Monday, 24 January 2011

Ultra Race 45/90 race report.

Going into an Ultra event which consists of over 90miles of running is not to be undertaken lightly.
So to go into the event nursing a slight ankle injury amounts to stupidity and a smattering of not knowing when you are beaten.
Having said that listening to other runners stories over this weekend, has given me the firm belief that I am certainly not alone in my way of thinking.

The weekend started on Friday night frantically getting kit sorted & packed along with ensuring that everything was sorted for the babysitters (my Mum & Dad) who were looking after the kids for the whole weekend.
We finally fell into bed exhausted.


 We were rudely awakened at 4.50am by the alarm then the madness started of breakfast, packing the car giving the last minute instructions to Mum & Dad (who had arrived at 5.15). We finally set off at 5.40am for the 65mile drive to the start line.
Once we had arrived I could relax and allow myself time to prepare myself mentally for the undertaking of the day. Anna however was still very nervous as she had kindly volunteered to man the checkpoints for the weekend.
We met up with Rory who soon reassured Anna and put her somewhat at ease, it was great to see Rory and Jen again and allow yourself to be absorbed once again into the whole Ultra experience. To be with over 100 people who actually think that what you do is quite normal and you are not looked upon as some sort of mad freak.

I had a bit of a reunion with Tom (who I had run a large part of the Cotswold Ultra with) he nearly fell over when I said I wanted to try for a sub 7hr for day one. To his credit though he quickly recovered and said that sounds like a plan.

So after the final preparations it was time for the usual team talk by Rory, he also informed us that the age range was from 19 through to 77 with over 100 starters which just goes to show the sport is growing.

Then it was to the start line and we were suddenly off, the start was like the start of a 10k people were sprinting off and Tom and myself were pulled along with the flow.
The pace was soon reined in and we settled into a pace which although was quick was manageable. We quickly negotiated the first 8 miles or so and soon found our selves leaving the canal were it goes through bilsworth tunnel. Then suddenly the first check point was upon us which is always a good mental boost. I assessed my pack and supplies and decided I did not require anything so once the number was taken it was ever onwards. We were soon back on to the banks of the canal, and settled into a rhythm that seemed to be working. The average pace was around 8.5 minute mileing, we all said was too quick but we still maintained it and did not seem to drop the pace more in keeping with the 9minute miling we had a agreed.
The section between checkpoint 1 & check point 2 is the longest section between check points of around 11 miles, we knew it was at bridge 76. This is almost like clock watching as you start counting bridges, which is then frustrating in itself as there are occasions certainly in built up areas where newer bridges have been built so they have the same number but with a letter suffix.
We soon came onto checkpoint 2 and knew that we had completed over 20miles. Anna was manning this checkpoint with Jen and she looked a lot happier now that Rory had put her right. The food on offer all looked good but Tom and myself opted for half a malt loaf each and a bottle of water. Jen informed us that we were only around 10 mins off the pace of the lead pack, not that this gave us any incentive to chase them down as we had are own game plan and we wanted to stick to it. We opted to walk for a couple of minutes so we could finish consuming the malt loaf, and then we were off running knowing that checkpoint 3 was only around 7 miles away. Tom and I had been running with another chap (never did get his name) from around 2 miles and somewhere in those 7 miles we seemed to loose him but we did not realise until it was too late. This seemed to have been the trait up to that point where we would be running with a group and then various people dropped off the pace, but interestingly apart from the first 2-3 miles we had not been passed by anyone.

Checkpoint 3 was reached and we adopted the same tactics of half a malt loaf each and we were quickly on our way. We caught and passed a few runners along this stretch who wished us well, we were still running strongly although we had now got our pacing under control and were now averaging 9min miling. With around 2 miles to go to check point 4 I started suffering a little my stomach was churning and my legs started to feel heavy, as if I was lacking in energy. I got to the check point, we were informed that we were in the top 10 which we had not realised, this gave us a mental boost.
I looked at the food at the checkpoint I realised then that I could not stomach any of the food on offer, in hind sight I should have grabbed something and carried it for when I felt I could eat it.

We left the check point and adopted the same policy of walking for a couple of mins to consume food although I had none to consume.

When it came to running again I knew I was in trouble I could not keep a rhythm and every step I took I had to force as there was no energy left in my legs. This is where the mind over matter kicks in you think to yourself it is less than 10miles to the end which is not a lot in relation to the race as whole. But when you are faced with that situation it could be a million miles away, the distance is incomprehendable in your mind, you just know it’s a long way to get to the finish.

To Tom’s credit he stuck with me but I think he was quite enjoying the slower pace. We were caught by one of the runners we had passed earlier and he said he was struggling as well so he ran with us. With around 4 miles to go we were caught and passed by another runner (Simon) who wished us luck and sped off into the distance.

