Book Review: The Rise of the Ultra Runners

You wait ages for someone to use the title “The Rise of….” and then two come along at once.

Last week I went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I did not realise until I got to the cinema that it was an autism friendly screening.  

The interior of the cinema screening was pitch dark and the room was silent. I assumed this was to provide a calming atmosphere.

I sat in darkness for a few minutes. Nothing happened but I could hear other people talking.  

Then, without warning, the Star Wars theme tune came blasting out of the cinema speakers. The room stayed dark. Then there was loud explosions and laser noises but still darkness.

This to me seemed like the least autistic friendly screening imaginable.

I waited a few minutes whilst the cacophony of noise went on but then suddenly all the lights came on. An usher came out and explained that the cinema screen was broken. They explained that if we waited a few minutes, they would fix it. Now that I have seen the film, I wish they had not bothered.

The Star Wars trilogy is similar to an ulrarun. There’s good bits, there’s bad bits and the finish is rubbish. An ultra is about the experience not the ending.  

In Rise of the Ultra Runners ( the author Adharanand Finn travels the world investigating why people feel the need to run long distances in challenging environments.

He places himself very much into the narrative as the book follows his quest to collect enough points to get into the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc and then actually run and finish the race.

He is an experienced (mostly road) runner who was mainly interested in speed and times. It was interesting to see how his mind-set changed when faced with challenges where the journey is more important than the destination and time.

He covers the history, personalities and his experience of ultra-running. It felt like it was a good informal history of the sport as much as his personal narrative.

There is a very interesting section on why Kenyans don’t do ultra’s even though they should be amazing at them.

I would have liked to have heard more about the training. You don’t get as good as he is at racing without hours and hours of training. Did his wife mind him training all the time? Did his kids appreciate him being away?

There is a number of interviews with ultra-runners but he never asks the question I want to know the answer to.

“What are you running from?”

Because spending that much time doing anything is usually an indication you are avoiding something!

For example I spent time writing this blog at work because I was running away from doing some proper work!

Overall – It was a good easy read. After reading his section on 24 hour track running I’m intrigued to try it myself. So give the book a go, it might inspire you to try something new too.

University – part 1 (Iain)

The view of the Uni in the prospectus

I studied Computing at the University of Edinburgh. I remember my first day at the University. I was informed I’d have to do a Maths course as part of my degree.

I asked “Why? I’m here to study Computing.”

The tutor replied that it was a requirement of the British Computer Society.

I said “Why? I’d rather learn something useful!”

He looked at me and said “Stop arguing. Just sign up to the Algebra course!”

At the end of the year I did the Algebra exam. I answered every single question and included my working out.  I got a score of 0/30 and the tutor wrote “This shows no knowledge of Algebra what so ever!”

I finished the course with a third class honours degree. Mainly due to laziness. I hate learning a subject if it’s something I feel is irrelevant. Allot of the course was irrelevant. I was good at the things useful for a career in Computing and hopeless at the bits that wouldn’t help me get a job.

Since then, I’ve had a successful IT career and not once has anyone ever asked what I got in Uni, whether I passed algebra or whether they could they see my British Computer Society membership.

The lesson I learnt is that you don’t need to go to Uni to be successful. You just need to work hard. People will judge you on what you achieve in life, and not by what bit of paper you hold.

The actual uni building I studied in. I was in the basement!

Outdoor Swim Review: Hebrides – Braighe Beach (Iain)

Recently I was browsing Instagram and I spotted this photo from the Isle of Lewis. It shows a couple walking a dog on a nice beach. It’s a nice pic.

Something about the pic seemed familiar but I couldn’t work out what. I looked at it more closely and realized that the couple in the photo are my Mum and Dad. They were walking on one of their favorite beaches – the Braighe. I doubt either of them have ever heard of Instagram or know that the photo even exists.

Braighe is an apt name for the beach as it means sandy strand in Gaelic. The sandy side of the beach is a fine sandy strand between two parts of the island.

You can swim on either side but normally the west side is calmer as it faces a protected bay.


Ease of Access: There are three car parks available. The middle one has toilets. It is only a 10 minute drive from Stornoway to the beach.

Water quality: The water quality is crystal clear and perfect for swimming although on a wild day it can get a bit sea weedy on the bay side.

Swim Quality: Cold. In December the temperature was 7C. I had a short swim in a circle. In the summer I’ve been here and swam the length of the beach.

Other People: Not a soul.

