Quirky articles

Race the Train (20-08-22)

Review by Ben Currington.

Race The Train ‘Rotary Challenge’ at the Talyllyn Railway, in Wales, is a 14 mile race which should not be underestimated. The course includes some steep climbs and challenging terrain that will in places reduce all but the strongest and most experienced trail runners to walking pace, however the pain is worth it to run in this beautiful setting with the railway alongside you and the local support creating a really wonderful atmosphere.

Owing to its industrial heritage, Wales has a surprising concentration of narrow gauge railways. I love the compactness of narrow gauge and there is something particularly charming about seeing a steam train high in the hills, weaving its way through the stunning natural beauty of the Welsh landscape. We owe a great debt to early preservationists who rescued these lines when their usefulness for industry had ended and the pioneers of this movement were the volunteers who saved the Talyllyn.

The Talyllyn railway was built to transport slate but now attracts tourists and enthusiasts who can ride as passengers along it’s seven and a quarter miles of track from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn or even volunteer to help run the railway. It was on a visit with my children in 2013 that I first heard of the Race the Train event and I was immediately struck by the exclusivity of being able to see the line from places I wouldn’t normally have access to. However, it meant running 14 miles and as far as I knew I would never be able to do that.

In 2020 that changed. I had started running the year before when my son wanted me to take him to parkrun and when lockdown happened I found myself burning off a lot of pent up energy in the evenings running increasingly longer distances. I was in good enough shape to enter some races but sadly Race the Train was cancelled that year and again in 2021, so it wasn’t until this year that I finally had the chance to do it. My brother, Pete, decided he’d come along too. 

Running 14 miles on this course was never going to be as simple as running 14 miles on the road. Pete was a bit worried that I’d underestimated the challenge. There was certainly a point where I naively thought I might be in with a chance of beating the train, but by the time we were standing at the start line I was acutely aware that this would not be the same as a road race and I was not in the same shape I was in 2020. My strategy would be to take it steady, walk the hills and enjoy the scenery. Beating the train looked doable for Pete who is a much more accomplish runner than me but it would be tight and he had only just recovered from a bad cold. 

The start line was situated on the bridge which crosses the railway at Tywyn Wharf station with the double headed train we’d be racing waiting on the tracks below (a second train would leave 25 minutes later). It gave a whistle to start the race and we ran the first mile or so on tarmac through the middle of Tywyn where the streets were lined with people cheering us on. With all the encouragement I got swept along a bit and when I glanced at my watch I was running at 5:18 /km pace when I was aiming for more like 6. I backed off immediately.

Once we were outside Tywyn the course turned off the main road into a narrower tarmac lane, which soon became a rough farm track and our first bit of uphill, probably about 10 metres of elevation. With fresh legs it wouldn’t have been that challenging to run, but I stuck to the plan and dropped to a walk until the ground levelled out. A lot of the people around me were following the same strategy and further into the course when my legs were tired I was definitely able to walk the hills quicker than I could have run them so I think conserving the energy from the start was a good move. 

In the first half of the race we mostly ran through fields with plenty of hilly bits, sometimes with the rails just over the fence alongside us, other times at the foot of the hills as the line wove it’s way through the hillside above us. There was a challenging steep descent at the end of one field which slowed me right down to a nervous shuffle and I watched amazed as more experienced trail runners scampered down it like it was nothing. I soon learned in conversation with Pete that this, and the ability to tackle it, is ‘technical’.

Spectators were dotted all over the course, giving words of encouragement, making noise, ringing cowbells, there was even a young lad playing the drums outside his house. It was wonderful when the trains passed, filled with spectators shouting and cheering. I don’t like energy gels so I carried with me a banana, a small bag of jelly sweets and a porridge bar. I also carried a half litre soft flask of SiS hydro which wasn’t nearly enough, so I was very glad of the regular water stations and drank heartily at every one. Unfortunately the stretchy pockets in my shorts were not quite sufficient to hold it all. My banana kept flopping out so I had to hold it in my hand and as the train passed above me I held it aloft. I hoped that my kids, partner and sister in law might see my banana gesture and applaud it proudly, but this was most likely the second train and they were on the first one. They did tell me afterwards that they saw me at another part of the course and were able to identify me at the other side of the field because of my luminous football socks. I think that’s probably a good tip if you want to be recognised from a distance on a bright green backdrop, wear something distinctive and bright! I’m not sure where the first train passed me, I think it was probably in that first mile running through Tywyn when we couldn’t see the railway line.

As I neared the end of the first half of the course I could see a line of runners stretching out ahead up into the hills. They didn’t look far away but it took several minutes to get to where they were. We ascended a little and ran along the hillside below the railway line for about half a kilometre before passing under a railway bridge and going further uphill, rapidly climbing 10-15 metres on a steep slope which put us on what I can only describe as a sheep track on the hillside. It was narrow, maybe 15 centimetres wide and the ground sloped steeply down to the right. As someone with a fear of heights this felt quite disconcerting. Most people near me decided to walk, which definitely felt safer, but I managed to run a fair bit of it albeit very cautiously. There was a voice in my head saying, “it’s not worth hurting yourself over”. I’m not sure how long this section was, maybe a couple of miles, it slowed Pete down too. It was here that wearing trail shoes was absolutely crucial for grip, even in dry conditions. A colleague who happened also to be there told me afterwards that he’d seen one of the front runners drop back in this section, flailing around in road shoes, even though they’d been really strong up until that point.

