Friday, 19 April 2019

Greater Manchester: M2L 50 mile ultra race recap

This is the longest race I'm running this year - I signed up for this last June after volunteering at the 2018 race.  I felt undertrained - although I've run 4 marathons so far this year, I haven't been doing the back-to-back weekend runs you really need to get ready for ultras and I've been averaging about 50km a week - to be confident I'd need to be doing regular 80-90 km weeks.
Still - I knew I could do 30 miles because I did that at Green Man so my plan was to get that done, then crack out another 10 miles, then from there it'd be rude not to finish.  I estimated it'd take me between 11 and 12 hours.  I'd taken the whole week off work so I'd be rested, had a sports massage on Thursday morning to flush out my muscles and drove to Manchester on Thursday afternoon.  I checked into the hotel and laid out all my stuff and headed over to registration.  On the way we bumped into Sarah from Penny Lane Striders, always nice to see a friendly face.  At registration I had my kit checked, collected my number and was about to leave when I was press-ganged into having my photo taken.  As you can see I was thrilled about it!

We went back to the hotel and had dinner.  I was delighted to find the menu was heavy on the carbs and chose macaroni cheese with garlic bread and sweet potato fries - the perfect pre-race dinner.  Just then, Sarah appeared so we invited her to have dinner with us and we had a great time catching up on life, work, training and races.  We discussed how late can you be to get to the start in time and I concluded I needed to set the alarm for 04:15 ... best get an early night then!  I was asleep by 10pm.

Next morning my alarm failed to go off and Ian woke me at 4:17am, saying "Your alarm didn't go off".  My brain translated this to, "you've missed the race," causing total panic until I woke up enough to realise that it was OK, phew!  Adrenalin rush to start the morning!!

Luckily I always write a list so I know what I'm doing the morning before any big race.  There's too much to remember and forgetting something minor can feel disproportionately critical later in the race.  I swung into action: loperamide, sun cream, contact lenses, fill up water and electrolytes, bodyglide, breakfast, attach bib, warm layers, etc etc.  We left about 5:20 and walked speedily towards the start line, chatting with another girl we bumped into on the way.  Once I got there and collected my tracker, there wasn't much else to do other than stand in the toilet queue!  I saw Sarah and Bailey, also from Penny Lane Striders, who we all predicted would do brilliantly today. (And she did, finishing 27th).
The race started a bit late as the organisers kindly held off until everyone had used the loo (if only all races were like this!) and then we were off.  The first mile was a loop around Old Trafford and then down onto the canal.  There were 250 runners so we were quite bunched up at the start. 
It was already warming up so people were removing their jackets after a couple of miles.  I saw Sarah who was looking comfortable but lost her when I stopped for a wee.  Shortly after I fell in with a chap named Paul who was very chatty.  When we got to the checkpoint we realised our numbers were 80 and 81, what a coincidence! We ran along together talking about races we've done, kids, work and he told me amusing stories about his running partner and his urology issues (redacted for confidentiality) but I howled with laughter!  We jogged together past the lake and along the canal.  Paul was a bit fast for me and I kept lagging behind, I told him to go without me and he said he'd rather chat so he slowed down.
Despite this I was still going a bit fast.  I was a bit more out of breath than I'd like and my watch told me I was doing 6:13, 6:19 minute kilometres and my goal was 6:45.  Eventually (just after I'd told him my story about the swamp at Convergence) he got a bit too far ahead of me and I lost him.  This was probably about 21 kilometres in.  In a way he'd done me a huge favour as my plan was to try and get some decent distance done early before it got too hot.  Shortly after I lost him, I noticed I was a bit hungry.  Stupidly, I'd not picked up any food at the checkpoint as we'd only stopped briefly.  I checked my watch and it said 2 hours 30 mins - I should've had something by now.  I was pleased when Ian appeared around 27km and provided a banana and a sausage roll.  Shortly afterwards there was a checkpoint but I just took water and ploughed on.

