Tag Archives: Ultra Fat Runner

Lairig Ghru Fell Race

The last couple of years I had piled on the weight in the lead up to Xmas before knuckling down and losing 2 ½ St or so before the big running events of the year were scheduled. Alas, this year  it hadn’t worked out that way as I had stalled at less than 1 ½ St loss. After bending the entry criteria to get into the the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race I was at the back of the field within a mile and ½ mile behind the next last runner by mile 2.  Nearly 1000 people disappeared without trace ! An ignominious end as I quit after coming down off Penyghent without even making the first checkpoint.

At the same time as  signing up to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks I had also entered  another fell race, The Lairig Ghru. This was a race that had instantly captured my imagination when I read about it a few years ago.  Why ? It’s simply that the route through the centre of the Cairngorm Mountains between the towns of Braemar and Aviemore is absolutely iconic with the nearly 27 mile route heading over a pass at 2740 ft with the shortest distance by road nearly 2 ½ times as long.

The key to success at this was beating the cut-off at Derry Lodge approximately 9 miles into the race with a time limit of 1 ½ hrs. I was nervous about this as I would have to run at (my) top speed and it was clear from looking at the map that there was a bit of an incline leading up from Mar Lodge onto the hillside before the path dropped back down into Glen Lui.

So the aim was to run as hard as I could and beat the cut-off. Anything else was a bonus.

After a bit of a delay from the scheduled start at 10.00am caused by the RD calling every runner (c. 400) forward to the start individually (no idea why he did this) we were away and having positioned myself near the back and being rapidly overtaken by all around me I made the mistake of looking behind after about a mile to see 3 runners in red jersey’s pacing out methodically about 50 yards behind. Oh god it’s just me and then the sweeper runners !

I pushed on and from my GPS watch I could see that I was managing a pace of just over 9 minute miles which was just within a pace that would keep me inside the cut-off. After a couple of small rises on the way out of Braemar there was a long downhill down to Victoria bridge where I relished the cushioning of my newly purchased Hoka Mafate Speed 2 shoes.

I knew that I was very fortunate in that it was a chilly 13 degrees with a stiff wind blowing into my face.  The number one issue with running when overweight is not the fact of the extra weight itself but the fact that you overheat far more easily to the extent that one’s running slows to a crawl or even gives way to walking as it had during the Edinburgh marathon the month before.

As I walked up the steep bit of track from Mar Lodge I spotted another runner who was also walking and who I had clocked as being about the only other person apart from me who was carrying a bit of extra weight. As the track levelled out he continued to walk whilst I broke into a run and soon I was past. Hooray I’m not last any more.  As the track dropped into Glen Lui I could see the trees at the head of the valley, within which Derry Lodge was located. I was still keeping to time and it all seemed good. The only thing was how far into the trees was the lodge ?  I had read on someone’s blog it was c.14km and I prayed that was the case as even 14.5km might see me fail to make it through the cut-offs.

I got nearer the trees and just after entering I saw a boarded up building, is that the lodge I wondered, looks a bit small for a lodge, though a bit big for a gatehouse ? I came past it still unsure until around the corner I saw the Landrover and the Marshalls of the first checkpoint. Yabadabadoo I had made it 1 hr 23mins with my GPS watch showing 8.47 miles well under 14km. Absolutely chuffed to bits, I could relax, take my time and just be a total tourist. The sun came out and Iooking around the setting was absolutely stunning. Time for some photos and then off I walked, dawdling across the valley floor. Soon the person I had overtaken came past and I decided I really needed to do some running to keep up,  it was after all a fell race !

01 Looking Back at Derry Lodge Cut-Off Checkpoint
Looking back at the Derry Lodge Checkpoint
02 Stunning running heavy runner up ahead
Wonderfully scenic, note the other heavy runner ahead !
Approaching Luibeg Burn

It was all incredibly scenic and very easy flat running as I approached the crossing over the Luibeg burn.

