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Bonkers virtual challenges, and the 2021 Stour Valley Path Trail 50K Ultra.

I was never a fan of virtual races, but now I think there’s a place for them, and I have ran a few over the past couple of years. I completed the Run Around the World Challenge (RATW) last year with Ely Runners team mates, and I took part in the Montane Lakeland Virtual 100 miler also. This year, I did them again, and I think I really needed to, as without a focus or challenge, I am finding I can lack motivation.

The Run Around the World Challenge is the idea of Run Things, who raise funds for Mind, and this year, GoodGym. Local teams are added to UK regional teams to see how far the latter can run around the equator. It is good competitive fun nationally, but also within your own little clubs: Ely Runners got a crew together.

In addition, I decided to repeat the Montane Lakeland Virtual 100, as it fell right in the middle of July, meaning it would give my RATW mileage quite a boost in the middle of the month: they also do quite a good medal and shirt!

I have found that once I get into a routine of running every day, and as long as some of those runs are very steady, it is not so challenging. The RATW Ely Runners team gave each other so much encouragement. What was not so straightforward was the Montane Lakeland challenge right in the middle of it. It is actually 105 miles in total, and if you are at work that week, which I was, it meant getting up early to run, and then doing the same after work: this messed with my head a little. I have no problem with lone running, but the usual suspects put in appearances to provide support.

Lauren of GirlRunningLate fame, one of the regulars providing the usual company and support.

With early and late runs, and a longer one at the weekend, I was able to finish the Lakeland 105 mile challenge in five days instead of seven. I was chuffed to then treat myself to lowering the mileage a bit!

I was able to boost the RATW and Lakeland challenges by joining in on a planned club run from March to Ely. A group of us hopped on the train and ran back via part of the Hereward Way Path. All in all we ran 22 miles together, and it was a tough one, with very hot, sunny and exposed trail, areas of nettles and brambles that were only just accessible, and a lot of humour! For a few of my club friends, this was the furthest that had ever ran, and they did amazingly in challenging conditions! A special mention has to go to friend and club buddy, Michelle Berry, who provided an aid station from her car boot, with water and goodies to keep us going! What a legend!

With RATW and the Lakeland Challenge done, and 255 miles in total ran in July, I dialled things back for a while, enjoyed the return of parkrun, and kept the legs ticking over ready for this year’s Stour Valley Path Trail 50K Ultra. I am not saying I didn’t enjoy the event this year; I did, it was a gorgeous day and a superbly ran event, but to say it didn’t go well for me would be a huge understatement.

The Stour Valley Path (SVP) 50K Ultra

Warning! I always said my blog about distance running would be ‘warts and all’.

I have learned a few lessons from the ultras I have completed over the past three years, and I thought I had nailed my in-race nutrition issues. For this SVP I was also lucky enough to enjoy some support from the amazing Debbie, whose husband James was also running the event: so I had a lift there and back, and a few goodies from the boot of her car at three intervals throughout the race (so I did not use the aid stations). I had eaten and drank well the day before, and I got loads of sleep as we were not starting until just after lunchtime. I had the right food with me and plenty of fluids, and the first 16 miles or so went well, with an initial good pace over stunning Suffolk countryside. I also felt in good shape given the effort I had put in during July: I felt light and comfortable.

Stunning Suffolk countryside, but hot and humid!

But – from about mile 16 I started to feel heavy, the sweat didn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps due to the humidity, and as a result of this, the negative thoughts crept in. The voice in my head was telling me I was crazy to carry on: I decided to push these thoughts aside and try to address the practicalities/ problem, which I suspected was dehydration, hunger, imbalanced electrolytes, or, despite my best efforts, any combination of them all. I slowed to a forced walk, ate a couple of mouthfuls of salty buttered new potatoes, an electrolyte tablet and I sipped water. Within minutes I felt a lot better, but when I resumed running I noticed I was not picking my feet up properly. I reached around mile 18. I then began to stagger and…. I was sick: really sick. Despite having eaten OK, what was coming up was only fluid: this was a worrying situation given I was only at mile 18. For the first time ever in any race I seriously entertained calling the event organisers and pulling out – my heart rate was elevated, I was covered in sweat and I had emptied my stomach of fluids. I resumed the forced walk and was amazed at how much better I felt – and feeling better hit me even more quickly than feeling unwell had. I sipped water from my soft bottles and necked another electrolyte tablet. I then broke into a slow run and abandoned any thoughts of a DNF.

More stunning views.

The rest of the race turned into an effort to keep negative thoughts at bay, to enjoy the stunning route, to be grateful for the friendly and encouraging locals and marshals, and to try and gently get fluid and some food down me whilst placing one foot in front of the other. I broke the distances down in my head into emotionally manageable chunks, and as I had just over a half marathon left to complete, I told myself it was a ten miler (a distance which I feel is my sweet spot) and a parkrun left to do.

On reflection, I think my pace was a little too fast in the first half of the race, and I didn’t force myself to slow it down given the humidity. I also whipped up a couple of hills I could and should have power-walked. I am sure these and other variables conspired to make this a tough one. Whilst writing I am also wondering what additional stress was added due to running alone; I have never ran a organised ultra event alone; so, there was no-one to tell me to snap out if, no-one to make me laugh, and no-one to consult when I felt I couldn’t trust my watch navigation.

Despite all of the above, and having been sick again at around mile 28, I managed to get back into a good rhythm, and I completed the race in a considerably better time than I did last year.

I was pleased to see James and Debbie at the finish line. I was less pleased to ask them to pull over during the journey home so I could vomit again at the roadside.

One day I’ll work out why I do this.

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