Would I go back: Yes. Its the easiest place to get to have a sea swim that is near my parent’s home in Stornoway. Normally one side of the beach will protected from any bad weather.

Outdoor Swim Review: Hebrides – Reef Beach (Iain)

Next month Lewis Pugh, an endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans, will attempt to swim 1km of a lake of melting Antarctic ice ( )

To train for the brutally cold endeavour he could have chosen anywhere in the world –Norway or Iceland etc. He chose the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

He trained twice a day on the island. Each day he would post details of his training swims on social media and invite anyone to come and join him.

Initially he was based on the west side of the island. Its a great location for swimming. Some of the beaches are stunning. Especially when the weather is good.

Cliff beach in summer

Occasionally the weather is bad…very bad. In England, during bad weather, the MET office might issue a “danger to life” warning. In Lewis, during bad weather, you just get on with it. As my Dad said whenever I complained about the weather – it is only a bit of wind and rain.

The stunning views and bad weather makes Lewis the perfect place to train. if you can swim here you can swim anywhere!

Scottish outdoor swimmer/filmmaker Calum Maclean, me, Lewis Pugh


Ease of Access: Reed is 60 minutes from Stornoway. There is a parking spot beside the beach. It is a 5 minute walk from there to the sea.

Water quality: The water quality is crustal clear and perfect for swimming.

Swim Quality: Cold. In December the temperature was 7C. The beach is 1km long. I did a length of the beach and then jogged back.

Other People: Not a soul other than a few hard folk joining Lewis for a swim

I’m in the wet suit.

Would I go back: Yes. Uig is a beautiful spot. When I was younger I hated coming here because the road to it was terrible. I would get car sick. Nowadays the road is much better!

2020 (Iain)

According to the Daily Mail Astrologer my Horoscope for 2020 is.

“You’ll want to keep your vehicle in good shape for endless errands.”

Normally a horoscope has positive statement like “you will come into money” or “you will meet a tall dark strange who will give you good news”

But mine is make sure you MOT the car as you’ll be going to Tesco’s allot. What a fun year for me!

I prefer the Daily Record’s horoscope which claims I should

“Look out for a Taurus, who is super-sexy. Your dream partner!

I googled “sexy Taurus” and it suggested Uma Thurman, Adele or The Rock.

Uma Thurman or The Rock would both make good partners but I don’t think my wife would forgive me if I didn’t shack up with Adele. My wife loves Adele!

I once bought my wife two Adele tickets for her birthday. The tickets were very expensive but I as least with two tickets I would see Adele as well.

My wife took one look at the tickets and immediately said. “I can’t wait to tell Mairi about this.” Mairi is her best friend. I worriedly asked “Why do you need to tell her?”

“Because she loves Adele and will want to come with me!”

I never got to see Adele.

Other than Marrying Adele my sporting goals for the year is the same as every previous year. Stay fit and healthy and do some fun races

So far my plan is


Kirkintilloch 12.5K ( )

Glentress Trail Race ( )


Scottish Winter Swimming Championship ( )

John Muir Ultra ( )


Etape Caledonia ( )

Stornoway Half Marathon ( )


Celtman ( )


Wasdale half X ( )


Dramathon ( )

I also aim to do the Gullane Triathlon. I’ve said this every year for the last five years but every time I try to do it something comes up that gets in the way.

Hopefully this year Ill finally do it!

My main reason for wanting to do the race isn’t sporting but is instead culinary. The Old Course Inn in Gullane ( ) does the best Nachos in Scotland. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit and have some!

mmm Nachos

Boardgaming Club (Iain)

What does this bit do?

The first rule of board gaming club is: You do not talk about board gaming club. The second rule of board gaming club is: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT BOARD GAMING CLUB.

I am a rebel so not only will I break the first rule, I will break the second too!

I’ve never been a big fan of board games. My idea of hell is Scrabble. Nothing gives me the rage more than the long wait between turns as other players spend ages pondering the next word. They should be thinking of words in advance of their turn and be ready to play with minimal waiting!!

When I was asked by a friend whether I would be interested in playing a board game. My reaction was “no f’ing way” but I was too polite to say that. Instead, I said “Ok – maybe next month” in the hope he would not ask again.

He did ask again…and again…and again until I eventually said “Ok – I’ll play! Stop asking me! But just one game and it better be quick…and not be Scrabble!

To make the evening more enjoyable I invited some other friends over and supplied some beer and food. Most things in life are better with beer.

