I have ultras to run soon: the Ely Tri Club Ultra this month and the Kings Forest and Stort 30 next month: plenty to focus the mind. Things don’t always go well! Read on!
When things go badly.
I am the kind of person who doesn’t always learn from mistakes the first time round. Once before I have ventured out on a longish run, seemingly well-prepared and equipped, only to realise that it has gone wrong due to heat, and poor hydration the day before. I allowed this to happen again, in a big way over the recent bank holiday weekend. The decision to run from Burwell to Woodditton and back along Devil’s Dyke was a little last-minute. I am given to understand that we had record temperatures for an August Bank Holiday in the UK, and I decided to leave my run until late morning. My thinking was that it is important to condition oneself to hot days, as you can’t choose the weather on the day of an ultra, so I ran it later on this baking day: the reality is I am lazy and wanted to lay in bed a bit longer!
I adore the Devils’ Dyke run: it is scenic, quiet, and I have never failed to see amazing wildlife. The run to Woodditton was fine, although I was very hot, and had drank over half of the water I had in my ultra vest at this halfway point. There is a garden with plum trees in Woodditton and the owners had left a sign out saying ‘help yourself’. I ate three of the most sweet and watery out of season plums, and began to feel better almost right away. This did not last long.
The run back was starting to feel very difficult, and this surprised me a little, as I had only ran just over 6.5 miles, and I am used to greater distances. I was drinking what was left of my water very quickly, and yet I could not satiate my thirst: this, together with a slight stagger in my gait and a sense of dread I could not quite put my finger on started to really concern me. It was at mile ten that I realised I might be in trouble, as I had water left, but was starting to feel quite unwell. I was covered up enough from the sun and had applied sun cream and block where needed: but wow, it was hot! The final three miles turned into a kind of run/ jog/ walk affair – and I hate to walk when out on a run. Two miles out from where I had parked my car and I seriously thought about sitting in the shade of a bush and calling someone to come and rescue me; but, being a stubborn chap (or a fool), I decided to press on. I was staggering like I was drunk when I got to the 13 mile point.
When I got to my car, I had already drank all of my water. I started the engine and got the air conditioning going, and found a bottle of Lucozade in the boot that I had decanted and flattened and put back in the bottle for the Stour Valley path. I didn’t care if it was off: it went straight down the hatch! I then sat in the car and cooled down before driving into Burwell to purchase a lot of full-fat Coke! I necked it all and sat in the car for another ten minutes before driving home. I felt rough for the rest of the day, and I genuinely feel that were I further out than three miles from my car, I would have been in serious trouble. It was an unusually hot day (proper hot), but I am sure it was down to poor hydration the day before. Maybe I will learn this time!
The 2019 Bedford Running Festival.
I ran the 10K at this running event last year with top running buddy, Lauren girlrunninglate. It is known for the superb atmosphere, pleasant route and amazing medals! No different this year! Sadly, Lauren was not able to make the 10K and Half Marathon she had booked, as she has been nursing an injury (which she was and is gutted about), but at least there were other Ely Runners to enjoy the weekend with. I decided to treat the 10K as a tempo run, as I did not want to do anything silly given some important events I have coming up, but mainly as I was due to run the half marathon the next morning. I really enjoyed the run and the route, and I was pleased enough with my time given what I wanted from the race. Fellow Ely Runner, Chris and his wife did amazingly, as did the superb Charlotte, who posed with me to help Erdinger Alkoholfrei boost their sales!
The organisation, marshalling and race village was all superb for the 10K! The next morning I made my way back to Bedford for the half marathon. I simply could not face hammering it, and once I had gathered with Ely runners, Don; Shaun and Jon, we decided to have a steady run round the race in order to take it all in. This half marathon turned out to be one I will never forget: we had huge fun and had great chats with people along the way. The three of us were in awe of a few Ely Runners who lapped us early in the race and went on to get amazing times, and we all had a laugh and a show off for the photographers. Just once in a while, I like to get round an event without doing it in anger: it is good for the soul!
Do enter the 2020 Bedford Running Festival! It is amazing, and you get extra bling for running more than one race!
The 2019 England Athletics Volunteer Awards
Due to a kind and thoughtful nomination by fellow Ely Runner, Natalie Andrews, and the fact that her nomination was shortlisted, I won the 2019 England Athletics Easter Region Volunteer award (Inclusion category). This was for inclusive approaches around the Ely Runners Beginners’ course as well as my work promoting access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism. I was invited to the Bedford International Stadium to have lunch, meet the other category winners and some England Athletics Officials, including Neil Costello, who presented me with my award. I was greeted by friendly staff, who looked after me, gave me food, showed me to the showers (I had just ran the Bedford Half Marathon) and talked me through the awards ceremony. I watched the athletics event at the Stadium and was presented with my award. It remains to be said that the stuff I have done to be nominated could not have happened without platforms such as my employer, Thera East Anglia Thera East Anglia and the amazing Ely Runners Ely Runners and its beginners’ coaches.
What next? The Round Norfolk Relay and The Ely Tri Club Ultra! I will post again after these and before the Kings Forest Ultra, the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler and the Kings Forest Ultra!
A lot has occurred since the last blog! Parkruns; a couple of Kevin League Races; coaching the amazing Ely Runners Beginners and general training. Among all of this, two awards for work around inclusive approaches on the beginners’ course as well as promotion of access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism. The first was the Ely Heroes ‘Sporting Hero’, which I won having been nominated by the amazing Lauren girlrunninglate and then, winner of the Eastern Region of the England Athletics Inclusion Awards; nominated by the amazing Natalie Andrews. All very flattering and a little surprising! One of the most touching aspects of these awards was the Ely Runners Coaches and current beginners rocking up to the awards to surprise me!
Back to running! The Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog might be THE event of the year! The race is hugely popular and takes runners through winding and undulating forest trail at High Lodge. It’s so much fun that it’s hard to describe! Just do it some day!
I had my fourth stab at RunNorwich 10K, it’s another favourite of mine, and a big event. There’s a tough hill in this one, with amazing crowd support and a great medal! Do try this one!
I was introduced to plogging recently. I feel guilty that I hadn’t heard of it before. Fellow Ely Runner, Shaun grabbed a few Ely Runners and we ran/ jogged a brief route on the outskirts of Ely whilst picking up litter, which Shaun then went on to recycle. This was a satisfying experience, we had a laugh and managed to clear a lot of litter! It is rather a shame that plogging is necessary, but I did win the strangest item of the plog having discovered a peeled boiled egg! We will be plogging again soon!
I had been so looking forward to the Stour Vally Path 50K Ultra marathon as it was due to be the first ultra for fellow Ely Runners, Jon and Emily. I had arranged to run it with them: they have both trained so hard and shown pure determination in their approach. So there now follows an account of the event, with plenty of pics! With permission from Jon and Emily, it is ‘warts and all’!
It was quite a journey to get to the start having dropped a car off at the end of the route, and it was great to see Ely Runner, Charlotte at registration. Having registered and as we waited to start I sensed some nerves and anticipation from Jon, while Emily organised herself, clearly uncomfortable at having to do so really close to the off! Eventually we were all herded off to the start.
