White Rose Ultra 2018

I am officially an ultra runner.  31.8 miles in 6 hours 53 minutes and 20 seconds.

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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.

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Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: It helps if you like hills (part 1)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

At the end of August I had given up all hope of making it to the start line of this race, nevermind the finish. Here I am now, a Snowdonia Marathon finisher with a slate coaster to show for it.

Registration and Pre-Race Nerves

We arrived on the Friday to collect our race numbers in advance, after a train from Huddersfield to Manchester, then a train to Bangor, followed by a bus to Llanberis. We didn’t actually stay in Llanberis, opting for Caernarfon instead.  I had the foresight to make reservations for dinner Friday night, lucky because Caernarfon was busy. Once fuelled up on pizza, pasta and chips, it was off to the pub for a quick half before bed (I gave up on no alcohol before a run after getting my half marathon PB the morning after two glasses of prosecco!). I didn’t sleep much Friday night thanks to nerves…

Getting to the start line

After much fretting on my part about the bus not turning up or breaking down, we caught the 8.30am bus from Caernarfon to Llanberis. I was surprised that no other runners were getting the bus actually, but I guess most people do drive to this sort of race. Looking at the traffic queues for parking I think that is a good assumption. The bus is brilliant. It only takes 30mins and costs £2.50 return. Cue all the usual pre-race faffing about in a very chaotic race HQ. Took us at least half an hour to find the bag drop as you could barely move for people. Then it was time to walk up to the start line for a 10.30am start.

Miles 1-6

We are off and its all up hill from here for the next 4.5 miles to Pen-y-Pass with about 900ft of elevation gain. So it’s a tough climb to start a long race. So important it was important for me to remember to go easy on the first section.  In reality I went off a lot quicker than planned, but felt reasonably ok and just wanted to get up the hill.  As most of my running involves hills I didn’t find the climb up to Pen-y-Pass too horrible or tough. The scenery was fantastic and the atmosphere amongst runners was jovial.

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Miles 7-13

This section of the race started off fun with a wonderful downhill trail section. Unlike other runners around me who were complaining about the terrain I could have happily stayed on that for the rest of the race. Give me rocks, stones and trip hazards any day over boring tarmac. Fair enough it was steep and road shoes are not ideal for trail running but at least this section was a dry one. One runner I chatted with said they hate this type of terrain as it means you have to pay attention to running. I  think that’s why I like it as it gives the mind something to focus on other than the fact there are still 20 mile to go.  Alas, it was back to the tarmac and this time on open roads. The long plod to Beddgelert. This section was saved by the friendly runners that I chatted with to pass the miles and the family handing out orange segments. Running through Beddgelert was awesome. Another runner described it was a Tour De France moment. I’ll agree with that. The huge crowds lining the streets cheering everyone on gave me such a boost as the halfway fatigue and pain set it.

In part 2 I’ll write about the 2nd half of the marathon and the aftermath…

Tour of Tameside Race 3: Hero Half Marathon

Race: Hero Half Marathon

Date: 17/06/17

Location: Longdendale Trail, Hadfield

Finish Time: 02:18:55

The third race of the Tour of Tameside was definitely the toughest. Up until this race I would’ve said that half marathon was my favourite race distance. This race changed my opinions on that. It was hot, it was long (read as slow) and it was boring.

Getting out of bed on the Saturday morning was the first challenge. My lower back seized up after the Friday night race, probably because I do not have enough core strength for running fast down steep hills.  I went to bed covered in deep freeze gel and with an ice pack for comfort. I just about managed to stretch out, force down some breakfast and get myself ready for day 3, whilst wishing I was still asleep.

The race start is in a big field (that doubles as a car park) on the edge of Hadfield somewhere. Thankfully a running friend gave me a lift meaning I didn’t have to attempt to get there on a train and two buses! The queue for the toilets was massive and they probably could have done with more toilets for the number of people.

My legs didn’t want to work for the first mile or so. Very painful and stiff.  However once warmed up, I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to just focus on ticking off the miles.  The course was reasonably flat and although it was trail it was a good solid path so no need for trail shoes. My feet were thankful for the cushioning. The main problem was the heat. I am not a fan of running in the heat so dropped the pace and just tried to get through it.

