After a heavy October, I have kicked back a bit: I have ran way fewer miles in November, and yet carried on eating at the same rate. I have kicked back too much, I have gained a few pounds (not a major problem) and have definitely lost some fitness. My fault! I have some serious training to do in early 2020.
I have just two things to report: the new Soham Village College parkrun, and the Ely Runners annual Christmas 18 miler (oh, and maybe a little review of the year).
Soham Village College parkrun.
parkrun, is, as we all know, is a global phenomenon, and thanks to two parkrun fanatics, it has come to another part of our little corner of the world. Andrew Scarlett and Jon Price discussed Soham Village College parkrun ages ago, it has been a real slow burn in its planning, and with the help of a core team of Run Directors (of which I am one) and volunteers, a trail event took place on the 16th November 2019. We are now at event number 4.
I have enjoyed working on the social media and promotion for this parkrun, and with the help of Neighbourhood Cares Soham, we managed to reach out to the local community. It is really early days, but so far, we have had enough volunteers to cover all the roles needed to allow parkrun to happen each week, and we have had a respectable turnout of people to walk/ jog/ run the events.
Soham Village College parkrun is an interesting one, with some twists and turns, and time spent on the concrete of the College grounds as well as on gently undulating fields. It may not be a PB course, but it is a fun and varied one, which will certainly help with anyone’s 5K times. Come along and see what you think! It’s brilliant!
The Ely Runners 2019 Christmas 18 miler.
This is one of the BEST events in the club calendar! Members can choose to run from Woodditton to Ely (cross country), which is just over 18 miles, or a couple of shorter options. All distances are demanding, mainly due to mud, the undulating terrain and the fact that it really is a bit of a technical run.
This year I ran the best part of the route with running buddy, Emily. We covered the trial though woodland from Woodditton (ups and downs, tree roots, mud) and along the amazing Devil’s Dyke, which gives stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and requires you to run along a very high path lined in clumps either side with Hawthorn; Blackthorn; Wild Rose bushes; thistles and general all-round prickly stuff! It’s great! The wind made the run a little more demanding, but not as much as the mud and puddles as the terrain turned more ‘Fenland-like’. We met up with Charlotte, who wore the BEST festive costume (see if you can guess who she is from the pic above)! Sadly, as we got to the second food and drink station, Emily decided to cut her run short as she was not feeling so great. We tried some amazing Rolo Vodka and Sloe Gin, provided by the amazing Claire, and then we carried on. For the rest of the run, we stuck with Martin (who I ran the Kings Forest Ultra with) and Allistair, another amazing Ely Runner.
I found that the Sloe Gin and the Rolo Vodka led to a slightly elated feeling as I took in the views and enjoyed the banter with my fellow runners; however, the drinks did repeat on me a fair bit. Speaking of banter, there was a lot of it and I’m not sure it should be documented here: needless to say at times it was controversial (it often is when Charlotte is around)!
At the first food and drink stop with fellow Ely Runners and a ‘donkey’.
Once we got to Ely (and that last slog with the Cathedral in sight is tough), it was time for a shower and slap up roast lunch, organised by the Ely Runners Social Secretary and superb running buddy, Lauren Thomas. All in all a brilliant event!
It’s been a crazy year for me, with many highlights and personal achievements: 26 races (including my first duathlon); getting very close to my 100th parkrun; delivering my first one-to-one coaching sessions; delivering my first track session; completing 6 ultra marathons (and getting my Positive Steps Grand Slam tankard); winning the Ely Sporting Hero Award (The Ely Hero Awards) as well as the England Athletics Regional Volunteer Award (inclusion category); supporting people with a learning disability and/ or autism to enjoy parkrun. Hard work like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum: it requires support and understanding from loved ones, great running buddies and an amazing club. I have loved 2019!
No more now until Peddars Way in January 2020! Merry Christmas!