From the offset it was clear how stunning the Suffolk countryside is along the Stour Valley Path; being a Suffolk boy, I know some of the area, and it being hilly was no surprise to me. Jon and Emily did not expect the hills to be as sudden and steep as they were! We hit a good few climbs, and we used the perfectly acceptable ultra approach of power walking them, often adopting the hands pushing on quads and knees technique.
It would be fair to say that although Emily and Jon enjoyed their first ultra, it was a strange kind of ‘enjoyed’: both of them longed for the first aid station, and there was much grumbling about the hills. As I was there in the capacity of support and encouragement, I had to read them both carefully to judge when pushing just became annoying: Jon only insulted me and told me to ++++ off a few times, and as for Emily, I was more wary of her, and took silence as a sign to ease off a bit. Later in the event, they both told me that they had appreciated the approach, which I was really pleased to hear. The first aid station was at mile 11, and it really was the most amazing oasis! I have to say that the food was the best I have encountered at an event: they laid on boiled new potatoes rolled in crushed rock salt! We all ate a little too much at this point! Emily clearly felt better at having reached this milestone, and her mood visibly lifted. Off we went!
Leaving the first aid station was tough, and we faffed about a bit too much to avoid the inevitable, but we were rewarded with even more beautiful countryside as we progressed. It was during this stage that Jon rather poetically commented “I think it was round here that Constable painted all his sh*t”: beautiful.
Moving on to section leading to the aid station at around mile 26, Emily started to struggle mentally: she was a little tearful and could not see this particular check point soon enough. I had been encouraging them to run on the flats and downhill, and leading slow runs where it was favourable. Mood-wise, Emily really picked up at the aid station, as she knew it was only a matter of 4.5 to 5 miles to go!
The final push saw a total change in Emily, who took the lead in initiating the run sections, so I backed off a bit. Jon became more chatty and less resentful at my pushing, and we covered this final section pretty rapidly: the dark had set in and we used head torches to work our way through the final sheep-filled fields and onto the finish, which was marked out with ribbons and glow sticks.
There was a short run into Cattawade before we spotted Charlotte, who had ran amazingly! She trotted along with us to the finish, which was emotional given how relieved and happy Jon and Emily looked. There was an amazing women handing out the medals, who administered hugs, whether they were wanted or not: this was superb! Emily was visibly moved, whereas Jon was more reserved, until things sank in on the way home, when he admitted to feeling a little emotional. It was a joy to see them finish what was a tough 31 miles of trial.
Ultra events make you think; they put you through a range of emotions, and they test you much more mentally than they do physically. So what next? The Kings Forest Ultra in October!
Emily and Jon, well done, and Charlotte, thank you!
At the time of writing it is 19 days since I completed the Norfolk 100K Ultra Marathon. I am still learning about recovery, and I do not recover quite as swiftly as some seasoned ultra runners! The day after the ultra I was in the usual pain that a huge effort might bring, but as is always the case with me, it was day two when it really hit me: some toenails hurt (I am losing two more); I had chaffed areas; the soles of my feet hurt (especially that area before the toes); my left hip ached; my quads felt heavy, but most of all, I felt mentally washed-out. In the week following the event, I fell asleep twice after work. This never usually happens! I felt a lot better in time for the Great Wilbraham 10K Cake Run! This is a new and very low key race, which I went along to with Lauren, and she has already written about: take a look! Girlrunnninglate
Next up was the Wolsey Waddle 20 miler, laid on by the Norfolk and Suffolk LDWA. Ely Runner and Coach, Charlotte suggested this as training run for club members Emily and Jon, who have been training hard for the Stour Valley Path 50K, which Charlotte and me are also running this August. Overall, the route took me by surprise, it was picturesque and undulating, taking in the gorgeous waterfront in the middle of Ipswich; the banks of the Estuary/ River Orwell (and under the Bridge); through woodland along stunning tracks and through the middle of wheat and barley fields. All in all, a loop of just over 20 miles. Walkers set off before runners. Charlotte fancied her own headspace so went off ahead. Emily, Jon and I set off nice and steady, with me feeling very pleased that Jon’s watch showed us which way to go and Emily had a map (she was bloody good at navigation)!
One thing stood out for us during this superb run: the Estuary part along the River Orwell was stunning to look at, but gave off an unpleasant aroma. We are sure that nastiness from sheep-grazed fields and farmland higher up on the banks had seeped into the seaweed and shingle on the banks. It was not nice, and it made for a technical run at times! Needless to say, we did not smell pleasant for the rest of the run.
The run was well-marshalled but with little by way of signage. This didn’t matter; we could tell that Emily was simply in her element reading a map and getting us through the event. I suspect she was a little disappointed at finding no need for the compass she came equipped with. The early stages of the race took as through woodland, with some rural tracks alongside cereal crops: it was beautiful. Given the pending Stour Valley Path 50K, we employed some power-walking up slopes. Otherwise, we ran!
At one point we ended up in the Docks and Central part of Ipswich; we were getting some funny looks, and the hot dog and burger stands as well as the pubs and bars were a real challenge to run past. I will be honest, I was pleased to get back into the countryside.
The food/ drink stations were interesting: the volunteers were lovely, and we were treated to ‘cheesy feet’ (mini cheese scones shaped like feet); full-fat Coke (my thing when distance running); chocolate mini-eggs; crisps and more! One food station was set up in a huge greenhouse in a park, and this was an unusual affair in my view, or at least the refreshment were: tomato, cucumber and lettuce gluten-free white bread sarnies, plates of lettuce, crisps and hot orange drink (yes, hot). We got it down us, it was fine and we were hungry. I was starting to get slightly ‘hangry’ by this stage.
The final three or so miles were tough as it got a little more hilly, we were exposed to the sun, often running though the middle of crop fields.
Nearer the end of the race we had a message from Charlotte expressing her dissatisfaction at having to run along the shores of the Estuary, and offering us an interesting name for a member of the public, who gave her poor directions (this resulted in Charlotte running an extra four miles)! I would love to quote the message, but this is a family-friendly blog.
When we finally entered the hall at the end of the event, we were chuffed to bits to discover hot food, included in the cheap price of the event! I am sure I broke the world record for the most speedily-demolished beans on toast and apple crumble with custard! Fantastic!
This was a really enjoyable event, so much so that we agreed we must do it again in 2020, and the fact that there was no medal didn’t bother us so much in the end!
Jon and Emily were such great company, and we made a superb team: Charlotte is a comedy genius.
No-one stole any potatoes and put them in their ultra vest.
I will blog again after the Stour Valley Path 50K. Until then I will just say, I still have stuff to learn around recovery and nutrition post-ultras. I have not hit other runs hard since the ultra, but I can still feel what the Norfolk 100K did to my body. I hope the energy levels increase soon and the aches go away!
I had to leave it a couple of days before describing my completion of the Norfolk 100K ultra: for two reasons. Firstly, I was too wiped out to write straight away, and secondly, I just did not know how I was going to write about it. It was so intense, so physically and mentally demanding, and so crazy, that I needed a few days to process it. I have decided that my account of the event needed to be ‘warts and all’, as some horrible stuff can happen during and after ultras, and what’s the point in logging only the positives? So here goes.
