trail running, ultra running

Peddars Way 48 Mile Ultra Marathon revisited!

A year has passed since I ran The Peddars Way 48 Mile Trail for the first time.  A lot has happened on the running front since January 2019, a year in which I got 6 ultras under my belt.  The number of ultras in 2019, excessive sounding to some, might be part of the reason why the 2020 Peddars Way felt a little easier to me.  Don’t get me wrong, it was tough, but this year I crossed the line in better condition:  I felt generally happier and more relaxed throughout.

This time I had prepared fish paste and tomato sandwiches with white bread; two bottles of flattened Lucozade; a huge bag of dry roasted peanuts; Fruit Pastils and a banana.  Breakfast was porridge, some berries and a pint of tea.

Once again I ran the race with the amazing Lisa, and we were joined by fellow Ely Runner, Martin, who has now ran a couple of ultras: Peddars was about to be his furthest distance to date. We and some other Ely Runners gathered nice and early at Knettishall Heath.

Ely Runners at Knettishall Heath.

Among our group were speedy types, and people who just wanted to do their own thing, which is of course fine.  Martin, Lisa and I decided to stick together.

After Kevin (Positive Steps) had delivered the race brief, we were sent on our way.  It would be fair to say that we did not adopt as much of a run/ walk/ run strategy as we could have before the first checkpoint; but we were more disciplined than last year in that we had the odd 1 minute walk so that we could eat, and power walk up the slopes.  As I said earlier, I felt generally more confident from the outset:  the great company and gorgeous countryside definitely helped.

The Peddars Way Trail is stunning.

It was during the run after the first checkpoint that our Peddars Instant Messenger chat pinged on our phones, and we got news from fellow Ely Runner, Charlotte that she had felt the need to pull out of the race.  Charlotte is an amazing distance runner, who is training for a 100 miler!  Peddars was for her, a training run, but, when things go and feel wrong, it takes courage and discipline to know when to cut your losses.  I have always found Charlotte to be the voice of common sense; she can clearly apply her calm and logical approach to herself when necessary. We were gutted for her, but she did the right thing.

The checkpoint at Castle Acre is a confidence booster for me.  At this stage you have put about 27 miles behind you: it feels good!  There is soup at this stage!  We decided we would not spend too much time at any of the checkpoints: we agreed that we would enter, refill water bottles, grab food, say thank you and power-walk out before resuming running.  It is hard to leave the Castle Acre checkpoint, but we really didn’t hang about!  The soup was amazing!

It was on leaving this checkpoint that we took stock of how we were all feeling.  As we ran, Lisa told me that an old ankle issue had resurfaced. I asked her how painful it was on a scale of 1 to 10.  Lisa said it was about an 8!  This says all you need to know about Lisa!  Ever smiling, she will not allow something like serious pain to stop her running a further 21 miles having already ran over the marathon distance on muddy, uneven trail!  Martin had little to report on the problems front other than some stiffness in his legs.  My problems were to make themselves known at around mile 32, at which point we found ourselves at the bottom of a long hill.  I had eaten and hydrated very well the day before, and, having recalled the issues I had experienced last year, I snacked well in the early stages of this race.  At the checkpoint we had just left, I took full advantage of the amazing soup on offer, I dipped a jam sandwich into mine!  It was OK!  For whatever reason , as we climbed the hill, I developed tunnel vision, and broke into a serious sweat that seemed unrelated to the effort at hand.  I had to eat some fish paste sarnies (don’t judge me), as well as some dry roasted peanuts, and I necked some flat Lucozade.  It is hard to tell which of these medicines sorted me out: maybe it was all three, but I recovered swiftly and soon we were on our way again.

Lisa. One of the most calm and positive people to run a long way with!

It would be fair to to say that after 30 miles, things start to get a bit tougher!  My feet started to hurt and I had those tell tale bruised and aching feelings under several toenails.  My right hamstring started to tighten, no doubt compensating for a very old injury in my left leg.  Lisa’s ankle issue persisted, and Martin, still ailment-free until this point, reported feeling some pain in his feet.  We pressed on.

Things got a bit trickier here and there from about mile 32 onwards, with the running getting more technical, the tracks muddier and more uneven, and the gloom of the fading daylight making it a bit more of a challenge.  The three of us just kept pressing on.  We got chatting to several runners, mainly due to the odd thing that happens whereby you keep passing people, only for them to catch you up, and for this to be constantly repeated.  One chap we were passing overheard me talking about how much I would love a Snickers Bar (Marathon to those of us old enough to resent the change in name), he went on to produce a bag of chocolate from his pack, which he happily shared with us!  Among the selection was the chocolate I wanted! Never has a Snickers/ Marathon tasted better!  This chap was anxious about the cut off time; we reassured him that he would make it (he did).  Not sure if you will ever read this, Brian, but thank you.

With Martin, a tough and relaxed distance runner.