I can’t remember exactly what order the next few sections came in, there were a few decent bits of path, some of it quite stony, not scree exactly but rocky and loose. I enjoyed the opportunity to run on a wide level path so it was welcome all the same! We were diverted at one point into a bog, with the marshalls warning not to step onto the suspiciously dry looking ground outside of the roped off areas, it felt like a bit of a forced attempt to incorporate some mud into an otherwise dry course but I suspect in wet weather there wouldn’t be much difference between that and other sections. I enjoyed the stunning scenery throughout the race, views from the valley looking up at the mountains, views from the hillside looking down towards the railway track, and towards the end of the race, views out to sea. The descent down to Dolgoch falls was a treat although unfortunately I hadn’t anticipated the climb back up the other side. 

The last few miles were the start of the course in reverse. I was struggling to keep moving by this point and did a lot of stop-start, run-walk, with other participants urging me to keep going as they overtook me. I heard quite a few people saying how this course wasn’t what they expected and they’d never do it again! For me this was exactly the challenge I hoped it would be, it was tough, but also exhilarating. Pete finished well before me. He was waiting to see me as I entered Tywyn, by now back on the road and ran with me to the finish. It was clear he was feeling pretty stiff as he dragged his legs along at my now diminished pace. When I crossed the finish line I was handed some water, a bright yellow technical t shirt and a very tasteful Race the Train medal. 

My gun time was 02:35:15, Pete’s was 02:01:32, neither of us beat the train which finishes in around an hour and forty seven minutes. There’s apparently a rule of thumb that suggests on this course you should be able to run your half marathon time plus 30 minutes. For both of us it was more like 35-40 minutes. Considering I hadn’t run half marathon distance since the previous November I felt I did a reasonable job and although Pete was initially very disappointed with his time he realised on reflection that his recent illness and the unfamiliarity of the terrain were bound to slow him down a bit.

The one terrain Pete and I both struggled with the most was ground that sloped steeply to one side. I could just about walk on it but if I tried to run it was agony and put too much strain on my ankles. I saw some people running on it and couldn’t understand how. I felt like I needed one leg shorter than the other! I’ve been giving some thought to how I might tackle this if I did it again and looked on the internet for advice for how to run on side slopes. Most of it just said don’t run on side slopes! 

Overall this was an amazing experience which has inspired me to run off road more often. I’m also thinking of entering a fell race to gain more experience and I’d like to be stronger by next year to see if I can knock a few minutes off my time. Pete now has a vendetta against the train and would very much like another chance to beat it. The family enjoyed the atmosphere of the event, spectating on such a lovely train ride and my eldest son seems quite keen on entering one of the shorter five mile or 3.3 mile races so I think there’s a good chance we’ll be back in 2023 to do it all over again.

Ultra 5k 2020

‘You Wait For One Then Five Come Along At Once’

After almost half a year of no races due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic it was great to finally be back at an event. A real life event. Not a virtual race, not a Zoom call, an actual physical event with other people and to top it off there wasn’t just one race on offer, there was 5!

Ultra 5k challenges participants to run a 5k on the hour, every hour, for 5 hours. Results are formulated on combined total time. There is also a 3 x 5k option.


Originally due to take place in early July, unlike most events during lockdown, this one was able to rescheduled rather than cancel altogether and just 6 weeks later we were on the start line at the stunning Box End Park in Bedford.

Although some new safety measures had been put in place such as big orange dots sprayed on the ground for each runner to base themselves to insure social distancing before, in between and after each race, it still felt like a ‘normal’ race environment. A week before the event we also had to fill out a health questionnaire then resign it at registration to confirm nothing had changed. Spectators were allowed and activity encouraged to make as much noice as possible as participants were finishing each race. They too had their own area next to the runner’s base and had to fill in a coronavirus specific question form on arrival. Hand sanitizer was also readily available.


After a briefing which was done over a tannoy so that everyone didn’t have to gather together we were then asked to make our way to the starting area where each individual’s race number was sprayed on the grass to indicate where they should line up. These were done in rows of 3, each one over a meter apart, based on the predicted speed indicated on entry forms. Chip timing was in place so nobody was at a disadvantage and with only 80 runners in the field it didn’t take long at all for everyone to get going.

Race 1 started at 9AM. I was given bib number 3 so I was right at the front and ready to give it my best after several months of consistent training during lockdown.


The whole route was on grass and first mile was the fastest as it was flat and on even ground to begin with. We looped round meaning spectators could take a short walk across a field to cheer us on as we passed the 1KM marker. The course then became more uneven and in the second mile the rolling hills came.

This section was really though with continuous up and downs before turning back on ourselves and going up a long camber which was quite awkward to negotiate but once at the top you knew there was less than a mile to go and it was down hill then a flat straight into the finish.


I’d found myself in third place for the first mile before moving into second and slowly closing the gap on the ran away leader. With about 200m to go I passed him and made a sprint for the line coming home with a 16 second lead to take into race 2.

In the next 40 minutes I made an effort to stay mobile so that I didn’t stiffen up. I stretched and took in plenty of drink because although there had been lots of rain and wind in the days before it had turned out to be quite warm weather. 5 minutes before each race we were warned with a rendition on the trumpet which was a nice quirky touch.


This event attracted all ability levels and some didn’t arrive back until just before the trumpet sounded. Although this must of been very hard going it was a good way to get 25km covered with over 5 hours given to do it in and the opportunity to check in and grab what you needed every 5 miles unlike most traditional distance race routes.


