So this will probably be the shortest race report i’ve ever written and for one reason, this race was pretty traumatic!
It didn’t start well, I missed a number off the postcode i put into the satnav, as we drove into Brighton city centre i frantically searched for the race info papers…i was sure this race didn’t start in Brighton, WORTHING…we’re meant to be in Worthing, luckily with only 40 mins until the race started, Worthing wasn’t too far away.
I got to the start, grabbed my number and had my kit checked, sorted myself out and i was ready just in time for the pre race briefing. The race director’s speech was just as i remembered from the NDW50…terrifying! He mentioned that bad weather was on its way, and we will get wet, and cold. We all knew bad weather was due but as the sun gleamed through the clouds, everyone had a little hope that the rain would stay away.
Off we went, the first few miles uphill to get onto the downs, people we stopping to rip off waterproofs and long sleeves as sweat dripped down my face, it was pretty warm.
The first 10 miles for me are all about zoning out, getting used to things and focusing. I had a few chats with some fellow runners and before i knew it we were at the first aid station. I felt ok, not amazing but satisfied.
I carried on back up a huge hill, this was an ongoing feature of this race, as it was mainly along the South Downs Way, all the aid stations…weren’t! Which meant coming off the downs, and then back up for each one.
I was about 15 miles in when the wind started increasing and the first drops of rain appeared. I battled on and before i knew it was properly raining, on went the ‘waterproof’ windshield jacket. I’d brought a windshield jacket and a proper gortex waterproof, thank god i did. As the wind increased and the rain got harder, we were getting battered up on the ridge of the downs, without an shelter things were starting to get bad. I put my proper jacket on instead of the windshield. My face was stinging from the horizontal rain and i started to get cold.
This was basically the theme for the rest of the race, 35 miles of strong winds (up to 30mph) and relentless rain, i ended up with all my clothes and jackets on, all completely soaked through and still cold. People were dropping like flies with hypothermia and at one point i think i was close to joining them. Luckily recognised the symptoms and knew that if i ran harder i might be able to warm up. ’Warm up’ didn’t really happen but i managed to warm up enough to keep going.
Every aid station has people shivering, it was like a warzone, medics and ambulances taking people away. I’d grab some food, and get going, i didn’t want to stand around getting cold.
I made it too the end in just under 10hrs 28mins…i was delighted to be in the warm more than ever.
This race was torture, with no shelter up on the downs and visibility of only around 5 metres, it was tough not just on the body, but maybe more so on my mental state, i was so happy that i managed to keep going when things couldn’t get any tougher, something i will take away as a bonus for my Marathon Des Sables training.
My running felt ok, maybe as my mind was distracted with just trying to survive! I don’t have any photos to accompany this post, as my phone was hidden away in the depths of my bag, it still got wet! Believe me though, the photos would have been depressing!
Another 50 miler done, and the ultimate mental test i’d had so far.
So this was my final marathon of the eyar and i wanted to go for a PB! I’d completed the 50 mile ultra a month or so before so knew i had the endurance, i just needed to find the guts to go for it. My previous PB was 3:32:50, set at the Paris Marathon in April. I knew i could go quicker, but how much quicker?
I thought i’d aim for sub 3:30 to keep it realistic. I didn’t think i could shave much more of my time than that.
We got to the run, a small local club organised run of only about 300 competitors, early and it was freezing! I got my number and sat around for a bit, desperate to get going. Finally the start time arrived. Now this marathon wasn’t the most interesting, it was essentially an out and back, along a cycle path, twice! So not much of a change of scenery! I figured at least i could pace myself easily with this kind of race.
Off we went, i got tripped after about 5 metres which wasn’t the best start, maybe something to do with me wearing a Team GB vest!
The first drinks station came quickly, and i saw the dreaded ‘water in cups’…i hate these, you spill water all over yourself, can’t carry it with you, it’s a nightmare. Thankfully Jules and Agneta were at the turnaround point and i desperately shouted for them to get me a bottle of water to carry, they looked confused to say the least, they knew there was water on the course so why did i want a bottle? I suspected that when i next saw them they wouldn’t have one for me.