The next section was a long, straight path which I remembered from my recce earlier in the year.  At 31k I ran past a shop, reminded myself that ultras are supposed to be fun and doubled back to purchase a Calippo - my favourite ultra food on a warm day!
I was getting a bit of a hot spot on my left foot so I called Ian and asked him to have stuff ready at the next checkpoint. Here I am arriving in to checkpoint 4:
When I got there I didn't bother with food and went straight to the car.  I did have the beginnings of a blister starting so I taped my foot, changed my socks and shoes and got my headphones on for the next bit, which is a long straight section towards Widnes.  It was properly warm by now and somewhere along here there was a spectator, standing on the edge of a Morrison's car park, offering mini Calippos.  He was like an angel, and the Calippo was out of this world.  There were a few runners around and we all just about bit his hand off!  One runner said to me afterwards, 'I never normally take food from strangers'...
I took this selfie at 42km - just in case this race had 'bonus distance' and ended up being two marathons!  It was meant to be 50 miles (80.4km) but the GPX suggested it was going to be 81.7km, hmm...

I saw Ian briefly on this leg and had some Coke and took a handful of snacks to sustain me on the next section.  I remembered this next part being boring and ugly and it was no better on this occasion - but just before the roadworks I spotted a guy in a Penny Lane t-shirt - Tony.  I said "what are you doing here?" and he said "I live here!", an idea so outrageous that it hadn't even occurred to me!  It was lovely to see a friendly face though and totally unexpected.

Soon after this I came to Spike Island (checkpoint 5).  They had more ice lollies - so very welcome as it was properly hot by now - my Garmin says the high temperature was 32 degrees (with an average of 24 degrees).  Ian had a water spray so that helped cool me off and then he walked with me for a few hundred metres as I left the checkpoint. I started running again and soon was past the Runcorn bridge and came to a corner where there was a photographer.  I wasn't expecting him and jumped when the tripod camera went off, I didn't know where to look as he was holding a camera too so I'll probably look like a startled gazelle in those photos.  I yelped, "It's like the paparazzi!" as I ran off.  A bit further down, I saw an 'unofficial' checkpoint beside the path so I slowed down and the girl immediately said, 'Penny Lane!' spotting my t-shirt.  Her name was Inma and she had delicious slices of orange which tasted amazing and she put cold water in my hat to help cool me down.  One of the lovely things about local races is the support from your club - I so rarely run locally that I don't often get to experience it.   I carried on towards this beautiful bridge (which was not at all beautiful as I was trying to hobble down it!)
Just after that, I got a message from my friend Katie saying she would come and meet me at the loop line and run part of the route with me.  Unfortunately I couldn't describe exactly where I was, how long it takes to get to the loop line, or recognise any of the landmarks she was describing.  However it did give me a bit of extra motivation to get a move on, and I plodded on, past the horrible loud dual carriageway, through the industrial estate and onto the little park. 
Ian, Katie and her daughter Megan (who ran Chocathon with me) were all waiting for me at checkpoint 6.  I hugged everybody, switched my shoes and socks again (the last section is 16km of tarmac so it was time for my bouncy new trainers) and ate the ice lolly which Katie had brought me which was again amazing.
Katie, Megan and I set off along the loop line, chatting as we went, it really was such a boost to have company.  It was lovely to see Megan before her first marathon in a week's time.  They'd also brought me an ice cold can of Coke which was totally fantastic!  After 5k or so they had to turn back towards the car, but it gave me a push which carried me through to the final checkpoint at 72 kilometres.
I was pretty knackered and grumpy by the time I got here.  I'd called Ian in advance and he had a tiny cup of tea and my speaker ready for me.  I didn't feel like eating but knew I should have something, so I agreed to have a biscuit.  There was a slight incline up to the checkpoint and I was reluctant to walk up it - a volunteer offered to help me but I declined.  She went and fetched me five biscuits - I accepted one.  She stuffed two others into the pockets of my vest, which I was bitter about as it's handwash only and I didn't want crumbs in it, hahahaha, this pretty much sums up my state of mind at that point! As I left the checkpoint, I tossed the biscuits into the bushes.  Sorry lady!  It's not you, it's me!  