For me race 2 panned out very similar with me being in second place for most of the way then taking the win in the final stages again by 16 seconds. This time during the break I took a short walk over the bridge between the huge lake where open water swimming & some impressive wakeboarding was taking place. I took in a bit of food then before I knew it I was back on the start line for race 3.

I decided to take closer order this time sitting right on the shoulder of the leader and took the lead myself just after the half way point. This meant I was able to take in my surroundings a little more rather than focusing on who was in front of me. I gave some of my fellow runners some encouragement as I passed them in the opposite direction on a part of the course that crossed back on itself and couldn’t help notice how much fun the giant inflatable water park looked which was now in operation and full of joyful kids as I came into the finishing straight alongside it. This time my winning margin was 15 seconds with a new runner coming home in second place which made thing a little more interesting for the podium places.


Although my times were only slightly slowing the gap between races seemed to get so much shorter this time and I’d hardly had time to do anything before the trumpet sounded again.

Going into the penultimate race my overall lead was exactly 1 minute. After the first couple of hundred meters I decided to take the race on and build on that lead. If anyone was going to catch me I wanted to make sure that they’d have to work for it! I finished 21 seconds clear meaning it would take a disaster to loose what was now a 1 minute 45 second overall gap on second place.


As we stood on the start line for the fifth and final time I felt relaxed knowing I just needed to sit in and not let anyone get too big of a lead. This is what I did for the first half a mile then from nowhere Will, who had lead out the first three races, made a break for it. It was a decisive move and he created quite a gap in a short space of time. I remained calm in third position but kept an eye out in the distance.

With the body starting to tire after a long day’s work I had hoped I’d be able to take this last race a bit easier but with three other runners all still in contention for the podium places that wasn’t going to happen.

As we approached the final mile I was still in third place and the top two hadn’t got too far away. I did a bit of quick maths and worked out that to beat me at least one of them would have to put in a five minute mile to finish. I knew that wasn’t going to happen but this actually made me lose motivation to push harder to catch them and before I knew it another runner had passed me, there was 500 meters to go and I was in fourth place. Technically this didn’t really matter as by this point I’d secured the overall victory but then my competitiveness kicked in. I didn’t want to go out with a wimpier. I picked up my pace and gave it one last push. Past one, past two, past three and the win was mine to cap off a great return to racing!

The trumpet sounded for the last time as I crossed to finish line, received my medal and made my way to the food and drinks tent, which was free for all participants, and celebrated with a slice of cake.


It wasn’t long before the first lady finished, impressively wrapping up her fourth successive overall victory at this event making her unbeaten since it started in 2017.

Huge credit must go to the organisers for getting this event on and giving participants the long awaited opportunity to race again. A big thank you to them and the volunteers for making it such an enjoyable, well ran day.

Century Week – 100 Miles/ 100 Beers

In the past 7 days one man has been on a crazy quest to run a century of miles and sink a ton of beers! When I first heard of this challenge I wondered what type of person would be qualified for this amazing feat. Step forwards 2:24 marathoner and Beer Mile American record holder Chris Robertson.

Photo by Fleetfeet.com

Robertson ran an incredible 4:46 mile while downing 4 beers before each 400m lap to set the second fastest time in history in 2017 in his home state of Chicago and also won the annual Beer Mile World Classic in London that same year. He also boasts a regular mile PB of 4:13 & regularly runs 75 mile weeks but could he put all these accolades together for achieve the magical century week?

Beer Mile World Classic, London

We followed Chris’s day by day journey via his Instagram stories in which he was kind enough to tag us into his updates. With 2 runs a day followed by a drinking session each evening at home the Lowa State University graduate cruised through the early stages of the week racking up 47 miles and 53 beers.

For the following 3 days Chris’s strategy was to get a 9 mile run done in the morning followed by a 4 miler late afternoon then get 10+ beers down his neck before getting a decent night’s sleep. All his runs were done at a respectable pace around 7 minutes per mile.

Going into the final day the quirky athlete had ticked off 86 miles and 87 cans of larger meaning all that was left was a morning half marathon, which he knocked out in under 90 minutes, then a beer mile to finish the century of running. What a apt way to complete and the champ sped through it in a comfortable time of just over 6 minutes in stormy weather.

Chris’s Instagram story

The final 9 celebratory beers were finished off by 6pm. Challenge complete Chris proclaimed ‘the night was still young’ and polished off another 4 beers for good measure before getting a well earned rest. What a hero.


Check out our Beer Mile World Classic 2017 review & race video which features Chris’s win here: https://quirkyraces.com/2017/08/21/beer-mile-world-classic-2017/

The London Pantomime Horse Race 2019

The London Pantomime Horse Race where nags don’t have to stay at home, any old mare can sign up and as long as you have unbridled enthusiasm for silly races then this should be your mane event of the year….. or should it?

Puns aside, the race celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and what originally started with five ‘horses’ as a quirky little local event raising money for children’s charities has now become internationally known raising thousands of pounds over the years as 60 runners pair up to become 30 horses and race from pub to pub.

Last year I stumbled upon the pre race ceremony while having a bimble around in Greenwich. After watching the horses have a hilarious dance off then set loose to race their way around half a mile of 6 pub pit stops knocking back shots and dodging obstacles I decided that this was a crazy race I wanted to do.

Roll around to this year, I discovered a clubmate had entered so I found myself a willing partner (Marina) and we signed up. The race always has a theme which the horses have to be decorated as and this time around it was Star Wars, admittedly I have never watched any of the movies so I went with Marinas choice of Princess Leia. We were set to raise money for Rosie Walks.