I plodded on and eventually got to the halfway stage, a lap of the athletics stadium then out again. I saw Jules in the distance, clutching some water…i was so happy! I was starting to get dehydrated and this water saved my race.
I felt great for the rest of the race, even as the wind picked up. The bottle of water gave me such a lift, i was so happy! I noticed my time was way ahead of target so just kept going, i wondered how long i’d be able to keep up the pace.
I finished in 3:24:42…i’d smashed my record and kept a pace up of 7:49 for longer than i ever thought i could. I was chuffed to bits. 2012 was done, and i’d ran faster than i’d ever expected to top it off.
So the North Downs Way 50 ultra was meant to be my prime focus since doing the Paris Marathon in April, this was my BIG challenge for the year and the one that I’d be channelling ALL my energy into preparing for, the lead up didn’t quite happen as I’d hoped. I’m not going to say I was under trained blah blah blah as I hear this story every day at work, and it’s a slack excuse. I think I was pretty well trained, I just hadn’t covered quite as many miles as my plan suggested I should. I’m mostly pleased that my fitness is now at a level where I can run 30 odd miles and although it will be tough, I’m not intimidated by it… I took this as a positive and convinced myself that I’d be well rested for the challenge!
30 miles is one thing, 40 miles is hard (I did one 40 mile run in prep for this) but 50 MILES is where it starts to get REALLY serious!!!!
So I got myself down to the start, desperate to get going, I felt prepared as far as my kit and mental state was concerned, I wasn’t even very nervous, I just knew that I needed to take it one step at a time, not concern myself with the distance, and just keep plodding away. I’d set myself a very rough target of 10 hours, I had no idea how much time I’d lose on the hills but I’d done a very flat 40 miles in 7:30 hours so figured this could be about right. SO, I knew I’d be on my feet for a long, long time!
At the start there was a mixed bunch of runners (many saying they hadn’t trained enough!) including some super fit looking ultra experts. I didn’t concern myself with anyone else, this was my challenge and I would do what I needed to do to get to the finish.
After a briefing we set off at 7:30am, it was already pretty hot which was one of my biggest worries. I’m rubbish at taking on enough water and food and I knew that this would be my biggest problem, so the heat made me even more concerned. I set myself a target of 500ml an hour as a MINIMUM…I figured that this way I could at least monitor my fluid intake and stay on top of it. I straight away started doing something I’ve never done before, if I even thought about a drink, I had one…normally I’d spend 30 mins thinking to myself that I’m getting thirsty, not today, I couldn’t afford to let that happen if I was going to get to the finish.
The first checkpoint appeared really quickly, my zooning out had seemed to work! That was 7 miles in the bag straight away, this made me more confident but I was careful not to start thinking things like ‘only 43 to go!!’. I knew the next section well as it went through Guildford, this helped as I knew the terrain, I knew some short and sharp (and sandy) hills were approaching so got my ultra poles ready…these helped so much, I flew up the hills leaving panting runners in my wake.
After seeing Jules and Magnus at about 13 miles (thanks guys) I knew it was time to get my head down and make up some miles. This was the longest stretch between aid stations, 12 miles but I knew that it was mostly shady and flat. I put my poles away, stuck my music on and decided I’d use this section to make up some time. I overtook maybe 15 runners, and enjoyed amazing views over the downs before hitting the half way point at Box Hill. I felt great at this point, half way already, but I knew this was where the fun was about to begin!!!…
First of all this is when the REAL hills start, and being 25 miles in, tiredness could begin at any time from now…
Box Hill is a beast…straight up for about 10 minutes straight out of an aid station where I’d just stuffed my face with crisps, sandwiches and chocolate! It was really hot now as well and the climb was quite exposed. My poles really helped and I kept plodding up the hill…finally reaching the top to find some fellow ‘extreme crazy mad ultra runners’ posing for photos in front of the Olympic rings, which were put there for the cycle race that did laps of the same hill a couple of weeks before. I couldn’t believe how inspiring it was to see the rings, it made me remember that I was dong an extreme challenge, and that I should push myself to do the best I possibly could. It didn’t matter what time I did, what mattered was that I got to the finish line knowing that I’d given the challenge my all. I then felt a buzz of adrenaline and skipped off through the shady woodland and down the other side of the hill.