October has been a silly month. Too many longer distance events all inside four weeks: it won’t happen again. That being said, I have learnt something about myself: I think I am slowly becoming conditioned to the longer runs, as I do not seem to require the recovery (time-wise) that is often quoted for longer runs. For example, I ran the Kings Forest Ultra, and with no running in between, I felt really strong at the Thetford Forest 10K Night Run. Less than a week later I was able to run the Thurlow 10 Mile race, and again, I felt good! Then, just a week later, I ran the Stort30 Ultra, having volunteered as 25 minute pacer at parkrun the day before. The rule of thumb is one thing, and I recognise the need for rest, but, there is a lot to be said for becoming conditioned, and knowing your own body, and what works for you!
Thetford Forest 10K Night Trail
The Thetford Forest 10K Night Trial was special for one main reason: it was Ely Runner Lauren’s return to events for the first time after a long period of injury. Lauren of Girl Running Late fame, has had to endure plantar fasciitis. Lauren might not think this, but she has tackled her injury with patience and self-discipline, at least outwardly: I am sure it has been a bit more complex closer to home. Any way, she was back, and raring to go! Lauren made it clear she was sticking with me, and I made it clear to her that she should not do this given I had ran The Kings Forest Ultra only days before. Once that waffle was out of the way, and we had posed for pics with other Ely Runners, off we set! Lauren was strong from the offset, and in her typical style, she pelted along, occasionally checking I was still there. I am under no illusions that I was faster than I have been before; I know Lauren was taking it easier than usual; but it felt good to cross the line just behind such an amazing runner; with her taking the third lady position; and considering I had ran the Kings Forest Ultra just days before. The Thetford Forest 10K night trail is a really fun race! Do it in 2020!
Each year, Haverhill Running Club organise and host the Thurlow 5 and 10: a choice of a 5 or 10 mile race through picturesque Suffolk Countryside, starting and finishing in the village of my childhood: Thurlow.
I first ran this race in 2016, and I know that I will run it every year until I can do so no more. I love the atmosphere, the way Haverhill Running Club encourages everyone, and of course the fact that I get to run through my old stomping ground. It is pure nostalgia for me.
A couple of years back, I agreed to run the event with an old primary school friend, Jacqui. In fact, Jacqui was my girlfriend at that tender age: but she doesn’t like to dwell on this! The first time we ran the Thurlow 10 together we chatted away and took our time. Fast forward to the most recent race: Jacqui and I found ourselves stood next to each other at the start line, and, although we had not agreed to run together, when we set off, we found ourselves running side-by-side and at the same pace. We commented on how we were running too quickly, and then it occurred to me just how fast Jacqui had become over just a couple of years. We stuck together for the whole race, and it is a tough one: undulating – with hills that are long and steady rather than steep. We had a natter, but there was the understanding that we might need to keep quiet when it got tough. We talked way less than we did the first time we ran together, as our pace this time was not at all conducive to conversation!
The race took us from Great Thurlow into Little Thurlow; with bit of trail along the river Stour into the hamlet of Little Bradley; uphill to Noarley Moat Farm and along tracks into the village of Cowlinge. A bit of a loop took us back the way we came until there was a long sweeping downhill back into the Thurlows. I was really pleased to see an old school friend, Neil Mustoe (Haverhill Running Club), who was marshalling out in Cowlinge: what a superb and encouraging gentleman he is.
I had a quick think about how I would tell Jacqui how I felt as we both executed a sprint finish. I did not want to sound in any way patronising, so I told her exactly this, and how amazed I was at her progress over the past couple of years. Jacqui seemed chuffed with my observations, but nowhere near as chuffed as she was with her overall pace and race! She really was bloody amazing! Oh, and I won a spot prize! See you again next year, Haverhill Running Club!
I then spent just under a week resting. I did my usual parkrun pacing on the Saturday, but other than that, I did nothing: I ran not one step. I went though all kinds of anxieties in the lead up to the Strort30 (a 30 mile trail race in Bishops Stortford along the River Stort). I entered this race ages ago, and all I could think of by the Saturday night before the event was just how many miles-worth of racing I had done so far in October 2019: too many: but I was coping.
I ran this race with fellow Ely Runners, Andrew and Emily. Emily drove us to Bishops Stortford at a silly time in the morning, having laid on a bit of a 90s play list on her car stereo (it was interesting and amusing). We all reminded each other the night before of the fact that the clocks had to go back an hour. The following image should tell you who ballsed up the necessary clock action. I will leave this here….