The lead up.
In the lead up, I decided to lay off the beer for a few days and hydrate well; I tried to eat sensibly (a challenge for me as I eat anything and everything); I tapered a bit, and was generally sensible. Fellow Ely Runner, Lisa, the same athlete who ran Peddars Way with me in January 2019, was running the Norfolk 100K with me, and she is a camping nerd! Lisa’s thing for tents worked in my favour, as I could tap into her excitement at the idea of camping over within just 5 minutes walk from the end of the race! We decided to camp the night before and the evening after the event. Lisa organised and provided everything! All I had to do was provide my ultra kit, a sleeping bag and pillow, and pick her up on the Friday! Result! Having taken a day’s annual leave, I collected Lisa in the middle of the Friday, we packed the car and off we went to lovely Beeston!
On arrival at Beeston, Lisa had to take charge, as I know nothing about camping/ tent erection etc. Within a very short time, we were sorted, and I was impressed with our view from the tents!
Among Lisa’s impressive camp kit was a fridge, and in this fridge, other than sausages, black pudding, bacon etc, was beer! This I struggled with a little; it was tough to have set up camp right by the sea and not sit and drink beer, but we didn’t! Lisa’s husband had prepared spag bol for us, so we got that down us, and had just a half glass of calming red wine. Beer would have to wait until after the event!
We decided to stretch our legs a little as the coast was so gorgeous where we were camped. We were right next to a high point on the cliffs known locally as ‘Beeston Bump’. We walked over it with a couple of Bungay Black Dog Running Club members we bumped into: Jules and Rachel. They were superb company and very funny; and the walk over the bump was gorgeous. Lisa and I were to find out the next evening how much it was possible to hate the Beeston Bump!
Jules and Rachel had a rather superb camper van, and they offered to get us to the place where a bus would take us to the start in the morning; so, after food, and a night’s sleep drifting off to the sound of the sea, the day arrived to tackle the Norfolk 100K ultra! We had to get up at 0400hrs! Yes, 0400hrs! There’s stuff I need to have done before I run! I am not one of these people who rocks up at a race without showering; and I like to have used the toilet and eased into the morning. We got ready swiftly, and we had checked the mandatory kit, read and re-read the race rules and laid everything out ready the night before. Soon we were in the camper van, and ferried to the point where a bus was taking loads of us to the start! It was still silly o’clock in the morning, and loads of ultra runners were looking nervous and tired. Many were trying to eat: no-one looked like they wanted to. I had forced down a bowl of cereal, a banana and a biscuit; at 0430!
We got to Castle Acre to register and had a brief from Kevin of Positive Steps. We were then told about the check point at mile 45: this went on to haunt me for a huge chunk of the event. The deal was that runners had to be there by 1800hrs. Also, if marshals felt that someone looked unwell/ unable to carry on, they would be pulled from the race! No pressure then! We were herded to the start line, counted down and sent on our way!
The enormity of covering 62 miles is something I had carefully filed in a place in my head that is designed to protect me from horrible thoughts. But I could not get over this cut off point at mile 45: Lisa kept trying to reassure me, but I felt this was on the tight side for new/ inexperienced ultra runners like myself. The early parts of race were fine, and we experienced no problems other than me feeling quite thirsty despite my hydration efforts the day before and my use of Tailwind in my bottles. Lisa and I worked as a team, reminding each other to eat, and to follow the example of experienced ultra runners, and power-walk the hills and make up time running on flat and downhill sections. The trail, was stunning throughout.
The first 32 miles was hot, humid and cloudy, and sweat was not evaporating from our bodies. I has used my Tailwind correctly and replaced it in my topped up water bottles at the first check point: despite this, I was experiencing serious hydration issues: with a constant thirst I simply couldn’t seem to satiate. To make matters worse, my efforts at eating were being thwarted by a dry mouth, leaving me struggling to swallow food but able to chew it for ages. Small sips of water helped a little. Lisa was bearing up better than I was. Then disaster struck and Lisa took a tumble, almost certainly due to fatigue kicking in caused by the heat, leaving her not lifting her feet as high as she should. She broke her fall like a pro, but still hit her face on the trail. Despite this, she got right up, made no fuss and we carried on.
I didn’t tell her at the time, but Lisa’s fall and how I felt at mile 32 seemed to be a green light for negative thoughts; I went on to have a long dark period during the run. We both had mentioned that we might go quiet, and we both understood what this meant. Instead of feeling pleased with the distance we had covered at just over half way, the distance ahead weighed heavily on my mind. I have never entertained not finishing a race: for the first time ever I went over this in my head, but it seemed impossible to me for so many reasons, so I plugged on, in silence, other than when we decided to communicate when to power walk slopes and when to resume running. We kept using the check points (there was a generous number of them) and I kept worrying about mile 45. In fact, we arrived at mile 45 well within the cut off point! But I was really worried about the possibility of being pulled from the race, as I was not doing well at all. I sat in the shade of a parked car and necked some full fat Coke like it was the last drink on earth. The marshals did not seem concerned about me, but I snuck off behind some cars further away and experienced quite a spectacular vomiting session. I composed myself and approached a concerned looking Lisa; who asked if I was OK. I gestured that we should set off again, and, with another 17 miles to cover, I explained what had happened and my fear of being pulled from the race. Things got really tough! Lisa had another fall and this time her mouth hit the trail, causing some bleeding. This caused Lisa some concern and it knocked her confidence a little. But nothing stops Lisa!
The coastal part of the run was enjoyable just because this part of the Norfolk Coast is so gorgeous. Castle Acre to the Coast is amazing also, but we had ran it before and knew what to expect. The coastal wind masked the sun burn though, as I was to find out the next day: I didn’t apply enough top ups of the factor 50! Lisa was continuously looking longingly at the sea: she wanted to get in it, and several times she ran in to cool her feet and legs. I was pretty sure my feet were ruined by now, I just wanted to keep them as they were!
I continued to struggle with hydration. Despite drinking Tailwind solution, for some reason I craved full fat coke; it is all I could think about, and it is all I necked at each check point. My ability to eat tailed off so that all I could do is pop a Love Heart Sweet between my teeth and cheek and hope that might help. Lisa was doing better than me on the food front.
My state of mind as we approached around 54 miles is hard to describe: thinking about how much I was suffering only moved aside to allow in other nasty intrusive thoughts; some related to the run and some not. I entertained the idea that I am not designed for ultra running and should give it and running up as soon as I got home; I thought about my three sons and their worries; all very real to them; I thought about war; work problems; the chances of dropping dead any second; I thought about my amazing long-suffering wife; and I thought about what would have happened if Lisa had knocked herself out when she fell in the middle of nowhere. I thought about stuff I can’t write about, and I cried. I have my dark moments at the best of times, but this experience really pushed me into a horrible place; so when we got to a concrete shelter marking the check point before the Shingle Beach, I necked a Coke and snuck round the back, sat down on the shingle and sobbed. When I went back to the marshals a male ultra runner walked over and gave me a huge hug, and then so did Lisa. I am not a huggy person really, but these physical gestures helped! A marshal told me to drink simple cold water: I did so, it was bliss! There then followed a few miles of shingle beach: just what I did not need when feeling emotionally and physically broken. This beach was very hard to run on, I had a go, but it was not going to happen, and as Lisa and I looked at the line of ultra runners way out in front of us, and those coming up behind us, we realised that they were all power walking – without exception. So we power-walked it, and it seemed to be a perpetual beach: it went on and on!