The course is an out and back down the trail, towards the end of the Woodhead Reservoir before turning around somewhere and running back. It is such a boring, straight route that the race website doesn’t even have a full route map! I think I reached 5.5 miles before the lead runners came back the other way. Then it was a long stream of people running back the other way  for the next 2 miles. It seemed to go on forever and was very disheartening. Turning around the run back was the best feeling and provided a short term boost.

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Proof that it was hot! I don’t usually wear shorts for running

One the return leg, I ended up running alongside a guy from Liverpool for a few miles. We definitely kept each other going. My pace probably would have dropped off at that point due to fatigue and the heat, however having someone to run with kept me going.  I couldn’t keep up in the end, but we met up again afterwards, and both expressed our gratitude to each other.

Eventually the finish line arrived.  I’ve never been so happy and I’ve never felt so broken after a race either. The heat took everything out of me. I kept standing up and realising I should probably just sit back down again and sip a cold drink.  Tough going and very slow compared to my best half marathon attempts.

Tour of Tameside Race 2: Hell on the Fell

Race: Hell on the Fell (6 miles)

Date: 16/06/17

Location: Stalybridge

Finish Time: 01:01:51

First thing to say is that race number two in the Tour of Tameside is not an actual fell race.  It was about 3.5 miles of up hill on road. Then a mix of lanes, tracks and fields with a  bit of steep technical downhill terrain for the last mile. So that’s 5 miles up and 1 mile down!

After getting a 10k PB the night before my legs were feeling surprisingly good before the race.  I didn’t take the Friday off work, instead getting the train straight to Stalybridge after work and walking a mile or so up to the race start from the station.  Another good venue for the race, making use of a local leisure centre, meaning good toilets beforehand (although the actual start line was 10 mins walk away from the leisure centre).

It was a strange race due to the mixed terrain and it all passed in a bit of blur to be honest. I remember some angry car drivers during the road section shouting abuse at us for daring to be using the road. I’m not sure if it was meant to be closed roads or not, but there were lots of cars out intent on getting to where they wanted despite all the runners. Motorists aside, there was good support out along the pavements from pedestrians.  The road section was relentless up and up and up some more. So it was wonderful to hit the trail section, even if that was still going up.

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The downhill finish was my favourite and I was able to over take a few people on this section to make up for my slow road running. I’d been warned the night before my other runners that this was the worst bit of the whole event.  Definitely not that bad! Tour of Tameside is more of a road event so I think a lot of people do find the steep technical downhill quite difficult however I was in my element and went flying down. Or at least I felt like I was flying.

Starting to think I should be brave and enter an actual fell race.

 

Tour of Tameside Race

Race X-Trail 10K

Date: 15/06/17

Location: Ashton-Under-Lyne

Finish Time: 00:53:20

Day one of the Tour of Tameside. After a day at work quietly fretting about the challenges ahead, I ended up arriving at race HQ ridiculously early after over estimating the amount of time the bus would take but thankfully so did lots of other keen people.  At least I had somewhere indoors to wait.  A race HQ with a proper building is always good. Somewhere warm to wait with seats, and proper toilets with hot water are a welcome sight at races.

The race took place in two country parks, mainly on proper footpaths.  I didn’t know the route though so opted for trail shoes to be prepared. Error! Most of the run was on hard paths and even the bits in the woods were very dry. My Saucony Peregrines are an ok choice of shoe for hard trails but my dodgy foot was hurting before we even reached halfway. But I will save the story of sesamoiditis for another day. I was trying my best not to worry too much about potential damage whilst running  and thankfully there hasn’t been any lasting pain or discomfort.

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It was a warm, humid evening but pleasant enough for running. A little rain shower provided some nice relief halfway round. It was a nice little route, a couple of steep hills early and only one short out and back section. The killer though was the slightly evil surprise of lots of steps to run up in the woods towards the end. I feel even happier with my massive PB taking those into account.