The Stort30 is a super-friendly and well-organised event laid on by Challenge Running. It incorporates the ‘UK trail Running Championships’ Middle Distance Race; something we become all to aware off when we looked at many of the other runners at the start: there were some serious looking people: the kind of people we knew would see this race as a bit of a walk in the park! All we cared about was finishing, and given this race had half-way and overall cut-off times, this focussed our minds somewhat!
The route was a glorious run along canal and riverside, often on track, but at times on uneven and very muddy footpaths. I loved the slippery mud, Emily hated it, and Andrew, in typical Andrew style wasn’t too fussed either way! There was a generous number of aid/ food stations, staffed by really friendly, chatty and helpful volunteers! One of these stations was home to the self-confessed most-inappropriate volunteers. We won’t go into detail, but they were funny and superb! Emily had in her ultra vest a stash of boiled new potatoes in butter and salt: this made me like her even more than I usually do, and during the whole event I got two potatoes from her!
We agreed on running the first 15 miles and then adopting some kind of run/walk/run strategy on the return (this was an out and back course). The first half went well, although the muddy parts of the river path were really hard work, but the weather was amazing, as were the views! The canal stretches were gorgeous with the quaint locks and gorgeous little cottages.
Andrew is pretty understated and matter of fact about all events, although this is not to say he is not enthusiastic, and anyone who knows him well will know he loves a chat! When Andrew wasn’t chatting with Emily and me, he pulled ahead for a while to chat with people ahead of us: legend!
During the longer distance races and training runs I have ran with Emily, I have found her to be superb company, very funny, and at the same time, mercurial in her moods. Emily will tell you just how she is feeling during an ultra, sparing no detail, and unapologetic for her language. It is brilliant! But, it makes me very mindful of how bossy I can be when there is a distance to cover, and especially when there are cut off times to consider! To this end, I carefully dictated the run/walk/run strategy on the return journey, which was, for the best part a 4:1 (four minutes run, one minute walk). This worked well, but I was mindful of how acutely Emily was feeling the eternity of the four and the transiency of the one! I studied Emily’s facial expression and body language carefully before each announcement of a run section. I would not want to give the impression that Emily is in any way unpleasant: far from it, she is lovely! She just wears her heart on her sleeve during ultras! Ultras are tough! I place Emily in with a handful of the very toughest and mentally stubborn people I know. Although equally tough, Andrew is a different creature: whether he found it tough or not, he gave me the impression he had just popped out to post a letter!
The last few miles of this event did drag on somewhat. It was not hilly, but at times it was a technical run, with tree roots and very wet mud on uneven paths. But, we got that usual second wind, and as we approached the finish, the fact that we had to do a lap of a field before the crossing the finish line was made all the more palatable by the fact that there was a still a crowd out, shouting and cheering for us, even though we were among the later finishers in an event that included some fast runners! Crossing the line with Andrew and Emily was amazing, and after a cuppa, a clean up and a hobble back to the car; we found ourselves chuffed with the shirts and medals, but more importantly, happy with what we had shared together.
A special mention should go out to the organisers and volunteers of the Stort30! Brilliant event! Do enter it! I will be in 2020!
What next! Nothing major for a while. I need a period of fewer miles. More another time!
The Kings Forest Ultra (by Positive Steps) deserves a blog entry of its own! I learned a good few things!
From the outset, it must be said, that like all events organised and laid on by Positive Steps, this one was well-organised, the course was well marked-out, the check points were superb, and the marshals and other volunteers were happy and friendly!
The Kings Forest is just a few miles from Bury St Edmunds, and the ultra comprises of two loops taking you to the marathon distance, and then a smaller loop to make the route 31 miles. It is not the most challenging course in the world, but stone and mud paths with regular tree roots and other hazards becomes all the more demanding over a longer distance!
My personal view (I am only a few ultras in now, so I am no expert) is that once a certain distance is covered, and one group of muscles has had it, the gait alters and a new set of muscles gets its turn for a battering: I really felt this during the Kings Forest Ultra! A lot!
