The Kings Forest Ultra (by Positive Steps) deserves a blog entry of its own! I learned a good few things!
From the outset, it must be said, that like all events organised and laid on by Positive Steps, this one was well-organised, the course was well marked-out, the check points were superb, and the marshals and other volunteers were happy and friendly!
The Kings Forest is just a few miles from Bury St Edmunds, and the ultra comprises of two loops taking you to the marathon distance, and then a smaller loop to make the route 31 miles. It is not the most challenging course in the world, but stone and mud paths with regular tree roots and other hazards becomes all the more demanding over a longer distance!
My personal view (I am only a few ultras in now, so I am no expert) is that once a certain distance is covered, and one group of muscles has had it, the gait alters and a new set of muscles gets its turn for a battering: I really felt this during the Kings Forest Ultra! A lot!
Fellow Ely Runner, Martin Lewis and I travelled over to this event together, and it became clear that we would have a stab at the race together. We talked tactics and had a long discussion about run/ walk strategies. We agreed that we both still find that it doesn’t feel right to adopt a run/ walk approach right from the outset, and yet more experienced and superior ultra runners than us use this technique with huge success. We agreed to give it a go. When Martin and I set off, we noted that a fellow Ely Runner (who has completed a huge number of marathons and ultras) was adopting what looked like a 4 minute run/ 1 minute walk approach from the off. A little bit of reading after the event helped me to appreciate just how sensible a run/ walk approach right from the start is. However, Martin and I did not start start run/ walking right way. How rubbish are we!?
The trail was not demanding in terms of hills; it was all pretty flat apart from slight and long inclines and declines. It was clear that Martin loves downhill stretches: he used this to experiment with speed, and it was impressive. I, being a bit of an old fart, use down hill stretches to rest, let my arms hang and to lower the heart rate a bit.
At this point, it should be mentioned that at the start it was a huge boost for me to see fellow Ely Runners: Peter, Lisa and Kyle, who had all volunteered at the event. What amazing people! Martin and I got a huge kick out of seeing them twice at a checkpoint they were stationed at on the big loop. Lisa gave me a packet of Love Heart sweets! She knows I always have them on me at an ultra: she is wonderful, and my main ultra running buddy!
The first loop went well, with Martin and I covering it having executed a decent pace, and with relatively little effort. Things got much tougher as we approached around mile 21 in the second loop. We had well before this stage agreed to adopt a ‘rapid’ mile/ one minute walk strategy, and it really worked! Don’t get me wrong, enough runners had remained ahead of us, and some overtook us, but the speed of our mile sections was rapid, and it meant we overtook people!
We ran and chatted with fellow Ely Runner and Ely Tri Club member, Naomi Course. She, Martin and I talked about triathlons and duathlons for a while. Naomi has a very consistent pace; it was great to meet her!
Martin and I ate well, with him eating better than I did (I still really struggle with eating during ultras, preferring to eat loads in the two days in the lead up). Martin ate his vegetarian wraps and scotch eggs and I plumped for the usual spam sarnies!
Then there was the cheesy feet! A bit like cheese scones, but thin and in the shape of feet! They are a delight, and I have encountered them on the LDWA events only before the Kings Forest!
Like I have said, the second half was tough, with me thinking Martin was dictating the pace, and with him having asked me to organise and time the run/ walk strategy. There is no doubt this was a team effort. We were a superb team. It was a joy to cross the chip timer strip at mile 26, and there was a fair bit of crowd support given we were in a forest! At the mile 26 point, with a 5 mile loop ahead of us, we were feeling good! I necked a whole bottle of Lucozade (flattened the night before and left in my bag in a designated area) and ditched my ultra vest, and off we went! Martin had to bolster me up a few times in the final 5 miles, as I felt my mood dip: we had discussed how we had passed runners who had clearly had enough and were suffering physically and mentally: we were doing OK at this stage!
I had some twinges in my left calf, and this concerned me a lot! But for some reason, the pain moved around my left leg as we progressed through the final loop, as if it my body was sharing its protest, and not allowing one area to take on all of the grief. There was a debate going on in my head at around mile 29, and the side for the prosecution, with the argument that I am an idiot, was winning! Martin was the man when it came to leadership near the end! He reminded me of where we were at mile 30 and just how near we were to finishing. I recall giving him a little push in the small of his back and telling him that I insisted that he went over the finish line before me, and I thought as he pulled away what an amazing runner Martin has become from his beginnings on the Ely Runners Beginners’ course in 2018: he has become a stronger runner than me in many ways, and this sits just right with me. Top bloke.
The finish line was superb, and I had been looking forward to it, as it was time to collect my Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras in the year. I was greeted at the finish line, presented with my tankard and photographs were taken.
I would like to thank Martin for being a superb running buddy throughout this race: we were both pleased with our performance, and we helped each other out no end.
What next? The Thetford Forest Night Trail, and the superb Thurlow 10 miler! More soon!