Why do people enter races? For the challenge, the adventure, the thrill of the ride, or the incredible sense of fulfilment running brings? Unless you’re an athlete, of all the reasons to enter races, running speedily is not the first thing that springs to mind. There are a million trillion more emotional, heart warming and life changing reasons to pit your legs against the open road. And yet, be it 5K or 50 miles, once you’ve completed your challenge, the one question people always ask is, ‘what was your time?’

It irks me that such a profound and integral aspect of my life is reduced to chunks of manageable time. Of course it feels good to run really fast, and yes it’s an accomplishment to get fitter and faster, but is speed really the ultimate barometer of race success?


If a running event was measured by enjoyment, laughter, weather, enthusiastic support, or most interesting people met en route, it would be a different story, and I’d be champion of the fucking world. My best most memorable races had nothing to do with time and everything to do with life experience. Last weekend was one such race.

To celebrate my 35th birthday, I decided to run my age. Partly because I wanted to improve on last year, which was an unbelievably sucky birthday because I got my heartbroken, but mostly because I had something to prove.

photo 2

Within me lies a well of incredible strength and endurance. I know this because I survived the last year in London town on a shoestring with a ruptured heart. But put me in a field of speedy runners and I feel like a failure. I just can’t help stopping to smell the flowers and admire the birds nesting in the trees. I love running passionately and I thrive off the spirit of racing. But I was born to dance to the beat of my own drum and formulaic road races suck out all the fun.

To prove to myself that anything was possible, and to have a laugh because I love running with friends, I decided to organise my own damn ultra marathon, and the Rhalultra was born. Because It was my race, I could do it my way, and still legitimately win. This meant approximate mileage, a vague route (because what is life without adventure?) and virtually no training. I run regularly, so I knew I could cover a long distance, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to follow a tedious training plan for six months when really all I want to do is have fun.

Most of my sane running friends would balk at the idea of running for a vague and indefinite time without a map or a fancy watch. But thankfully I have a few friends patient and willing enough to pander to my whimsical desires, and one particularly cool pal who is just as free-spirited as me when it comes to running in the great outdoors.

photo 5

Simon Lamb is a dude. He is my best man friend. I know this for a fact, because last weekend he ran beside me for ten whole hours and 41.3 miles in the searing heat, and only complained when I tried to make him do a sprint finish. (Yes that’s a little over 35 miles, but when you’re having so much fun, who cares about numbers?)

Speedy Claire Pepper, the Amazing Sarah Onions, Delicious Dom, Incredible Harriet, Heroic Nathaniel and the King of Hugs Lawrence Lartey are all Rhalultra runners worthy of praise. They made my birthday run so much fun and I love them all for it.

rha gang

If you’re interested in the logistics of the Rhalultra, check out my Runner’s World article here I won’t bore you with the stats. All I will say is, I ran 41.3 God damn miles on Saturday, and I did it incredibly slowly so I could stop for ice cream and flower sniffs, and I loved every bloody second of it, and if I can do it, then so can you.

And if anyone asks me if I ran a good time, I will reply, ‘Why yes, I had the best time in the whole fucking world.’

Next Saturday I turn 35. I do not have a salary, a proper job, a house, a baby, a boyfriend, a pension or a clue. I’m not even really sure how I’m going to pay my rent next month. But I do have legs, and I can run!

To celebrate turning 35 and to improve on last year’s birthday, which was really shit, I have decided to set myself a challenge. I am going to run my age.


With the help of some lovely friends and race support provided by my superhero sports massage therapist Six Seconds High, on 26th July I am going to run from Royston to London via Ware, and even if it takes me all day, I am going to win.

If you fancy running a section of the inaugural Rhalultra with me, drop me a line @Rhalou or meet me at the finish line The Faltering Fullback for a post race pint. I aim to cross the pub threshold before 3pm.

I love you in secret special ways.

#Rhalultra xx

Preparing for race day and looking for some last-minute tips? Sod the generic guidelines; try my alternative race day tips to guarantee the best day ever!

Rhalou jumping

Foil babies

Sweets are a vital accessory for race day. The sugar hit will not only perk you up, but a little treat at designated mile markers will give you something to work for. Don’t lug the whole bag round with you though. They’ll only turn into a giant sticky mess. Wrap your chosen sweeties (I recommend Jelly Babies) in pairs in tin foil and secrete them about your person. Your fellow runners will think you’re a crack head, but who cares. Those surprise parcels of sugary goodness will keep you smiling past the finish line.

Smile like a star

Smile! And I don’t just mean at the official race photographers at the finish line. Smile like a loony at every single camera you see en route. Pretend they’re the paparazzi and you’re a movie star, and practice your confident smiley professional runner face. Smiling not only makes you feel good, but you’ll look a damned sight better in your race pictures afterwards, which once your enormous blisters recede will be your only memory of race day.