With around a mile to the finish (by this time the chap we were running with had made a break) I said to Tom if you want to make a break for the line go don’t let me hold you up, fair play he kicked and soon caught and passed the runner in front. I walked for a bit crossed the canal at the penultimate bridge and then started running. I then saw bridge 135 which was the bridge were we were to get off the canal and run to the hotel and the finish line. I thought this is it I can run to the end now so I went for it, I got to the end after a little confusion as to the right building (the confusion being all mine). To be greeted by Rory at the end with medal in hand which he then gave to Anna to hang round my neck which was a great feeling. Then I took stock of my surroundings and saw Jen and Tom there as well, you get that great sense of achievement of what you have just accomplished. My time was 7hr 29mins and I was told I had got 9th place (Which I have since found out was in fact 11th place).
Taking stock of Day 1 though going for a sub 7hr time requires you being injury free and also having been able to do training runs above 20miles in the last 7 weeks would have been helpful. I think on reflection if I had of had those 2 elements I have no doubt I could have got a sub 7 because I was comfortable with the 8.30 pacing we were doing  up to around the 30 mile mark so all in all I was extremely chuffed with my achievement.

I spoke with Anna who by this time was really relaxed about the whole experience and was really enjoying it, which I was pleased about as I had kind’ a dragged her into it and I would have felt guilty if she was not enjoying it.

After a shower and stretch it was out to help Rory & Jen in any way I could even if it was just support, after all they were freezing sat outside once it had gone dark. I did manage to see the oldest competitor come in at 77; I was impressed at how fresh he looked.

Then it was to the bar for some well earned food, reality hit a bit then that I had to go and do the whole thing again tomorrow and on tired legs.

Oh well it was off to bed and get some well earned sleep…….


We had a lie in this morning compared to yesterday the alarm woke us at 6.10am. I got up and had a great runner’s breakfast; I was tempted by a full English but did not fancy it repeating on me.

We packed up the room and I made the last minute checks and alterations to my running kit (most of it had been sorted the night before). Then it was pack the car up and then chill in the registration room and chat with fellow runners. There were certainly a lot less runners around this morning, Jen said that a few had dropped out overnight after sleeping on it. So the total starters for Day 2 were just over 40.

Rory again assembled us for the pre talk and informed us of a detour which again should be easy to navigate. Then it was to the start line and suddenly we were off, the pace was certainly a lot slower this morning although a few did go storming off.

Tom had met up with a couple of friends he knew and we were running with them to start with, one was Harry who was the youngest competitor at 19. After around a mile though there youthful enthusiasm had got the better of me and I upped my pace a bit to see if they would either calm down or they might not stick the faster pace. As I thought they did not stick the pace, I felt a bit guilty for doing it but I could not stick the inane babble of a 19year old for 45miles. Tom opted to follow me and we settled down to a comfortable 10minute miling pace.

My legs although slightly stiff were not as bad as I thought they would be. We kept the pace all the way to the first check point, I did start to feel generally a bit rubbish about half a mile before the check point, so I did not get any food Tom decided to take some water on board so I decided to carry on walking and let him catch up. Anna was at the checkpoint and later she told me that I was not looking very good and she was a bit worried.

Tom soon caught me up and we started running again, I was still not feeling right but battled on. After around 3 miles of running I felt a lot better and after consuming a marmite bar which I was carrying with me we cracked on. We came across the detour and negotiated this with no trouble and was soon back on the canal. It was then that we started getting passed by a few of the runners. This can be a fairly demoralising experience especially that early in the race and knowing that you have no response in your legs. I decided that I can’t let this affect me hopefully I would feel better further into the race, at no point did I ever consider quitting. We knew we were approaching check point 2 we were just not quite sure which bridge it was at, we thought we were at it but it did not materialise and mentally that was tough so we walked only to find it was the next bridge along.

So check point 2 was reached dutifully manned by Anna who said that I looked a lot better. I got some water down and decided to try a cranberry flapjack, which I carried and ate as we walked away from the check point.

I had a bit of tussel with a swan at one point that was standing on the canal path, I went to go round it the one wat and it decided to go the same way, it almost took me into the canal, pesky birds.
We were passed by some more runners but thought so what and we carried on, we had by this time adopted a policy of running until either Tom or I called it and said walk from the bridge. There was never any complaint from either of us to say no carry on running it was always a welcome break.
This method seemed to get us through to check point 3 where more flapjacks was grabbed and we carried on, knowing that the next part was going to be the real slog. 11 miles to check point 4, but once reached it would be single figures to the end.

The same method we had been using carried on for a while and we even managed to pick up a chap that had passed us earlier in the day, he latched on to us and ran walked with us for a while. We were then passed by a lady who had adopted a style were she ran a quicker pace than we were doing then she would walk, but our walking pace was quicker than hers. So for the next 3 miles or so we played a cat and mouse game with her. By this time though I was at a stage where the pelvic sockets were hurting when I walked and I was finding it easier to just keep running.

During one of the walking sessions the chap we were running with told us when there was around 15 miles to go to the end, this seemed to spur me on because when we started running next I just ran and ran having not heard a call to walk for a while I looked round and realised that I had dropped Tom and the other chap.

At that point I thought I should wait for them but then selfishly possibly I am in a groove now and I don’t want to stop running so I carried on determined to get to check point 4.

