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Ultra room 101

OK here is an idea for a new game. You may be familiar with the TV show "Room 101" (based on Orwells room 101) where you get to consign the things you don't like to history. It's a chance to have a rant about things you hate. I hope other bloggers do the same and post them.




This is been on my list for a while. Not specifically Garmins but all forms of voluntary running surveillance. I think Garmins introduce a new character onto the running scene, the soulless data collector. These people don’t actually like running, they just like collecting stats about it and then posting them on facebook. Some even post pictures of a watch. Seriously pictures of a watch? Does the world really need to know how far you ran to 3 decimal places?

Ooooooh whats this? A precious device to helps me runs fasterI believe reliance on this technology has been responsible not only for a decline in standard of runner but also for the decline in overall enjoyment. I don’t know what the facebook equivalent was 20 years ago but I doubt runners used it to say "today I ran 9.34 miles at 8.22 minute mile pace whereas last week I ran 10.12 miles at 8.16 minute mile pace, I think I might kill myself".

Garmins have done to running what Simon Cowell has done to music, taken a fuckload of money out of it and made it shitter.

People bought these things to have more control over their running yet, as Sméagol found the thing ends up controlling you. People buy it thinking ooooh I can record all my splits and then break it all down and decide where I am going wrong and improve. After a few goes they do none of that but the device takes a hold of them, Sméagol’s invisibility trick was a novelty at first but now it is useless, but can’t be lived without. At your next race take a look at a runner who has forgot to charge their Garmin, look at how unhealthy and green they look. Their eyes bulbous and skin taut and coughing a hideous sound. There is nothing wrong with their legs but without the eyes of Sauron tracking them from out of space they will be unable to finish the race today.

Not only do they ruin the lives of those they infect but their deafening screech after every mile reduces enjoyment for those of us who like running and are being guided by our bodies. AAGGGGHHHHHHH I forgots to charge it. I forgots to charge it. Why does it burns us so bad?

Coca Cola and McDonalds are currently getting the shit kicked out of them because the stuff they sell is addictive. Garmins are too yet there is no mention of introducing a chump tax onto these devices. Those who use them have a physical addition to generating useless stats and yet these are the same people who mock the obese for constantly producing insulin.

Presumably the next step for Garmin is to produce a surgically attached version that is placed on your heart. That has already been done obviously but has yet to have a gps function. Perhaps one that actually controls your heart beat? Hopefully with a 20 hour battery life.


You probably "like" a lot of running pages on facebook. Some offer very good advice on running, others show inspirational videos, others have great stories or funnies. Then there are several who just every day churn out a picture of a runner with a "quote" which basically boils down to "I am a runner, you are not a runner, therefore I am considerably better than you".

We all have hobbies which is great. I choose to spend a lot of my time running (and writing about running and talking about running and running large bar bills). Others have different hobbies, chess, fishing, poetry, dance or cooking. Do we really need daily patronising reaffirmation via a picture of a lycra clad vixen to be convinced that we are on the right path? That’s what mothers are for. The reaffirmation bit, not the lycra bit.  Do we really need to be told constantly that as runners we are "different" to everyone else? Apart from the millions of other runners of course. Luckily I am a Pisces and we don’t believe in such broad brush characterisations.

And why are we not allowed to say "I like running because it is nice". Why does it all have to be so fucking philosophical? I am running to align my physical with the metaphysical, my soul with my heart, to save the badgers, to inspire the masses, for world peace. Fuck off. We run for food and facebook attention. Nothing else. 


The Marathon Des Sables.


I should be careful here, I could run into trouble. I don’t want to say something that is blatantly not true such as "this is the worlds toughest foot race". I don’t want to get sued for spreading misinformation.

I did the MDS in 2008, I was promised a race that would push me to my limits. They were right though they did not say at the time that this limit was in fact my overdraft limit. I paid 3500 to do this (70 days of running across the USA cost 4000).