I expected he’d bring round Monopoly or Trivia Persuit or Cluedo. Being the only board games I know.

Instead he brought round Blood Rage – A strategic board game were Viking clans pillage and battle in a quest for glory at the end of the world!

I was surprised. The game was great fun. It was competitive, the rules were easy too learn and there was enough strategy to make me want to play it again to see if I could do better.

I asked where he’d got the game from and he explained there was a whole world of board games that I was unfamiliar with. Games like Pandemic, Gloomhaven and Carcassone.

The beast of a game that is Gloomhaven

The names meant nothing to me but I was intrigued to learn more.

Since then we’ve met up once a month to try out other games. It is a great excuse to meetup and to drink beer.

We’ve played a variety of games. You can read about them in future posts as long as you promise that YOU WILL NOT TALK ABOUT BOARD GAMING CLUB.

Trying to figure out the rules.

2019 Report (Iain)

Every year I download an info-graphic of my Strava training stats from

It shows I managed to cover just over 3000 miles of swimming, biking and running which is enough to take me to Monrovia in Liberia.

I googled Monrovia to see what it is like. According to a map of the town there is an area inside it called Chocolate City. Which sounds delightful. I imagine its a wonderful place to live. Everyone loves chocolate.

I then Googled how Chocolate City got its name. It is not as delightful as I thought. Chocolate City was a place where people went and defecated. Families riding in cars along the highway would smell the stench of human excrement but instead of telling kids what it was they would instead say it was chocolate. Hence the chocolate area became known as Chocolate City.

I looked at my info-graphics from previous years. It revealed I did less distance this year than last (4,500 miles) That is about 1500 miles less. I like to think it was higher quality. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

My aim for the year was to complete an Ultramarathon and enjoy it. I did. You can read about it here

Overall, I got through the year happy and injury free and I can’t ask more than that.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Best TV shows 2019 (Iain)

I’m only scared of two things in life.

One of those things is a quite rational fear of flying. If God wanted humans to fly he’d have given us wings and installed a parachute in our ass.

The other is an irrational fear. I’m scared of Neflix!

The fear begins as soon as I launch the app. What will I watch? Is there a new “MUST WATCH!” film or a series that everyone is describing as “YOUR NEW BINGE OBSESSION”

I start to sweat as I scroll through the menu. I haven’t seen Peaky Blinders. Maybe I should watch it but then I notice there is five series of bad hair and flat caps. How will I find the time to watch it? I can maybe commit to a couple of episodes a week but five series will take me months!

Maybe I should watch Line of Duty instead. Everyone at work is talking about it. Oh no! That has multiple series too Which show should I choose? What if I choose wrong?

I’m already stressed and I haven’t even looked at the film options.

The pressure of making a decision is too much for me. I switch off Netflix.

Therefore my best TV shows of the year are all on terrestrial TV.

Best Channel 4 Series – Who Dares Wins

A team of ex SAS soldiers test members of the public to see if any of them can pass the SAS selection process. In previous series they had only tested men but this year they tested women for the first time.

Best BBC show – Sink Or Skim

A one off show about the competitive world of stone skimming. It seems like the plot of a Will Ferrell sports movie. An aging champion who smokes and drinks has to face a young upstart who has trained all year for his one chance to take the crown.

Best ITV show – Ant and Dec DNA Journey

This sounds like a rip off of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? but as it was being made Ant crashed his car and gave up TV for a year. The end result is a fun romp through their history whilst trying to reconnect to see if they can carry on as they were before the incident.

Its a surprisingly genuine show. The warmth and love they have for each other really shines through.

Films of the Year 2019 (Iain)

This year one cinema trend dominated the box office. It started with Avengers: Endgame and other films swiftly copied it.

2019 was the year of the colon mark

  • Terminator: Dark Fate
  • Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The colon proved useful became it indicated a film was utter tosh!

Terminator: Dark Fate was so bad Arnie grew a beard to disguise the fact he was in it.

He doesn’t look like a killing machine. He looks like a science teacher who’s counting down the days until retirement because the kids are bullying him about his inability to use a computer.

Hobbs and Shaw is should have been called the Fast and Furious presents: Top Bantz and Mega LOLs. Two hours of the Rock and the Stathe shouting “YOUR’RE GAY”! “YOU’RE GAYER” at each other in the misguided belief accusing a man of being gay is the funniest thing in the world. I kept hoping they would both just kiss and admit they had feelings for each other. Brokeback Mountain with explosions would have been an infinitely better film.