I noticed something on the Shingle Beach: runners were chatting, joking and helping each other, pulling each other up over shingle dunes in order to find easier routes, and laughing off the sheer distance to the end of the section. It was quite touching; but it was all I could find that was positive at this stage despite an enchanting location, right on the sea in amazing weather. Lisa and I knew that we had some tough Cliffside hills to combat once we got off the beach. For some reason my mood lifted, and it was so sudden it caught me by surprise. We left the beach and felt overjoyed to be on track and grass again, and I led the way as we ran and approached the first of some hills just 4 miles or so from the end. These hills were tough, and they forced us to use the ultra running technique of power-walking up them whilst pushing our hands on our quads. There was a bit of a run along the coast in Beeston before approaching Beeston Bump itself. At this stage we had put the head torches on.
Darkness happened very suddenly, and Lisa I found that we had ran ahead of the group we were with on the Shingle Beach, which gave me quite a boost! We ran down the other side of Beeston Bump, and we could see glow sticks showing us the way to the finish. We went over a pedestrian railway crossing and then heard and saw a marshal along a dark narrow lane; she called out for us to follow her and she directed us across a field. Lisa and I held hands and ran across the field towards the finish funnel.
Kevin was there and shouted ‘well done’, then we were handed medals and shirts. Lisa was given her Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras…..and we sat down. No crying, no laughing, no hugs, just sitting down. Lisa went and got a full English Breakfast from the table behind us, and I drank a lot of Coke! A lady put a tartan rug over me, I can only assume I looked about 95 years old. It was over, and we made the painful walk back to the camp site.
I thought I might leave the blog here, on a positive: we ran 62 miles! But no: I did say ‘warts and all’. I decided I must shower before drinking beer. It was about now that pain, no doubt until now shielded by adrenaline and other such wonderful chemicals, began to make an appearance. All was clearly not well in personal areas, and I knew that I had not topped up the anti-chaffing cream. Something felt very wrong along the padded parts of the soles of my feel before the toes. I had already lost my left big toe at Peddars, but something was now amis with the right one. My shoulders were killing me. I went to the campsite showers with a bin bag (to dump everything in), shower gel, a towel and a track suit. Undressing was hard, and I was grateful no-one else was in the shower area. I looked in the mirror at my reflection and didn’t really recognise the chap staring back at me: I was covered in dirt, sweat, rubbed and bloody areas and with quite a serious case of sunburn. My pants and socks were full of blood and I noticed my mouth tasted of blood. The shower was bliss and agony! I hobbled back to the tent ready for a beer and a chat with Lisa. Her tent was zipped up and a dim light illuminated the interior. I asked her if she was OK and she didn’t answer. There then followed a dilema: should I accept she had crashed and leave her alone, or should I open the tent if she didn’t answer (risking seeming weird). I quickly messaged a fellow female Ely Runner and explained the dilema: I was advised that I was to open the tent and check at once and tell Lisa she had told me to do so. Lisa was not in there. Phew! This meant she was showering. When Lisa emerged we both had a laugh at the state we were in and we retired to our respective tents, Lisa with wine and me with a beer. I slept very well!
The next morning we went and showered again and Lisa cooked a proper fry up! Bloody hero! I washed up and we took the tents down. The drive home felt much longer than it was, I was shattered and needed to go steady. Lisa was soon dropped home and I got myself back to Ely. When I got home I struggled to get out of the car. One of my sons hugged me and I blubbed again!
Over the past few days I have eaten like every meal is my last and all I can think about is food! I rested on Sunday, and had a gentle jog with the Ely Runners Beginners on Monday evening. This felt surprisingly good!
This part of my blog should close with a few words about Lisa. One of the things I have noticed about all of the Ely Runners I have met is huge mental strength, even among those people who do not see it in themselves. Lisa is among that group, and one of the toughest people I know; she dusted herself down after two nasty falls at distances that would beat many people; she always put me and others first; she made sure my camping experience was a memorable one, and she made 62 miles look easy! I am very grateful to her.
That’s all for now. Next? The Stour Vally Path 50K in August!
I have still not covered the distance I should have, given I have the Norfolk 100K coming up. I was offered some reassurance by a very experienced runner about this just last week: I was told that some runners who do the occasional bit of distance work, just push harder on their shorter races, and on the ultra day, eat well, and just slow it all down. I am not sure I am convinced, and at the very least, I like to get long distances in, as for me they serve as confidence boosters.
Although I very much enjoyed my most recent ‘confidence booster’, it didn’t end well. Fellow Ely Runner, Emily, is working towards the Stour Valley Path 50K, and at the time of writing she completed a marathon yesterday: she is disciplined when it comes to getting miles under her belt, but she does tend to prefer notching up the miles with a bit of company. So, we decided on trail: 20 miles for Emily and 26 for me. We compared notes on ultra vests, arrangements for carrying water (Emily carries a lot of water), food, and off we set along the river from Ely.
The run was fun, but wow was it a warm day on the 2nd June! We stopped a couple of times to drink and catch our breath; we noticed that our heart rates and breathing were up a bit compared to our usual. On the river, we encountered a bull, cows and their young. The bull was not shifting, and we decided that this was fine, but it was probably better if we did not spook the cows. This meant we had to climb down a steep bank, and we decided that if the cows did get bothered about us being around their calves, we could jump in the river: thankfully this was not necessary, but it did result in the beginning of some pretty stung legs for both of us. The run was uneventful other than finding that much of the trail was very overgrown, mainly with nettles and thistles. We had no choice but to push through all of this; and even though we both got stung, it was odd how Emily’s legs bled but mine didn’t. Emily and I had a good laugh during this run; she is dead interesting to talk to; very funny; and she is one of those people who says it as it, is: I need to emphasise; Emily really says it as it is! She is also very stubborn, and although she is happy to tell you what she does not enjoy about distance training, and the aspects that she finds emotionally difficult, she is tough, and gets it done. I think this must be a common theme among ultra runners; there might be calm ones, neurotic ones, all types: but all stubborn. At least I think so!
