The 2019 Round Norfolk Relay
My last blog entry covered a bit of a disastrous training run on Devil’s Dyke in Cambridgeshire: I am pleased to start this entry with what I regard as a successful contribution to my club’s entry in the 2019 Round Norfolk Relay (RNR). This will be offset by an enjoyable but far from straightforward Ely Tri Club Ultra (more on that later).
Within my running club is a small, dedicated team, who’s task it is to put together and organise runners for each leg of this popular relay event. Back when the team was being put together, it seemed like a great idea to take on leg number 12: the longest stetch at 19.67 miles. The time to actually run it came round very quickly, and the nerves really kicked in; much more than usual. I suspect this is because of the awareness of the efforts of team mates covering the other legs of the race. Not only this: leg 12 is the longest, it requires a steady and rapid pace (not power walking up hills as in ultra marathons), and it has to be started at about half past midnight with support from team members following you in a van.
Given I have three young sons, who I could not expect to keep quiet while I tried to sleep during usual hours, I decided to sleep at my parent’s home on the Saturday afternoon, having already volunteered as a steady pacer at Littleport parkrun that morning. I am not overly keen on going to bed at night, let alone during the day, so I did not get a lot of sleep, but, given my Mum was involved, I got fed very well!
Fast forward to 22:30 hours on the Saturday night, I found myself in my car in a field in Scole, on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border. There were other runners around already, and some friendly RNR volunteers to chat with. I sat and used my iPhone to check the progress of the Ely Runners in the legs just before me, and then I jogged the first mile of my leg, just to check that I knew the way out of Scole before the long, straight stretch of around 16 miles.
It wasn’t long before Ely Runners volunteers, Caroline and Michelle showed up to reassure me, and to transport my car to the end of my leg. Even though we had a fair wait until it was time for the baton to be handed over to me, it came along quite quickly. I was expected to finished my leg with a time of 2:57:02, requiring of me a constant 9-minute mile pace over just under 20 miles. Fellow Ely Runner (and Michelle’s hubby), Allistair run down the road towards me (looking very strong), handed to me the baton, and I was off, with the van following just behind me.
The support van following me was being driven by Ely Runners, James and Andy, and in the back was Lisa (who I ran Peddars Way and the Norfolk 100 with). They made it clear I should gesture if I needed anything, and apart from me asking for a drink three times, and for the occasional chat and word of support from them, they left me to it.
I was running under 9 minute miles from the off, and I put this down to a fast start (as is often the case), but, it turned out I had sub-9 minute miles in me all the way! I did NOT expect this, and although I got overtaken by plenty of leg 12 competitors, it was a great feeling for me to overtake a couple of runners! The middle part of the race felt good, with me knocking out my fastest pace. Running at night in the cool suited me, and as I don’t really do loneliness, and like solitary running, the dark and quiet was just fine. The last couple of miles was tough given I had been pushing myself, but once I could see fellow Ely Runner, Matthew, waiting for the baton, I managed a sprint finish. James handed me my medal, and the van disappeared, following a rapid Matthew!
Caroline was at Thetford, the end of my leg, to give me a hug (poor lady – I was really quite sweaty) and to hand me my car keys.
The drive home was interesting: I had pushed this race hard, and I had completed it inside my predicted time (just). I was very dehydrated, and I necked a lot of water during a steady drive home. I pulled over twice in Newmarket to vomit by the roadside. When I got home I snuck indoors and got into the bed in the spare room, with the cold shivers. It took me just under a week to properly recover. It was a performance I was happy with, even if it did hurt! Special thanks to the Ely Runners organisers/ van support and club volunteers, as well as the other leg runners. I can’t wait for the 2020 RNR, but I do not want leg 12 again!
The 2019 Ely Tri Club Ultra Marathon
I really did prepare for the 41 mile Ely Tri Club Ultra. I slept well, ate sensibly and hydrated adequately for 24 hours in the lead up to the event. The race was from outside Ely Cathedral to not far from Jesus Green in Cambridge (and back the same way). I was pleased to be running this event with ultra buddy, Lisa, and fellow Ely Runner, Martin (his first ultra).
It all started off just fine after a natter with various marshals and fellow runners; if not a tad too quickly for my liking. I noticed that it was not that far after we left Ely and headed along the river that a couple of people had adopted a very early run/ walk strategy. There is nothing wrong with that: am a well aware of how superbly it can work and how quickly distances can be covered with this approach. We did not take this approach until the second half of the race, and we got to Cambridge and the half way point (20.5 miles) pretty quickly, having stopped only briefly at the superb aid stations. It should be noted that Ely Tri Club, who have just taken this race on, organised it amazingly: the marshals were caring; funny and attentive; the course was well-marked out and the aid stations were plentiful and generously stocked. Martin was great company (as expected), and Lisa, who I am now quite used to, was predictably smiley, reassuring and enthusiastic. The weather on this run oscillated between exposed sun, and heavy rain, with a pretty constant wind (in our faces on the way out). It was OK.
Things started to go a little wrong towards the end of the first half: I could feel aching around the site of an old leg break. I have had some metal work in my left tibia for over 20 years now. It does not play up often, but when it does, it really can slow me down. This time, it was not about to go away, and this, coupled with some low-level nausea from overindulgence in full fat coke, placed a dark cloud over me for a good proportion of the second half.
I noted at between 33 and 35 miles, Martin started to question the sanity of running this far. If this was him edging into the mental struggles that arise on ultras, he was very dignified and calm about it. I had started to complain regularly and quite openly, with a marked deterioration in my language. As usual, Lisa, who also struggled in the second half, had positive things to say and kept feeding us doses of that smile! When there was around 5 miles to go, Martin made it clear that a run/walk approach this close to the end was no longer for him, as he wanted it to over and done with: with that he pulled away. About two miles from the finish, Lisa announced that she had got a second wind, and she also pulled ahead. Although I did not have it in me to keep up with Lisa (my knee and my guts would not permit it), Lisa being slightly in front of me did keep me going, especially given I could see two other runners in the distance behind me. I decided I wanted to keep them there. Cherry Hill in Ely is the last thing you want at the end of a 41 mile ultra, but once at the top and through The Porta, it felt amazing to run along The Gallery and left to the finish on Palace Green.
The Ely Tri Club team and volunteers really made a fuss of us at the end, and they looked after me given how wobbly I was as I approached their tent. I was given a deck chair and a drink and I was watched for a few minutes. What a superb event! What superb running buddies! A huge congratulations to Martin for his first ultra performance in tough conditions!
Like an idiot, I have the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler just a week after the Ely Tri Ultra, then the Kings Forest Ultra: we shall see.