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The 2021 Peddars Way Ultra Marathon and the Bury to Clare Cross Country 18 miler.

It has been close to two months since my ‘home from home’ 50 mile ultra. Since then, some organised events have been creeping back onto the scene. Everyone has their own pace when it comes to returning to ‘normal’ during these strange times, and my own approach to races is to case out race organisers’ risk management details before booking any event. In my view, Positive Steps Events are managing transmission risks really well during this stage of the pandemic (I know a little about the subject due to my work); so I have had no hesitation in signing up for their races.

The Peddars Way Ultra Marathon is where distance running started for me a couple of years ago, so it has a special place in my heart. I ran it in 2019 and 2020, and, although I left it a little late, I got in again this year. It was reassuring to know that a group of Ely Runners had already entered, including the amazing Lisa, who I have twice ran the event with. Even better was the news that another two Ely Runners, Michelle and Caroline, were going to provide us with unofficial support on the day, which was allowed, as long as they did not park or set up near where the scaled down official aid stations were scheduled to be situated. If you have read any of my blog entries about ultras, you will know that I really struggle with nutrition during them, and to an extent hydration also: I tend to feel a little nauseous when I have passed the halfway stage, and eating is a huge struggle for me. I am pleased to report that I more or less nailed it for the first time at the 2021 Peddars Way! More on that shortly.

The Peddars Way Ultra – from the Suffolk border to the North Norfolk coast

It has become a tradition that a mate, Steve, takes me to and picks me up from Peddars. Lateral Flow tests all round, open windows and masks, and the tradition was maintained this year! Positive Steps placed runners in safe numbers and waves this time, and at the start I felt safe and comfortable.

Time to rewind and talk about nutrition and hydration. I like a beer – I have always liked a beer (as well as other boozes), but for reasons I won’t go into, I decided months ago that I will only have a beer on Sundays now, after my long runs. As much as I like a dark rum, I have decided that I need to leave spirits behind me. As a result, I am more hydrated most of the time, my head feels clearer and my running has most definitely improved. On the day before Peddars I hydrated well, and I focussed on carb heavy, healthy food. As usual, I decided to take the food I like to the event, no matter how unhealthy: as a fellow Ely Runner always tells me when it comes to nutrition and distance running: ‘train clean, race dirty’. So, I took advantage of the unofficial race support on the day, and Michelle and Caroline carried for me: 1x one flask of leek and potato soup; x 1 bag of new potatoes in salt and butter; x 2 hard boiled eggs; x 5 bottles of Lucozade. In my ultra vest I had more potatoes; some flat Lucozade; Love Hearts; salt and vinegar crisps and x 2 breakfast bars as well as the usual soft bottles of water. Also, this time, and for the first time, I followed the advice of friend and Ely Runner, Emily, and carried salt tablets, which I took x 1 per hour. On the morning of Peddars I drank a pint of tea and ate a large bowl of cereal.

At one of Michelle’s and Caroline’s amazing aid stations.

Running Peddars in April instead of February made a huge difference on many levels: it was simply nicer weather, we started and finished in daylight, and we did not have to run up to our shins in water along that notorious boardwalk near the start. The sunshine definitely helped me in terms of general mood. It was a gorgeous day. Fellow Ely Runners Andy, Allistair and Lisa had already started ahead of me by the time my wave was sent off. I started my race with Ely Runners Tom and Martin (who I have ran a few events with) and his brother in law, Brian.

Utterly gorgeous weather.

Tom is one serious runner at the best of times, so it was not long before he had edged off ahead of the pack, and before long we caught up with Lisa and her friend, Mike. It was nice to run in the group and for the bulk of the the race, I kind of oscillated between Lisa and Mike and Martin and Brian. For the first time, I ran chunks of a longer event alone, with my running buddies in the distance in front and behind me: I enjoyed these periods as much as I did running in their company: I had time to think and to reflect on the fact that this felt better than any Peddars, or in fact any ultra I had ran before in terms of nutrition. Caroline and Michelle were parked up more or less every 7 miles, which was a huge luxury! I didn’t eat too much when we stopped at their cars, but certainly enough to fuel for the miles ahead. I felt so much better for it, and didn’t really start to suffer until around mile 40, which is good going for me!

Physically the terrain was tough. Peddars does have some hills, but nothing too crazy; the main issue was trail that has been muddy and well trodden on, but had baked dry in the sun, making for an uneven and technical run. As a result, by mile 40, the soles of both feet with suffering, my lower back hurt, and I could tell that one big toe nail and both little ones were definitely on the way out. As I type this, the three toenails are black, but they have not fully succumbed and fallen off just yet: they will.