I put my speaker on and managed to pull myself up to a jog.  I overtook a few people.  I tried to get them to join in, one lad took up my offer of a music request and chose 'Wake me up' by Avicii (great choice).  We ran along for most of the song before he said he needed to walk again and I left him behind.  I always feel like a bit of an idiot with my speaker on (it was also heavy and I was having to carry it as it was really uncomfortable in my vest) but needs must.  It was doing a job.

I allowed myself to walk for a couple of hundred metres every kilometre from this point as I was getting very fed up.  Anything that bore the faintest resemblance to a hill got walked.  Finally I spotted Aintree below and could see the finish - I turned the corner and started running across the grass.  There was a lovely atmosphere, everyone clapping and cheering - really a lovely reception. 
The volunteers told me I'd got a silver medal - at first I was pleased.  (Silver medals are given to those who place 101-200th place).  I'd finished in 10 hours 26 minutes - considerably faster than I'd aimed for.  Hooray!  Everything hurt and there was a chair near the finish line so I sat in it.  I drank some water and Ian got me an alcohol free beer.  Everything was fine - I felt sore but OK.  I obviously wasn't as undertrained as I thought I was! The total distance was 82.7km - so just ever so slightly under two marathons.
Someone thrust a stupid photo frame into my hands so I could end this post with another sarcastic face:
I wanted to wait for Sarah but Ian looked on the tracker and she was still half an hour away, and I was starting to feel a bit sick, so I decided it'd be best to go home.  As I stumbled to the car, I said to Ian that I was quite happy with a silver medal as long as I'd come 120th or somewhere after that.  He checked.  I was 106th.  I looked at the finish times.  If I'd been SIX MINUTES quicker, I'd've got gold.

It was never my intention to get gold.  I hadn't thought about it all race.  But SIX BLOODY MINUTES!!  Dammit!!!

Luckily, I didn't have much time to think about this, because I started feeling really sick.  I opened the car window.  I thought I was going to be sick in the car park.  I got into the flat and I was sure I was going to be sick.  Then I was sick.  It was all liquid.  I felt awful.  Washed my mouth out and got in the shower, then got into bed wrapped in all my towels and a bathrobe and fell asleep.

40 minutes later I woke up, feeling sick.  Rushed to the bathroom to throw up loads more liquid.  This has never happened before... googled it.  Dehydration?  Unlikely, I was still peeing straw-coloured.  Heat exhaustion?  Didn't make any sense because I hadn't keeled over and actually had run a pretty decent race.  One website suggested sitting down straight after the race might do it - I don't normally have the opportunity to do this so maybe it was that?

I lasted another couple of hours on the sofa feeling sick and moping about that extra 6 minutes.  I couldn't face any food, even though Ian kindly went out to buy soup.  I managed a couple of slices of toast and a couple of spoonfuls of soup before giving up and going to bed at 9pm.  Not exactly my most glorious celebration!

Woke up the next day after 10 hours sleep feeling much better.   It occurred to me that perhaps my nutrition strategy hadn't been the best, so I wrote a list of everything I remembered eating during the race:
Discounting fluids and fruit - my intake for the entire day was: 1 mini sausage roll, 4 pretzels, 1/2 marzipan bar and 1 biscuit.
According to Garmin I burned 4813 kcals on the run.
That's quite a deficit.  I think maybe the heat reduced my appetite and I just didn't keep track of it - I didn't have a set strategy like at Convergence - I just had whatever I fancied at the time.  Works fine in marathons - not so great in 50 milers it seems!  A woman cannot live on ice lollies alone...

Saturday, 23 March 2019

South Yorkshire: Yorkshire Chocathon race recap

It's as good as it sounds - this race was chocolate-themed!  It had a chocolate-themed aid station, a chocolate-themed medal and a chocolate-themed goody bag - living the dream!  I decided after Bristol that I needed another race before my ultra so I signed up the evening I got home from Green Man I told my mum about it, she told my cousin Ellen, then Ellen emailed me to ask if she could run a lap of it with me.  We haven't seen each other for years: my most recent memory of her son is as a toddler - he's 19 now!  My mum and I came up with a cunning plan to enter her into the race as a surprise.   

