In short: The weather gods don't like this race but they run it anyway. In full: For the second year running, the Thames Path was largely flooded so last minute diversions sent a lot of it onto the road. Some of the new route was along wonderful bridlepaths (I particularly enjoyed the part at the end through High Wood), one last minute diversion (decided on mid-race) took us through a light industrial estate in Reading. Never mind! The diversions also meant that the total distance was something of a guesstimate until the very end. But well done to the organisers for putting the race on despite the flooding. Far better than it being cancelled. And it was good to practice the navigation skills. Still well worth doing. Date of review: February 3, 2014
In short: Stunning scenery and excellent organisation make this ultra well worth a go. In full: I only attempted the 30 mile intro ultra (not listed on the ratings), but this gave enough sense of what the 60 mile full race would be like for me to fully recommend both races. The route for both goes through the heart of the Peak District outside Sheffield and is about as different to a flat boring road race as you can get.
The intro ultra is ideal for those like me who want to try a self-navigated ultra for the first time. The route is not marked (after the first few miles), but the route map was really clear so I didn't need to rely on the large unwieldy OS map (which I'd marked in advance). On the hottest day of the year, the marshals went overboard to provide plenty of water whilst the range of food available was really impressive (and very welcome). I was injured and had to drop out at the half-way aid station, but received plenty of first aid and a lift back to the start/finish where I was given a home-cooked stew (made with beef from the race HQ farm). Although spectators were few and far between, the CPs were manned by really friendly marshals who gave plenty of support (as did my fellow competitors, especially when I was limping for my last few miles). There's no serious cut-off time so it's possible to complete the race by mostly walking and the organisers will still be waiting (judging from the Facebook posts being uploaded throughout the night).
I was gutted not to be able to complete the race, but definitely plan to return (perhaps for the full 60 miler). I'd recommend any budding ultra runners to give at least the short course race a try. Date of review: August 19, 2013
In short: Mud, mud, glorious mud .... In full: Beware - the first half of this course is a lot easier than the second (when the terrain becomes really tricky and it's almost impossible to overtake for very long stretches). So, if you want a chance of beating the train, you'd better be really quick off the start. However, if, like me, you want to take it easier towards the back, there's still plenty of fun to be had and lots of support from the passengers on the two trains (who will pass you at some point). Date of review: August 19, 2013
In short: A small and friendly race In full: This new race involves two laps of Cutteslowe Park which itself has a long footbridge over the ring road (which you have to cross four times in total). Aside from the bridge it is flat, but mostly involves running round fields rather than on park paths, so it was muddier than I was expecting (would have been dry if the weather hadn't been so wet). Road shoes were OK, but trail shoes might have been a better idea given the conditions. There was a small, mostly local, field and lots of potential, whilst crossing the footbridge, to see faster/slower runners going the other way. I wouldn't travel any significant distance to run this race, but it's nice to have another 10K in Oxford to add to the racing calendar. Date of review: April 8, 2013
In short: Not one for the bucket-list as such; but a solid ten miler that ticks all the boxes. In full: At first glance this race is a straightforward, flat 10 mile road race. It starts in a business park, though the scenery does pick up after that. I can't think of any one specific outstanding thing about this race that keeps me returning every year (though I do like the distance). It's just that they do everything right for a relatively cheap entry fee. This year they got the directions right (after last year's mini-debacle). My only slight complaint is the queues for the toilets - more port-a-loos please! Date of review: April 8, 2013
In short: An undulating, no-frills, well-organised road race In full: The whole route is along very quiet, closed country lanes in an attractive part of the Chilterns (though with a couple of dull fields to pass en-route). It probably helped that this year it was a glorious sunny winter's day - absolutely perfect weather. Though this cannot be guaranteed! The first 5K is mostly down-hill then just when you expect the second 5K to be all uphill there's more downhill with a sloggish uphill for the last 3K or so. So this isn't a PB course, but the hills aren't killer ones and it's all on-road so there's some scope for a decent(ish) time. I liked the simplicity of this race with just a medal at the finish (goody bags are a bit overrated in my opinion). The free tea, coffee and biscuits were a godsend since I ran to the start (also available at the finish) and a really nice touch. Also, the race was big enough to race in company, but not crowded. This isn't a 'must-do' race; but I'd definitely recommend it for anyone in the nearby area. Date of review: January 14, 2013