We stopped at ten miles as we had intended to do an ‘out and back’, with me carrying on for six more miles on our return to Ely. We sat and ate, but not for long, we drank more, and then headed back. Emily showed the first signs of struggling with the heat on the way back, as did I, but Emily was happy to have a bit of a polite complain and she did warn me to heed the possibility of impending grumpiness! As it turns out, there was no grumpiness, but I did have the sudden and urgent need for full-fat Coke. I had been using Tailwind in my water bottles and I had drank well enough (we had also had a water top-up at a marina we passed though). I don’t usually like full-fat Coke, but I have found myself craving it during and after long runs. We stopped at a riverside pub and I was satiated. Or so I thought. I noticed I was thirsty; all of the time, even though I had steadily drank around two litres of water with Tailwind and the Coke. We both started to feel a little worse for wear as we entered Ely. Emily and I parted ways, and I spotted an Ice cream van by the river: armed with one orange ice lolly, I ran with it through Ely Country Park, determined to get the additional six miles in. I ran a loop, which saw me approach Ely Sailing Club, I was slowing down and not feeling well. I laid down on the grass and had a think. My parents’ house was very near by, so I ran there and took stock. My Mother looked very worried as I threw myself onto a shaded part of her lawn. I necked half of the pint of squash she gave me, and I readily accepted her offer of a lift home. My heart rate was higher than usual for a run like this. The idea of pushing myself through things I do not want to do went out the window, as this time, there was clearly something wrong. I have coped with these distances and much further before, and I have ran in the heat.
I spoke with a few people about this run, and in my case, it is likely that I went out insufficiently hydrated before; and I mean the night and day before the run. In Emily’s case, she just felt it was the heat that caught her out. I still enjoyed this run and put it down to experience. I must hydrate more efficiently the day before long runs.
Four days later was the Kevin Henry League race in Newmarket. I love these events and the feeling that comes from seeing so many Ely Runners turning up and supporting each other. I decided about 0.5K in to give it a bit of welly. I finished the race way slower than I did at the same venue last year (when I got my 5K PB), but it was fun!
There then followed rest days, and the odd bit of trail running. I had a rough experience after Littleport parkrun, having run to and completed this superb event, the run back was into a strong headwind, in rain and through plenty of standing water. Before I left Littleport, three people offered me lifts: but I was back in the ‘right’ frame of mind.
The 2019 Sutton Beast was superb! It is a tough race, but I decided to wind it down a little, to try running at a lower heart rate and to pace a good friend. I enjoyed it, for many reasons, not least because Sutton Beast was my first ever organised event a few years ago. My sons loved the Mini Beast!
The Ely Runners 2019 10K handicap was huge fun, not least because of the banter in the lead up (the word ‘bandit’ crops up a LOT). I felt I did OK, I overtook a few people and a few more overtook me. I was slower than last year, but I gave it a little bit of stick.
Today, I caught the early train from Ely to Waterbeach so that I could run back along the river. The nettles situation was even worse than when I ran with Emily: I had little choice but to run through them. This led to tingling over both legs all day. I encountered the same bull and herd as I did when running with Emily, and again, I stopped for a sandwich and to just sit and look. I took in some audio book during this run: “Extraordinary Insects” by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson. Absolutely fascinating. I find Audible and Podcasts a joy on long runs if I am alone. This run went well, I enjoyed it, no issues.
In just under a week, I will be having a stab at the Norfolk 100K with Lisa (who I ran Peddars Way with back in January). This is what my lack of training has been leading up to! I will blog a post-mortem at some point!
All kinds of stuff has been going on, but given I have the Norfolk 100K to run in late June, not enough distance work has been going on! I can’t change what I haven’t done, but some superb stuff has happened instead! This blog has turned into a journal now; and it is my hope that as it develops, it becomes punctuated with ultras!
My twin sons have been getting into parkrun! This makes me very happy! Alfie and Lewis have both ran Littleport parkrun, and recently, Lewis and me made the trip over to Brandon! Fingers crossed they keep interested! They are both knocking out sub-29s at the moment!
I have known for some time that speed/ interval work has been lacking in my own training: there are reasons for this, and work clashing with the club’s Tuesday night sessions is one of them. This is all due to change! Recently, Lauren of girlrunninglate fame (Lauren’s superb blog) led a superb speed session at the track in St Ives. I won’t get into the structure of her session, but I will say that it was superb, challenging, fun, and she explained the logic behind it, and every stage she delivered. I surprised myself a little during a final 200m sprint: I just don’t recall running that fast since I was in my 20s, and I can still do it! Lauren’s session inspired me: more speed work to come!
I found a superb hill to run up and down in Mallorca! Na Penyal! Superb training, very hard work, over 200m of elevation, but gorgeous! During my stay in Mallorca I ran up Na Panyal twice, once with fellow Ely Runner, Chris Clowe (while the rest of our families sat by the pool) and once alone. I am not good with heights, and I found the descents really nerve-racking; Chris seemed a little preoccupied with snakes! If only we had a Na Penyal in Ely!
Na Penyal about to be conquered.
At the top.
View from the direction we climbed.
Kings Lynn GEAR 10K 2019. Not as fast as last year, but I was happy with my time, and I actually felt strong and relaxed! It is not an especially tough race, and there is some potential for great times, but not for me and my ‘slower than a year ago’ body! A highlight for me was a quick catch up with Lisa at the start line: she is a legend!
Today felt like the start (or restart) of proper training in that I got back into the mindset I occupied prior to Peddars Way: doing stuff I don’t want to. I wanted to run around Grafham Water with fellow club members today; it is a gorgeous run, but I did not want to do it twice! My thinking in the lead up to ultras is that I must push myself out of my comfort zone: when I hear that voice trying to talk me out of things, I try to dismiss it and push on! Luckily I was accompanied by the superb Ely Runner, Peter, for lap one; he allowed me to set the pace, which was easy for him, and then he pushed ahead when it was time for the second lap. 17 hot and sweaty miles later, the job was done. 17 miles is not so far in the scheme of things, but I had swatted away that voice telling me to stop after lap one: that is the main thing!
It’s been a while since my last blog. I have used Peddars as an excuse for my sluggish running for too long, and now I have put all the weight back on (and maybe a bit more). It is time for me to train properly again as I have signed up for the Norfolk 100K in June and the Stour Valley Path 50K in August. But for now, some ramblings on what I have been up to.
March 29th was the Night Trail 10K at High Lodge. This was a superb event, with a great Ely Runners turnout.
Night trail is massive fun, especially if you are with your running buddies. This was a technical run in that you had to watch where your feet landed, almost all the time, and it was pitch-dark apart from the area illuminated by your own head-torch (just in front of your feet) and the spot lights of other head-torches ahead and behind you. One thing I noticed was how tough it was when you found yourself running uphill and had no warning of it due to the dark: it just suddenly got harder! I will be repeating this one next year!
I might as well take the opportunity to harp on a bit about the Ely Runners Beginners’ course, simply because it is so brilliant. It is the success story of a couple of Ely Runners who set it up years ago, and a band of coaches who have kept the course going until the present day. I now co-ordinate/ lead the course. It results in two groups of people graduating each year having trained to improve their running; especially at the 5K distance. Many of the graduates of the course complete a local parkrun, with club members supporting them. A good few of them go on to the join the club. It all works due to the dedication and enthusiasm of a group of coaches who give up their time! I could go on about this forever, because I love it so much. If anyone wants to know more, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I did something a little different on April 14th: The Rutland Spring Half Marathon. An old University buddy/ one of my very closest friends was running it, and he suggested I sign up: I am highly suggestible and vulnerable when people ask me to sign up for stuff. No, really!
