So yesterday I completed a 50 mile ultra marathon. Yes, I said completed, for you doubters out there (I include myself in that group).
I set myself some goals, as many runners do before a big event, in the categories of best, ok, and worst case scenario. They were as follows:
Best: run at a 10min/mile pace. I knew I would have to add on time for stops at checkpoints and the bits I would walk, but this pace was the base target.
OK: finish the race in under 10 hours
WCS: finish the race and not die.
I also had a secret secondary goal, which was to beat Martin, a twitter friend who was also doing the race. This goal was pretty random as I have only run with him once, and have no idea of his ability and strength.
So, onto the race. There were 8 legs of the run, split by checkpoints, so I will break down my report in the same way.
The start and finish was at Dearne Valley College north of Rotherham, and we arrived there at 6am, just in time to see the walkers setting off – at a run! I headed into the sports hall to pick up my number and a very nice little badge and a (not so nice) lurid orange t-shirt. I hung around in the hall, quietly putting the other competitors into categories, picking out who looked like the seasoned pro, and who, like me, was a green newbie. At around 6:50 we all shuffled outside to the rather unofficial looking start line, which was basically a man holding his arm out.
stage 1 – start to Grange Park – 10.9 miles
This was the longest leg by several miles, but I guess it’s the time when people are least likely to get hurt or tired so it didn’t matter so much.
We set off, and I found myself near the back off the field, trotting along at about 9:40 miling. I was very conscious of going off too quickly so I was happy so stay where I was, feeling easy and comfortable. Within a mile I was running alongside a man called Chris, and we were chatting away about anything and everything. We ran together for about 5 miles, until he said he needed to slow down a bit, as he was intending to finish in 11-12 hours. Sorry mate, I thought, there’s no way I want to be running for that long! I gradually pulled away and found myself in a space on my own for the rest of this leg. I went past the first walkers at around 9.5 miles, a little sooner than I expected, so felt pretty good. I arrived at the first checkpoint in 1 hour 50, exactly on target for my 10 minute miling. I felt good, comfortable, and was maintaining my pace easily, and had done 20% of the distance already! Steve gave me half a banana, I chowed it down, grabbed a juice and was off again.
stage 2 – Park Grange to Treeton – 6.4 miles
This leg was through the edge of Sheffield that we run regularly on club runs, so you would think I’d know what I was doing here better. However, I never pay attention to where we are when someone else is leading the run, so I had no advantage over anyone else! It is also the ugliest leg of the run, past sewage works and through, ahem, not the nicest neighbourhoods. During this leg I caught up to Martin who had got a bit carried away and gone out a little too fast, so we ran this leg together. Halfway through this leg, at about 15 miles into the run the first relay runners went past us. When you think that their race started an hour after us, you have to be impressed with how speedy they are! We continued our steady plodding, still keeping to my target pace and still feeling good about things. When we arrived at Treeton I had a quick comfort break, a biscuit (which stuck to my mouth because it was too dry) and changed my shoes to trail shoes because the legs ahead were going to be much more off road and muddy!
stage 3 -Treeton to Harthill -7.5 miles
Arrival at Harthill would mark (pretty much) halfway, then you’re home free from there, right? This leg was the second longest, but was quite picturesque, so I set off from Treeton feeling optimistic. The only nasty bit of it is the drag up past Rother Valley Park, a gradual, sneaky uphill of about two miles. It’s just a boring, long straight road, and my legs were starting to feel the distance I had done already. However, knew it wasn’t far over a few fields to the checkpoint so I kept on eating away at the distance, bit by bit. It felt good to reach the halfway mark, although it was a little scary to think I had to do it over again! I had dropped off the pace quite a bit by the time I arrived at Harthill, but I was determined to keep plugging away and do the best that I could.
stage 4 – Harthill to Woodsetts – 5.9 miles
Most of the stages from here were much shorter than the first few had been, which mentally makes you feel better, because you know that there is never any point when you are too far from a break and a friendly face. This stage was quite muddy, making progress quite slow and hard work. As you come into the village of Woodsetts there is a horrible little hill, it’s not that long but it’s steep, and when you have 30 miles already in your body it seems like a mountain! The man at the top calling ‘come on young lady, you’re doing very well’ spurred me on to a trot, and as I passed him I could see some familiar figures at the bottom. Alan and Steve from running club had come out to support me, and Alan was going to run the next couple of legs with me as far as Maltby. Just a little background information here: Alan is in his 70’s and still runs 60 miles a week at a steady 8:30 pace – the man should be an inspiration to us all! I had some more banana and a little jelly from Steve, then Alan and I set off.