Afterwards it was back to the race HQ at a local rugby club to quench our thirst at the pop up bar from Tweed Brewery. We athletes take our post race hydration seriously! Then home for a late night supper of cheese, bread and oven chips before bed. I might have done a little bit of stretching too once I remembered that it would be helpful.

Round Sheffield Run

I’ll get back to writing up Tour of Tameside soon but first I want to share my most recent race experience.

No idea why I thought that was a good idea to sign up for a race, one week after a four day event, but everyone else was and it sounded like fun. It probably should have been fun, however in hindsight I was a little too broken to enjoy the experience fully.

Sunday morning we set off early in the gloomy low cloud and drizzle to drive over to Sheffield. Not a view to be had over Snake Pass so spirits were damp as the weather looked awful until we reached the suburbs of Sheffield.  This was not a race I wanted to run in wet and cold conditions due to its unusal format.

Described as a multi-stage trail running endurance race, it was about 15 miles off road round the trails of Sheffield however broken up into stages. The running part was about 20km and the total distance about 24km.  Lovely trails and lots of hills. I used to live in that part of Sheffield but never realised there were so many wonderful trails.

11 timed stages with unique character totalling 20km of great trails & Parkland.

 

9 liason stages in between timed stages that allow recovery – 100m-750m in length

 

600m of total vertical elevation

 

Such a great concept however one I really struggled with. I’m a slow plodder. I enjoy running at a steady pace and I’m good at it. Running for short bursts of no more than 2.8km, and then stopping for a walk was more challenging than you would expect.

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Amazing views over Sheffield and beyond…

I found it hard to work out how to pace myself and definitely went off too quick at the start. It was difficult to work out what to do with the recovery stages. Some had more time allowed than others, and if you stayed too long there was a time penalty. I didn’t use all my allocated time for these and often started again straight away, even at the food station with a 15 minute time allowance.  I think this was partly just wanting to get it over with and partly not wanting my legs to seize up.  I messed up my timing on my Garmin as I couldn’t decide whether to record the recovery stages or pause my watch. I also forgot to change my watch from miles to kilometres so had no idea how far I was running.

The organisation of the event was fantastic. Friendly marshalls and a good pre and post race set up.  At the start and end of each timed section, we had to use a timing device to clock in and out. Sounds complicated but it was really simple in reality.  Over the finish line and straight to the timing tent for a print out of the results. Very impressive.

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My total running time was 01:55:22 and I spent just under a hour on the recovery stages. Pretty pleased with that off the back of Tour of Tameside.

Tour of Tameside 2017

Today I finished the apparently iconic Tour of Tameside. I’d never heard of it until last year when running club people put themselves through four days of racing, and I thought they were a bit mad and very brave.  I have since learnt this race has a long history, founded by the legend that is Dr Ron Hill in the 80s, and relaunched in 2015.

As it is a local event I couldn’t let the opportunity to run it pass by.  I must have been keen in signing up as I was number 84 out 300 and something running numbers. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The event is a multi-stage event over four day, totally 32 miles on trail and road.

  • Thursday night – X-Trail 10k around two country parks in Ashton-Under-Lyne
  • Friday night – Hell on the Fell 6 mile race (a mix of road and fell) in Stalybridge
  • Saturday morning – Hero Half Marathon along the Longdendale Trail from Hadfield and back again.
  • Sunday morning – The Dr Ron Hyde 7 road race

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I’m going to write about each race separately as a full race report but for now these are my overall reflections after a gruelling and emotional few days.  Looking at the overall results I came 8th out of 23 finishers in my age category across the four races with a total time of 05:24:49. I gave it my all and I’m made up with that as a result.

I’ve learnt a lot about how amazing the human body is and what it can achieve if you really want to go running day after day.  I don’t think I have ever run for four days in a row before and certainly not at the intensity of four races in a row.  But I did it and at times it wasn’t as awful as I had feared. Even after Friday night when my back was seized up and I definitely did not want to get out of bed.

I already knew the running community is great. But seriously, people are amazing. The running community is amazing.

Thank you to all my fellow Greyhounds, and others from local clubs, taking part in the full tour or the individual events. Without those wonderful people the experience would have been a lonely affair. Thank you for the generous offer of lifts to and from the more difficult to get to races saving me the stress of ridiculous public transport journeys.