In October we received an email to say that a sponsor had pulled out almost causing the event to collapse, now horse costumes would no longer be provided and we would have to provide our own. Not a major problem and so we were still in the ‘wackiest’ race trying to figure out how to make a horse look like Carrie Fisher!

The week before the race we received the itinerary and it was definitely not the same as last year, no dance off, no pre race entertainment but the main thing was the event was still going ahead. Included in the itinerary were the ‘rules’ which I’ll get to shortly.

Marina and I arrived at the pub designated for our meet up at a little after half past ten and were greeted with hilarious mayhem of horses heads being carried around with weird and wonderful costumes. We went and changed, did a few costume alterations and the obligatory selfies. We were due to leave to walk to the Old Royal Naval Yard at 11.45am but at 12.15pm we were still outside the pub waiting to be on our way.


Finally we got moving and made our way to the yard, we were only due to be there for around 25 minutes so as we were already running behind schedule, the race was due to start at 1pm and we still had not had our pose in the ‘paddock’ area at Devenport House I assumed we would not be there too long. I was wrong. Apparently the organiser still had not turned up and we could not go anywhere until he did.

Shortly before 1pm the organiser showed up dressed as Hans Solo and although he was claiming to be the twin brother of the organiser for some unknown reason but thankfully said we could now go over to the ‘paddock’.

Oh lord, being bent over double pretending to be the horse’s rear end was a killer on my own rear end! The only view I had were my own two feet shuffling along the ground and I had to rely on Marina guiding us, at times she went too fast leaving me struggling to keep up and other times she was too slow leading to frequent shouts about my hair being stuck in the velcro on her back!

We made it to the paddock in one piece but by now it was after 1pm and we were nowhere near to starting. Introductions for the horses were quite lengthy and then the organiser had a temper tantrum, shouted he was resigning while live on stage and stormed off! I was too far away to hear exactly what he was unhappy about but I knew that meant the race may not go ahead and if it did then even more waiting around would follow and we had now already been in costume for almost 2 hours.


It was finally decided to set us off at almost 1.40pm without the organiser being there so finally off we went with most of us not actually having a solid clue where we were going so we just followed the others and the shouted directions from the helpful stewards.

Now here’s the rules:

On arrival at pit stops 1 and 2 we have to wait at each for a minimum of 5 minutes, pit stops 3 to 6 have a maximum stay not a minimum. Pit stop 6 will determine the 5 best performing racers who will then have to race each other on space hoppers for first place.

Sounds easy enough in theory but not in practice!

All of the pubs were too small to have over 30 horses in at one time so we were all moved on, especially pit stops 1 and 2 where we were supposed to stay for 5 minutes. We dragged it out as long as possible before we had no choice but to leave.

At the majority of the pit stops the horses behind us were unable to get in to the pubs and at the final pub we were told that we were not wanted, only 5 of us horses made it through that doorway before being told to go!


To be fair, all the pubs except number 6 were brilliant, happily giving us shots and the patrons were extremely good natured cheering us on but I was a little confused as to why we had met no obstacles along the course as promised. Dodging kerbs and moving cars were not what they intended I don’t think.

We went back to the pub where we initially had to meet and followed the itinerary instructions to go upstairs and change while also questioning the missing aspects of the race? Myself and Marina had managed to finish 4th, we would have been 3rd but she ran right past the final pub and we had not even been drinking!

As we got out of our costumes we were told that all of the horses had been disqualified because we had not followed the rules. To say everyone was shocked and very in happy was an understatement. The stewards said if we wanted to go ahead and have the space hopper race then we could with no need to change back in to costumes.


I was tempted but then thought knowing my luck I’d fall off and injure myself incurring the wrath of my running coach so decided to give it a miss.

We left the pub about 20 minutes later to go to the after party up the road and found the organiser was outside with the media and now dressed in a completely different costume and with the space hoppers.

When I questioned him as to whether we were actually disqualified he told us that we had arrived too early and that’s why the decision had been made. I stated that we had completed all the pit stops and had arrived at just after 2.15pm so we had been on course for just over half an hour fitting the timescale of the race. He then proceeded to select random horses for the obstacle and space hopper final race despite those horses not being allowed into pub 6 and not being the first five to finish.

We went off as planned to the after party and waited. This was due to start at 3pm with awards given to the winner of the race and to the top fundraisers, by 4pm which didn’t happen so we left.

I will be honest, this was one of the most disorganised races I’ve ever attended. I have no idea what happened this year but it was nothing like the race I watched last year and according to one of the stewards, who said they would never be involved again, this was the last year the current organiser would run the event but there were other people interested. The organiser apparently does absolutely everything himself and then finally delegates last minute meaning corners have to be cut.

This would be a brilliant race if it was better organised and had not outgrown itself by increasing numbers of horses.
Having racers wait around for hours in costume needlessly isn’t helpful, setting small pubs as pit stops isn’t workable or at least reduce the number of participants because 30 horses equals 60 runners and when you throw in spectators plus the other pub users then space becomes nonexistent.

Most of the time we had no clue what was going on so it would have been better for us to be kept updated but as far as we could make out the stewards weren’t told anything either so had nothing to pass on to us.

Despite it all we had a laugh but will definitely think twice about signing up next year if the current organiser is still involved because, as much fun as it was being a horse’s ass for the day I really don’t appreciate being treated like one.

Review by Elizabeth Ayres.

Chase the Turkey 2019

The sculptures at the Helix Centre in Falkirk stand at the start of the Fourth and Clyde canal and provided a magnificent backdrop for the 2019 Chase the Turkey fun run. The run was organised by Lynsey Gow, events officer with the Falkirk Community Trust.