Have you ever been on a package holiday aimed at poor 18-30 year olds? Where you travel like cattle, spend hours in queues (24 hours in total) and get mistreated by the staff who are offended that you showed up. Replace the risk of venereal disease with risk of diarrhoea and replace bikini clad girls with overpaid city wankers and you have the MDS. Tempted? It's this easy

OK so I did it in a bad year, I was ill and it flooded. However there are so many things about this race that are wrong, or certainly against what I regard to be important about ultra running. Here are a few.

  • It's easy. Too easy. It has a 99% finish rate. Finishing this race yields as much joy as achieving you scounts badge for helping an old lady cross the road. She was going to make it anyway regardless of your presence. It is regarded as the toughest because it is marketed as such, and some celebrities and DVDs. It isn't.  it really isn't. 
  • You have more chance of being hit by a Concorde crashing down onto Camden high street whilst arguing with a goth than you have of not finishing the Marathon Des Sables.
  • It is run mostly buy people who want to buy bragging rights. These people are not interested in the rewards of hard work but purely on been seen to have achieved things. These are the politicians of the future.
  • It is very very expensive, more so than similar races.
  • Marketing the race is more important than the runners experience. You have sand blown into your face by helicopters, you need to be constantly on you guard for cameramen who will happily knock you over for a good photo, you are made to stand around and told when to cheer for the DVD. You are required to display you running number not for safety but so that the sponsors logo appears always. Funnily enough this number is hard to attach to a pack that is made by a competitor.
  • It's really really fucking easy. I think I already mentioned that.

I was really pleased that having read my blog a friend said to me "I now know never to enter that race". If you can reach one person and all that. I would however like to reach more.




Marketers like inventing problems that do not exist in order to get you to buy shit you don't need. See Millenium bug, plane dehydration, SARS etc.

The same is happening in running and one such example is the invention of the "technical trail". Running shoes specifically designed for technical trail come at a premium, a very high premium.

But what is meant exactly by the term "technical". Does the trail have an understanding of mechanical engineering? Was the ground talking to you in Python? Or was it simply the case that, like 99.999999% of the land on this earth it is just a bit of ground that had some stones and tree roots scattered across it?


Age degrading


This blog will probably get around 1000 views. I don't know where that ranks in terms of other blog posts. But I imagine it is pretty low. Perhaps that is only 0.001% of the hits that Steve Jobs got when he announced that he was planning on conning 20 million people out of 300 quid for a slightly smaller I pod. This I assume will be beaten the day Justin Blieblier blogs about growing his first pubic hair. Should I go around saying that my blogging is 0.000005% Blieber? That my income is 0.003% Zukerburg? That my looks are 147%  Clooney.


Comparing yourself to others using scales is the most effective way of making yourself depressed. Really, yet runners do this all the time with this abominable scale called age grading. We compare our running performance against the fastest person to do the same distance who happens to is approximately the same age and sex as you. My marathon pb is 3.07. The worlds fastest is 2.03. This basically means I am 65% as good as the worlds best ever marathon runner. I am Haile Gabriselassie from the nipples down. Should I make my long term ambition to get up as far as his neck?

I am less than 1% of the man he is.



Now, my school history might be a little hazy but lets see how it goes. Listing the tumultuous events that changed the world forever;


The French Revolution. The monarchy is overthrown in France, people are liberated by the Republic. A lot of people lose their heads.

The industrial revolution. Britain and Europe discard religious superstition in favour of science and industry. Output grows and all measures of the human condition improve, lifespan, birth mortality, income, food etc.

The Russian Revolution. Some guys decide that Karl Marx's ideas were so good they should be MANDATORY. 50 million people die.

The Boost Revolution. Addidas invent a sponge that bounces a metal ball up and down a bit better than the sponge you get on the bottom of running shoes. Addidas put this sponge on running shoes.

What's that you say? The French one wasn't a proper revolution?

I can't begin to count how many REVOLUTIONS I have lived through and forgotten. There seem to be more REVOLUTIONS in running shoes than management changes at Chelsea. Despite all the marketing waffle about how waffles, barefoot, sponge, mojomax, super gel blah blah is going to make you run faster.

I have a question. Has any improvement in running technology EVER lead to a measurable improvement in running speed? EVER? I don't think so. Why should this latest pile of wank be any different?