From seemingly out of nowhere 5 or 6 more runners appeared behind me, including 3 girls in red skirts running together  Maybe that’s who I saw behind me when I thought it was the sweepers I thought. The path climbed and soon it began to rain. I stopped to put on my jacket and as I got going again a chap came past and said Are you a walker, then seeing the number attached to my shorts, oh your’re a runner I’d better stay behind you then. Damn. Pride now meant that I needed to stay at least on the heels of the last but one runner and I consoled myself that there was no doubt I needed the training.  The path undulated and then dropped down into the Lairig Ghru past Devil’s Point before rising more steeply up through the Pools of Dee and the boulder field. It was now driving rain and a howling wind and I started to get really cold another reason for keeping going as best I could. The boulder field itself turned out to be far less daunting than I had anticipated. It was really quite easy and there were often paths that skirted the worst of it. I realised in retrospect that one of the images I had seen on the web when searching on Lairig Ghru had actually been of the Charlamain Gap a narrow  defile enroute to the pass  where the boulders were massive and there was no choice but to climb through the middle of them.

04 Looking back at the Luibeg Burn crossing
Looking back at the Luibeg Burn crossing
05 Climbing up from LUibeg Burn crossing
The Climb up
06 Along the Lairig Ghru
Dropping down to the Lairig Ghru proper
07 Nearing the Pools of Dee
Heading up to the Pools of Dee
08 Pools of Dee Looking up to pass
Looking ahead to the Pass
09 Looking back at the Pools of Dee
Looking back
10 Approaching Pass
Approaching the top of the pass

I was still keen to take photos, though I couldn’t help feeling inhibited over how long I took as the sweeper runner clearly was there to shepherd the last runner towards the finish rather than hang about while they took photos !

At bang on 17 miles we hit the top of the pass and I could see Aviemore far away in the distance. Woohoo,  all downhill from here.  The path though was narrow and rocky and I was too tired to muster the nimble mountain goat technique that is needed on this sort of technical trail. As it got lower the path slowly improved and then it was a gentle cruise downhill eventually entering the forest of Rothiemurchus. This was stunningly beautiful and not at all the “flog through the forest” that I had read in someone’s account of the race. Indeed this was Scottish Highland pine forest and couldn’t have been more different to the Conifer Plantations of Northern England that I was used to.

11 First sight of Aviemore
First sight of Aviemore
12 On way down crossing beck last water stop for a while
Approaching the Allt Druidh – Last Chance for water for a while
13 Good Trail approaching Rothiemurchus
Good running on the approach to Rothiemurchus

It was now a matter of pushing on and keeping the walking breaks to a  minimum. Before too long I was heading up the main street of Aviemore in the rain and the finish to be followed 10 minutes or so later by the sweeper and the other heavy lad.

Time : 6hrs 34mins

Race Route Overlaid on 1:50,000 OS Map 6.2 MB in size



Amsterdam Marathon – The Ultrafatrunner Comes of Age


Well this was another run that I had booked quite a while ago and which found me at the starting line at nowhere near a sensible running weight. That said I had done a decent amount of training with quite a few  18,19 & 20 mile runs over the preceeding 6 weeks.

The day before I tipped the scales at 13 Stone 6 pounds. Rather than be discouraged and depressed about my inability to get the weight off, I felt inspired, in awe even of how I have managed to adapt to being an (ultra) fat runner. 3 or so years ago I couldn’t run at all once I got past about 12 Stone 3 pounds, now here I am stepping up to do 26 miles and all on tarmac too !

In the end it was the easiest marathon I have ever done. It helped that it was a nice flat course with plenty to look at and cool too, but really I think I am just used to these sort of  distances now so I tapped away one foot in front of another suffering a dip about mile 19 as I got dehydrated but I knew what the problem was and paused at the next two drinks stations to take on lots of liquid and a couple of S! caps and soon I was feeling absolutely fine again. I got around with least effort and pain, ever, though I could not have managed without wearing a backpack with the waist strap in place to support my belly.

There was plenty of gas left in the tank at the end and a real feeling that “the ultrafatrunner” had come of age. A quick change and it was off into centrum to track down  some beer.

