I woke up at 5:30am, in truth I’d been awake a while just lying there listening to the sound of Matthews gentle breathing in his crib. I was too excited to sleep, today was the day that I would be taking part in my first ultra race.
Ok I was running as part of a relay team so realistically I wouldn’t be an ultra runner by the end of the day, the chances of me covering more than marathon distance ( above 26.2 miles takes you into a new bracket of nutter behaviour ) were slim. I was part of a 5 person team who would be running around a park in Burnley for 12 hours. I had to run a minimum of 10k to qualify as a team counter. I figured I would maybe run 20k, or 4 laps working on the assumption that the 5 man team would run around 100-120k and that I would not get chance to run more as time ran out and the clock turned to 8pm. I was still excited to be racing, I was excited for the experience ahead: a taster into the world of Ultra running.
Dad and I arrived and immediately bumped into my brother Craig who was running the 12hrs as an individual. He was off to look at the hill on the course, I needed to go register. When he got back he said “the hill is a bit of a kicker”. If he was saying that then it was obviously significant. Oh great, I don’t do hills well. But this was just about having fun for me.
I met up with my fellow UK RunChat team mates Nicola and Scott and found out that two members of the team had dropped out, we were down to three, suddenly I knew I would be running further than planned. They were both lovely people and I had a great time chatting to each of them as the day went out. That’s the beauty of running, it brings strangers together.
7:30am we were all briefed about the day ahead. What the rules were, what to expect, what to carry, what goodies they had at the aid station, the course etc… I took it all in. It was a lot less complicated than the usual triathlon/ironman race briefing but then again we were unlikely to drown running around a Park in Burnley. Or so I thought…
The race started and I watched everyone run off with smiles on their faces, a lot of chatter going on. This was a much more relaxed scene than Ironman, in fact I didn’t see one competitor punch another. I was watching because I was third runner for our team. Scott went off first, then Nicola and finally me. team tactics were that we would each do two 5k laps and then swap.
Craig ran past after the first lap and I told him he was first individual, he just laughed and said “I’m not interested in that for at least another 10 hrs.” I could see his point. He would just increase his lead with each lap, so much so that he declared after 11hrs 30 mins as he had such a big lead and didn’t want to push and get injured with the world championships coming up. He ended up running 130km without stopping. We saw each other several times out on the course which was a cool experience. the last time we had raced together was the 2010 London Marathon and he was almost back home to Ely by the time I finished. So this was fun.
Soon enough Nicola crossed the timing mat and handed over the batten to me. Remember I said about not drowning? Well the heavens had opened and rain was hitting us horizontally, it would do this quite a bit during the day. I was running in a borrowed OMM Kamleika waterproof jacket from my mate Gary. it was a fantastic bit of kit and completely kept my upper body dry. I loved it that much I’ve bought one. My feet however were drenched, so much so that when I stopped after my first stint I applied a compeed blister plaster to a developing hotspot. It worked, but I missed the one that developed on my big toe that made it look deformed and difficult to wear shoes for a few days afterwards.
I felt fine running, my Garmin beeped at me to tell me my heart rate had gone above 140bpm. Shit I’ve left the high heart rate alert on. Quickly turned that off as if not it would have beeped at me every 15 seconds for the rest of the day. today for a change I wasn’t running to a low heart rate. I was unleashed and just having fun. The first time up the hill it took my breath away literally, it just went on. It was no Lakeland pass but it made the legs and lungs work. The second time around in my head it was ‘the bastard hill’ and with each lap throughout the day on tired legs the name of the hill deteriorated and I developed ultra-running Tourette’s.
I quickly discovered though that the hill wasn’t the worst bit for me, descending back down on uneven soft ground crucified me. This year I’ve lived with a fractured ac joint in my shoulder, you’d think running would jar it, it doesn’t. But that was on the flat, on a solid surface – I was running in an alien world now and out of my depth pain wise. I lost so much time on each lap coming down that hill as the pain and discomfort was hell, I was running like bambi on ice. But I was still smiling. I’m such a weirdo!
I handed the batton back to Scott and he ran off and I headed to the food tent to refuel. Put on extra clothes to try and warm up, and added my calf guards purely just to try and keep my legs warm. It was the end of June and I had been running in a jacket and gloves. I had a two hour wait until my next stint, and my legs seized up. When my time came around again they took some waking up. Another 10k done, another 2hr wait, another 10k, a one hr wait and finally my last 5k lap.
It was the slowest 5k I’d ever run. My back and legs had seized up and my shoulder was just a mess. In hindsight I think it would have been easier to run large blocks of time and do 1 stint each as then you wouldn’t seize up as much. On that last lap I thanked all the marshals and I never stopped smiling. Even though I hurt I knew I could do more laps if time allowed but we’d run out. Scott would get one more in, finishing on 40k, with me and Nicola on 35k each. This was my longest run volume in one day for 3yrs, the last longest run (and it was more of a walk ) being the Outlaw 2012. I know I can go longer, a 50k is very much now firmly on my radar.
It was wonderful being part of a team. If you are on Twitter check out @ukrunchat it’s a fantastic community of runners. They also do a @uktrichat as well to cater for us Lycra and rubber wearers.
It was a great event and one that I would recommend to any one wanting to test themselves. The atmosphere and support from all the runners, teams, marshals and spectators was fun, encouraging and inspiring.I hope to be back.
I’m not an ultra-runner but I’m one step closer to becoming one, and that makes me smile. There is a lot of work to be done before then: Getting my shoulder fixed, losing a LOT of weight, building my engine, and listening to my coach.
fun times ahead.