It was actually a hill about 5 miles later that got me, around the 30 mile mark, I think it was called Reigate hill but it was a loooong dragging hill that went on forever, my legs were screaming at the top and if I’m honest I felt pretty tired from this point on. Although I didn’t mind too much what time I did, I suddenly became obsessed with getting in under 10 hours…I must have done the maths about 50 times and in hindsight my ‘projections’ were ridiculous. I convinced myself that I could do it but this was based on my running pace for the first 20 miles, I was slowing down considerably but kept going through the ‘what ifs’ . It kept me distracted if nothing else!
Things really started to slow down now, and a lot more walking ensued…I could feel my energy levels were getting really low but kept plodding on, up some of the hills I genuinely wondered if I was going to make it to the top without stopping, I was getting flashbacks of my Mount Kinabalu climb up hills that were like speedbumps compared to that! The mileage in my legs was starting to take it’s toll!
Finally it got to the point where it was impossible for me to get within 10 hours and I was actually really happy, it’d started putting unnecessary pressure on myself about this and it was a huge relief when I no longer had to worry about it…I was very much into walk/run/walk/run territory now, walking felt totally fine, running felt exhausting. I’d aim to run to a tree in the distance, then treat myself to a walk to another landmark, run to another tree, walk to the tractor….and so on.
I was happy doing this and it seemed to be working…I got a final rush of adrenaline and covered a mile or 2 without stopping near the end but then really struggled for the alst few miles. The problem was that we thought we were just 1 mile from the finish (due to a misleading sign!), but we were actually 3 miles. Doesn’t sound much but when you have run 47 miles in your legs, it is a HUGE difference, my motivation was disappearing with every step beyond the initial mile. Then we briefly got lost, which didn’t help…keep going, keep going.
Finally I exit a field and see an arrow pointing down a lovely looking gentle sloping road to what HAD to be the finish. I started running again, knowing that this would soon be done. I turned a corner and saw a large gathering of people at the end of the road. They all started cheering and clapping as I came down the road towards them…I could then see the finish, this was it, I’d done it!!!!…i’d just completed a 50 mile ultra!!!
Jules was there to welcome me home, I felt disorientated, exhausted, delighted and dehydrated all at once…”coke, I need coke…” was all I could say. It had taken me 10 hours and 55 minutes to cover 50 miles…I didn’t break any records, but did I care? Not one bit!
What a day, what an achievement…I still can’t quite believe what happened. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part I think I did, would I do it again? Sign me up, bring it on, lets break 10 hours.
So a few weeks ago a guy (Alex) on twitter (annoyingly i can’t remember his twitter name, but hopefully he’ll read this and make himself known so i can add it in) posted this brilliant list of his Top 100 emo songs of all time. Being a huge fan of this type of music I immediately got chatting to him and others about our own opinions…this then led to the inevitable…I had to make my own list!
I decided 100 songs was a bit too much for me to put together so went for 50, hopefully all killer, no filler.
For those that don’t know what emo is, its basically a slang term for emotional music. Now don’t panic…just because I listen to this type of music (and i’m proud of it) doesn’t mean I hate myself and the world I live in and have dark thoughts blah blah blah…I think all music should be emotional, otherwise there is no point. That’s why I don’t understand Dance music!
So the list that Alex put together was very much what are thought of as emo bands, playing emo songs. My list is a bit different (no point producing the same thing!), i’ve gone for emo SONGS rather than bands. Most of the bands are probably thought of as emo bands but i didn’t worry about this too much, so there are a few curve balls in there.
So…here we go…there will be a link to the Spotify playlist at the end.
I’m going to write a bit about the top 20 tracks, rather than all 50. These are also pretty much in order.
