This was my first ultra and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I hardly slept last night and was up early this morning. As far as I can tell, this is entirely normal. Breakfast was a porridge pot, a banana and a coffee. Oh and some amino acid supplement. Then I just sat on bed watching tv and waiting. I looked
out through the curtains to check the weather, it was misty and raining that was not forecast and plunged me into a bit of a minor panic. I had gear for wet but that wasn't part of the plan. Pausing for a moment to remind myself that I am 43 I accepted the weather and settled. My mantra leading up to this has been what will be will be. I'd not done one before and so knew I would learn loads and get valuable experience. Everything is easier the second time around.
I had a lift to the race start organised from the night before and was being picked up outside the premier inn at 8:10, it was only 5-10 minutes drive to the start. The oft quoted ultra runner community already stepping into action to help me out.
Arriving at Race HQ there were a lot of runners and spectators already there drinking tea, pinning numbers on and checking kit. Everyone was decked out in the ultra runner style, compression tights, calf guards,
buff headgear, caps, inov8, salomon, hilly, ultimate direction. Everyone had the gear, but nobody was behaving like an alpha. It was a very friendly atmosphere and when people asked you how you thought
you'd do you they were interested in your answer even if it meant you might beat them. There was no ego visible anywhere.
The light rain continued but was forecast to stop around 9 which coincidentally was the race start time. A number of runners had put on rain jackets in anticipation of this being wrong. I opted for my
haglofs gilet, it wasn't raining that much and it's easier to get off and on if needed. I had removed the jacket within 3 miles, the rain had gone and it was warming up nicely.
We lined up to start and nobody wanted to be on the line. The contrast with a 10km or half marathon could not have been more marked! The RD's daughter gave us the "ready, steady, go!" and we all set off along the
path. A couple of runners immediately went to the front, I was in a group behind them. Content to let them get away. With the race having just started I still had a semblance of strategy in mind.
Pace settled and runners strung out, I found myself in 4th place. Looking behind there was no one gaining ground. With the three front runners pulling away I settled on trying to run my own race and was
great full for my headphones. (I actually spent most of the day running on my own).
This is where, in hindsight, things started to go wrong. Cruising in 4th spot my confidence was high and glancing at my garmin I was ticking along at around 7:15 min mile pace. Far too fast but it felt
good so I continued. I tried to slow down but this is harder than you think. Particularly when you are running on familiar terrain; fast, flat Tarmac.
I should have shown more discipline.
Before we were a third of the way through a runner had come through and caught me. I tried to keep with him but it wasn't happening. Once again I settled into my pace. Once again this was too fast. I went
through the half marathon in around 1:40-1:42 (this is approx as I've not downloaded my Garmin yet).
Things then started to go quite wrong. The route took a turn up hill. This was a long drag of a hill as opposed to a steep climb. Still in 5th and feeling good, after all I only run around 15 miles by this
point, I set off up the hill too fast. I was pulling the guy that had over taken me back, as I closed in on him I could see he was struggling. I asked if he was ok? His foot had gone numb so he stopped to loosen his shoes. I pushed on. He wouldn't regain the ground on me.
Now my toes started to hurt, on my left foot my big toe felt blistered and on my right foot my middle toe was very sore. I needed to check them but knew there was actually nothing I could do. I did stop and tighten my shoes though, that really helped, must have been my feet sliding in the shoes that was the problem. Head down I continued up the hill.
It was a slog. There was an aid station at around 17 miles, I didn't need anything so continued. Still alone and still going uphill. I was caught by another runner near the top, he looked fresh and was just bouncing along. No way I was going to keep with him.
There was a Marshall at the turn point, I stopped, had a handful of jelly babies and downed a water. I took a couple of minutes here and chatted with him before setting off again. The route was back down the
hill I'd just run up.
Except that it didn't feel like a downhill. It was flat'ish and this is where i started to walk. Around mile 22 I think? I started to run / walk to try and get some mojo back. This is where I started to get really, quite pissed off with myself.
I have immersed myself in ultra running, I listen to the podcasts, download the magazines, watch the videos, read the articles, follow it on twitter. It's my thing. The advice I must have heard maybe 100
times is to start slow. No slower than that. Play the smart game.