Say my name

An obvious tip, but still many runners overlook the opportunity to pretend to be famous. Wear your name with pride emblazoned across your chest and people will cheer you. Never underestimate the joyous feeling of hearing a happy crowd shouting your name in encouragement. Chances are you work in an office and running a race will be the only opportunity in your entire life to experience even a modicum of what it’s like to be famous, so work the red carpet with pride! Unless your name is Rhalou of course. If you have an unpronounceable name, make a new simpler one up. Be Jane for the day. Having your name on your chest with no one brave enough to try and pronounce it is rather disheartening.

Fantastic elastic

Wear a rubber band around you wrist. Not a hair band, but a proper elastic band. The sort the postman brings. Every time you start to flag or lose your pace, ping it. The little pinch is enough to snap you back into race mode. It sounds nuts, but I swear it works. Rather like dog training, only on yourself.

Top of the pops

Forget spending hours planning your perfect mood-enhancing race day playlist, or combining all the coolest tracks from the trendiest DJs. Stick on the cheesiest pop music you can find and skip your way around. No one else can hear you so they don’t need to know you’re pegging along to Britney Spears. I defy you all not to run a little faster and a little better when the cheesiest school disco tracks are blasting in your ears.

Be a cheerleader

During certain races like Brighton or Bristol the route is designed as such that you have to run past the faster people as they make their way back before you. But don’t be disheartened by watching the elites zoom by. Use this as an opportunity to cheer your fellow runners on. Just because they’re wearing teeny shorts and a serious expression, doesn’t mean they won’t also appreciate a roaring cheer. Plus the positivity flowing out of you will be infectious and you’ll soon feel fab too.

Follow the leader

If you’re running alone or you lose your friends, find someone slightly faster than you with a really sexy bum, and make it your mission to follow them. Everyone appreciates a tightly clad Lycra buttock, and admiring your oblivious pacer’s perky bum might just get you to the finish line in one piece. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’ll get to enjoy the view for a bit.

War paint

On the morning of your race day, apply full make up. Even if you sweat half of it off by mile five, I still wholeheartedly recommend wearing war paint. Look sexy, feel sexy, run faster, simple.

Good luck!

Originally published on www.womensrunninguk.co.uk

Until receiving a press release earlier this week extolling the virtues of the Runbell, a little brass bell you place upon your finger to urge pedestrians out of the way during your daily jaunt, I thought I was open-minded.

Pavement rage

As a freelance journalist who specialises in running and fitness, my inbox is inundated with all manner of curious new releases. From the latest nitric acid laced nutritional supplement promising a derrière like Kim Kardashian, to sixty-second six packs chiseled by laser beams bounced off Mars, the health and fitness industry knows no bounds. But surely using a tiny gong to push peasants off the pavements and into the gutter has not been de rigueur since the Edwardian era?

Assuming it was a hoax, I took to Twitter to giggle with my runner friends about the concept of dinging your way to a pedestrian-free pavement. Runbell has no less than 192 backers on its Kickstarter page willing to part with money for the realisation of a finger bell. God knows who they are; I have yet to meet a single runner who isn’t capable of stopping. Unlike cars or bicycles, human legs are equipped with an instinctive braking mechanism.

I thought no more about the miniature finger klaxon, until Runbell’s creator responded to my comedy Tweet. ‘Yelling is not polite, surprising people is not polite, warning them is polite, what’s wrong with a bell?’ he questioned me.

Then the US cavalry joined in and I started receiving Tweets from runners across the pond. Even the gear editor at Runner’s World US joined in the online debate and suggested punching pavement hogs in the head similar to Machuka’s sudden blow to Haille Gebressalie at the Junior World Championships in 1992.

I assumed all runners would agree, but much to my surprise, not everyone shared his sense of humour and Tweets for and against the Runbell came flooding in. It turns out there are people in the world who do actually believe a tiny gong is a perfectly civilised way to conduct oneself in public. One gentleman even accused me of implying something more sinister (of which I am still not quite sure).

There are so many reasons why utilising a miniature bell to get people to move out of your way is a really, really bad idea. If you tried to ding a fellow pedestrian off the pavement where I live, you’d swiftly meet with misadventure. I’d probably give a bell-ringing runner a swift right hook too if he tried to manoeuvre past me on his merry way, and I’m a pacifist.

I’m an avid runner and sometimes a nice pedestrian-free pathway appeals. But on those days I head for the hills, run around the park or find a nice quiet street on which to stretch my legs. The rest of the time I simply stop, slow down, or run around the offending human. You’d have to have a major superiority complex if you thought you were more deserving of road space than everyone else.

The only area of London one would struggle to find a single patch of running space is zone zero, and no runner in their right mind would circumnavigate Piccadilly Circus during the day anyway. Although frankly if anyone were self-righteous enough to assume their sporting endeavour took precedence and required a clear pavement, they probably deserve to be mowed down by a herd of aimless tourists.