50. Left Hand Charity - 36 Crazyfists
49. Tearjerker - Fenix TX
48. Dear Child (I’ve been dying to reach you) - Anthony Green
47. King Park - LA Dispute
46. Fuck You, It’s Over - Glasvegas
45. Cripples Can’t Shiver - Pianos Become The Teeth
44. This Bitter Pill - Dashboard Confessional
43. Emotions Kept Inside - Distance From Afar
42. Meet You Halfway There - Student Rick
41. Ender - Finch
40. The Fiction We Live - From Autumn To Ashes
39. Note To Self - From First To Last
38. Amelia - Tonight Alive
37. Your Revolution Is A Joke - Funeral For A Friend
36. I Am - Further Seems Forever
35. Untitled - The Xcerts
34. Lovers and Liars - Matchbook Romance
33. She Broke My Heart So I Broke His Jaw - Just Surrender
32. Biko - Bloc Party
31. The Widow - The Mars Volta
30. Feathers And Glue - The Nick Tree Band
29. The Ghost Of You - My Chemical Romance
28. Lapse - Envy On The Coast
27. Better Than Ever - New End Original
26. Goodbye - Secondhand Serenade
25. Really Here - Far
24. Digital Bath - Deftones
23. You’re the One - Spoken
22. Now It’s Done - Straylight Run
21. Anthology - Thrice
20. Eye Fish Star Fish Eye - Drive By Argument
Stand out lyric: Don’t run ahead cause you might be scared, and I’m too weak to comfort you, too proud to turn back, too naive to give up, too righteous and selfish or to be outdone.
This is a band that I unfortunately only discovered after they had disbanded.As with many of the songs I’ve chosen, it could have been this or a number of other songs from their self-titled album.I love the intensity in the singer’s voice.
19. Both - Greg Holden
Stand out lyric: Don’t think that I don’t remember when, I saw you cry on that late December evening, Why couldn’t I make my own decisions? ‘Cause I was only seven.
I was introduced to Greg (literally) by a friend and I know his drummer.Which is definitely why I got into Greg’s music and may have some bearing as to how he got into my top 20.BUT his albums are both stunning, heartfelt acoustic music that you can sing along to at the top of your lungs.
18. Ambience/Limousine - Brand New
Stand out lyric: But I love you so much, but do me a favor baby, don’t reply. ‘cause I can dish it out, but I can’t take it.
Everyone knows about Brand New and they are a band that have been close to my heart ever since I picked up ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ off some kid at a show in New York.Turned out to be someone who would become an emo superstar - Jesse Lacey.The way the song builds and builds is massive.
17. August – Athletics
Stand out lyric: As long as the clouds keep covering up the sun on cloudy days, as long as the sun keeps burning me my love, anyway, I’ll be there.
The crystalline guitars and pulsating bass lines, the soaring vocals and tortured lyrics, the sweeping chords and cascading climaxes, the pounding cadence of the drums…it eventually takes you. This album needs to be listened to from start to finish, it takes you on a journey.Epic doesn’t even come close to the emotion this song, and album, creates.
16. Summer Wind Was Always Our Song - The Ataris
Stand out lyric: “I love you.I need you near.”Just give me one last chance and I’ll never let you down again.
How could this song not be included?A favourite from my time at college, warm days, chilling with friends, not a care in the world.The Ataris in my opinion know how to make emo pop punk better than pretty much anyone else.
15. Everything’s Too Cold…But You’re So Hot - The Early November
Stand out lyric: You know I always forget.
The way this song ends is pretty much why it’s included.The strain and emotion in Ace Ender’s voice is something else.The whole song lures you in with the almost whispered lyrics, then smashes you in the face.
14. Ghost Man On Third - Taking Back Sunday
Stand out lyric: (it’s a shame I doubt they even care).No one has to know about this.Don’t let me down.
Another band that I grew up with, I still remembering hearing ‘Tell All Your Friends’ for the first time, it blew me away.I could have chosen any number of their songs but this had to win.The heartfelt lyrics and all round intensity of the song just stand above all overs.
13. Focus - Emma’s Imagination
Stand out lyric: And I know you’re right behind me. In everything I do. So I’ll hold this moment forever in my heart.
This is a random one, and one that may shock some people.Emma’s Imagination is one girl and a guitar, I first came across her on a TV talent show of all places, Sky’s ‘It must be the music’.Don’t let that put you off though; Emma’s lyrics and voice literally give me the shivers, incredible talent.
12. Special/Blown It (Delete As Appropriate) – Mansun
Stand out lyric: I‘m not such a tragic waste of space. I could bring happiness to people.Just one more greatest hits tour for the devotees.The same old faces came.They love their summer spectaculars.