The magical Kelpies are over 100ft tall and were created by Andy Scott and modelled on the Clydesdale Horses Duke and Baron who kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.


This event is intended as a fun, family Christmas run and was inclusive for all ages and abilities. Entrants are encouraged to try to catch several runners dressed as turkeys.

The event was originally scheduled for the previous Sunday but high winds meant it had to be postponed for 7 days and although thankfully the winds had dropped it was bitterly cold and sleet was lashing down from the skies. Fortunately the warm up took place under the shelter of the visitor centre and as we started the run the rain stopped.


The course was pancake flat along the canal and around a pond where we went across wooded boards over the water which were extremely slippery so we had to walk those bits, not that it mattered as this run wasn’t at all competitive. The Turkeys were pretty fast thought and found themselves having to hold back at times and wait for the faster kids to catch up with them. They certainly looked to be enjoying it though and a good time was had by all despite the freezing wether.


All people wanted to do when over the finish line was get inside and I’ve never seen a run clear so quickly but we did have time to collect our event t-shirt and a bag of popcorn.

Full credit to Lynsey and her team for organising the event in some very challenging Scottish weather conditions.


Review by Fred Beckett.

Check out this little video of the start which gives some idea of the conditions: https://www.facebook.com/465684073471020/posts/2744022772303794/?vh=e&d=n

NSPCC Gherkin Challenge 2019

‘Stairway to Hell for views from the Heavens’

2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the NSPCC Gherkin Challenge and what would be my 5th time doing the event. I first ran up the 1037 steps/ 38 floors of 30 St. Mary Axe (to give the building its proper name) in 2013. I then went back the following year before a 3 year gap until I returned in 2017 and I have took part every year since. What I can tell you without any hesitation is that it does not get any easier! In fact, due to details I will describe below, it actually gets harder – even with more training.

Like any physical challenge, it’s as hard as you make it. Yes everyone has got to get from the bottom to the top but how hard you push yourself to do that is up to the individual and I just happen to be one of those individuals who can’t help but push as hard as I possibly can.


I’m no tower runner (this is the name given to those who do this as their main sport). Yes, that’s right, Tower running is a thing. In fact it’s quite a big thing with lots of competitive racers and events held at sky scrapers all over the world. There’s even a World Series. The only ‘tower run’ I’ve ever done is the Gherkin Challenge but each year I’ve done it I’ve managed to finish in the top few places without any specific training. Well this year I decided to actually do a little bit of practice running up the steps of a multi story car park in my local town centre. Only 10 floors/ 103 steps but that’s the best I could find, you don’t get sky scrapers in Northampton unfortunately.

I turned up in London ready to beat my best time. I felt good & after joining in the energetic warm up I was raring to go.


Participants are given specific wave times to run in and then every runner in that wave is set off 5 seconds apart. I moved towards the front of my wave and waited in the corridor for my turn to go. I was the fifth off as I was counted down by the volunteers.


My aim was to set off steady knowing I had around 5 and a half minutes of steps to negotiate before reaching the top (based on my previous efforts). Within seconds a spanner was thrown into the works as I found myself right behind the 2 ladies who had started before me. I didn’t want to be held up so I picked up my pace to get around them and move away and began to count down the floors. I then caught the guy who had started second and we ran together for quite some time. I was just behind him for a while then I passed and he stuck on my heals until eventually I managed to create a bit of a gap. All this meant I wasn’t really running at my own pace and I really hadn’t stuck to my plan at all.

I was really feeling it very early on. I remember getting to floor 9 and thinking that I shouldn’t be tired this early on but I was. As I got just past half way my run reduced to a power walk with some periods of running whenever I could muster it.


I was questioning why I was finding it so difficult compared to previous years. I’d trained harder and was as fit, if not fitter than ever for this type of event but just really struggling.

Those last 15 or so floors were absolute pain. I finally made it to the top in just over 6 minutes. I was a little disappointed as I knew I was in shape for a PB but pleased I’d made it up giving it my all.


Before I could even collect my medal I had to head straight into the toilets and just about managed to hold down puking. It’s been a while since I’ve pushed myself so hard that I felt this way and the dry indoor air certainly didn’t help matters.

Eventually I emerged in better health, had my medal hung around my neck and walked the final flight of stairs to the viewing point at the summit where there is a choir, snacks, champagne and stunning panoramic views of the capital. It’s always a really good atmosphere up there with everyone mingling and sharing their accomplishments with one another. I met up with a few guys from the Total Motion Tower Running team who I’d met the previous year and kept in touch with via social media ever since. They pointed out to me that this year’s run was up a different stair well to any other year and although it was the same hight we all agreed it was definitely harder resulting in slower times for almost everyone. This made me feel better and I returned to the ground floor (via the life) to meet with my wife who was in a near by coffee shop as unfortunately the building’s cafe/bar wasn’t open which was a shame as it’s acted as a ideal and convenient meeting place for supporters every other year. Apparently they couldn’t get enough staff to work which seems like a real missed opportunity to me.


There were some issues with the chip timings and the overall results which previous 2 time winner David Harris goes into detail about in his article which is an interesting read: https://www.facebook.com/1655612767/posts/10218101324038701?d=n&sfns=mo

Overall this was another really good event that raises lots of funds for a real worthwhile charity and long may it continue for years to come. I’ll certainly be back for yet another try.


📸 https://colinbaldwinphotography.dphoto.com/album/a27day/photo/63782215 (password: nspcc2019)

As Keen As Mustard Swimrun – St. Ives, 2019

Review by Elise Downing.

