I am officially an ultra runner. 31.8 miles in 6 hours 53 minutes and 20 seconds.
Advertised as 30 miles. In reality it was 31 and a bit. I did almost 32 miles due to a navigational error. The moment I realised that the course was going to be longer than 30 was a tough one. Thankfully the weather was beautiful, and the conditions excellent apart from the wind. It was windy which made it hard work at times but I feel the weather was on my side for a November ultra.
Rather than write a mile by mile race report, I’m going to reflect on some of the things I learnt by running my first ultra.
Things I learnt:
Chatting to other runners makes a huge difference on an ultra run. I owe a lot of special thanks to a lovely runner called Shelton who ran a couple of sections with me. Early on in the race I was feeling a little bit wobbly and daunted by the enormous task ahead. We started chatting and before I knew it we had reached 10 miles. Shelton and some other runners helped me out of the dark place towards the end of run. Having people around me in those last couple of miles, spurred me on towards the finish. The kindness of other runners is a wonderful thing. I have learnt that the company of others is important to my mental state on a really long run.
It will hurt but it is only temporary. Running an ultra will hurt and that’s normal. Obviously pain from an injury is something that you need to pay attention to. I was certainly being very mindful of making sure old injuries didn’t flare up. But the ‘normal’ aches and pain that comes from being on your feet for 32 miles are going to happen. Sore feet, seized up quads, stiff hips. It’s all only temporary. That can be hard to remember when you want to lie down on the pavement and give up because your legs hurt. But that pain soon goes away once you’ve reached the finish line.
Training is important. You can’t get away with winging it. Related to the pain, training is key. I didn’t spent enough time doing long runs and getting used to being out on my feet all day. It started hurting quite early on because I hadn’t done enough training to cope with the distance.
Get your nutrition correct early on. It seems that eating from early on in a race is important for me. I’ve read others online who say they don’t eat until a couple of hours in. I tried to practice eating during my training runs, even though I mainly shorter ones. Cheese sandwiches, crisps, flapjacks, and plenty of sweets. During my longest training run I discovered the joys of a cup of tea and pork pie. I took plenty with me, and ate most of it, so I can’t comment on what was available at the aid stations. I’ve seen photographs on Instagram from other ultras that have massive tables full of all the food you could dream of. That would have been nice but I was fine with everything I’d brought along in my bag. Tailwind was a huge help but foolishly I forgot to put a spare sachet in my race pack. I remembered to give one to a friend however left my own extra supplies behind at race HQ. Real food is good. I don’t need to rely on gels and artificial products. Will definitely need to improve my eating strategy if I’m going to survive the 50 mile Manchester to Liverpool Ultra next year.
When they say you should walk the hills, you should definitely walk the hills. I normally pride myself on my ability to run up hills. But to do so in an ultra is not always going to be wise when you need to conserve energy for later in the race.
Time and pace doesn’t matter in an ultra but I will still care about it. I’m proud of myself for running my first ultra marathon. Under 7 hours is a decent time and I was always in it with the goal of finishing and enjoying it. But as I reflect on the experience, I can’t help but think about where I could have pushed myself a bit harder. Next year I’d like to do better.