Then, a couple of days before the race, I received a message from a friend at running club, asking if I was doing a long run at the weekend.  Her daughter Megan is running the London Marathon and doesn't like doing her long runs alone.  I agreed Megan could come and do the first 3 laps with me, meaning this was the first marathon since Brighton where I'd had company the whole way round.

Here's Megs and I looking nice and fresh at the start line:

The race was a series of out-and-backs along an old railway line, making it probably the only flat marathon in the whole of South Yorkshire.  Each full loop was 6.5 miles, with the first half-loop being 4 miles then going past the aid station for another 2.5 mile loop.  This meant there were potentially eight opportunities to eat chocolate!  

We started off slowly and got slower in true ultra-runner style.  Megs had a few niggles and also wanted to stop and take pictures - understandably as it was very pretty.  Weather was also lovely considering it was March!
Megs was impressed I could take photos on the move, although as you can see, not that well...

We stopped after the first half-loop for water and the loo, and by the time we'd completed the second half-loop (6.5 miles) we were already 90 minutes in.  Concerned about the timings, I decided to pick up my rucksack and speaker from Ian at the aid station, as music can be a welcome distraction.  Megan and I had put together a playlist in the car on the way over, and I whacked that on and we set off.  Megs immediately picked up the pace from 9 minute kilometers to mostly 6 minute kilometres (!) and this time didn't want to stop at the halfway point.  At some point on this lap, somebody asked us what race we were doing.  I stopped, looked at Megan and my mind went completely blank.  I said, "errrr....." for 10 seconds before I remembered.  The passerby looked at me like I'd lost the plot - who runs a marathon and can't remember what they're doing?!  There wasn't time to explain this was already my 4th this year.  I said to Megs, "At least you won't have that problem when you're running London marathon!"  We pressed on to finish the second half-loop and stopped at the aid station for some chocolate delights:
They really did have everything.  White and milk chocolate mice, chocolate stars, crisps, jelly sweets, loads and loads of chocolate (and other) homemade cake.  Local races are absolutely the best for this stuff.  The race was advertised as "not having any healthy stuff at the checkpoint" and I can verify this is absolutely accurate :)  I managed to wolf a whole slice of coffee and walnut cake before we headed out on the third lap.  Megan's longest ever training run had been 17.5 miles and by the end of this lap she'll have done 19.5 miles.  So far she was holding up brilliantly and still smiling!  I instructed Ian to wait for my cousin Ellen in the car park and get her registered and we would pick her up as we passed the aid station for the second half of the lap.
Not long after we started the lap, I saw one of the more curious sights of my running career - a pig being taken for a walk on the course:
At first I thought it was a dog, especially as the two dogs in the foreground were barking, but no.  It was an actual pig.  We stopped and took this photo.  This is what I love about marathons - pretty much all of them have something unique and memorable!  Never seen a pet pig before!

Here's another selfie of us looking quite cheerful, I think this was also near the beginning of loop 3.
Shortly after this we passed a man wearing a t-shirt saying "12 marathons in 12 months".  I commented to Megs that I'd only managed 9 official marathons last year, and the man overheard and told us he was currently attempting "52 marathons in 52 weeks".  We ran alongside him for a while and he told us his story - he said he was currently on 24 marathons and it was only week 20 so he is a little bit ahead of the curve.  I love these stories - it reminded me of the chap I ran with in Worcestershire - it really is so inspiring.

As we approached the end of this half-loop, Megs again said she didn't want to stop.  She had 4km to go and when I told her this, she said, "Four kilometers is nothing!" -- impressive words for a teenager who'd just run 18 miles, the furthest she'd ever done in her life!  Ian and my cousin Ellen were waiting and after some brief hellos we all set off together.  Ellen and I chatted, she told us how she'd often been running here when she used to live locally.  By the time we were on the home stretch, Megan was starting to get tired so we tried to motivate her with the lure of medals, chocolate and a sit down. When we got to the checkpoint, her Strava said she was 19.7 miles so she did loops of the car park until she got to 20 miles - well done Megs, you were awesome.  We waited to watch her get her medal - which had a special badge attached to say it was a PB as it was her longest distance ever!
Then Ellen and I set off for the final lap.  Ellen had only been planning to do one 6.5 mile loop, which had now turned into 9 miles due to the extra half-loop, which was the furthest she'd run in a year (oops! sorry!)

