The first I knew of Ronnie Staton was when I tried to buy a late place in the 100-mile event he runs under the organiser moniker Hobo Pace, The Robin Hood 100 (September 2019). Entering was a last-minute decision and the ticket sales website had pulled up the drawbridge to entry, a few hours early. Following an email, Ronnie opened the page up to me for a few minutes and I was in, unwittingly now in a race organised by one of the most treasured and impressively enduring of ultrarunners.
At the welcome and briefing ahead of the Robin Hood, Ronnie told us about the stroke that he had suffered less than a year before, and his consequent recovery to being able to run again, albeit not to ultra-distances. Enjoy the moment was his message.
I was very struck by Ronnie, knew instinctively that he must have some exceptional tales to share, and in the weeks following asked him to share his favourite races on my blog.
They arrived… at the pace of a hobbling hobo, about a year on from the request… and were completely worth the wait.
In Ronnie’s write up below, something of his extraordinary personality is revealed, and worse, I think the purity of the challenges he has chosen to write about appeal to me. Worse? Because they are ‘sufferfests’, challenges that push you into mental spaces few go to voluntarily. I know that I am teetering on this slippery slope. Only last week I completed a virtual running challenge set by The Hard Stuff ultrawarrior Mark Cockbain, and whilst mine was the lightest Cockbain challenge I could find, I can see where things might be heading… Two of Ronnie’s ‘recommendations’ are from Cockbain’s unstable stable.
So, over to Ronnie, here’s his selection, the first of which, pleasingly, was inspired by my famous namesake…
Very early into my ultra-running journey I stepped up to something I knew I had no real right to. A solo supported effort on Alfred Wainwright’s 192-mile Coast to Coast (2013) (St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay). I didn’t have the ideal experience as I’d only run a couple of 100 milers, but in my favour was a close to overwhelming desire which accompanied my early 30’s.
For a very famous and popular long distance walk, surprisingly few have run it in one effort. The great news for anyone wanting to run it, it is now an event – ‘Northern Traverse’ https://www.northerntraverse.com. Cutting through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and then the North York Moors, it’s easy to see it’s classic appeal to hikers across the globe, myself included. It’s why I wanted to run this route, it seems to harness adventure and evokes the sense of a true journey. I feel most coast to coast routes possess this magic. It really is a wonderful advert for England, scenic landscapes and picturesque villages – with plenty of pubs!
I finished in 55 hours with the amazing support of friends and family. OutKlass Fitness helped me to raise in the region of £26,000 for a young boy with Cerebral Palsy. I don’t really do ‘moments’, but accomplishing this run still gives me goosebumps when I recall it. It changed how I saw myself, the world and my place within it.
Despite my horizons widening it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In all honesty I soon fell into a phase of being pretty low. There was no better event at the time for a guy with depression; ‘The Hill Ultra’. I figured I was miserable anyway so why not run up and down Shining Tor in the Peak District in December 55 times, equaling 160 miles and an ascent equivalent of Everest base camp to the summit x2. In retrospect I should have just got therapy! In 2013 only one runner finished, Jon Steele. In 2014 I believe 23 runners started, only 3 finished. I finished in 2nd place in just under 40 hours. We endured 70mph wind gusts, 12 hours of heavy rain and it was minus 7. I loved it. I wouldn’t say it rehabilitated me, but it sure gave me hope I can endure life’s harder moments.
Unfortunately, the Cat & Fiddle pub at the foot of Shining Tor closed down so the Hill event had to find a new hill, trying out Yorkshire Dales & the Cheviots, but so far I’m not so sure the race director Mark Cockbain (Cockbain Events) has found a hill as suited as Shining Tor, for great logistics, runnability, exposure to the elements and yet a HQ at the foot of it! If you don’t like yourself very much, The Hill is for you. http://www.thehillultra.com/about/4575798743
Lon Las Cymru
In 2015 I fell into poor health with glandular fever which really took its toll on me, and in some respects to this day it still affects me. Sorry, I didn’t plan for this to be a depressing story. The illness was really dragging so I booked on Lon Las Cymru 253 Mile (October 2017). My logic was it would send a message to my body that it had 7 months to get well and run further than ever before, it worked (ok, I know it didn’t really but you get the idea). I started to feel better and get training. I made it to the line far from my best but strong enough to finish, which I did in just under 78 hours in 2nd place. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
On a cycle path from Holyhead to Cardiff Bay the tarmac smashed up my feet and legs. Because I considered myself slow, I barely stopped to rest instead opting to keep moving. When the sleep deprivation hit, I actually couldn’t sleep. I argued for 10 hours with a woman called Joan for slowing me down, before I realised I was simply shouting at myself in public (shock- Joan wasn’t real!). I’m just pleased I didn’t DNF in a police cell.