Having done one swimrun before and absolutely loved it, I leapt at the chance when Chris, my brother, suggested we team up for the St Ives event, hosted by As Keen As Mustard. Swimrun is a great sport. It’s exciting and different and you get to have a laugh with your teammate. There’s just one problem with it for me: it involves swimming. The race day in-water sections are fine – they’re good fun, you’re outdoors and you’re actually getting somewhere. It’s all the swim training, or lack thereof, that is my issue.

I spent the weeks leading up to the race messaging Chris about how nervous I was that I hadn’t been swimming for about three months. He said not to worry – his training had consisted of a few lengths of the 7 meter pool while on holiday. This actually did nothing to reassure me. I had been relying on him taking the front spot of the tether and pulling me along. Suddenly the very generous cut off times started to seem less generous…

We arrived at the Pike and Eel pub where registration was being held about an hour before race start. Registration was super quick, always a big plus point of taking part in smaller events, and soon we had our bibs and hats in hand and headed back to the the car to get ready. I attempted to squeeze into my wetsuit behind the car door without losing too much dignity, but largely failed. Hey ho. We put our swim caps on for a quick selfie (how do other people manage to look good in them?!) and then headed to the briefing.


We had opted for the longer 21km race, which was two laps of the shorter course, and consisted of a total of 12 swims and 13 runs. The swims were all on the River Great Oust, some upstream and some downstream. The runs took place on the surrounding fields and river trails, with a section around the RSPB Fen Drayton Nature Reserve. At just after 08.30am we were set off.

There was a 2km run to start, and then we were into the first swim of 400m upstream. We had chosen not to tether together for this first swim, as we weren’t sure who would be faster. Well, Chris wasn’t sure. I was fairly confident it would be him. I was right. Within about 20 metres I knew that I wasn’t imagining how rubbish I was at swimming and those few hundred metres felt like a marathon. Turns out swimming upstream really adds an extra challenge too. It was like going through treacle. Chris kept shooting off ahead, struggling to stay within the allotted 10m of my snails pace, and I felt fairly demoralised. It was going to be a long morning.

Finally, after what felt like a long, soggy eternity, I saw the yellow flag that indicated swim exit. Hallelujah! Back on dry land and the next run was just over a kilometre around some fields. This was fun: I remembered that I actually like running and we managed to do to a bit of overtaking. Soon we were back in the water for another upstream section, but this time we were tethered together, which was a vast improvement. I felt much happier. What’s the point of having a brother if they aren’t going to tow you along?


Next was the longest run section of the day, nearly 3km around the nature reserve. This was fine and we did a bit more overtaking of people who had zoomed past us on the swims – we ended up leapfrogging with the same people for most of the morning. The next swim section was the longest of the day at 640m, but also downstream. It was incredible. What kind of sadist makes you swim upstream anyway!? We raced through that leg and were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves as we climbed up the river banks and out of the water at the end of it.

We weren’t quite there yet though. There was still another downstream swim and two short river crossings to go on our first lap, plus the runs in between them. We plodded our way through them, continuing to leapfrog other competitors, and eventually we reached the point where short course racers headed to the finish line, and us long course racers set out on another lap. I’d had a nice morning up until this point but I have to admit the thought of doing it all again wasn’t filling me with a huge amount of joy. Chris isn’t one for giving up though and I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be allowed to stop early. I tried to push thoughts of warm jumpers and a hot drink to the back of my mind.

Then came the magical moment. Chris turned to me and said, “are we finishing here then?” The best words he’s ever spoken in my 27 years of knowing him. Turns out his shoulder was hurting (probably from towing me along like dead weight… sorry about that) and with the OCR world champs coming up, he didn’t want to do any lasting damage. We’d already seen the whole course and very much taken on board the lesson that we need to do some more swimming training. There was nothing left to prove. We very happily ran to the finish line, handed in our race bibs and collected our 10km course medals.

The St Ives swimrun was a great, friendly way to spend a Sunday morning. With its flat runs and not-too-long swims, it would be a great introduction to anybody wanting to give there first swimrun a go, especially as there’s the option to race as an individual, unlike many swim runs where it’s mandatory to be in a pair. And if you’re a fan of condiments and in possession of more swimrun prowess than us, then I’d definitely recommend entering as the winners’ trophy is a fairly dazzling perspex-enclosed jar of Coleman’s Mustard.


All 6 of their events for 2020 have already been announced. Check them out here: http://www.akamustard.events

Disneyland Paris Magic Run Weekend

I love running and I love Disneyland so when I found out that there was such a thing as ‘Run Disney’ pretty much all my dreams had come true. I booked up the whole family for a long weekend and off we headed to Paris.

The event consists of a 5km on Friday evening, a 10km on Saturday morning and a half marathon on Sunday morning. You can do one, two or all three races and there are also three different kids races with distances of 100m, 200m or 1km depending of age. Always wanting to do as much as I can, I was doing the 36km challenge (all three races) and my son was in the 100m and my daughter was doing the 5km with me as well as the 1km so we had almost everything covered.


We arrived in Disneyland early Thursday afternoon and spent the day on the rides, catching a few shows and watching the famous parade before visiting the race expo in the Disney Village. There wasn’t a lot going on but a couple of fun things to keep the kids entertained while I stood in various queues collecting each individual number and t-shirt for every race we were doing. I ended up leaving the marquee with 8 t-shirts and worked out that if all went to plan we’d be going home with 8 medals between us too!

