Once upon a time, a marathon would have been enough to get a 'proud dad' look from even the sternest of fathers. But by some curious twist of the imagination, it appears that a marathon isn't enough, as more and more people look for new challenges. To go that extra mile and push themselves beyond the limits of their self imposed expectations.
Which is probably why I shouldn't have been surprised to see 750 runners and walkers on the start line of the inaugural Race to the Stones last weekend (13-14 July), many of whom had never run an ultra event before.
Organised by Threshold Sports, of which James is a director, the Race to the Stones follows 100kms of Britain's oldest footpath, the legendary Ridgeway. And even though it finishes at Avebury, the only village in the world where you'll find a pub and a chapel inside a stone circle, on the hottest day of the year, neither the promise of a cool lager nor the hope of salvation will be enough for everyone to reach the finish.
Indeed, despite having run ultra marathons through some of the most extreme environments on the planet, from the Sahara Desert to the Amazon Jungle, nothing compared to the heat that I and my fellow ultra runners later experienced. But after the winter we've endured, there's no way we should be complaining.
One of the pleasures of trail running is the chance to be able to run along traffic free paths and be at one with nature. And for the past 5000 years, Neolithic man, Romans, Saxon invaders, pagans, pilgrims, farmers and now ultra runners, have been traveling along this beautiful and ancient trail that is known as the Ridgeway.
Now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as we passed historic landmarks like the Iron-Age fort of Uffington 'Castle', the giant 110m long White Horse calved into the chalk, or Dragon's Hill, reputedly where England's Patron Saint St George, killed his dragon, we all felt as if we were in a magical land, retracing the footsteps of our ancient fore-bearer.
After a gentle start, I soon found myself in the joint lead, covering the first 50k in four and a half hours. But as the midday sun rose and temperatures hit 32 degrees, it became more of a survival exercise against the fierce sun and towards the end, I was doing a good impression of Frodo Baggins approaching Mount Doom in Mordor.
Being in the joint lead with Danny Kendall, who earlier this year beat me to come 10th and at the same time, the highest placed British finisher in the history of the Marathon des Sables, we mutually agreed that these conditions were tough enough without our egos getting in the way and feeling the need to race each other. We therefore agreed to run the flats and downhill sections and walk the smallest of inclines, grateful for any excuse to reduce our chances of heatstroke.
However, our walk walk/run strategy meant that eventually, we would be caught. With 10kms to go, experienced ultra runner Ed Melbourne overtook us to take the lead and ultimately the win, finishing in an impressive 10hrs 23 minutes.
Some twenty minutes later, and with my 'man suit of courage' fully zipped up, I crawled over the finish line in second place. But as I collapsed in a nearby deckchair to sip on the cool beer I was awarded at the finish, a medic liberally spraying cold water on my flame red face, my thoughts went out to those 748 runners still out there. But everyone who would finish that day, from the winner to those who would later come in at 31hrs45, they were all living examples of Threshold's mantra 'More is In You'.
[Prices for entrants will range from £49 (single day) to £184 (Two days – 50km per day – including camping. Register interest now for 2014 atwww.racetothestones.com]