And if technology did make you go faster then what is the point. Could you feel any satisfaction from that improvement in performance not due to your own hard work but due to something you paid for? Really?? Lance?

GET IT QUICK!!! Before you end up looking like a twat.

The Ultimate

the "ultimate" race will look something like this

This is my ultimate item for room 101 and by ultimate i mean that this is the LAST thing I am putting in. I try to avoid marketing, knowing that they have bastardised with english language and science terms to make idiots buy stuff. Telling us that things are dermatologically tested or 37% more optimal performance.

What does it mean to do the "ultimate challenge"? Is it really going to be the last challenge you do? Is there really no bigger challenge that this? Surely the ultimate challenge is the one you die doing. I am running a race this weekend. It is not advertised as the ultimate race. But it could be.

Is it merely an abuse of a word? Yes ultimate has some of the same letters in ultra but is it really as simple as that. Speedo has a lot of the same letters as paedo but you don’t hear about that brand encouraging grown men to hang around swimming pools with practically nothing on.

Or perhaps it is just a marketing thing to encourage people to sign up to things, like how a jumper with Timmy Hogfingers on it costs three times as much as an identical plain one. Is the word "ultimate" used to sign up ultra running chavs?

One of my favourite song quotes is Mark Knopfler singing "two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong". He was right, there can be only one "Ultimate" race. It is unlikely that we have seen it yet. It is probably a race where we are all competing to outrun an enormous meteorite.

So what are your items to put into ultra room 101?

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Reader Comments (22)

You're so angry! You should be all calm and serene and thinking about kittens, surely?

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Really enjoyed this cathartic outpouring. I know the point of having a rant is not to be reasonable, but I have to say - in defence of Garmins - it really is handy having a device that tells you how far a run is. That's why I got my first one, so I could set up a few 20 mile runs for marathon training. Now, if I happen upon a great new run, I can share it with other runners by sending them a link. I'm not saying that it doesn't feed into the deep compulsiveness of your average runner - it does. I have run many little extra bits, just to get the numbers I want.
And I don't think you've understood properly about age grading. Maybe you're too young. It's to help out us older folk who have no chance of ever running as fast as we used to again - to stop it from being just one long slippery slope, to still give us hope of achieving something. If I had my way there's be more age-grading. Having said that, I loved to hear the M de S being damned to hell. Damn it to hell. We were once unofficially invited/gatecrashed an end of adventure race party and it had the same kind of feel - a big hall full of fuckwits clapping themselves while they watched a video of themselves on a great big screen and every aspect of it was about money, money, money and how inspiring they all were.

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary H

Great read as always! Getting rid of my Garmin has completely changed my running over the last 9 months - and it'll also never do the MdS, so that's 2 people you've helped!

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGuy

Love it. Especially the MdS. The world's biggest con of a race.

My entry? Obsessiveness. Thos runners who think they can plan an ultra to the n'th degree, panic over it for weeks beforehand, spend the whole race being miserable and not enjoying the scenery because (by their garmin) they are 10 seconds slow on mile 76 (although it is probably offset by the slight gain on mile 37).

And to take it a stage further, those runners who are obsessed about getting to 100 marathons, spend half of those events saying how they are hating because they are too hilly/technical/hot/cold/wet.

This hobby of our should be about the love of the running, the joy from being out there enjoying the majesty of nature, and of course the beer, steak and chips afterwards. If you don't do it for the love of it, then why not go and play extreme tiddlywinks, and leave places in oversubscribed (and therefore now overpriced) races for those of us who do love it.

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterflanker

Good blog but like Mary that's why I got my first Garmin to see how far a run was. Nothing else its when people question the length of a race because their Garmin says different that gets me

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam (Night owl)

Those Salomon F-Lab packs. Don't get me wrong: I am sure that they are the ultimate in technical load-carrying, and it's not the price, as I've got a cupboard full of enough trail running and hydration sacks to exchange for the full range of Salmon 4 Skin products, in every season's colours, for the rest of time. No, it's just that they make anyone who wears one look as if he has entered an ultra as a bet with his mates in the gym and, because he's never been out of breath and outdoors at the same time, thinks he needs to look like an astronaut to run around fields in Northamptonshire. I mean, honestly: a white rucksack? In Britain? The MdS of running kit.

