If somebody had told me 5 years ago just after my ACL operation that I would be running 43 miles in one go after my rehabilitation, I would have told them, well, to go and take a running jump.
But I have many other aches and pains, both physical and emotional, to keep my mind occupied, as a normal, battle weary human. So no one thing could stop me from entering my first ultra. And what better way than to tick off another British walking path at the same time?
Again this year, I had trekked a lot but maybe only over the summer ran up to 100 miles. 40 of these miles were steep ones two weeks before the ultra, finishing a week before the ultra with a couple of runs to keep the legs fresh during the next week. A fairly compact training and tapering regime in one go, you might agree! Having done (albeit a slow) marathon last year on limited running mileage, could I extend the experience further? So I saw there were entries available a week before and entered.
I stayed overnight at Hope in Derbyshire which was the finish town in this linear run. At 0515 hrs a coach arrived to take runners to the start at Ashbourne. I was soon wittering away to a veteran of ultras called Nick ( yes, I do spout rubbish verbally as well and unlike this page, there is no escape when I sit next to you on an hour long journey). He was on for a 8hr target..I told him of my 10hr target but didn’t mention my lack of preparation.
At the hall in Ashbourne, I continued making friends..they were nervous..they had prepared. I wasn’t and was quite enjoying the moment. They had all the gear…tight compression socks on their calves..small ‘chest secured’ running packs with bottles on the shoulder straps. I had a small rucksack with way too much stuff in it.
It was a warm, claggy morning when I set off at my appointed time at 0710hrs. I soon took off my overtrousers and coat and ran all day in the warm drizzle/clagg in shorts and t-shirt.
I set off slowly as I was told to by advisors on the disused railway track. I ate carbs from half an hour in. I walked all the hills and drank regularly. All this advice worked well for me (perhaps I drank too much water and stopped too often to pee). The pit stops were at 14, 26 and 35 miles, with plenty of water and carbs offered.
The stiles were relentless…I have included a photo of one of the step through types. Many were step over types. In all, there were over 150 (some other guys counted them as a way of getting through the event) and they really broke your stride. Combined with the 1400m height gain, slippy mud with only trail shoes and slippy limestone, it felt more like 50 miles.
I traded places with many guys but initially was right at the back. I passed a few with proclaimed ultra experience (Nick was a DNF after 5 hrs), and surprisingly came halfway through the field (my usual x country or fell race position). After 9hrs 50 I made it to the Hope Sports Hall finish, feeling that with the benefit of the experience (systems, stops, lighter rucksack with less water, the right training etc) that I could have come in around 9 hrs which would have put me not 12th but 3rd in my age group. Next time then!
The trick was to keep moving in my case and not stop for the offered cuppas at the pit stops. I just plodded away and meditated and focused on the next pit stop. The next day my quads and hamstrings and calves were fine but my hips played up. A week later I ran well for an hour but the next day rock climbing I could hardly bend my knee. They say you will feel good and then overdo the recovery. So you didn’t see me at the Fforest Fields X-country I’m afraid, but hope to catch you all soon. In the meantime, expand your horizons..consider an ultra if you have done a marathon..it is all possible. The camaraderie is great and you will be buzzing afterwards. Just don’t be stupid like me and risk long term injury without the proper training.