There is a huge bit of bling to be earned for each race completed as well as a 31km challenge medal for running both the 10km and the half and a 36km challenge medal for completing all three distances. There were silicone medals for the kids races.

After spending the whole of Friday walking round both parks from ride to ride my legs were already pretty tired and the racing hadn’t even started yet! As evening fell we returned to our hotel to change into our running gear (well I say running gear, I was actually wearing an Ironman morph suit) and then headed to the Disney Village ready for the 8pm start time.


As you can imagine this is a very popular set of races with the half marathon peaking at 9,000 runners. There are five pens separating participants labelled A-E. Each pen is released to the start line one by one then groups of 100ish runners are set off 30 second apart. I had been allocated in pen E but luckily my daughter was in pen B so I was allowed in with her. This meant we didn’t have too long to wait before the much anticipated start.

The 5km course took us past the Disney village where crowds of supporters gathered then into the Walt Disney Studios Park, through the indoor shops and restaurants promenade then around the park past the rides including through Toy Story playland before heading around the back where there were lots of storage units and the unexpected addition of a fire station where all the fire fighters were lining the course cheering us on. We moved to their side of the course to give them all high fives.

It wasn’t long before we were back in the theme park and heading towards the last kilometre where several characters were available for photos. This did involve some rather large queues though, not something we fancied doing during a run. There was traditional Disney music blasting out and marshals all over the course which was fenced and coned in all the necessary places.

The only negative I could give about this run was the underwhelming finish line. I actually had to question if we had in fact finished but within a few steps I saw the workers giving out the medals and that was race one done. We headed into the other park to watch the magical illuminations then got some dinner and went back to our hotel for some sleep with a very early start the next morning for the 10km.

You don’t have to stay in one of the many Disney hotels in order to take part in these runs but with a 7am start for the 10km and the half marathon it’s certainly an advantage to be close by. I’d managed to get bumped up from pen E to pen A due to my half marathon PB so this time I had less waiting before the off.


I wanted to push this one a bit harder so got as close to the front as I could but that still wasn’t as close as I’d have liked. I wondered what time all these people must have got up to get to the start so early as I tried to squeeze my way through the crowds while listening to the legendary Paula Radcliffe who was up on stage as the event’s ambassador. She was also running all of the events herself.

Three groups were set off before me which meant a bit of a hold up on the first few hundred meters which featured a couple of tight bends before the course opens out a little more and the runners began to spread out. I was constantly overtaking people as I built on the slow start.

The course followed the same start as the previous night’s route though the Walt Disney studios then looped back round and into the Disneyland park which involved the special moments of running through the castle itself.

There are all ability levels taking part from walkers to top class athletes and as I got closer to the front it was good to see lots of other runners on the many switch backs on course especially as I approached the last few kilometres and saw all those would had only just been set off.

On one of these switch backs I was surprised to see marathon world record holder Paula going one way as I was going the other. She had started right at the front so I must have made up quite a bit of ground on her and this pushed me over the final part to see how close I could get to her. I didn’t manage to catch her but she was at the finished area as I crossed the line so I took the chance to have a photo with her. This nearly wasn’t possible though as it had been pouring with rain for most of the run and my phone wasn’t working as it had got so wet but luckily a very kind marshal dried it off for me before capturing the special moment.


After the late night we’d all had then my early start I managed to get back to my hotel room before my family had woke up. It wasn’t long before we were all back out for another day of rollercoasters though mixed in with the children’s runs. Unfortunately these didn’t run as smoothly as the two races I’d done so far as there had been a printing error on the event schedule meaning everyone turned up for the start an hour early. After lots of waiting around an announcement was made about the error and eventually proceedings got underway starting with the youngest kids sprints then the longer distance which involved a full lap around the lake for the older children. They all looked very pleased to meet mischievous character Stitch at the finish line before being lead through to a secure area to be reunited with their parents upon showing a wristband which matched theirs. This was a great touch to ensure the little ones safety.


On Sunday it was time for the main event. The half marathon. This was the only race that was officially timed with results and finish positions published so I got up extra early for what was another 7am start to ensure I got off right at the front this time. It felt pretty special to be standing on the start line right next to Paula Radcliffe amongst many other top runners. These events may have a fun run type feel about them but this race in particular still attracts some elite standard athletes. This was evident from the speed several went off at as we were started off taking the same route as the previous day’s 10k before heading along a long straight road and into a residential area where many people had come out their houses to cheer us on. This was the first time any of the run routes had taken us out of Disneyland itself and it was really nice to see the surrounding areas.

Next up was a picturesque lake to run around before taking the same route back which gave an opportunity to see lots of the other runners. I wondered what all the commotion going on just behind me was before realising I was just ahead of Paula who was in a group desperately trying to run alongside her. I knew she’d be operating at a consistent pace just tried to focus on doing the same to remain ahead and hopefully real in some of those that had gone off super fast.


This tactic worked as I found myself overtaking several fellow competitors as we ran past some of the Disney hotels and arrived back into the theme park. We then took on the same lap around the lake as the kids had before going by lots of the rides then into the finish. I was pretty chuffed that I’d managed to stay ahead of a certain multiple time world champion and as she did finish again took the chance to have a photo. This topped of what had been an amazing weekend of running and one I’d love to return to one day or maybe even take of the same challenge in Disney World, Florida which also includes an extra day with a full marathon to finish!