My mate, Ralph, is a member of Desborough & Rothwell Running Club. We first met when I was 18, and I think the Rutland Half is the only thing we have ever done together that has not involved beer! Ralph sent me some of his recent shorter distance times a day or two before the race, and these concerned me in that it was agreed that I would be pacing him! It was a stunning day when we met up at Rutland Water, and I was chuffed to see fellow Ely Runners, Andy and Caroline.
With the awesome Andy and Caroline
Ralph, post the Rutland Half Marathon.
The scenery around Rutland Water is gorgeous, and as the race started, my immediate thoughts were around how the race description of ‘undulating’ was not accurate: ‘hilly’ is how this fella from the Fens would describe it!
In my view, Ralph didn’t need me to pace him, as we were pretty much at a similar pace at all times, apart from uphill, when I seemed to go on the attack, and downhill, when I rested and Ralph used these times to speed up. We managed to have a natter, but not much of one, as our pace and the hills were just challenging enough to make conversation difficult. We took in the scenery. As we had started the race at the back, we found ourselves motivated by reeling in plenty of runners (but then, a good few reeled us in). Then there was the end of the race, a sudden and steep hill, and the kind that makes your heart race, a LOT! Just when I was relieved to have beaten the hill, another final and even steeper one was upon us, which Ralph and I chipped away at before the finish! This is another race I will repeat, and perhaps I enjoyed it all the more for spending time with an old friend.
So, it is time to start the long runs again, but this time, I’ll need to learn to run a bit further and in warmer temperatures. I have my French Foreign Legion hat ready: it’ll be hot!
After the Marriott’s Way Half Marathon, I was left feeling I needed more rest, so, I have tried to do less between booked races. Yet still, I am left feeling that the engine is strong, yet the body is weak. Only yesterday, a very experienced runner and coach told me that I should expect to feel the effects of Peddars for a long time, especially given it was my first ultra! This makes sense, as I have been able to take part in and complete all of my booked events, but they have felt really tough!
This year’s Cambridge Half Marathon was superb as usual, and this year I decided to worry less about time and more about enjoying the race and taking it in more! This is why I jumped at the opportunity of running this amazing event with Pete and Lauren (Lauren – girl running late). What I forgot, is that their easy run and pace is not mine! Their easy pace is not at my maximum effort, but it is not at my easy pace! This will explain why all the way around this race, Pete looked totally relaxed and smiley, and Lauren was grinning, laughing and chatting for the whole duration: they really enjoyed it! I did too, but I was busting a gut! Plenty of Ely Runners laughed at the event photos, where Pete and Lauren were clearly having a ball, and I looked quite serious! Despite me urging them to go off and get a better time, they refused and stuck with me to the end. My time was OK, but slower than last year (a common theme for me in 2019).
I love to cycle, and I signed up for the Ely Tri Club Duathlon ages ago. I did not train for it properly, and knocked out just two brick sessions in the weeks leading up to the event. A few days before the duathlon, Kyle, known locally at ‘Sproketman,’ visited me at home and serviced my bike. He did a superb job, sorting my surrealist gears and adjusting the seat as well as giving the bike an all over tune-up. Do get Sproketman to look at your bike! Sproketman
The weather was dreadful on the morning of the duathlon, and I really didn’t know what I was doing; I had no real idea how to approach the transitions, and I was a little worried about breaking any of the strict rules (like I was going to be slipstreaming anyone)! This was another event Lauren was signed up for, and she showed up looking less than happy (cold, tired and generally cheesed off about being there). Lauren went on to finish as first lady in her age category: quite typical of her to arrive looking so fed up and then leave with a trophy!
The first 5K was fine, with me keeping at a steady pace through the village and around a disused airfield before getting back to the transition area; it was here that I realised belting out 5K was not conducive to remembering what to do in the transition pen. Luckily, Ely Runner and Ely Tri Club member, Samantha was at hand and at about the same stage in the race as I was: she gave me some advice, and a marshal yelled at me to turn my bib number round as I ran my bike out to the road. Physically, the 25K cycle felt fine, but mentally it was a huge challenge. There was a gale and almost horizontal rain at some stages, and at Way Head and Coveney, the weather was so bad it almost got me blubbing. It was as I pulled into the transition area back at the start that thing started to go pear-shaped. My hands were frozen as I dismounted from the bike, and I was pretty much soaked through; thinking was a struggle let alone getting ready for the final 5K run. Consequently, my transition was around two minutes long! Kyle and Nick (Ely Runner) both yelled lots of encouragement at me, and Nick had a bit of a laugh at my soaked and muddy backside! I ditched my cycling jacket, turned my number round and then covered 5K again, but not really in a way that could accurately be described as running. My legs were like two strands of cooked spaghetti, and the final leg of this event was really tough mentally. I am fairly sure what I was feeling was not just the effects of the duathlon, but the remnants of Peddars Way! Fun though!
Brandon parkrun said it was their birthday, and fancy dress would be welcome. Two people turned up in fancy dress. I must have lost a stone in weight from sweating, and the less said about the whole affair the better!
Having ran the inaugural Oundle 20 Mile race last year, I thought it would be worth giving it another bash. Speedy Pete wanted to achieve his furthest distance to date and not go out too fast, so we agreed he would run with me for a while. Pete and I had a good natter for the first seven miles, with him finding conversation a little easier than I did (again, his easy pace is not necessarily mine). Pete seemed so relaxed at mile seven that I urged him to go off ahead at mile seven instead of the planned mile ten: off he went!
I was OK until about mile seventeen, when I had to strip down to my vest and endure the last part of the race, which seemed to be uphill and into a direct headwind! This race is in a beautiful part of the world, so, despite it being tough I did my best to keep my head up and take it all in. The final mile was uphill, with the wind making it a very challenging finish. I managed a sprint finish of sorts given that Pete and Rob (Ely Runner) were there yelling encouragement. Pete Rob, and another Ely Runner, Alex, all achieved superb times; I was happy enough, but in keeping with 2019’s theme, I was slower than last year. Superb medal!
This blog is generally ramblings when it comes to content as I am not training for an ultra at present (but I soon will be). I am struck by how long after Peddars I am feeling its effects. I lost a fair amount of weight and feel quite weak. I have more rest between events to do, more eating to enjoy, and some serious strength and conditioning work to plan.
I have some great events booked and on the calendar. More another time.
I have not known what direction to take the blog since I completed the Peddars Way Trail Ultra. I felt a bit of low mood settle in after the initial high of completing the event, but I soon snapped out of this, and, as predicted by several running colleagues, I signed up for more: The Norfolk 100K and the Stour Valley Path 50K. I must admit, I can’t wait! So, in terms of the blog; I’ll write about events that stand out for me, and stuff that leads up to ultras.
In terms of the initial recovery after Peddars, this went better than I thought it would. I had some toenail issues (some are still black); I lost some weight (a stone overall since the training and the event itself), and I remained very hungry for three days. I felt back to normal in just under a week.