Oooh. This is fun.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlun

Great post - really enjoyed the rant. As a Garmin user I would say it helps when doing long trail runs - to get an idea of ascent and distance. I rarely look at the Garmin whilst running but I like to know how far (not fast) I ran. The bleeping gets on my nerves.

I agree with the age grading too. I hate the WAVA scores simply because I am really slow....but also because I run on boggy mountain trails where I like to think even Mo Farah would struggle to run a respectable time. WAVA is bollox unless you run every race on a track or a flat town centre.....which leads me onto another point....10k and 5k runners who only ever want to run on flat tarmac where they can get a PB....

and another thing....when running a trail marathon, or as in my recent first 50k trail race, you come across people running a shorter version of the event, who think they should have right of way on a narrow trail because they are faster.....basically the cousins of the 10k tarmac tossers.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Bogman

Nice rant. Will it be in your book? Just asking, because one of the things I really think should go into Room 101 is those bloggers who I really enjoy following and who decide to write a book, and then the reader finds it's simply a rehash of the blog entries. Just joking ... kind of ;-)

I'm just starting out with ultras. I was always skeptical of the MdS. And now you've convinced me it's never for me. Thank you.

My next ultra is the http://themountainman.ch - apparently it's 5/8ths of the climbing in half the distance of the Northburn 100. Or so said somebody who's measured it with a Garmin. Okay, I'll admit it. I took have one of those wrist born devices - the Ambit. I find it great to see afterwards that I'd gone off trail, doing circles on in the fog on the wrong side of the mountain, so I can justify to myself that the half an hour I wasted doing that explains why I was five hours behind the winner, giving me an age-grading of 65%. Of course, I'll be running it in technical trail shoes, which to me, basically means Inov8s with sticky knobby soles, which are rather cheaper than the "technical pavement pounding shoes" with all kinds of impact absorbing rubber, gel and pronation-control.

(BTW, whatever blog theme you're using looks rather strange under Chrome. Everything's super-sized. Fine with IE & Firefox. Or maybe it's just my installation ...)

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWayne

This was a lovely pre-run read. thank you.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkerra

Pretty much agree with all of that mate. Especially the MdS. Having done it twice I feel I'm twice as qualified to say what a rip-off it is.

But what grinds my running gears the most are people who want sponsorship money because they're doing 3 marathons in 3 days. Or 10 marathons in 10 days. Or 30 marathons in 30 days, etc.

Why does nobody try doing one marathon as quickly as possible. Anyone could run 10 marathons in 10 days if they take 8 hours to do each one. Very few could do a marathon in 2.30. Eddie Izzard - pah, don't waste my fckn time.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Afshar

Thanks for amusing me for the last few years. I started ultra running two years ago and mostly thanks to you. I read all of your blogs and the main mantra I took away was stop making a big bloody fuss about it all. So what if you have the 'wrong' shoes, no watch, got a hang over. Just turn up and run. You'll be fine.

Being new to running long distances I wasn't particularly aware of the nuisance of Garmins, I knew what they were and for the cost that they were pretty pointless. Why pay hundreds just to find out for far you ran? There are free web sites that'll let you do that. One day I stood at the start at of a half marathon and watched as my fellow competitors hoisted their massive watches to the sky trying to get a signal. Yup I though of your blog immediately. As every mile went by the bloody things were bleeping around me. Seriously on a well marked course, with mile markers what are you people thinking of? If I ever had a temptation to get a Garmin it ended that day. Why if your hitting a bad spot in an ultra would you want to know how far you have yet to go. Surely the best thing is just to stay calm and get in to a better place. A garmin would just raise your anxiety levels?