We had a lovely time.  The pig had vanished (though it turned out later Ellen knew the pig-owner!) and we caught up on where we were at in our lives and all our family news.  It was lovely.  Running is ideal for chatting as there's nothing else going on to distract you.  I listen better and talk less when I'm running.  Perhaps I should have all my important conversations that way, haha.

By the final half-loop we were both feeling tired but we ploughed on and before long the aid station came into sight and it was all over!  Because it was a 6 hour race, you have to ring the bell to let the organisers know that you're finishing.  Ellen and I rang the bell:
 And both got our medals:
After that we got changed and had one more photo altogether before heading to the pub for some food before the drive home.  One of the lovely things about races like this is everyone can do the distance they want to - I did a full marathon (actually 27 miles - gotta love the bonus mile!), Megan did 20 miles and Ellen did 9.  Thank you both for coming to join me.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Bristol: Green Man Ultra 30 race recap

I've learned a lot about counties and their boundaries whilst doing this challenge, and Bristol is particularly interesting. I thought it was part of Avon, but in 1996 that was split up into different parts.  The ceremonial county of Bristol is now very small, encompassing basically just the City of Bristol and a small surrounding area (the tiny purple section on the map).  As a result none of the 'normal' marathons I could find actually crossed the county boundary.

This race is strictly speaking an ultramarathon, although at 30 miles it's really not much longer than a marathon.  There was a 45 mile version, but as I'd promised I wouldn't run any ultras this year (hahaha that hasn't really happened) I was trying to be restrained.  In any case, I'd read the comments from previous years - by all accounts a mudbath - and steeled myself for what could be a brutal race on difficult terrain.  It had a 9 hour cut-off which is always slightly worrying, and the weather forecast at the start of the week was absolutely horrendous (torrential rain from start to finish).  Hmm.

I took the afternoon off work to drive down to Bristol, which took 5 hours.  When I packed, I planned to use half my suitcase for running stuff, the other half for non-running stuff.  Then I ran out of room for all my trainers so my non-running stuff was cut down to just the stuff in the red circle, haha.  And they say you don't need much kit for running!
The race started at an incredibly civilised 11am.  This was because the 45 milers started at 8am but it meant I got a lie in, a nice relaxed breakfast AND arrived early (shock horror) with plenty of time for registration and chatting to other competitors.  Unfortunately, despite having already having gone to the toilet, I decided I needed to go one last time and as a result missed the start by about a minute - here's a picture of me sprinting off trying to catch the tail end of the pack...

I quickly did catch them and over the next 10km gradually overtook people until I settled into a comfortable pace.  The trail was quite muddy in places but there were also quite a lot of tarmac paths - I was glad I'd worn my hybrid shoes.  Ian was following me in the car and we'd agreed to meet at around 10k.  Unusually, we somehow managed to miss each other (not sure how as we're usually pretty good at this stuff).  
Nevertheless I was in good spirits, and soon got to the 20k checkpoint.  I have been known to have "Hollywood" checkpoint stops where I sit down, faff around, eat loads and generally waste time but today my goal was to get in and get out and I stuck to it.  I filled my bottle, drank some Coke and grabbed a bar and set off (meanwhile Ian missed me again as he was struggling to find anywhere to park - there were people and cars *everywhere*).  Luckily he caught up with me about 10 minutes outside the checkpoint and we walked up a hill together chatting.  After I left him, the trail was quite twisty and turny for a while before heading back into the woods.   The girl in front of me in this picture was from Good Gym in Bristol (along with quite a few other runners and supporters) and had recce'd the entire route.  A couple of times she shouted, "I think it's left here" or "take the upper path" saving me much stress and wasted time!  We talked for a while, she was really nice and she overtook me a couple of miles from the end for a strong finish.
Having not looked at the course at all, I was surprised when we ran first alongside a motorway and then over it on a narrow footbridge.  I think it was the M5?  We later crossed another motorway - the last time I remember doing that was Convergence - so it had good novelty value!
Just after this I saw Ian again briefly and he took this pic:

Almost immediately after there was a gigantic hill.  The view from the top was lovely but I had minimal time to appreciate it as by now it was approaching 3pm and I was keen to avoid the rain, so I was trying to get a move on.