Check out our video of all the events which really captures the magic: https://www.facebook.com/1767730730136563/posts/2166839663558999/

Use Your Senses 5k – Manchester

Review by Nigel Holmes.
This is an event series for all the family held by Guide Dogs charity with sensory experiences on route. There are 5 sensory stations Including taste, see, touch, smell and listen. I took part in last year’s event so I knew what to expect but I’d say that the 2019 event was bigger and better than 2018. Despite the threat of rain in North Manchester the numbers were up with 800 people registered and fortunately the rain held off whilst we ran.


The 5k route took the form of two 2.5km loops and gave the option for some to do a single loop. The event is perfect for young children as the number of sense stations around the route break it into smaller, more manageable chunks for little legs to handle.

I’m not sure what the first ‘taste’ station offered as myself and my running partner were on a mission to rip apart the assembled field of children and fun runners. Last year there was popcorn and candy floss, my briefing notes say that this year there were sweet and sour options.


I’d been approached to lead this run last year as I’m a regular pacer runner at the parkrun that also takes place in Heaton Park so I asked the organisers if I could lead the race whilst guiding my visually impaired mate called Danny.

The course was simpler than parkrun because it was two laps of 2.5 km and we could make sure we were at the front for at least the first loop. Danny has a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which has left him with less than 10% vision since childhood. Normally he navigates using a cane rather than a guide dog, especially not a human sized one but that’s what I’d chose to dress as for the event!


We set off from the front as we’ve found it easier for quicker runners to overtake the pair of us who are tethered together by a looped shoelace than for us to make our way past slower runners in the congested first few hundred metres of any race. We hoped to lead for the first lap as Danny’s 5k PB is under 23 minutes and the run was won in 25 minutes last year. Danny absolutely flew off the start line along with some giddy young lads who I expected to fall away within the first kilometre. I begged him to slow up a bit as I had the extra complication of running whilst wearing a furry dog costume. I was concerned that the trousers of this one size fits all suit might start to slide down my slender frame but as it turned out they stayed faithfully around my waistline for the duration of the run.

We turned for the first of two noticeable climbs on the route and Danny knew this first hill was short and followed immediately by a long downhill so he attacked it and we moved through the field to take up 2nd place. The second sense station was ‘sight’ and took the form of coloured powder paint that was fired at us and then on the longest uphill section on the course there was a ‘listen’ station with a DJ playing encouraging music to help us up the hill towards Heaton Hall. The music certainly lifted the pair of us as we took the lead on this climb. At the top of the park we skirted around by the golf course and the most ingenious of the stations, this time to stimulate our sense of smell, was a machine generating mint scented bubbles.


This was soon followed by a steel band to stimulate our ears before a sharp downhill to the finish. Just before the finish line we waded through a carpet of foam bubbles. We’d smashed out the first lap in 10 and a half mins breaking the hopes and spirits of the assembled field of children and fun runner but the pace started to take its toll. We had the complication of lapping people through most of our 2nd lap and despite me ‘barking’ out warnings of a guided runner coming though many were startled by Danny and his giant dog.


Despite slowing up in the 2nd lap we held first place which delighted the ever competitive Danny and I was left wondering whether there were any Gunniess World Records relating to giant dog suits!


This would be an ideal first 5k for children and people are welcome to walk it as well as run it so it’s very inclusive. Heaton Park is a great venue with good facilities. I hope they return next year as Danny and I will be sure to be there to lead it out again.

There are still two more events in the series this year if you fancy giving it a go. One in the Midlands next weekend (17th August) and one in Scotland in September. Check out www.guidedogs.org.uk for all the info.


Flitton Potato Race 2019

Once every year hundreds of ‘starch’ raving mad competitors flock to the little village of Flitton in Bedfordshire to attempt to run a mile as fast as possible while carrying a sack of potatoes over their shoulders.


This race has a great history and this was the tenth running of the event in its current format. After the pre race briefing and usual health and safety ‘waffle’ in the village hall the runners made their way to the start line. It was ‘crunch’ time!

I set off at a steady pace towards the front of the 53 strong field doing the adults individual race over the traditional full mile distance carrying my 20kg sack (it’s 10kg’s for the ladies of which there were just 12). There were certainly no couch potatoes here!


Within a couple of hundred meter I found myself in the lead and began to pull away. Although it had been raining all week we were lucky enough to have a fairly hot day and the sweat began to pour from my head as I upped the pace. ‘Roasting’ hot I managed to balance the sack using just one hand as I wiped my brows with the other and then with my eyes on the fries I increased my pace again.

Just after the half way point the spec’taters’ gather in their masses. It seems like the whole village come out to watch along with the families and friends of the participants and although the through of running harder isn’t at all a’pealing’ the encouragement really drives you on to the finish line.


5 minutes and 33 seconds later and I had finished. Just outside my course record but another convincing win meant I was ‘fried’ but very happy.

I watched my fellow competitors coming in. Most looking completely ‘mashed’ but nearly all with big smiles on their faces.


It was then time for the four person relays and the kids spud and spoon races over various distances depending on age. Lots of whom had just watched their parents compete and now it was their turn to show they were chips off the old block!



Once all the races are done the road reopens and everyone heads into the White Hart pub garden situated right at the finish for BBQ, drinks, live music, an ice cream van, fair ground rides, a bouncy castle and a selection of stalls and games as well as the presentation. What more could you want on Father’s Day when the event is usually held. Keep your eyes ‘peeled’ for next year’s races. This is one not to be missed.


Photos by Ampthill and District camera club.

For a more in-depth look into this event and its history see our review from last year: https://quirkyraces.com/2018/06/19/the-flitton-potato-race-2018/