Yesterday, I ran* my first 50 mile race. I was firmly at the blunt end of the field and there was a point, at 46 miles or thereabouts** where I would have paid serious money for the “I just want to be at the end now” teleport button but I enjoyed it and never seriously contemplated doing anything other than getting to the end.
This ultra is one of many examples of mission creep in my relationship with running. When I started my C25k programme in Summer 2010, my goal was to be able to run 4 miles in 45 mins so that run-commuting became a viable option. Then, in December 2010, I heard about Janathon, organised by JogBlog, and everything changed.
Yesterday’s run, from Brecon to Cardiff along the Taff Trail, went something like this:
Prelude – 4:15am to 8:00am
After setting my alarm for disgusting o’clock, I leapt out of bed as soon as it went off****, made a cup of tea, marmited two bagels for the coach, abluted, changed into the kit that I’d laid out neatly the night before****, picked up the bag that I’d carefully packed the day before****, and made my way to Sport Wales to catch the 5:30 coach to Brecon, leaving the bagels on the kitchen counter. Doh!
By this time my nerves were rampant, but fortunately I recognised some familiar faces from the London Ultra and Newport parkrun and also sat next to a very kind and experienced ultra runner on the coach whose plan was to be back in Bristol by teatime in order to take down a marquee.
We arrived in Brecon with time to spare, and I wandered round chatting to people and working out which bits of my kit it was safe to leave. Keith suggested leaving my entire pack, but that was just a touch too radical for me.
Section 1 – sociable
After going off far too fast at the London Ultra, I was determined not to do the same thing here, so started at the back of the pack. For the first 25 minutes, I ran with David who was adopting a time-based run/walk strategy, and shortly after leaving him (my plan was terrain based) I met up with Frances, who writes the Renaissance Chic blog.
All of which made the first section seem like a fun run in glorious countryside on a spectacular day.
Section 2 – mercurial
You name it, I felt it. Positive, negative, smug, bored, lonely, happy, sad.
Straight after checkpoint one (slightly early at eight miles) came the slow, steady climb up to mile 13. I was still with Frances for this bit, so the climb itself was offset by the company and some spectacular views.
As we went over the top of the hill, I said farewell to Frances and took advantage of the slope to add some speed without increasing my effort.
The quarter-way point came and went (feeling strong, feeling smug) and the scenery was gorgeous (happy days) but I was running alone (bored now) and the odd “I’ve got to do that again three times” thought drifted into my head.
I stopped briefly at checkpoint 2 to top up my water, where I was overtaken by Peter, and then it was onto section 3.
Section 3 – faff, fidget and flag
Oh the palaver. I stopped to add some body glide to my bra strap where it was chafing due to my pack. I stopped to loosen my laces as my feet were starting to overheat and swell. I stopped to rearrange my jacket which had started to flap irritatingly against my legs. And my definition of a runnable hill started to contract markedly as the day became warmer and warmer.
But I caught up with Peter just shy of checkpoint 3 and this boost was amplified by an outpouring of twitter love which lifted my spirits and made me think that section 4 could be the best yet.
How wrong can one person be?
Section 4 – bloody long
I left checkpoint 3 with a runner called Chris, and we’d gone about half a mile down the path when we spotted two people, one on the path and one in the ditch. As we got closer we realised that there was a third person there, a cyclist who had taken a nasty tumble and who was bleeding profusely from cuts to his face and head. While the two good Samaritans called for an ambulance, first aider Chris helped to keep the injured man calm and checked for other injuries. Meanwhile I remained on the path reassuring passing runners (including Peter and Frances) that the situation was under control and that yes they should carry on with a clear conscience.
The four of us stayed with the cyclist and his wife (who had been a little way ahead of him at the time he’d come a cropper) until they left in the ambulance, after which Chris and I continued on.
I ran with Chris for a while, but although the impromptu stop had given me a useful rest, for Chris, already suffering from cramp, it was the beginning of the end. By now my “walk the ups” strategy had morphed into a “walk the sunny sections” one as I was wilting in the heat, but I did gradually start to catch up with some of the runners who had passed as we waited for the ambulance.
Halfway through this section my Garmin bowed out and I lost all sense of time and distance. I was buoyed by a wonderful cyclist who adopted a stretch of the trail to support and who cheered and encouraged with gusto. I caught up with a battered and bruised Frances, who had also taken a tumble, and gratefully slowed down to walk with her to checkpoint 4. Which was just around the corner. Wasn’t it? Surely it must be soon. Oh for pity’s sake where is it? Is that it? No. How about that? No. We are still on the right route aren’t we? Surely we must be. Oh yes there’s a marker arrow. Where. Is. This. Checkpoint?
Aha! There! Yay!
Section 5 – leapfrog
By now most of the runners in my immediate vicinity were walking with the odd run thrown in so this section was a game of leapfrog. I’d pass a walker on one of my runs only to be passed back by them on my next walk. A few shady downhills allowed for some extended runs but the last five miles stretched on and on and on. By this point I was walking almost exclusively, though I was managing just enough running to keep up with the two runners ahead / behind / ahead of me. I tweeted Sue to say where I was and give her an ETA and then saw a sight even more welcome than that of checkpoint 4. Sue on her bike come to guide me home.
I’d love to say that I ran the last two miles, but I didn’t. I did however run far more of them than I would have done without her. And eventually, just shy of twelve hours after setting off, I finished.
And I’ve already entered my next race – the inaugural Downslink Ultra 38 in October.
*And walked. And crawled.
***including the amazing @suejonze who invited me to stay with her and then proceeded to mother me beautifully.
****I’ll leave you to decide where this statement sits on the truth scale.