4hrs 42mins

Chevy Chase 4th July 2015

The Chevy, so ably organised by the Wooler Running club was another of the races where I had set a target time, a sub 4 hours for this 20 mile trail run that summited the Cheviot and its near neighbour Hedgehope. Regrettably, though I had managed to lose a few pounds in recent weeks I was nowhere near a weight that would allow me to achieve this. C’est la Vie. More foolishly, I had drunk a bit the night before and was feeling extremely groggy as I drove up to Wooler from South Shields. The registration and walk to the start were marked by torrential (Stair rod) rain which reinforced my fairly subdued mood.

Anyhow off we went, my legs felt like lead and I was praying for the end of the tarmac road c.1 mile ! so that I could start walking. I walked up the grassy slope and kept walking over the top as the dribs and the drabs at the end of the field came past. By the time I got to the first checkpoint there was no question at all that I was bringing up the rear of the field ! I hurried on intent on keeping in sight the tail end of runners ahead. We soon entered thick mist and I slowly developed a bit of a rhythm which took me up to the tailenders and eventually past them. Once we reached the foot of the cheviot proper I just went up it no problem at all climbing past a fair few other competitors on the way. It was a real a peasouper up there about 20 yards visibility if that. Eventually I got to the summit checkpoint and then headed over the fence for the off trail section down to the upper reaches of Langleeford burn. It got really steep and just after I slipped and went down on my back I remembered that I had some overtrousers in my backpack. On with these and then whoosh off I went, flat on my back, whizzing down the hiill. In the thick mist I really had no idea where I was so I took out my phone to check my OS Map App that was bluetoothed to my garmin GPS reciever. An instant fix told me I was off route to the right so headed left and soon found a track of trampled grass where the masses had come down. As I got lower the visibility increased and way off to my right I saw a line of 15-20 people led by someone in a South Shields Harrier Vest. Oh dear. Pleased, I continued to scamper on down, over the burn and up onto the lower slopes of Hedgehope. Unfortunately it was now my turn to go way off route as I blindly followed some other disorientated runners (a la sheep). Whipping out the phone again the OS Map App came to my rescue and I turned 90 degrees and set a determined track up, up and up into the thick mist with 4 or 5 people in my wake. Eventually we made the ridge line fence and thence up to the summit of Hedgehope.

Once off the summit it was a steep descent but half way down the mist thinned and all of a sudden a wonderful green carpet came into view far below. I stopped to take a photo though the pause resulted in acquiring a small throng of flies. On down I went waving my arms around my face, over the moor and up to the next outcrop knowing from previous mishaps that I needed to skirt this well to the right ! Down and across and then up to the next checkpoint at Langlee crags. I was quite enjoying myself….

Of course as I got lower it got hotter and the sun was now beating down. I ran with my hood up, sweating bucketloads and felt my face burning up with the heat. As I wound my way up Hell’s path it got even hotter and in desperation I lay down on a flat bit of grass next to carey burn and totally submerged my head under the freezing water… except the water didn’t feel freezing and though it must have helped I didn’t feel cooled down at all as I resumed my shuffle towards the next checkpoint. Still I was making generally good progress and as has so often been the case in the last few years I felt a hell of a lot stronger towards the end of the race than I did at the start. 5hrs 40mins.

Heading into the Mist
Heading into the Mist
Out of the Mist
A vista opens up

Pier to Pier Race

The Pier to Pier is an annual race between South Shields and Roker (Sunderland) piers.  The race used to tout itself as being 7.5 miles long, later amended to read about 7 miles long and with the advent of GPS watches has come the knowledge that in fact the course is approximately 6.88 Miles !

It is always a funny feeling going down to the beach that is 200 yds from ones house and joining approximately 1000 other runners who have arrived from all over the North East of England. Probably there is an element of pride in living so close to such a fantastic stretch of coastline.