Alita: Battle Angel is what happens when you let a video game cut scene last two hours rather than two minutes. I kept hoping an option would appear allowing me to skip the scene and get straight to the game.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gave me a headache. It is beautifully shot to look like a comic book. The action look like its taking place on comic book paper but if I wanted to read a comic I’d have stayed at home and read a comic! Its a movie so shoot the action like its a movie.

Martin Scorsese recently criticised Marvel, calling the studio’s movies “theme parks” rather than cinema. If films are theme parks then all those films would be Disneyland in comparison to one absolute monstrosity of a film – 6 Underground!

The only theme park comparable to 6 Underground would be Blobbyland

Look! A walking cock with some kids and Mr Blobby. How did this get made???

I watched 6 Underground so you don’t have to. The story was barely coherent. When asked about one important plot point a charter replied “you don’t need to know that” because even the screenwriters couldn’t bother working it out!

It looked like it had been edited together by someone with no concept of plot, story or pacing. It was casually offensive to woman, foreigners and my intelligence. The film might not have had a colon in it but that just means they have room for a sequel. Please God no.

So that was the worst of the year. How about the best.

Wild Rose is a sweet film about a Glaswegian woman with an attitude problem, is there any other kind of Glaswegian woman? Its about her struggle to break into Country and Western singing. Its full of great performance and good music.

Joker has a superb performance from Jaquain Phoenix and unlike the Marvel films it tries to do something interesting with a comic book character.

Hustlers is the true story of New York strippers robbing men. It stars J Lo and it is not the exploitative film the tag line would lead you to believe. It is beautifully shot and directed by a first time female director. A man would have made it very differently.

Once upon a time in Hollywood. If a colon is a sign a film is terrible then Leonardo DiCaprio is a sign a film is worth watching. He never gives a bad performance and this is one of his best.

But the best film I saw this year disproves everything I’ve said about colons. My film of the year is O.J: Made in America

It came out in 2015 but I only saw it this year. Its is a biography of disgraced athlete O.J Simpson. It covers the issue of race in american society, the role of sport, the rise of celebratory culture and the failure of the US legal system. Its full of fascinating interviews and history. The highest compliment I can give it is that even with a 7hr 42 minute run time it felt too short.

Top of the Pops 2019 (Iain)

On August 16th 2007 Kanye West performed at my birthday party.

Some people will claim it was because he was on tour and he just happened to be performing on the day of my birthday but I like to think he was there for me… even though he forgot to sing me “Happy Birthday”

There was no support band. A true star/ego like Kanye doesn’t share the stage with anyone.

I waited patiently for the show to start. It didn’t start at 2000, it didn’t start at 2100, it didn’t look like it wasn’t going to start at all but then without any warning Kanye walked on stage.

He looked at the crowd. He did not say anything. He waited for a second and then the music began. He performed for an hour non stop. Hit after hit. No break between songs. Each song flowed into the next. Then the music stopped. He said nothing. He walked off stage.

He came, he rapped, he left.

It is one the best (and shortest) concerts I have ever seen. He was in his prime. He was cocky and charismatic. He was a pop star and a musical force. He was the best in the world and he knew it.

In the years since then he has gone a bit mental – he married a Kardashian, he supported Donald Trump, he recorded, released and scrapped numerous albums. He even wrote an opera.

“As an act of authentically mind-blowing pop-star folly, of a kind we rarely see nowadays it exceeded all expectations…. If it didn’t work in artistic terms, as a bulwark against the argument that pop music is devoid of character and spectacle and crazed, foolhardy ambition, it worked perfectly. “


He is the most interesting pop star in the world. His musical ambition and creative genius means I will listen to anything he does even if it’s not always great.

His new album sounded like a folly. An album dedicated to his love of God (and himself). It should be terrible but it isn’t. Give it a try.

My number one song of the year is “On God” because a) it has a great melody and b) it’s a reminder of just how good Kanye can be.

As he says during the song:

I’ve been tellin’ y’all since ’05
I’m the greatest artist restin’ or alive

Honorable mentions this year go to:

The Chemical Brothers – No Geography. It is the perfect length to listen to whilst running as it was the same length as the course record. I knew if I got to the end of the course before the song finished then I’d beaten the record.

Bombay Bicycle CLub – Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing but you.) A perfect indie pop song.

Blossoms – Your Girlfriend. Best video of the year.

And lastly Charli XCX who made the best pop album of the year. This being the highlight.