I have ran and cycled a bit since Peddars, but the main events since then have been the Ely Runners Annual Cross Country Championships, Brandon parkrun (only because it is one of my favourites), and the Marriott’s Way Trial Half Marathon.
I was pleased with my run at the XC Championships. The race got easier after the first two loops of Cherry Hill and The Deans Meadow, but it was slippery and tough enough to slow me down in places where I would have performed better had I got some spikes: I’ll be investing in some. The less said about the swearing the better! As tough as this race was, I was pleased in general, and especially with my sprint finish. It’s a race I dread, but enjoy (weird).
There has been the usual parkrun obsession, but a trip back to a favourite stands out. Brandon is a gorgeous course and it always has a great atmosphere. Lauren (regular running buddy), and blogger (see below) always jumps at a chance to run Brandon, and it was good to see Andrew S turn up! As usual, Lauren did her ‘make it look easy’ routine, and crossed the finish as first lady, with a time a little quicker than my 5K PB (not jealous). That hill in the middle felt tough, and I realised that I might not have rested after Peddars in quite the way I should have. It was maybe a bit silly to run this parkrun the day before a trail half marathon, but there you go.
Andrew S and I arrived at the start of the Marriott’s Way Trail Half Marathon nice and early (we both like to be dead early). A coffee and a sausage rolled was necked, and we were soon ushered to the start and sent on our way. I had debated long and hard about what to wear, and the Merino wool base layer had worked out so well for me at Peddars; I am so glad I went for the vest; it was hot! Andrew and I ran together for most of the race, with me setting the pace for the first half, and him for the second. However, things went wrong for me from mile 9, with my quads and hip really playing up. I felt tired, heavy and sluggish. Andrew pulled off in the second half, and rightly so, as he was on form and running a superb pace. The trail is gorgeous, and I actually took it in instead of staring at the ground. The last two miles was tough, but I managed a decent time for the course, and I was very pleased to enter the Village Hall for a medal, shirt, full-fat Coke and food!
More rest is needed, so nothing for a week. More soon!
The big day arrived! I have described it, and I have used plenty of photographs, for which I don’t apologise!
Between the big day and the Ultra Marathon, I was as sensible as I could be given the ill-thought-out decision to participate in RED January! In this time I ran no more than 11K in any one go, and used cycling to rest. On reflection, I think I felt the benefits of distance training for the first time at the Snetterton Race Track 10K on the 20th of January: there was no PB for me, but, for the first time in ages I felt light, and running at close to maximum effort felt in some way easier than it has for a long time. I was happy!
In short, the lead up to Peddars involved keeping the legs moving, eating well, and trying not to fret.
The day before Peddars I took a day’s annual leave, rested and ate well (I ate a lot, but not so much as to get bloated). I remained hydrated, and exchanged messages with Lisa (my running partner for the day) and Steve (lift/ race support). A tip I would give to any one embarking on their first ultra is to check your kit, especially the mandatory contents for the race, and have it all ready the night before. Mine was checked, double checked and laid out on the living room floor ready! I had my tailwind/ water solution in the collapsible bottles and stuck in the fridge ready too. I am not a ‘bed early person’ and I resent going to sleep at the best of times: it’s a waste of time, but I turned in ‘early’ all the same. It was a fitful night’s sleep, but I didn’t feel too bad in the morning. I went for a breakfast I am used to (Weetabix, milk, a bit of sugar and a banana) and a pint of tea! Before I knew it, Steve had picked me up and we were off to collect Lisa from Newmarket.
It was good to have a natter with Lisa on the way to the start, as she is pretty relaxed, and crucially, she has a good few ultras and marathons under her belt. We did struggle a little to find the start (which was in the middle of nowhere and it was still dark), but it wasn’t long before we saw flags, people in Hi Vis, and car headlights. It was at this point that I realised that I should have warned Lisa about Steve (lovely bloke, great friend, but at times he blurts stuff out). As we pulled up alongside the event start, Steve said “well, this is either the start, or it’s the most organised dogging site in the UK”. Brilliant.
I registered quickly. The system for the mandatory kit check was to pick a numbered ping pong ball from a bag; the numbers were coded to a list of items – I was asked to show my head torch: job done! Lisa and I got ready with pinned bib numbers and ankle tag chips, and then Andy and Caroline arrived! I have to say, I was touched that these two excellent Ely Runners showed up! They are training for their own ultra, they were smiling and full of encouragement!
After a trip into the bushes for a nervous emptying of the bladder, I found that things suddenly moved very quickly, for which I am thankful! We got a quick photo taken with fellow Ely Runners, Kyle and David, and then, after a briefing from Kevin of ‘Positive Steps, there was a count down, and we were off!
Lisa and I set off at a relaxed pace, and I felt happy and full of anticipation. I decided that I would actually look around and take this event in, as I do have a habit of becoming very introspective on long runs, with a lot of time spent looking at the ground a few feet in front of me. The countryside was beautiful this early on in the day, and the weather was perfect: cool, with just a slight breeze.
The pack thinned out surprisingly quickly, and soon, after the odd natter with other runners, Lisa and I had time to settle down and have a chat. I’ll get this bit out of the way now: Lisa is very laid back and cheerful, she is an experienced ultra runner and has given me lots of advice in the lead up to the event. If my experience of Peddars is anything to go by, if you decide to run with someone you know (but not so well) at a tough event such as an ultra, you will get to know them surprisingly well – and quickly! You can’t adhere to the usual social niceties in situations like this, and before long, we had provided look out and cover for each other, facing away from the forest as one of us legged it into undergrowth to do things we much prefer to do in the comfort of our own bathrooms! We shared potted histories of our lives, and covered subjects such as: musical tastes; medical histories; family; food preferences; where we have lived; work; and our thoughts on running. I could not have wished for a more cheerful, down to earth, funny and clever running companion!
The first quarter of the event was a bit of a bit of a blur to me. I noticed something I had heard of though: many ultra runners walk up hills, and that includes the runners who are experienced. I have always had a problem with walking during races, but this made sense. So, we like many other runners power-walked up hills and used the flat sections and down hill to run at a good and comfortable pace: it makes huge sense!
Soon we arrived at the first aid station at about 13 miles. I had been drinking as my friends at tailwind and my fellow-runner Kyle had advised: little and often. I had however struggled to eat. I simply wasn’t hungry, and just like during training runs, I could only eat once stationary! This aid station, although small, and on the side of a track was full of goodies, and staffed by friendly and encouraging volunteers! I am not a fan of full-fat coke at all, but it is superb when distance running (for me any way), I got the collapsible cup out and got plenty of this unhealthy rubbish down me, as well as some amazing ‘powerballs’ made by one of the ladies at the station. These tasted like Rice Crispies, peanut butter and desiccated coconut (perhaps because that was what they were made of). Amazing! I necked four! Soon we were off again!
Things got a little tougher as we edged into the second quarter of the race. The trail became a little more challenging here and there, and the course was straight but undulating. The Peddars Way Trail is very well-marked out, but, I would advise anyone who runs Peddars for the first time to keep an eye on the signs, as you can miss a slight deviation on the route easily. Lisa and I did this twice, but, each time, other runners advised us, or the amazing GPS maps on our phones got us back on course quickly.