Fellow Ely Runner, Martin Lewis and I travelled over to this event together, and it became clear that we would have a stab at the race together. We talked tactics and had a long discussion about run/ walk strategies. We agreed that we both still find that it doesn’t feel right to adopt a run/ walk approach right from the outset, and yet more experienced and superior ultra runners than us use this technique with huge success. We agreed to give it a go. When Martin and I set off, we noted that a fellow Ely Runner (who has completed a huge number of marathons and ultras) was adopting what looked like a 4 minute run/ 1 minute walk approach from the off. A little bit of reading after the event helped me to appreciate just how sensible a run/ walk approach right from the start is. However, Martin and I did not start start run/ walking right way. How rubbish are we!?
The trail was not demanding in terms of hills; it was all pretty flat apart from slight and long inclines and declines. It was clear that Martin loves downhill stretches: he used this to experiment with speed, and it was impressive. I, being a bit of an old fart, use down hill stretches to rest, let my arms hang and to lower the heart rate a bit.
At this point, it should be mentioned that at the start it was a huge boost for me to see fellow Ely Runners: Peter, Lisa and Kyle, who had all volunteered at the event. What amazing people! Martin and I got a huge kick out of seeing them twice at a checkpoint they were stationed at on the big loop. Lisa gave me a packet of Love Heart sweets! She knows I always have them on me at an ultra: she is wonderful, and my main ultra running buddy!
The first loop went well, with Martin and I covering it having executed a decent pace, and with relatively little effort. Things got much tougher as we approached around mile 21 in the second loop. We had well before this stage agreed to adopt a ‘rapid’ mile/ one minute walk strategy, and it really worked! Don’t get me wrong, enough runners had remained ahead of us, and some overtook us, but the speed of our mile sections was rapid, and it meant we overtook people!
We ran and chatted with fellow Ely Runner and Ely Tri Club member, Naomi Course. She, Martin and I talked about triathlons and duathlons for a while. Naomi has a very consistent pace; it was great to meet her!
Martin and I ate well, with him eating better than I did (I still really struggle with eating during ultras, preferring to eat loads in the two days in the lead up). Martin ate his vegetarian wraps and scotch eggs and I plumped for the usual spam sarnies!
Then there was the cheesy feet! A bit like cheese scones, but thin and in the shape of feet! They are a delight, and I have encountered them on the LDWA events only before the Kings Forest!
Like I have said, the second half was tough, with me thinking Martin was dictating the pace, and with him having asked me to organise and time the run/ walk strategy. There is no doubt this was a team effort. We were a superb team. It was a joy to cross the chip timer strip at mile 26, and there was a fair bit of crowd support given we were in a forest! At the mile 26 point, with a 5 mile loop ahead of us, we were feeling good! I necked a whole bottle of Lucozade (flattened the night before and left in my bag in a designated area) and ditched my ultra vest, and off we went! Martin had to bolster me up a few times in the final 5 miles, as I felt my mood dip: we had discussed how we had passed runners who had clearly had enough and were suffering physically and mentally: we were doing OK at this stage!
I had some twinges in my left calf, and this concerned me a lot! But for some reason, the pain moved around my left leg as we progressed through the final loop, as if it my body was sharing its protest, and not allowing one area to take on all of the grief. There was a debate going on in my head at around mile 29, and the side for the prosecution, with the argument that I am an idiot, was winning! Martin was the man when it came to leadership near the end! He reminded me of where we were at mile 30 and just how near we were to finishing. I recall giving him a little push in the small of his back and telling him that I insisted that he went over the finish line before me, and I thought as he pulled away what an amazing runner Martin has become from his beginnings on the Ely Runners Beginners’ course in 2018: he has become a stronger runner than me in many ways, and this sits just right with me. Top bloke.
The finish line was superb, and I had been looking forward to it, as it was time to collect my Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras in the year. I was greeted at the finish line, presented with my tankard and photographs were taken.
I would like to thank Martin for being a superb running buddy throughout this race: we were both pleased with our performance, and we helped each other out no end.
What next? The Thetford Forest Night Trail, and the superb Thurlow 10 miler! More soon!
I have been looking forward to the 2019 Flower of Suffolk 18 miler ever since the same Ely Runners crew ran the SVP50! Charlotte, Emily and Jon are superb running buddies, and I knew that this event would be a laugh as well putting us through some effort as well as exposing us to some gorgeous countryside.