In short: Starting in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands and with a big city atmosphere at the finish, this race has it all. In full: I can't imagine any other race where you start in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the most stunning scenery imaginable and you finish in a city with hundreds of spectators cheering you on. Just for that, this could be the UK's best marathon. On top of that though you have nice touches like being texted your time as soon as you're over the line, a decent goody bag (which makes what might appear to be an expensive race seem more than reasonably priced) and plenty of things to keep the family entertained whilst you run. Some will describe this as a tough race and you do need to do some hill training. But overall, it's downhill and the big hill from miles 18-20 isn't really that bad (more of a long slog than particularly steep). With a tailwind for virtually the whole course (other than the last half mile which is in the opposite direction), I managed not only a PB but a negative split. Just take it relatively easy during the first 10 miles which are almost entirely downhill (though there are a couple of nasty short sharp climbs) and you'll be fine. A big thank you from me to the organisers (especially whoever it was at the London expo this year who persuaded me to enter). And if you're thinking about entering, just do it now. You won't regret it for a moment. Date of review: October 2, 2012
In short: If you want to enjoy running 26.2 miles, enter this race. In full: I entered this race almost at the last minute as it fell on my birthday and I fancied the experience of conducting a wine tasting whilst running a marathon (my friends think I'm very strange). I'm in training for a different marathon so this was to be my last long slow run. The course comprises two-laps, mostly off-road with one long hill (a slog rather than a pain) and, just when you think you're going to be going back down, another short steep uphill section. It's then a steep descent on road to the finish of each lap. There are six wine tasting stations en route, plus sparkling wine at the mid-way point. I tried the wine on the first lap, but decided to up the pace on the second lap so stuck to water (it was a ridiculously hot day). I'd recommend the wine tasting (if you drink) - it's part of what makes the race different and with lots of water and food I didn't notice any adverse effects from the small quantities of wine consumed. There's a small field for the marathon with a larger half marathon field that sets off one hour later so marathoners may well catch up with the slower half marathoners. This means that the course feels pretty quiet during the first half, but rather busier in the second half, especially at the water stages when you're trying to grab water whilst others are milling round and taking things easy. Luckily, no-one minded me charging past them. But perhaps the marshals could be more aware of the faster runners during the second half and hold out cups of water as they did during the first half. My one complaint is that there were serious problems with the chip timing and differentiating between marathoners and half marathoners. This was eventually resolved over the next few days, but it meant they couldn't hold a prize giving on the day. Not a problem for most runners, but I won the ladies' race and as this was the first race I'd ever won I was really disappointed. Hopefully this will be resolved for future years as it marred what was otherwise one of the best racing experiences I've ever had. Date of review: September 20, 2012
In short: A welcome change from big city racing In full: I did this race in 2010 and loved the scenery and small,local feel that I ran it again this year (despite competition in the form of the Maidenhead Half Mara close by). I'm really glad that I did. The course is very much off-road (a few very short road sections), wooded in places and with some steep uphill sections that force pretty much everyone to walk in parts. Whatever your speed, this race will hurt! But the scenery is well worth it. More importantly perhaps, I loved the fact that it is still a small local race with no frills. There are some reasonably fast old timers at the front, but plenty of scope for slower runners to enjoy the race on its own terms. And although there's little support along the route, there's genuine support at the finish from spectators and other finishers with a real sense that everyone wants everyone else to do well. Just one tip though - take it easy for the first three miles (where it is flat) or you will suffer badly on the uphill sections! Date of review: September 20, 2012