Anyway off we went with my main objective to finish before my other half who is generally quicker than me over the shorter distances. There were a fair few stretches of lumpy sand as well as congestion at gates etc but I felt really good in just shorts and my Hoka Highland fling top. In no time at all I was approaching Roker pier and the finish. Fortunately I had managed to stay just in front of Lesley who came in a mere 37 seconds after me.  A result @ 61 mins exactly.

Pier to Pier 2015

Hoka Highland Fling

Well what can I say. I did it. 13 hrs 13 minutes. What a fantastic journey. Over the moon to say the least.

The day started at 4.30 am where a quick look out of the window at our Glasgow West End hotel was enough to see that the rain was sheeting down. My other half and our boy had accompanied me up from South Shields as my good running mate Dave ‘the original fridgeman” Taylor had knackered his knee and had reluctantly had to pull out. The tear to the MCL ligament of his right knee was the exact same injury I had suffered a year before and which had led to me piling on the pounds. Last year we had set out on the Fling and had made slow but steady progress over to Balmaha in about 4 1/2 hours. I had read a lot of the Blog write ups of the Highland Fling before the event which had invariably had a series of stunning views of the Loch taken right on the shoreline. I had blithely assumed therefore that the tough bit of the race was over and we were going to complete it no problem. Surely it couldn’t take more than 1.5-2 hrs to do the three 7 mile chunks that take you up to the Beinglas checkpoint ? Reality hit painfully as this blase attitude led to lots of dawdling and timewasting and then later I was just knackered. In the end I mentally threw in the towel for us both at the Inversnaid checkpoint when I announced loudly that we would never make it to Beinglas in time to beat the cut off – and so it came to pass.

Anyhow, I was back again and determined to finish and at least I was under no illusions as to the nature of the terrain. My plan was to go as quick as I could and just keep going, no stops for photos, minimal stops at checkpoints and just generally no fannying around at all. Off I went and this year was very much in a line of runners for the first 15 miles or so, only on approaching Conic Hill did things thin out a bit. Being a bit lighter I went faster and even ran a bit of a flattish section half way up Conic. I went fairly swiftly down the other side and was soon running into the checkpoint at Balmaha. It was only then that I dared to look at my watch 3hrs 50 mins Yeehaa I’m going do it. I’m going to do it.  I said to myself while stuffing in a gluten free wrap filled with feta cheese, ham, pickle, salad and mayonnaise – went down a treat. In no more than 4 mins I was on my way again. I had awful memories of the steep uphills over headlands and promontory’s from last year but it didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as I remembered which gave me a great mental boost. The long track uphill from Rowardennan allowed me to take a breather and once the path became a bit knarly I discovered a new technique for getting going again when reaching a runnable bit. Just start leaning forward and at the point I am going to fall flat on my face just get my foot out to break my fall and then keep going. I was really enjoying the afternoon and had learned to eat even when I didn’t feel hungry. I got into Beinglas at 15.50 a good 1hr 40 mins outside the cutoff. Good Stuff. The next section I found tiring, the path is described as a bit of a roller coaster but really the roller coaster just went higher and higher and the proportion that  I felt inclined to run was pathetically small. It was great to go past all the landmarks that I had read about and I was even disappointed to find that Cow poo alley didn’t have any poo on it at all just a ittle bit of mud. Through the gate at the forest above Crianlarich there was a slight miscommunication with the marshalls as I responded with a “You’ll be lucky” to their “It’s time to speed up a bit now” only for it to transpire that they had actually said “Well done you’ve only a wee bit to go now”.

I was flagging going up the ever rising path into the forested hills and started to bitterly curse whoever it was who was responsible for the West Highland Way being routed up such pointlessly stupid and vindictive inclines.

The return to the valley was a welcome relief though my knees hurt too much to run on the tarmac sections though I managed to knock out a decent shuffle on the trail sections. I was under the impression that I still had a way to go when a passerby said the finish is just beyond those trees at which point are heard the strains of the Bagpiper welcoming runners as they approached the finish. I suddenly felt quite overwhelmed and had to make fair bit of effort to suppress any outward signs of emotional weakness but running strong I came around the corner, into the campsite and up the red carpet to the finish.

Fling Finish Line