Checkpoint 3 is at about 34.25 miles in.  It is hosted by Bungay Black Dog Running Club.  As we approached this point I remembered with fondness the tea, coffee and hot sausage rolls the group of volunteers provides.  Enough said – they are amazing!  Talking of the Black Dog Crew, we encountered two of them again having not seen them since the June 2019 Norfolk 100K ultra.  Jules and Rachel!  It was great to see them again!

Great to bump into Jules and Rachel from Bungay Black Dog Runners.

So, the final approximate 14 miles from checkpoint 3: this is where things got tough.  Martin, Lisa and I made quite a team by giving each other loads of encouragement.  Poor light to pitch black set in very quickly, and with head torches, we pressed on with the tough bit.  In order to make sure we kept covering ground, and given the muddy, unstable trail and pitch black conditions, we agreed to bursts of 90 seconds of running, punctuated with power-walks.  This worked well.  About 5 miles from the coast we hooked up with a lady who was running alone, who decided to stick with our regime until about a mile from the coast.

Before we knew it, we were running the familiar downhill trail with hedges claustrophobically hemming us in from both sides.  At this stage you can easily touch the hedges on other side by raising your outstretched arms.  Lisa shouted out that she had seen a pair of orange eyes peering back at her through a gap in the hedge; whatever the creature was, if it had given chase, we could not have ran any faster!

When we finished the long narrow path towards Holme-next-the-Sea, we were greeted by glow sticks throughout the village, guiding us to the part of the the race we had been longing for: the run up to the beach.

There was a lovely moment as we headed towards the sea.  Martin’s young son, Thomas was running alongside us:  his family had travelled via train and bus to be there.  It was clear that Martin was elated by this, as it was unexpected!  Suddenly we hit sand, and just like last year, we could hear the roar of the sea, and feels its spray, but we couldn’t see it.  We all ripped a page each from the book hanging from the post, and took a selfie.  It is necessary in this race to remove a page from a book, hanging from a post on the beach; this is presented to race officials back at the Village Hall as proof that you have completed Peddars!

Pages from ripped from the book!  We were joined by Martin’s son, Thomas!

The run back to the Village Hall seemed to take forever!  We were all hurting, but adrenaline and pure joy had kicked in, blocking out anything that might have stopped us from running.

Eventually we could see the Village Hall ahead and on our left.  It was quite a moment when we ran inside and over the chip timing mat on the floor.  Just like last year, we were greeted with cheers from the volunteers, and from the runners who had already finished.  My mate, Steve was there with our change of clothes, and Ely Runner, Allistair Berry was there volunteering!  Steve commented that I was in a much better state than I was at the end of the race last year!  I was really pleased to hear this!  Medals were presented to us, and then we attacked the beans on toast!  The hot mug of tea was amazing.  I didn’t care about modesty at this point, I just changed into my track suit there and then (poor people).

At the time of writing, it is the Monday after Peddars.  My legs hurt more than they did the day after the race, and my feet and toenails are in a sorry state!  I have eaten tons and the hunger is only just easing off!  It has all been worth it!  See you in 2021, Peddars Way!

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The big day! The 48 mile Peddars Way Ultra Marathon 2019!

 

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.

Very early on the big day; waiting for my lift!

On the Friday 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 I 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 also had my tailwind/ water solution in collapsible bottles and stuck in the fridge ready.  I am not a ‘bed early person’ and I resent going to sleep: 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 registration area, 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, and were smiling and full of encouragement!

Caroline and Andy, who rocked up to give us some support!

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!

Positive Steps

David and Kyle!

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.

Lisa: amazing running buddy, who looked this happy throughout the whole race!

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 don’t know 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 or the other of us legged it into undergrowth to do things we would 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 did however struggle 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!

tailwind nutrition

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 it 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 previously 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 a 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 tea tasted like nectar, handed to me by a God rather than by 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!

kyle
Kyle: leader of the pack until he had to bail at Castle Acre. I owe a lot to this chap!

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?  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.

The Tin Man Tree.

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 The 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 destroyed mini Battenburg cakes!

Starting to flag a bit at aid station 3.
Lisa, not having the common decency  to look knackered at the third aid station.

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 however she tried to sell it!  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, pausing quickly to eat and drink, and repeating this regularly in order to remain focussed. Things started to feel hard!  I am stronger mentally 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).

Torches time.

The final 4 miles was tough, but for some reason we got a bit of a second wind!  We went through a village where 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 trail with trees and bushes very close on both sides;  Lisa and I hit this part 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 rain was not bothering me;  we just kept focussing on the trail and running.  We hit a final bit of village, where groups of people yelled encouragement as 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.  I quietly requested a baked potato!  An amazing cup of tea was placed in front of me.  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!

The infamous book on the beach!

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.  Lisa and I made our way to the car.

Steamed up, post-blubbing pic.

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!

Final thoughts.

  1. I hope that this record goes some way towards helping any runner who thinks of embarking on their first ultra.
  2. I will be running another!
  3. 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.
  4. Diet and training is everything.
  5. Sports massage helps! Thanks, Becky!
  6. I still don’t know why I did it.
  7. 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!

peddars medal