Thanks James, keep up the writing especially slagging off MDS and marketing. I definately will not be doing MDS either.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArdennes

lol@ MDS rant, love it. I was going to say the whole chasing 100 marathon thing too but flanker beat me to it. To do ANY race you hate just to add notch to post its ridiculous beyond words

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandra

Completely agree about the squeaky, squawk noise Garmins make every 2 minutes for whatever reason - its really grating!!

My entry for Ultra room 101 is people who complain about being uncomfortable during ultras. I don't mean about the running bit - i mean all the other stuff - like being muddy or wet and unable to have a hot shower or being unable to sleep very well in the sports hall accommodation during multi-day events for ooh 1 or 2 whole nights - poor diddums - don't they realise its all part of the challenge? - or are they too used to their home comforts and luxuries to 'suffer' having to sleep on a roll mat for a night or two?

Oh and supporters with whistles - i really love supporters, but seriously, please don't bring along a whistle and blast it right next to my ear in the middle of a race, unless you want it shoved somewhere so hard you'll be farting a whistling sound for the next 3 months.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

The MdS - why oh why does every non-running stranger ask 'oh, and have you done the MdS?' as their first question when the conversation turns towards what I do my free time, and it turns out I've run a few ultras. I've never done it, never planned on it even before reading James' blog. Just looking at the website it's pretty clear it's a huge rip off, easy, and involves plenty of standing around time. Actually come to think about it, I don't mind that it's easy as such...easy things can be fun too...it's just that it's marketed as being so incredibly hard.

Not sure what I would run in if it wasn't shoes, though have almost convinced myself that a pair of S-Labs will probably not turn me into Kilian overnight. Almost.

I will however confess to having an aging Garmin. I don't let it beep, have never used the various 'workout' and 'analyse' options it apparently comes with and don't look at it underway, the geography nerd in me just likes looking at the lines on maps it produces. I must further confess to having been ever so slightly annoyed when my time of 7:47 in the Swiss Alpine 78k turned out to be about 10 minutes beyond its battery life.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

What flanker said. (I haven't worn my 100 top since I got it) And I'd already worked out the mds bit.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternightjar

As an ex-garmin lover who now has a very multi function heart rate monitor surgically attached to his heart (I think it does other stuff like helping my heart beat too -but I could well have just bought into the marketing info too much here) i would like to contribute this :
When I went for my first few post pacemaker insertion check ups, as a runner who was addicted to his garmin I would crave stats. I was always amazed that whilst the pacemaker technicians had access to a total 247 real time data bank of my life they did not share, let alone rejoice in the 7 decimal places of analysis they could have applied to my every waking moment.
They were not interested in my performance on "August 3rd, no look for it - it should be similar to the preceding week except the last 15 -no hold on the last 20 % will give A more plositive skew to the graph" or anything else. They were much more into the rather mundane " is it still working and do we think your running is doing bad things to the pacemaker? "

after a while (third appointment actually) the guy said to me : "you will never be as fit as you were again -but at least you won't drop dead anytime soon AND your still able to run. Why can't you be happy with that?" whilst it took a while for me to emotionally climb off my high horse, I soon accepted that all the data in the world mattered little, very little, compared to how I felt when I had spent days thinking I might drop dead; or (far far worse) a couple of weeks thinking I might not run again.

Besides, whilst garmins still have a purpose, they are 49.6% bigger and 78% heavier than my normal watch. This gives my running gait a 12.7476592% list to the left. On a Tuesday

Finally EL Devon . I spent most of my run thinking. :"why is that guy wearing a Tri suit..?"


April 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard fish

Ultranob. It's a right pisser. Literally.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFraser

Nice rant. You and me both on the word 'technical' - that really takes my hydration fluid' (another one) to boiling point.

I think you have another convert on never wanting to do the MDS.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Fantastic reading. Loved it :-)

April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebs M-C

James - a bloody good rant. First rate. I probably enjoyed reading it as much as you did writing it. Thanks for sharing a bunch of your pet peeves. It's nice to peel off the veneer of all the BS that surrounds us, eh?

April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt R

Great post although I think the use of a Garmin is very important when you trying to keep track of your improvement

April 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

Fantastic. When will you get around to commenting on walking poles? :)

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally

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