This particular event, laid on on by the Norfolk & Suffolk LDWA (I think this one was more a result of the efforts of the Norfolk LDWA) was a great route, and we opted for the 18 mile option, perhaps just as well given the weather on the day! There is no way to describe how wet it was, it went from torrential to heavy and back all day: with no breaks.
I am mortified at the error I made in my poor preparation for this event. It rained for a short while at the Ely Tri Club Ultra the week before, so I packed away and zipped up a wet and perhaps slightly sweaty HIGHER STATE waterproof shell/ jacket, and left it in the boot of my car. I decided to open it in the car on the way to the Flower of Suffolk: the aroma was far from pleasant, and way from flower-like. I am not sure Charlotte, Jon and Emily will ever get over it. I discovered small patches of mould inside the jacket: it was not good. I am ashamed. Rookie error.
We rocked up at Walberswick Village Hall (on the Suffolk Coast) nice and early, but we were still a few minutes late as poor Jon had had to negotiate the most treacherous of driving conditions; so bad that on the way there we got to the stage where we all felt that the event must have been cancelled. On arrival, we hurriedly made ourselves known to the friendly organisers, and once given our checkpoint cards, we were away. I had little choice but to wear the horrid jacket, but we were soon to discover that the weather, and even worse smells would soon neutralise the offence I had caused so far.
We stood in the porch of the Village Hall for ages, discussing the route, swearing about the rain and setting up watches: I know these were all delay tactics! None of us could believe the state of the weather; and we all knew it was going to be like this for the duration. Off we set!
It was hard not to be introspective, to look at the ground just in front of us, and to deny the distance we had to cover in such conditions. Very early on, I recall commenting to Jon that were it not for the rain, taking a little look round would confirm that it was a gorgeous route. Jon was not ready for such positivity! I felt that maybe in some way he blamed me for us all being there in the pouring rain: it was in fact Emily’s fault this time!
The route took as along the edge of the Dunwich Forest, and for a while just inside it. The path around and the through the Forest was challenging in that it was undulating, and at times we were just below knee level in water. The route was not coping with the sudden amount of rain. After a while, we gave up avoiding the really deep stretches of water, and ran through them: you can’t get wetter than wet!
We had the sea to our left for the first half of the route, and although we only got glimpses of it, when we did, it was amazing! Loud, rough and scary to see! At a few points along the route were pig farms, higher up than us and flooding into our path! This made for interesting and smelly wading at several points!
We had some great chats with staff at the aid stations! It was raining very heavily at the first check point, with the poor volunteers holding onto the marquee/ tent shelter, as it was threatening to blow away! At another aid station, we perhaps outstayed our welcome and ate a lot of date balls (amazing); crisps and fruit. The aid station of the day was being looked after by brilliant people with amazing Norfolk accents, who had prepared home-made jam and butter on brioche: we could not leave it alone! We liberated a lot of the food at this station!
I have tried to identify a ringleader for depths of inappropriateness to which we plummeted ‘conversation-wise’ during this run: I could point to Charlotte, but I am not sure that would be fair, as we all covered subject matter that shocked one another, and maybe ourselves, but it certainly helped us get through what would have been, on any other day a pretty straightforward 18-miler. But, due to the very challenging conditions, we were on our feet for a long time and we needed to get each other through it.
Controversial subject matter (and singing 90s House Music to each other) got us through it. Emily reminded me of ‘Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet (by singing it whilst running through pigs’ slurry). I love her for this, and for throwing me back to 1992, just for a few moments!
For me, the stretch at the end was the highlight: we were on the beach, and the sea was crazy! We all managed a final push back into the Village Hall, to discover the whole floor had been ‘tarped’ and the kitchen as laying on tea as well as beans on toast with grated cheese! We all ate and drank whilst quietly steaming, before posing for a photo and then using the very small toilets to get changed into dry track suits: let’s just say Jon and I got to know each other a little better, and we laughed” a LOT!
What an amazing, low-key, friendly and well-organised event by the Norfolk & Suffolk LWDA. I do hope Charlotte, Emily and Jon have another stab at this in 2020! I will be; and I almost hope for rain!
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 Devil’s 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!
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!