As I had trained up to the 30 mile distance, I still felt strong as we got nearer to the 26 mile aid station at Castle Acre. I had also taken on board a few nutrition tips from Lisa, one of which was chicken Fridge Raiders: watery and easy to eat, we stopped and availed ourselves of them a few times. I also managed to nibble a few Chai Charge energy and endurance bars. I know this all helped.
Soon we arrived at the Village Hall at Castle Acre. Having reassured myself so far by mentally breaking the event up into sections, with 24 miles being a major stage for me, this aid station was a most welcome point! Over half way! Lisa had told me about her experience of hallucinations during ultras, I was reminded of this as I saw Kyle sitting in the Village Hall. I wondered in what parallel universe could I ever hope to find Kyle still at an aid station when I arrived at it? I went over for a chat and it turned out that despite having led the field for the first half, Kyle had felt really unwell and particularly nauseous: he had had to bail, and his lift home was on its way. Despite looking as pale as Casper the Ghost, Kyle hid his disappointment well, and he even topped up my water bottles with tailwind for me. Having clogged up my funnel and perhaps joked too loudly about white powder, Kyle helped me no end while I went and discovered the joys of soup and a cup of tea during an ultra! Usually if someone hands me a cup of tea that is less than hot and of the wrong strength/ colour, I will politely refuse it: I am a snob when it comes to how tea should be presented. The milky, sweet and less than hot tea I drank tasted like nectar, handed to me by a God rather than a small lady with a concerned and yet cheerful smile. As for the soup, I don’t know what it was (it was amazing), but I suspect the Caste Acre aid station soup has ruined all future soup experiences for me: how will I ever derive any joy from soup again? All of this happened whilst Lisa continued smiling and chatting to fellow runners!
As we left the 26 mile aid station, I could feel the first signs of fatigue; almost certainly due to having sat down as much as it was from having covered 26 miles of trail in a reasonably decent time. My lower back, hips and the toes on my left foot were all letting me know they were not happy. A little way into the second half it had occurred to me that I had been dictating an almost fartlek approach: trying to identify nearby landmarks to walk to on hills, and then making sure we ran on ‘smooth’, flatter trail and down hill at a decent pace. Was I being bossy? Would Lisa come to hate me for my unreasonable approach, like the troops of Easy Company hated Captain Sobel? I decided to check with Lisa if she was OK with what I had been doing. It turns out that she really appreciated and needed this structured way of tackling things! Good! But I tried to be way more consultative from thereon.
The trail was lovely, with only 8 miles to the third aid station, which felt like not such a big deal to me. Our conversation started to get a bit weird at times in the second half, with Lisa admitting that she can ramble and go off course depending on how her blood sugars are! We starting seeing ever more elaborate shapes in trees and clouds. I claim the tin man from The Wizard of Oz as one of the best sightings of the second half.
Things got a little bit tougher for me as we approached the third aid station, and I started to entertain just a few dark thoughts. That being said, Lisa and I had both agreed that running Peddars together had helped so far in terms of remaining positive. Even during periods of running a long way without talking, it helped knowing that your running buddy was right next to you.
The third and final aid station was laid on by Bungay Black Dog Running club. Seeing their flag in the distance bolstered me up no end. Lisa had told me that they provide tea and warm snacks! The lady and gentleman at this station were full of cheer and gave me more coke, tea, and warm sausage rolls! Pure joy! Lisa sat in a deck chair and caned mini Battenburg cakes!
Off we went for the final push. We had 14 miles to go. As we ran, refreshed from the aid station, Lisa tried to described 14 miles to me in ways she felt might sound more positive. We laughed about this: it was 14 miles! I very much appreciated her efforts at bolstering me along!
By the way, Lisa had a made a big deal of us passing the 30 mile mark, as that distance was the furthest I had ever ran before Peddars! I appreciated this also!
It is hard to describe from the third aid station to about 4 miles from the finish. I do recall consulting the GPS map and being reassured by the little cursor! It looked so close to the coast. The run leading to 40 miles is a blur to me, as we settled into our routine, paused quickly to eat and drink, and repeated this regularly in order to remain focussed. Things started to feel hard! I am mentally stronger than I am physically, and I maintain that without mental strength, things will go wrong at these kinds of stages, no matter how tough you are physically. Despite Lisa’s presence, the duel in my head began, with ‘positive Justin’ and ‘negative Justin’ trying to get the upper hand over each other. I was just an observer. Darkness crept up on us, and before long, we needed torches. I was glad of this, as I felt the need to blub a bit at around 41 miles. I did so for a while, keeping just in front of Lisa. I answered some messages: my Mother, who was worrying all day; Steve, who I had tried to keep appraised of how far were were from the finish; my long-suffering wife and to Lauren, who had kept sending encouraging messages in capitals (hero).
The final 4 miles was tough, but for some reason we got a bit of a second wind! We went through a village and glow sticks were strung up in strategic places to mark the way for runners. Then came a long section, which felt like a gentle decline on trial with trees and bushes very close on both sides; Lisa and I hit this section at what felt like a fair pace. We did not stop! I was down to just the Merino Wool base layer at this stage, and the coastal wind and start of rain was not bothering me; we just kept focussing on the trail and running. We hit a final bit of village, until groups of people yelled encouragement and we headed down towards the beach. Lisa led the way to where the infamous book was hanging from a sign. We could hear the sea, and knew it was very near but we couldn’t see it. We ripped out our pages and headed back to the Village Hall at Holme-next-the Sea. I wanted Lisa to cross the chip line inside the hall first, but she was having none of it, so, we legged it across the line hand in hand. I was given a medal and a shirt and everyone inside burst into applause, with lots of shouts of ‘well done!’
This was an emotional moment for me, and on seeing Steve I had a little blub and went to sit down and request a baked potato! An amazing cup of tea was placed in front of me, and Lisa and I were given baked potatoes with cheese and beans. Another runner came and sat opposite us and burst into tears. I told her I had done the same and Lisa went around the table to hug and comfort the sobbing lady. Many people crossed the line crying!
I fear Lisa and Steve might be emotionally damaged at having witnessed me strip off, complete with black KT tape on each nipple! I chatted with Glyn Manton, a Norfolk runner I sometimes bump into. We made our way to the car.
Steve is a hero! Inside the car was a glass and bottle of beer for each of us (not Steve)!
While Steve drove us home, we drank beer and reflected on the race! I felt very happy!
I hope that this record goes some way towards helping any runner who thinks of embarking on their first ultra.
I will be running another!
Other people are vital in the lead up to, during and after such events. The support and advice has been amazing, Lisa got me through it, and I am amazed at the comments and congratulations I have received. If I leave anyone out I am sorry, but in terms of ultra advice, I feel I must offer my total gratitude to Kyle, David, Charlotte and Lisa of Ely Runners.
Diet and training is everything.
Sports massage helps! Thanks, Becky!
I still don’t know why I did it.
I love my family for putting up with it all!
I will leave this blog for a while. I want to continue it, but with a new focus after a break and a bit of a think. I hope you have enjoyed it. Do comment!