One thing I learned from running over the years was that a marathon is ‘a very long way’. On Sunday, I learned a second useful thing – ultra marathons are, forgive the technicality, ‘even further’.
For someone who thinks that 8am is unreasonably early, the alarm at 4.35am came as a horrible shock. We were out of the house just after 5am (my wife, very nobly, drove me to the start) and after registering and being zapped to test my temperature, I got away a little before 6am.
The plan was to travel light and the decent weather held good with about 13℃ (55℉) at the start. Just a thin gilet (not used), arm warmers (used throughout), phone, small medical kit (unused), Garmin, water bottle, reading glasses, sanitiser (unused), mask (unused), card/cash (card used for a beer at the finish) and suncream (unused).
I thought there were 4 food stops en route coming every 10k – but I did some checking and discovered there were 3 and the gaps were 10, 13 and 15k (and then 12k to the finish).
I wouldn’t normally think of taking water with me for a run of 15km but with the cumulative distance it looked like it was unwise to drink only at the food stops. Everything I had read said they were very well stocked so no need to take anything by way of nourishment but I started well hydrated and with two oat bars for breakfast.
I felt good at the the first food stop so had just a couple of mouthfuls of water and two peanut bars. It hadn’t been too hilly and I’d got into a comfortable, steady, stride – about 1h10 for the first 10k.
I held that pace to the second food stop where I discovered the delights of flat coke. I had some there (together with an oat bar and a small bag of dried fruit) and took a little with me. The next 10k was a little slower (30k in about 3h 35m) but then I slowed further with a big hill (130m in under 5k) just before the last food stop (two bags of Skittles and a little more Coke, drunk there and taken with me).
I had run for the whole of the first half of the race but since then I’d adopted the ‘walk the bigger and steeper hills’ philosophy which helped me get to the finish but slowed me down (1h 16m for the last 10k).
In all, the run clocked in at just over 51k with a chip time of 6h 39m and, I think, a moving time of about 25 minutes less.
I managed my normal aims of completing the run safely and enjoying it, and if I had a time target, it was for the chip time to start with 6 hours – so I’m very happy, especially given my much compromised training. Being free of the burden of time was a real blessing – I didn’t look at the time once during the whole run.
It was hard – at one point or another just about everything hurt, particularly both thighs, left hip, both knees, my right foot and both arms (maintaining them in running position, I assume). I also had the usual ‘cramp warning’ signs in my foot and both calf muscles but happily they all came to nothing.
The weather stayed cool, no more than 15℃ (about 59℉). At one time I thought I was going to get cold and wet but that came to nothing too.
What probably hit me hardest was the number of hills (657m of climbing in 51k) and the conditions underfoot. I learned that as you run in a deep rut or along a narrow track the width of a car tyre, the neighbouring rut or track always looks better.
At 66, I guess that might be my first and last ultra. If I were to do another, I’d want to do it better and faster – but I’m not sure my knees will be up to a proper training schedule. I don’t know if all the results are in but currently I sit 57th out of more than 140 and first in my age group (of only 4!) – with just one older person ahead of me.
On balance, very happy with the run and very happy to have completed an ultra marathon. Just at the moment, my legs are a little less happy with it.