A little while later I saw a runner from the 45 mile race, struggling to walk.  He explained his legs were hurting and I gave him a paracetamol, I'm pretty sure I saw him at the end so he must've dug deep and found extra reserves.  He asked how far to the next checkpoint and I said 6k as I was pretty sure it was at around 40k.  To my surprise, it was actually only about 3k and was mixed in with another race which had spectators galore, taped race area, loads of shouting and clapping, people wandering around with prams and cups of coffee and in the middle of all that was our checkpoint.  Ian was there too.  I found the situation quite stressful  (especially as I'd run nearly a marathon at that point and couldn't deal with hordes of people) and was keen to get out as soon as possible. I just got a cup of tea and Ian and I started walking.  The route was difficult to see and it was hard to know which marshalls were ours and which were the other race so both me and the girl in front got a bit lost.  We found our way into the woods and there was a muddy hill to climb, then we had to run on the same course but in the opposite direction to the other runners (!) for a short section before one of their marshalls sent me up another hill. 

As soon as it levelled out I came across a runner sitting on a bench being sick.  We've all been there and I asked if he was OK/needed anything and he said no (in truth, he probably just wanted everyone to stop asking if he needed anything)!  I saw him at the end of the race, he finished only about 10 minutes after me, looking a bit peaky but he still did it, kudos.  I ran onwards and caught up with the girl in the previous pic, her name was Lindsey and even though she'd run quite a few ultras, multi-days etc she had not been having a great day today.  She was doing the 45 miler and she'd had a rough time between miles 16-25, it reminded me of the horrible time I'd had at Suffolk.  Lindsey told me she'd started off with the 9 hour pacer but that he'd gone so fast that she hadn't been able to keep up and lost him, which is always depressing.  We chatted away about this race, other races we'd done, our lives in general and ended up staying together for the last 10k of the race.

It's always lovely having someone to run with but the timing was particularly brilliant.  We kept each other going, chattering away.  She told me we were going to go over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which I didn't know, and then it appeared and she waited while I took this photo:
As we ran across the bridge there were a billion tourists so I used my standard Tower Bridge patter, "Excuse me please, thank you, excuse me please, thank you" to get us past everyone.  After all that I could hardly stop for a photo so I took this one whilst running along, I love it as it sums up what ultra running is all about really.

From there it was just a little way further to the end, and despite my navigational confusion adding on a few more metres (I still owe Lindsey a Calippo for that!) we got there.  I urged her to go ahead and have her moment of glory then I followed her through the finish line 20 seconds or so later. 
We had a hug and were all smiles with our medals, and she told me she'd finished 1 minute shy of 9 hours, "who needs a pacer?, it was a lovely moment.  I also found the Good Gym girl and we had a hug too - sadly I didn't know her name!

I'd started 3 hours later so my time came in at 5:57 with a moving time of 5:40 which means I was successful in my quest to limit stops to the bare minimum (17 minutes over 6 hours is good going).  It really was a very pretty route and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  And the rain held off too - which was definitely more luck than judgement!
I got another giant shiny medal for the collection, a nice green T-shirt and they even provided a hot meal.  As I walked towards the canteen, I saw another runner who I recognised - it was the lady who'd finished just before me at Convergence!  We had a little chat and she'd got a trophy so she must've done well today.  Ultra running is such a small world and it's always nice to catch up with people you've met before. 

And that was it!  We went to a fun, quirky, restaurant called Zaza Bazaar and even saw a Banksy before driving home through Storm Freya.  Happy days!