Another random one maybe but I HAD to include Mansun in this list.They are one of my favourite bands of all time.Incredible band who were well ahead of their time, even if they were around today they probably would still be ahead of their time.This is off the album ‘Six’ and is actually one of the more straight forward songs they ever wrote.Great lyrics, to the point.
11. Genesis - Second Monday
Stand out lyric: Turn the lights off.Where do I go?
This is a band that never really got the plaudits they deserved.‘Imagery’ is one of the best albums you’ll ever hear.Full of emotion, atmospherics and dynamism.Definitely one to check out if you are a fan of the more traditional emo sound.
10. It’s Just Me, I’m Dark Everywhere - This Familiar Smile
Stand out lyric: It wouldn’t matter if I cried my heart out.Am I losing touch?
I think the title to this song is all you really need to see to work out what kind of song it is.This Familiar Smile are essentially a Scottish Second Monday!So see above.
9. In Memory - Hidden In Plain View
Stand out lyric: And these are your last words, “I’m sorry”.Right before my eyes, can’t believe this is goodbye.
This song really hit me hard at a certain time, I’m not going to write about why but I basically listened to it on repeat for weeks on end!Great band who maybe lost their way slightly before breaking up.The lyrics to this song still make the hairs on my neck stand on end.
8. Points Underneath - The Honorary Title
Stand out lyric: And I can, so I will, just as long as you instill.This fear in my heart, I just hope that you aren’t alone.
This is a classic track from a classic band.Jarrod Gorbal knows how to tug on the heartstrings and does it to no better effect that in this song.I feel sorry for this guy, he doesn’t have much luck in love!It’s to our benefit though.
7. On My Own - The Used
Stand out lyric: Without it all.I’m choking on nothing.It’s clear in my head.And I’m screaming for something.Knowing nothing is better than knowing it all.
Everything about this song is so emotionally charged it’s untrue.The atmospherics, the acoustic guitar, and of course Bert’s distinctively strained vocals.If you’re ever feeling a bit lonely, go and listen to this.
6. Steps Ascending – Thursday
Stand out lyric:I’m not giving up.
I never really took much notice of this song UNTIL I watched a Thursday documentary and live dvd where Geoff explains what it’s about.The clip is below.The emotion that he spills on stage, especially at the end of the track is incredible.I’ve now got the above lyric tattooed on my back!
5. Dead Friends - I Am The Avalanche
Stand out lyric: Here it is. It’s the letter you wrote. The night before you died. Just so we would all know. That it was not all good.
This song was one of those that comes along very rarely, one that when you listen to the first time, you are instantly drawn in to the lyrics and story being told.Vinnie Caruana totally grabbed my attention with this track and you can feel his pain through the music.It’s not easy to create that impact on record.I don’t know who ‘Katie’ is, but it doesn’t matter!
4. Apologies - The Felix Culpa
Stand out lyric: And all that I’ve said in songs, You’d rather hear in words.
Another band that many may not have heard of, well get yourself onto Spotify now and check them out, insanely good band.They’ve recently split up so I never got to see them live, something I’m totally gutted about.This song is exactly what it says on the tin, an apology.It may offer us an insight into why this band is no more.
3. Long Goodnight - The Get Up Kids
Stand out lyric: Sing a long goodnight. Forfeit any fight.
It’s The Get Up Kids, what needs to be said?The greatest emo band of all time (maybe!?) and one of my favourite bands ever!Amazing band, amazing song, no justification needed.
2. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence – Glassjaw
Stand out lyric: This is what it’s like to be alone.
Glassjaw were my first introduction into heavy, emotional, hardcore.They totally blew my mind when I first heard them back in 1999 and have been a firm favourite ever since, they can do no wrong in my opinion.Knowing Daryl’s back story helps with understanding this song, his struggle with Crohns Disease has been well documented, and this song maybe gives us just a tiny little insight into what it’s like for him.
1.Falling Out Of Touch - Something With Numbers
Stand out lyric: You’re falling out of touch.
This is maybe my favourite song of all time, and many people won’t even have heard the band.They are a reasonably known (in their home country) Australian rock band from Brisbane.I discovered them while travelling which maybe helps their case, this song came to me when I felt that I was literally falling out of touch with some people.I must have listened to this song 1000 times, I still find it mesmerising.