As a runner, I like to tow the racing line, but on these gritty city streets it’s not illegal to go totally wild and weave, or you know, stop and walk. I secretly savour traffic lights, as they provide the perfect opportunity to rest and take a selfie.

But what really gets my goat about the concept of clanging a bell to demand the crowds part like the red sea is the absence of human interaction. Are we really so self-absorbed with our smart phones, running gadgets and athletic prowess that we can’t smile, make eye contact and say, ‘excuse me’ while gently maneuvering our way along the high street? I love running, but I’m a human first and a runner second.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I were The Overlord: Queen of the World, I would insist that every single race included disco tunnels, fairy lights, sexy cheering boys and lashings of gin. Someone at Nike HQ must have been making notes in my brain, because We Own The Night didn’t miss a trick.

Had it not been for the pre-race fun on Twitter and Instagram, admittedly the shitty weather might have persuaded me to stay in bed. But the runner girls of London were in an excitable mood. Having spent the day busily swapping race kit photos and chattering away online, I was thoroughly overexcited by the time I hit the park. As you can see by my race attire, I was ready for some serious running.


Running is a serious business

Despite the crappy weather the race village was laid out like a mini festival and it looked ace. After dropping my bag off and popping into the hospitality tent to catch up with my friends, I got involved with the warm-up, taken by the lovely Geoff Bagshaw from Equinox. Geoff is an excellent trainer, the sweetest man alive, and the perfect choice to lead the masses.

Although many of my girlfriends were taking part, I really wanted to just enjoy the night and not beast myself, so I chose my run buddies carefully. I was delighted to run with my friend Ruth Hooper, an old school Run Dem Crew girlfriend who has since relocated to Amsterdam to do cool things for Nike women, and my gorgeous lady friend Bangs.

Rhal and Ruthie

Rhal and Ruthie

We were lucky enough to sneak up to the front, and so cheered on by the dulcet tones of our MC the inimitable Charlie Dark, we set off. As with almost every race I’ve ever done, it’s impossible not to get sucked in and start too fast, which we did. But within five minutes of running, it was obvious this was basically my dream race, sent down from the heavens on unicorn horseback and served up on a glimmering bed of disco joy.

I used to live right by Victoria Park and did all my first marathon training around that little patch of green, but for one night only the park had undergone a glittering transformation. Concrete paths were replaced by illuminated disco tunnels (heaven), ginormous light up KM markers, and woods of glowing fluorescent mushrooms beneath a thousand twinkling stars.


Disco mushrooms in Victoria Park

Ordinarily I’m not wild about the concept of gender specific activities, but I get it now. There was an electric atmosphere of female solidarity throughout the night. It felt like all 10,000 runners were in it together as we ran through the magical disco wonderland.

Although the disco tunnels were arguably the most exciting thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to run through in my entire life, the best part of the race was definitely at 7K. The sexy boys from Run Dem Crew were out in full force to support their girls, and they did them proud. If you ever need a vocal pick me up, enter a race that includes an RDC cheer section. You could hear their supportive cheers echoing through the park for miles; those boys really know how to make a girl feel like pulling up her sequin hotpants and running for the stars.

I stole this off Instagram sorry about that

I stole this off Instagram sorry about that

Next up we ran past the discolicious Josey Rebelle who had her own private party booth and stopped off for a quick dance, before hot-footing it to the finish line. After two laps of the park which seemed to glide by in a sea of twinkly lights, we ran holding hands across the finish line to the cheering crowds, and I felt like Chaka Khan beneath a million twinkling disco stars in Studio 54 heaven.

After crossing the finish line we were handed our Alex Monroe finisher’s necklace, and headed off to the hospitality tent, where they fed us delicious wholefood, popcorn and lashings of gin. I then proceeded to get plastered in the company of sexy friends, and even got to meet the marathon champion of the world, the mighty Paula Radcliffe.


Disco Paula puts the Rad in Radcliffe

But before the close of the night, I had one more run to do. At about 10pm I realised, pissed as a fart, that I had forgotten to pick up my bag. The last leftover bag in the tent, I raced across the park and was greeted by my final finish line of the day, three little bag guys cheering me on so they could close the tent and go home. Luckily they didn’t seem remotely bothered about having to wait for an hour in the freezing cold for me to hurry up and collect my bag. Sorry dudes. You made my night.

The event was impeccably organised, everything looked beautiful, and I loved the course. I can’t fault We Own The Night; it was a perfectly organised slice of disco sex heaven. If I were Queen of the World, I would insist that all races were exactly like it and every week we’d all be forced to have a huge disco run with hugs and cheers and vats of gin. Minus the night bus home in gold sequin hotpants; that was a bit dodgy.