I was still playing cat and mouse with the lady in red as I had named her due to her red coloured running coat (very original), after a lot of running I saw Bilsworth tunnel and the path up to check point 4 it was a steep woodland path. At this stage I did not care I was going to run it if it was a mountain, so off I set. Towards the end of the path I came across another runner walking and as I passed him I saw the checkpoint.
It was Rory’s son manning it I garbled something at him downed a bottle of water and grabbed a handful of sweets and I was off, the spur of knowing that I had 9 miles to go was enough.

The lady in red caught me just before we turned back onto the canal the other side of the tunnel and when we got back onto the canal she stayed on my shoulder. After a while I heard her watch beep and immediately she started walking, I then realised that her run walk policy was being driven mechanically by her watch. It got me thinking then as I ran along which is the most beneficial a watch that tells you when to take walk breaks or listening to your body and putting in the walk breaks when you think you need them. Both methods have pros and cons and I guess you need to go with what works for you. For me it’s listening to the body all the way. I could not believe I was having an in depth thought process and weighing up the pros and cons of something when I had run over 80 miles.

Anyway back to the race I was feeling really good and I knew I could run the whole way now. I quickly left the lady in red behind as she walked and I continued to run. I safely negotiated the last place where you can go wrong (i.e. end up heading off to Birmingham instead of Northampton).

In the distance I saw a runner and I quickly caught him it was David Miles, I walked / ran with him for a while and chatted with him about his experience of the JOGLE. I am totally in awe of the 3 fellows who completed this challenge. It was a privilege to share some running with this man all be it short as the urge to finish was too strong.

I carried on my relentless surge to the finish I saw another couple of runners in the distance, I caught them and passed them, I never know what to say when I pass people sometimes I almost feel embarrassed but you have to think of yourselves at times like that and almost become selfish to your needs after all it is a race.

The run machine carried on and I quickly tracked down another runner and when I passed her I asked if she knew how much further there was to go, to which she replied just over 3 miles. This gave me another massive mental boost and I surged forward once more, I could almost smell the finish it was that close.

Then suddenly I saw a sign saying Northampton lock ¾ mile and I assumed that this must be the end lock as I knew that we came off at the end of this part of the canal.

When the end of the canal was clearly in sight, I still did not quite believe it I had been following a canal for pretty much 90 miles for the last 2 days it was a bit emotional knowing that this was the last bit of the canal I would see for this particular race.
I turned on to the road hoping that the good people of Northampton had not pulled or ripped off the UR signs showing me the way home.

I followed the signs and when I saw the hill I knew the end was close as my good friend Tom had said he had sprinted this section last year, so I thought why not I will do the same. I then saw a runner ahead and I thought why not let’s take one more before the end only to find when we got to the top of the hill and I had just caught him he peeled off and got his keys out to the door of his flat.

Hey ho I didn’t care by then I was running to the end. When I crossed the finish line it felt a bit of dejavu there was Rory to greet you with another well earned medal and Anna taking the time down and Jen sat behind her computer updating the results page.
My finish was 9th a real 9th this time in 8hr 24mins.

I was totally elated to have completed the weekend at the start of the weekend I thought I would be able to complete day 1 and depending on my ankle I might be able to finish Day 2. Having said that having decided to start Day 2 I was not having a DNF against my name.

I was told that I could have a shower so I found the place and when I sat down first I realised I had no towel and also I hadn’t any energy to even have one. So I just changed and then went to the bar for a well earned pint of coke and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

While I was chatting to Simon, Tom staggered in, I made my apologies but he was cool as I figured he would be. We chatted about our achievements and then I made my excuses and said I need to get home.

I went to find Anna who was still dutifully taking the times down, I think she really enjoyed the weekend which was a huge bonus for me.

Saying goodbye to Rory and Jen was tough as they are such an inspirational couple, and such great fun to be around.

I have to say they do an absolutely fantastic job organising these events and a massive thank you must go to them, and you can clearly see they get immense satisfaction seeing people achieve their ambitions.

A great big thank you to Anna for sharing the weekend with me although secretly she enjoyed herself immensely (and I believe that Rory has booked her for the London Ultra).
A massive thank you must go to my parents for looking after our clan of children for the whole weekend without their support the weekend would not have been possible, there was even a lovely roast chicken meal waiting for us when we got home.

All I can say is this has really kick started my year, in terms of ultra running this is my big year and I am really looking forward to the challenges ahead......

Thanks for reading.......................


  1. Thanks for this, Phil!
    I plan on doing my first multi-day ultra some time next year, so reading first-hand accounts like this one really inspires me and and I can learn from it.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Another great report on another fantastic race!

    Looking forward to running with you again in May, though I think you may need to take notes during the run for the GUCR (You wouldnt want to forget anything in your report).

    Im going to stick to malt loaf and rice pudding as my food intake from now on during races, I've learned my lesson regarding those 'other recommended bars'

    Take it easy mate!


  3. Thanks Nick, I always do these Ultras for my own gratification, but if I can inspire other people by writing about my experiences, then I feel I have given something back to the sport I love.

    Cheers Tom
    GUCR is going to be fun in a wierd kind of way.

    I think malt loaf and Rice pudding are my rocket fuel, with a smattering of flapjacks and marmite bars thrown in for good measure.