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...


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