In the latter stages of the race, I found myself alone with Martin. His brother in law had pressed well ahead: highly impressive given his furthest distance to date had been a marathon. Martin is easy and fun company at these times, and we talked about family, food, work, and running. Martin can also be quite motivating, saying the right things just when you are starting to dip mentally.

I finished the race with Martin, and together we took in the slow downhill towards the coast, with the noticeable sea breeze from around mile 45, which disguised what was for me going to be a decent case of sunburn! The final mile involved road running as we entered and ran though Holme-next-the-Sea. As we approached the beach to rip our pages out of ‘the book’, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment mixed with elation. At my past two Peddars, when ripping out the page, it was dark, with the crashing of the sea in my ears: it was a dramatic and exciting way to finish the race. This time, it was a clear, sunny day: no drama, but still the same level of relief.

At the finish, which was this year outside the village hall instead of inside, it was great to see Andy and Alistair along with our support crew! We waited to see Lisa and Kevin come in, and then I made a swift exit with Steve, who handed me a bottle of beer and then tolerated me for the journey home.

Well done, Positive Steps on a safe and well-organised event. I will be back!

In the few weeks in the wake of Peddars I most definitely felt the training effect, and I still am, and whilst runs might not have been faster (although some have) they have all felt easier and more relaxed. Interesting then, that the Bury to Clare trail race, also laid on by Positive Steps felt much harder than Peddars.

Bury to Clare cross country, a tough run wet or dry.

Friends and Ely Runners, Emily and Lisa have both told me how lovely the Bury to Clare race is. It was full when I finally looked it up, so I added myself to the waiting list and was chuffed to bits to to be offered a place just days later. I was to run this one alone, as Emily, Lisa and fellow club member Jemma were all in a later wave to me. The stress of transport to a point to point event was removed for me as Jemma’s other half, Geoff, kindly agreed to add me to the car journey (more Lateral Flow tests, masks and open windows).

I am still unsure why, I but as I was ushered into my start pen, I made the decision that I would not be power walking hills and I would not be using the aid stations: I decided that it was a straight 18 mile run with no stopping no matter what. I knew from very early on that this would be tough, for various reasons: it was warm, sunny, exposed and a slightly humid day: there were slight hills, right from the offset; and loads of people, including runners clearly better than me, were walking the hills. On top of this, trail that had been messed up by being walked and driven on in the wet had baked and ordered into a surface that was really hard work. I did this run off the back of breakfast, some water and some salt tablets: I carried no food. I might not be one of the strongest or fastest runners around, but I reckon I am one of the most stubborn, and if I decide on an approach, it’s happening!

Gorgeous open countryside.

Running an event that was new to me, and with no company, was a lovely experience. I didn’t have to worry about navigation, as I had the map on the Suunto and it was well marked-out in terms of signage along the way, so I was able to think, and take in the scenery. I was not familiar with this route, despite this part of Suffolk being close to where I was raised; it is gorgeous open countryside, and it seemed ever changing as I progressed along the route. When I approached the first aid station, the lady with the water and snacks seemed a little surprised that I was not stopping, but I gave her a cheery wave, and as I had water on me, I pressed on with my decision to run the whole thing.

Before long I was passing and being passed by a familiar group of runners, all of whom were faster than me when running, but walked all of the hills. Me constantly passing them on the hills and them repeatedly passing me when they resumed running soon ended when their speed was making more gains than my hill running. I was not bothered by this, because despite being in some physical pain by mile 13, I could tell that I was in better condition that I have been for over a year and I was going to be able to finish this without walks or rests.

Mile 13 is when things really started to hurt, and I could feel what had been a reasonable pace start to ease off. It was at this point that a passing runner told me it was now roughly a 50 foot gentle drop into Clare. This was highly motivating news, but when I could spot Clare in the distance, I could see that the drop was interrupted by a bump in the landscape, which turned out to be a nasty upward slope before the proper drop into Clare Country Park and towards the finish line.

I was pretty done in by the time I crossed the line. I ached all over, my feet hurt, I felt burnt and I was covered in the dry salt I has sweated out. I needed full fat Coke, but there was a queue at the little shop near the finish line. A lady in the queue clearly read my mind and asked if she could get me anything and she added that it would be her treat! What a wonderful person! I was soon sat ‘comfortably’ guzzling my drink and situated so that I could cheer in Jemma, Lisa and Emily as they separately crossed the line. No matter how they felt, they all looked strong when they finished. No mean feat in warm, humid conditions on reasonably hard trail. Well done to Tom, also!

Thank you, Positive Steps. I think this will be a regular one for me, and I will be back for the December event. Hopefully with a fellow Ely Runner who wants to try out the route!

Next stop – the 2021 Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon!

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