi for a 1:40 finish), so I ran a few tests, trying to run at a constant effort and then base my race pace on these. As a result on race day I had a target pace for each half mile split, as well as the elapsed time to check against the mile markers on the road.

It was a cold morning, but the sun was shining, and local star Dame Kelly Holmes started the race on time at 9:00. The 1:30 and 1:40 pacers are instructed to run to gun time not chip time, so we had allowed for a slow first mile as i takes a few seconds to get over the line. We ran up through Southborough where as always there was great support, and on to the Bidborough Ridge. This is gently downhill, so we picked the pace up a little, running 7:20 splits, with the pace peaking on the steep drop into Penshurst village. Mark had set his Garmin to show a virtual partner running at 7:37, so confirmed we were now about 1 minute ahead of ‘even split’ schedule. This was right where we had aimed to be.

There is a small hill which you climb at the 6 mile point, before dropping down to cross the river then starting the main climb. Again we checked our timing at the 6 mile marker and where within 3 seconds of our target.

For Spring Hill itself, we had allowed for our pace to drop to 8:50 for the mile, and this enable us to carry on chatting to the other runners around us and try and encourage them to keep pushing.

At the top of the hill, we had now run 8 miles and were still on schedule, aiming to run the last few miles at a steady 7:37. It was great to see all the volunteers smiling and cheering people on, and I was really enjoying the run, chatting with Mark and encouraging the other runners in the race. However all this fun meant we lost concentration a little and when we got to the 10 mile marker we both realised we had lost a bit of time. We were now about 30 seconds off our schedule. Not a disaster, but time to pick up the pace a little. I agreed I would push on, picking the pace up slowly to claw back the 30 second gap, but Mark would run 7:35s and then pick up the pace in the last mile as most runners naturally do, and that way we should be able to bring as many people home in under 1:40 as possible.  The final mile is slightly downhill and it was great to see so many people surge passed me as I got to the 400m to go sign.


We finally arrived together at the finish line for a 1:39:49 time.