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!

ultra running

The Kings Forest 50K Ultra.

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!

 

Me with Martin Lewis, fellow Ely Runner and ultra mentalist.

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.

Amazing people! Lisa and Kyle!

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!

Cheesy feet!

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.

Being presented with the Grand Slam tankard for the Peddars Way 48 miler; the Norfolk 100K and the Kings Forest 50K.

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!

 

 

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