My preparation for the Paris marathon hadn’t been perfect, just like my running for the whole of 2012 to date BUT what I could say was that I’d shaken the niggling injuries and was feeling pretty fit and fast. I think all the training I’d been doing for my ultras allowed me to not suffer too much with the lack of training in the early part of 2012 (endurance wise at least) so I was feeling quietly confident of going well.
I was pleased with my fuelling in the week up to the race, I didn’t overdo it as I had done in the past as I have found that extreme carb loading doesn’t really agree with me, so I’ve given up with it, and don’t seem to feel any worse off! Yea I ate pasta but not extreme amounts and only on the Thursday and Friday. My main concern was a lack of sleep…
We had to get up at 4:45am to get to the airport on Saturday morning (damn those cheap early morning flights) but I managed to sneak another hour of kip in during the afternoon in Paris before hitting the expo.
All went well, bit of a queue for my running number but before I knew it I was sitting in the ‘Uncle Ben’s rice party’ enjoying a rather nice 5 euro box of rice with some bananas and about 12 litres of water!!! Good to stay hydrated kids!
That evening we went out for a cheeky chicken and chips dinner by the hotel and got an early night.
Woke up early again but had easily scored a good 8 hours sleep, not bad for the sleep before a big run. I had the usual pre race nerves, mainly present due to the pressure I had put on myself to get a good PB. Now my PB stood at 3:54 and I was hoping to get it into the 3:40’s, that to me would be a success.
It was pretty cold, overcast and looked like rain at the start, with some nasty gusts of wind swirling around the Champs Elysees. Getting into the starting pens was a bit of a nightmare, massive queues and a tiny gate to get through, luckily I timed it perfectly and was only waiting in the pens for about 5 minutes. Highlight at this stage was giving my nasty cycling top (see photo below, my throwaway warm top) to a Frenchman to throw to the side for me…he kept it! haha.
Off we went, I started shuffling to the start line then suddenly noticed a toilet, in the starting pen, with only 2 people queuing, I thought this was too good a chance to miss, so went for it….quick pee and then over the start line I went.
Starting off nicely, just trying to concentrate on getting my pace to around 8:20min/miles, my ambitious target to get in just under 3:40. I literally could not get slower than 7:50m/m never mind how hard I tried, I felt comfortable so decided if I feel good, stick with it. This became my tactic from then on, listening to my body not my watch. I was worried I’d burn out later just as I did last year in London but if you don’t try, you don’t achieve anything.
I kept my pace up and felt great, the miles were flying by and I was enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. Even my gel on 10k didn’t taste too bad, things were going well. I’d even managed to CATCH UP the 3:30 pacemakers, this I hadn’t expected.
I went thought halfway on around 1:44. I was super happy with that but slightly concerned as to whether or not I could keep it up. I just kept telling myself, stay calm, stay relaxed…keep going, keep going.
Then after a bit of a scuffle at one of the water stop bum fights (possibly unrelated) I necked another gel and disaster struck…I suddenly badly needed the toilet, and not a wee! I also felt a bit sick and just generally not very happy. This was bang on half way, as the crowds got bigger I started to panic about what to do…luckily after a couple of miles the toilet urge passed, as in it went away! Still felt sick though which scuppered my fuelling strategy for the next 10 miles or so. I wanted to have a gel every 10k (way more than I normally bother with, but I know they actually DO help) but on 30k I just could not face it. So I slowly slowly sipped away at plain water for the rest of the race. I’d slowed to my original target pace of 8:30ish at this stage, but the legs still felt good.
I then just kept plodding, ticking off the miles one by one and I slowly started to feel better again. I thought maybe I could even get in under 3:30, this would be unbelievable, so I started to speed up, I’d overtake a group of people, then another group…I was reeling in all those people that had gone out too fast, I must have gained 500 places in the last 5 miles. With 2 miles to go, I slung my water to one side, it was game time. I checked my watch again…i’d have to run the quickest 2 miles of my life to get close to 3:30 so that dream had faded, but I could still get a brilliant time…I flew past the other runners as if they were walking (some were) and this made me feel amazing. Finally I could see the finish, sprint time as some cheerleaders shouted “Allez MattCHEW”…I darted for the line….3 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds. I could not believe it, I would have been happy with 3:40 yet I’d smashed that time, and totally smashed my previous PB. I was absolutely delighted. I think if I hadn’t have felt ill then I may even have got under 3:30…but that can be the next aim.