I even put a thing on the intranet at work for any last minute tips from a significant running community and the advice was start slow. No slower than that! Really slow. I hadn't done that and now was paying the price at a little over half way. I was honestly gutted and borderline emotional. My mind full of nothing but that I had ruined it. First ultra, really good advice and I had just got carried away. I was overtaken by a number of runners going down the hill and moved from 5th to 12th position.
Then I calmed down. Another piece of advice I had been given was to enjoy it. Right now I wasn't enjoying it and I had a long way to go. That was the moment. I pushed the negative thoughts out and settled
into my pace. Another runner went past me, twice. He ran past then stopped to meet his crew to collect a banana and then ran past me again. No standing on ceremony however nice they are!
At the bottom of the hill was mile 33. It was survival mode now. My quads were cramping slightly and so I was managing that. My toes were no longer sore but I had to stop a couple times to tighten my shoes. A
Marshall at the bottom pointed me I the right direction with the words "it's only 7 miles to the finish" I guess it's all about your frame of reference.
This last 7 miles was awful. Actually it started awful, then I can only assume my gels kicked in as I had a burst of energy. Rather than shuffling along at 10 min miles I was now flying along at 9 minute miles. In front of me I saw a runner, one who had passed me earlier, he was walking a lot so I kept calm, caught him, checked he was ok then pushed on. Another 10 minutes and there was another runner. Same
approach and I was up to 11th. With a little over a mile to go there was one more runner. Yep I did it again!
I was up to 10th and nearly done.
I rounded the corner at the cycling club to see runners that had finished, other spectators and the RD. I crossed the line and have honestly never felt more relieved. My body felt ok too. I was beaten up but not really hurt or anything. I got my goody bag (more later) and headed inside to change and sort myself out.
I took of my shoes and socks, I have a blister on my left big toe and my middle toe on my right foot will lose a perfectly healthy nail. I have not had a blister on my feet in hundreds of miles of running and
in years. The shoes and socks I was wearing haven used for many miles so this was odd.
What did I learn?
Pacing is EVERYTHING! I was talking to a guy afterwards that finished just behind me, he had run no more than 25 miles a week and longest run was18 miles. So I had way more miles in the legs but he paced
better. More walking earlier would have helped a lot as would sticking to a slower pace.
Nutrition & Diabetes (type 1). I started this race with a high blood sugar (around 16mmol). Knowing that it would come down really quickly. I tested my blood sugar once during the race, at the 25 mile aid
station and it was 4.2! I need to trust and eat more, sooner.
Kit. Actually I was really pleased with my kit with one exception. At one point on the hill I was struggling to breathe deeply. My chest ached. I loosened the chest straps on my race vest and it was sorted.
Everything else performed as I expected.
Ultra community. Simply great. I am a better person this evening than I was this morning through this experience. Support, help, motivation all in plentiful supply with no sense of self. Just amazing!
I actually feel remarkably well. Legs are stiff but there's nothing serious. No injuries (crosses fingers and toes, but not knees - are you mad!). So next race is always a biggie - at 27 miles today I thought I was looking for a new sport! But now I'm calm I need to find my next ultra. I know I'll be better.
Today was an amazing experience - of course I'm going to do it again?
My gear list for this race was...
- Hoka Stinson Tarmac shoes
- injinji socks
- Compressport calf guards
- Century riding cream
- Skins compression half tights
- Brooks race shorts
- Adidas Tech T compression shirt
- Nalini arm warmers
- Haglofs Gilet
- inov8 race peak cap
- Salomon 5 ltr hydro race vest
- 2x500ml of high 5 electrolyte
- I Also drank 4 bottles of water on the course (2ltr total)
- 3 gels
- 1 trek bar
A handful of jelly babies (from an aid station)
A handful of home made flap jack (from an aid station)
Starting blood sugar - 16mmol
Half way blood sugar - 4.3mmol
Finishing blood sugar - 7.2mmol
1 Cadbury Dairy Milk
1 cup cake
1 bottle of water
1 race t-shirt
1 clip framed picture based on the race by the RD's daughter
1 pack of crisps