Stage 5 – Woodsetts to Firbeck – 5.7 miles
Alan knew these two legs well, as he has run them as part of a relay team many times. This took the pressure off my tired brain as he led me, and I could just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Having him alongside me and encouraging me made me feel more able to keep going, and I had less walking patches than I had on the previous stage. We came through these few miles unscathed, and Steve, who had driven to the next checkpoint to meet Alan and myself had run back from Firbeck to meet us, so we had the last half mile or so in his company too. As we rounded the last corner to the checkpoint, I heard a familiar excitable voice cheering my name, and I looked up to see Cat and Shaun, more running buddies, waiting on the corner. And oh so excitingly, Cat had made fudge! Yum! She is a fantastic baker, although she only ever makes it for the rest of us to eat, trying fatten us up I think! Fudge eaten, nose blown, we set off again towards Maltby.
stage 6 – Firbeck to Maltby – 4.1 miles
I was starting to feel every single step right through my body now, as I had passed my previous longest distance run several miles back! However, I wasn’t going to give up, and if Alan could keep going then so could I! This leg, as well as being the shortest, is also the prettiest, passing the ruins of Roche Abbey and going through woodland. We were managing to pass people now, and I put this purely down to Alan’s ability to drive both of us along. Again Steve had driven on to Maltby and jogged back to meet us. We continued up the hill passing a small church and entered the car park of the little community centre checkpoint. As I looked around for my Steve, with my food and other stuff I might need, I couldn’t see him anywhere! Trying not to fall into an exhausted panic, I headed inside to get a cup of juice and some food. The table was crowded with people just standing there, and nobody moved when I said ‘excuse me’ in my tired pathetic voice, so I ended up shoulder barging a man out the way to get a drink. To this man, I apologise, but once you have your juice, get out the way, you’re not the only one who’s tired and thirsty! This was where Alan was leaving me, and I would be on my own again for the last 10 miles. I think this is probably the only time in my life I would ever feel relieved that there was only 10 miles to go.
Stage 7 – Maltby to Denany – 7 miles
I walked up the hill from the Maltby checkpoint eating Haribo and feeling a little sorry for myself. Alan’s company had kept my spirits up far more than I realised, and now felt on the verge of tears and completely unable to break back into a run. I could see a group ahead of me and I focused on them, alternating between a fast walk and a very slow jog. I had caught up to them in about half a mile and it turned out they were a group of the walkers who had set off at 6 am. To get this far in that time they must have been doing at least some running methinks! They told me I was looking strong, which I just laughed at, not in the mood to be placated by now. Within a couple of miles I was on my own again, apart from one man who I kept passing while I was running and he was walking, and then he was passing me again a few minutes later. We ended up running together for several miles, nearly to the last checkpoint. However, with about 5 miles to go my knee developed a pain that grew with every step I ran. I was ok walking, but the minute I started running pain was shooting up the tendons at the back of my left knee. I don’t think I did anything in particular to it, just after that many miles my joints and muscles were very tired and the terrain was tough going. Nigel (my new running buddy) stayed with me for a bit, and we walked and ran as best I could, but he carried on running with about four miles to go. I reached the last checkpoint, knowing there was only about three miles to go, and knowing I would finish it no matter what.
stage 8 – Denaby to finish – 3.2 miles
I left my bag with Steve, thinking water and things didn’t really matter for the last little bit, and set off walking down the road. I spent quite a lot of these last few miles with tears leaking down my face, whether this was from tiredness, pain, or sheer relief that the end was within reach I don’t know, I just know I didn’t have a lot of control over them! I turned the last corner onto a gravel path where you can see the college, got a grip on myself, and broke into the slowest jog I have ever done! Ignoring the pain, I thought there was no way I was going to be crying or walking when I crossed that finish line! I got cheered over the line and can honestly say I have never been so relieved to finish anything. The lady writing down numbers at the finish line said ‘ you’re doing much better than me, I cried at the end’ to which, of course, I promptly burst into tears!
Steve gave me a change of clothes and I hobbled my way into the changing rooms. For several minutes I just lay on the bench, until another woman came in and I thought I had better move. I headed back into the sports hall that the day had started in so many hours ago to get a cup of soup and to have a look at the times of all the finishers so far. I also tried to look for Nigel to thank him for keeping me going, but despite running next to him for over an hour, I couldn’t pick him out of a crowd.
I finished the race in a slightly frustrating 10 hours and 3 minutes, just outside my target, and I came in 98th overall and (we think) 11th woman, but we’re not sure about that because some of the Swedish names were confusing! I will put a link to the results when they are online, and I’ll also put some pictures up once I’ve vetted them and put them on the computer.
Did I enjoy it? No. Enjoy would be completely the wrong word. The first 15 miles or so felt good, but then that’s because the pace I was doing at that point would’ve been very easy if I had been stopping at 15! I am disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it, because I have loved doing the training and I really thought I would find my running niche here.
Was it worth it? I think in a couple of days when I can move my left leg again the answer will be yes, but right now I’m in too much pain to be sure.
Would I do it again? Certainly not for the foreseeable future. I have some other plans in the pipeline for the future, but nothing set in stone yet.
It you have got this far well done, once again my blog has turned into a bit of an epic, but please carry on reading a little bit further, as this is the most important bit. This is the thank yous to everyone who has helped me, I certainly couldn’t have done it on my own!
– Steve, for putting up with my moods and tiredness through the really tough bits of training, for doing as he was told (most of the time) and for driving round on Saturday to each checkpoint with food, spare clothes, and encouragement.
– Alan Bamford and Steve Tanner from Sheffield RC for giving up their Saturday afternoon to run part of the route with me
– Cat Taylor and Shaun Marsden for cheering me on at 35 miles and providing delicious fudge!
– Martin Hookway for inspiring me to enter in the first place, and for being a good running buddy for probably 10+ miles
– Nigel Coates, who kept me going over the last few miles, and also well done to him for achieving the sub 10 hour time he wanted!
– all the organisers and checkpoint marshals who were friendly, encouraging and made sure that all us runners were doing what we should be.
I will link my Garmin route once I has uploaded it, but it died at about 44 miles, so it’s not quite the full shebang!