It was a great day, not the best organised race I’ve ever done but a fantastic course and great support from the Parisians. I’d definitely recommend it if you can’t get into London.
Preparation for this run was AWFUL…probably the worst i’ve had. Colds and shin splints have kept me off the roads and restricted me to cross training for the most part. The longest run i did before this ultra in 2012 was about 9 miles. Did i consider dropping out?…of course i didn’t, i don’t quit anything!
Randomly whenever i have had shin splints in the past, doing an ultra has miraculously cured them, i have no reason why this happens, and it totally defies science, but i like it! So the shins didn’t deter me from this run, neither did the lack of training, i’d done an ultra a couple of months before and this one looked much easier. I also believe that the biggest challenge is mentally, and my mental state was positive, and strong.
The London Ultra is basically a 31 mile circular route from SE London, through various parks and boroughs, ending up near Wembley in NW London.
I wrapped my shins up and off we went, 200 odd runners and myself, it was actually a nice day, bit chilly but one of the nicest we’d had in a long time.
I totally blanked my mind from any distances and didn’t look at my watch too much, my mentality was just keep plodding along and see how things go. My mind was more than kept busy with following the course, it wasn’t the easiest to follow, with tiny stickers on lamp posts and gates pointing the way, we were told not to follow the person in front, great advice, i got lost a number of times because i was following someone…especially in the first 10 miles or so, proved very frustrating.
Luckily i was joined by my mate Dave on about 9 miles, he was meant to be doing the whole thing but was having even worst injury problems than me so ducked out, instead deciding to just join me for some of the middle section. When he met me he actually announced that i was running along a road that was not even part of the course, i had no idea, and even less idea about how he found me!
We plodded along and it was great having Dave there, a bit of chat is great to distract the mind and let those miles tick by. We was with me for around 15 miles in the end.
I felt good when we left me a Kew Gardens, suddenly i realised that i could easily get in under 6 hours which would be a great achievement, so i pressed on, suddenly upping the pace with some heavy punk in my ears…i felt great and slowly picked my way past some tired looking runners who had overtaken me hours before.
The last 4 miles were tough but i battled on, running closely behind a fellow runner for a time, before moving onto the heels of the next, this seemed to be a great way of working through the field slowly but surely, without overdoing it.
Then i hit a problem…while taking a phone call i lost concentration and followed some guy in the wrong direction, 1 mile from the finish! I suddenly realised i was lost and had gone a good mile the wrong way, i ran back and spent 5 minutes trying to work out where i’d gone wrong, obviously tired at this stage it was hard to start studying maps and route cards…after 20mins wasted i got back on track, but my under 6 hours time had passed, i was gutted to say the least! I got to the finish in 6hrs 11mins, having spent maybe 30 odd mins of the day lost it was a case of what could have been! At least i know that i can do the distance with minimal training, and i was pleased with my performance. NEXT time i will break 6 hours…hopefully smash 6 hours. I did over 33 miles in the end, but despite the frustration of getting lost, it was still a great day of running.
After deciding that this years aim was to do a 50 mile run, i have entered the North Downs Ultra in August, so i now have that to aim for, but before that…the Paris Marathon.
My first race of 2012 and it was a random one, the Grim Night Terror run…a 6.5 mile (was supposed to be 8 miles but cut short due to icy conditions) run through some woods and army training grounds just outside Aldershot.
The run was supposed to include a water pit and some other equally exciting and worrying obsticles but due to the temperature being the wrong side of zero, and the falling snow, the decision was made to take these obstacles out…thank god!
It was a cold cold COLD night and the worst part of this whole event was the waiting around to get going, as we hid in our car it was only then that i realised that i had forgotten to put the insoles back into my trail shoes, i’d taken them out to dry previously…never one to panic i cleverly ripped the insoles out of the skate shoes i was wearing and slipped them in, job done. I was slightly worried as i’d been getting shin splints of late, but the skate shoe insoles seemed to do the job and not a shin splint in sight!