Again it’s a Mark Cockbain event (can you see a pattern here!), he only gives you water every 25 miles and your drop bag is every 50 miles. I found out that is a long way when you’re wet (Wales in October is wet) and cold and want to change clothes. It really is no nonsense, you make your own brew in checkpoints and are not allowed assistance from crew at any point. If you need a cuddle and someone to give you a pep talk, this event is not for you. This is for the self sufficient only and a tendency to enjoy suffering would also be a valuable characteristic.
In essence the route cuts straight through Wales from North to South, it’s not at all too hilly diverting around the mountains but there are enough climbs to take it out of you. The underfoot terrain is good (if tarmac is good!) given if it’s a cycle path. There’s plenty of highlights – Anglesey itself, crossing the Menai Bridge out of Anglesey, Barmouth and many other quaint towns along the journey I really enjoyed visiting during my training for the event. A low point of the route was having youths point and shoot fireworks at me in Merthyr Tydfil at about 1am Saturday morning, but at the time I was disappointed the rocket hadn’t taken my head off.
Soon after the firework display I tried to sleep at the roadside in wet leaves I perceived as rats and severed heads (for some reason they were Kings heads, all wearing gold crowns, I would only sleep with special severed heads). I was fantasising so hard to call the medic and drop, that at one point I couldn’t figure out if I had actually pulled out or not. I knew I’d lost my mind. And I was terrified of straying into the road and getting run over. I’m still not that sure how I got up and finished those last 25 miles.
I’m the first to admit I made it hard work for myself and some of the other finishes (6 finished out of 27 starters) finished in a better condition than me. Although interestingly the winner Bryan Clary also told me he was seeing leaves turn into rats scurrying everywhere, which I found reassuring and was pleased to hear he had suffered too. Lon Las Cymru is a serious ultra, it’s a long way, it’s very minimal support, it will likely be wet, damp and cold, the tarmac hurts and you can’t just sleep anywhere as often it’s not safe to. It’s hard. It’s a great event and I wish future competitors all the very best. I love Wales, but I will not be returning to run this. If I’ve sold it to you http://www.lonlasultra.com/intro/4592870233 .
Race Across Scotland
Finally, another event close to my heart and I promise this one will be more positive, was the GB Ultras – Race Across Scotland 212 Mile non-stop (2018). It follows the Southern Upland Way from Portpatrick on the west coast to Cockburnspath on the east coast. A wonderful route and I highly recommend it. https://www.gbultras.com/ultra-great-britain/
I’ve not been to Scotland anywhere near as much as I’d like so this event really pulled me in as a great opportunity to see some more of Scotland’s wild places. The hills are mostly gentle, rolling moorlands but there are some steeper rugged sections too. I hadn’t seen the route previously as my son Indy was born in April 2018 and part of the deal with my wife was that I could run the race as long as I agreed not to go north to do a recce. Deal!
I distinctly remember thinking before the race, it can’t be that hilly, it’s only Southern Scotland but during the race my opinion was changing! Similarly, I’m not one for joining online community forum chats of any kind; they are just not for me. Despite this, I had seen snippets of people harping on about how wet and boggy the course is. Again, I played it down taking it all as hype. Once there, one bog lasted all night!
By 100 miles most were suffering with their feet with a lot deciding an early bath was far more appealing than the East Coast. With the help of my sister Lorrel Staton as my crew, this event felt a bit like a luxury holiday after Lon Las! I napped in the car when I wanted and had someone to fall out with rather than making up Joan again. I finished in just over 72 hours in 6th position.
And (not) Finally…
A matter of months after this event I suffered a major stroke (Christmas Eve 2018).
Yet, let us end on a high. I’m alive and well. My children have a father. And I can still run. What’s the future hold? I’m not too sure, but I’ll do my utmost to involve more journeys and adventures like these.
Frank’s note on Hobo Pace
For someone whose race recommendations are somewhat daunting, Ronnie as event organiser has a very different, accessible and achievable feel. His Robin Hood 100 is held by many as an excellent first 100 to tackle, well-supported, fairly flat but not tediously so, and with generous cut offs.