I haven’t talked at all on my blog about training for an ultra. I have just completed my first ever ultra marathon, and although I never doubted for a moment I could do it, it hasn’t really been the focus of my training this year (Manchester marathon was instead) so this became a bit of fun (!) instead.
I chose a 40 miler because I have completed several marathons now and although 50k (31 miles) seems a nice introduction to ultrarunning, for me it just didn’t seem to present that much of a challenge so I wanted something a bit more scary.
Dukeries 40 turned out to be my date with ultra destiny. It’s local (30 minutes up the road) and it winds through a beautiful area of Nottinghamshire called the Dukeries, which comprises various estates including Welbeck, Thoresby, Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park. It’s an area I’ve wanted to run in for a while, so this event seemed the perfect opportunity, plus the 40 mile option went through Sherwood Forest and right past Major Oak so that was the choice for me.
So what did I discover about ultra running?
- 40 miles is a very long way. My legs began to mistrust me at around 22 miles, and when I kept running beyond marathon distance, they freaked out and didn’t really want to work for me. That said, they carried me another 15 miles, so good work legs!
- It’s a very friendly, encouraging community. Runners I caught up with, or who caught up with me, often stayed a while for a chat and everyone asked how I was when they went past. The marshalls were also amazing!!! They couldn’t do enough for me.
- At 33 miles, a jam sandwich and a cup of tea taste absolutely divine. Simple pleasures really matter.
- I didn’t get bored of running or of my own company, particularly in the latter stages of the event. I really thought I would start to annoy myself after a while, but I quite enjoyed the peace and quiet.
- Ultra running is a brilliant way to see more trails in the laziest way possible. When I say lazy, I mean you still have to run the distance of course, but for someone like me whose internal compass is a little wonky, events like this take the stress and brain power out of navigating. The course was brilliantly marked with red and white tape every few metres, and yellow arrows and dots. All you have to do is follow the markers, and then every 7-10 miles there is a gazebo underneath which you’ll find all manner of sweet and savoury goodies to eat and drink.
- Time and distance warp when completing an ultra. At the beginning, the miles clock over really quickly, even though you’re running at a slower pace. Close to the aid stations, distances seem to stretch, and near to the finish, every mile feels like an extra marathon which takes an eternity to complete.
- You don’t have to run it all. In fact, it’s encouraged to walk sections, especially up hills.
- Never underestimate the restorative power of a bath full of Epsom salts afterwards.
- You’ll immediately want to complete another. Even while running it, as your hips and knees scream in pain, and you’re questioning your own sanity, you’ll be wondering how much further you can push yourself and planning your next adventure. Just remember, even though all your friends and family think you’re crazy for doing this, take solace in the fact that there’s always somebody crazier than you. Yesterday for example, I spent mile 36 with a man looking to take on a 184 mile foot race along the Thames later this year.
- The finish feels a bit of an anticlimax because you get so caught up in the ‘doing’, that even though you’re hurting, once it’s over you’re disappointed that the moment (or hours) have gone. I was relieved to finish yesterday of course, but I run because I enjoy the act of running, not to complete events.
So a few questions remains:
Did I enjoy it?
I enjoyed the scenery, the cameraderie, the chatter, the adventure, the feeling of being out in nature doing something to test my own limits. That’s a powerful feeling and gives immense satisfaction. When my watch hit 30 miles, I chuckled to myself because whether I completed the event or not, it didn’t matter; I had become an ultra runner. Those last 10 miles oddly didn’t feel as tough as the few miles after marathon distance, which were the longest miles of my life. Lime Tree Avenue goes on forever by the way. Well, actually a couple of miles, but it felt endless.
Would I do another?
Probably. Yes. Watch this space.
Can anyone run an ultra?
Of course. Once you believe you can do something, you’ll do it. It’s all about toughness of mind. The body hurts, but your mind simply has to tell it to keep going. I talk out loud to myself. I also posted a few videos on Instagram yesterday which gave me a boost and allowed me to talk honestly about how I was feeling to those watching. I also downed a cup of cola which gave me a stitch and made me forget about the pain in my knees for a good few miles. I passed some runners listening to music, which isn’t something I do myself but I can understand how it’s a good distraction. I ran with a few people for a chat to distract myself. Your mind just has to find a way to make the pain shrink down to become insignificant and you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
What I ate:
- 4 Tailwind stick packs
- One Snickers bar
- Two chocolate brownies
- 1 Eat Natural bar
- 4 gingernut biscuits
- So many jellybeans I lost count
- 12 flies (give or take a few)
- Some cherry tomatoes (inspired!)
- 1 x Jam and 2 x peanut butter sandwiches
- 1 cup of tea
- Mobile phone (the only mandatory bit of kit)
- Montane Via Fang race vest with 2x 500ml soft flasks filled with Tailwind.
- Ron Hill waterproof jacket in case of rain or wind (I didn’t wear this in the end.
- Inov-8 merino wool socks. No blisters and I also knew they dry quickly if they get wet.
- adidas raven boost trail shoes
Distance covered: 40.3 miles
Total time: 8:26:39 (inc CPs)
Total moving time: 7:59:34
Position: 82/105 finishers
Strava data: https://strava.app.link/b4EOcm3L0Y
Thanks are due to Ronnie Staton of Hobo Pace Events for putting on such an excellent, well organised event, and to everyone who gave up their time to marshall, and help keep tired runners fuelled, hydrated and motivated. Thanks to Nick who drove me to the start and gave me encouragement that I could do it. Thanks to Jeanette and Nic for company en route. Thank you to my friends, and my Twitter and Instagram communities for the messages of support throughout the day – they really kept me going. Special thanks to Dan for his endless patience with this lasting urge I have to test my limits. Seeing you, Allegra and Bella at mile 31 meant the world, and running the last few hundred metres to cross the finish line with Allegra was unforgettable. Love you all.