The run was great, hundreds of twinkling torches following each other through the freezing woodland. Where was the terror going to come from??…the random speakers in the woods playing the sounds of a girl screaming her lungs out, felt like i was queuing up for a theme park ride.
The conditions were icy at best and i did manage a comedy fall, smashing my now swollen knee into some jagged ice. My running companion James did not want to be outdone…so ran into a tree and smashed his headtorch, leaving me to light the way for the both of us for the final 2 miles.
All in all a fun event in snowy conditions, we clocked 54 mins for 6.5 miles through the darkness, not too bad considering i’d been suffering with a cold all week. Placing me 132 out of 1113.
This was my first ever proper Ultra ‘race’ and I probably couldn’t of chosen a much harder one! I’d run the distance before, I’d run Coastal trails before and I had all the kit…so nothing to worry about right? I was actually fairly calm when our morning briefing started, I knew my sensible target pace, I had everything I needed and the plan was to just get round in one piece, briefing started and I hear the dreaded words ‘there is a time cut off for ultra runners, you must hit the 26 mile point within 5 and a half hours of you can’t continue for the ultra distance, also the course is BRUTAL, muddy and windy…good luck’.
I couldn’t believe it, I suddenly had the massive pressure of a time cut off, and this is basically what dominated my thoughts for the next 5 and a half hours, not the relaxing day of running I’d had planned. I decided I would just have to stick to my original plan and hope it was good enough. Off we went, it was really really muddy, I was so happy that I’d got some trail shoes recently, everyone in road trainers looked like bambi on ice, slipping and sliding everywhere. The mud was relentless, and really didn’t help the quest for the dreaded cut off time!
(Durdle Door) Then came the hills, now these were proper, leg burning, lung busting hills designed to break you…with the mix of hills and mud you could actually only really run maybe less an half of the course, whenever here was a flat it was joy!
I battled on and I’d managed to get to lulworth cove before the marathon runners started to appear and overtake me (they’d started 30mins after us) and a guy came absolutely flying past me… Shortly followed by another guy coughing and splattering…
Him “you know who that was?”
Me “I recognised him, but no, he was shifting though”
Him “that was ultra running legend and GB athlete Stuart Mills, I’ve been trying to keep up with him but can’t any longer, he’s just too quick!” That was a great aspect of this run, with next to no crowds to cheer us on, the runners did it instead, everyone encouraging and supporting each other, great atmosphere. So my quest for the cut off continued, the problem I was having was mixed messages as to where the cut off actually was, and when…by 20 miles I was really borderline as to whether I would make it, I’d started to convince myself that just doing the marathon distance on such a tough course was still great, but deep down if I’d not achieved what I’d come to Dorset to achieve, I’d have been devastated! Miles 20-23 basically saw me give me on the cut off, then all of a sudden I snapped out of it, I HAD to at least try my hardest to make it, if I didn’t then fine but at least I could say I 100% went for it… I smashed out 3 x 8:20 min miles, at the end of a very very hard marathon, through the mud and over stiles! I flew, overtaking a number of other runners, I got to the checkpoint desperately asking “can I continue?”, the guy said I was FOUR mins late, but looked ok so I could go through…who would believe the after 26 horrific miles a single person would be so happy about being told they could run another 8!?? I was ecstatic, so happy, I’d achieve my aim of running my first ultra! I plodded on, refuelled and the next 8 miles went by quite quickly, relaxed with the burden of the cut off gone.
I finished in 7hrs 34mins, that’s not breaking any records but I came 36th out of maybe 70 starters, many of whom didn’t make the cut off. I was exhausted, dehydrated but so so happy to have completed my first ultra. What a great way to end a fantastic 12 months, 12 months ago I was an irregular, uneducated runner. In that time I’ve run 1400 miles, smashed both my half and full marathon PB’s, run across a whole country in 5 consecutive days, summited Kinabalu in just a day and competed an Ultra! Amazing. I’m off to Bali next week, thats if for this year, time for a rest then back into it in January, I’m doing the London Ultra in feb, that should be a bit flatter!