Thank you to the Greyhounds out and about around the course for each race to cheer us on. Seeing friendly faces pop up in the most unexpected (and sometimes remote of locations) was such a boost.  When you are battling up a never-ending hill and look up to supportive faces cheering you on, it really does help. And believe me, the Tour of Tameside has more than it’s share of seemingly never-ending hills.

Thank you to the random strangers running the race that became friendly faces over the course of the four days. Thank you to those who were there when some run chat distractions were needed, and thank you to those who were there to keep me going at a good pace rather than fading to a stop. Thank you to those who remember your face or your running vest and offer words of encouragement when passing by each other during a race.

Events like the Tour of Tameside really go to show how many fantastic people there are in running.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a runner and as a person doing this event. I know that I am capable of more than I previously believed.  It was exhausting and there were some very low moments (half marathon I’m looking at you!) but also some big highs.  I managed to get a PB in the 10k. An all time PB on a hilly trail course! I learnt that I can run in hot weather and survive. I have also leant that deep freeze gel is essential, as is booking time off work if possible.

Right now I’m actually feeling ok physically. It is more the emotional toll of back to back races. Now it is celebration time.

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Dovestone Diamond 2017

Race:Dovestone Diamond
Location: Greenfield, Saddleworth
Distance: 6 ish miles (who really knows with trail!)
Time: 58:48

 

It’s a popular one. This year it sold out in about 12 hours. It is organised by my running club and last year I marshalled it, so was pleased to get a place on the start line this year.

I was extremely nervous. Possibly because it was a local race with so many runners from the Greyhounds were either running or marshalling and partly due to it being my evening race since last year. Also despite being on my local turf I hadn’t actually run the entire route, only sections of it and some of those not for a long time.  So I told myself I was just going out for a little run and nothing else mattered whilst secretly hoping I would be able to pull off a good performance.

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I love the terrain covered by this route.  Rough lanes and rocky paths, boggy fields and muddy woodland in the first half, with a nice fast second half around the reservoir.

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It was a slow start due to narrow paths and people walking up hills however I didn’t mind as the first half of the race has most of the climbing, and the toughest terrain. Saved my legs from going off too hard, and meant I could put in a good second half.  Definitely shows in my splits. Once we hit the good paths at 3k a lot of people seem to have run out of steam.

Mile 1: 12:16 /mi
Mile 2: 11:43 /mi
Mile 3: 10:07 /mi
Mile 4: 8:11 /mi
Mile 5: 8:19 /mi
Mile 6: 7:46 /mi

I’m proud of that effort. The first half of the run has a lot of tricky terrain, steep hills and stiles to climb over, so for me that is a fast off road pace.

I owe a lot of thanks to someone from my running club who was carrying an injury and decided to run the last couple of km’s with me and share wise words of advice on form and technique. I doubt I would have managed those splits towards the end without words of encouragement.  It was most definitely a lesson in the meaning of digging deep and pushing through the pain.

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Half a mile to go. Still smiling despite wanting it to be OVER!

If the race goes ahead again next year, do sign up. It’s a great race. Plus the race HQ  is at a brewery so plenty of good local ales to drink and there is usually a pizza oven for post race food too.  Even though I won’t be living round here next year I will definitely be getting the train over from Yorkshire for it.

Bluebell Trail 2017 – I Trooped the Trooper

Race: Bluebell Trail 10 mile
Location: Hilly Halifax
Date: Sunday 7th May 2017
Finish Time: 01:51:07

A sunny Sunday morning in May and early start for the trek over to Yorkshire for us Greenfield Greyhounds. Having not raced since January I was nervous about this one. I even struggled to get my porridge eaten thanks to pre-race nerves. Telling myself it was ‘only a training run’ was not good. I definitely secretly wanted to put in a good attempt at this one having not raced much this year.

Hosted by the Stainland Lions running club, it was a fantastic race. Brilliant marshalls, lovely route and great facilities. It’s always nice to have proper changing rooms to get ready in and proper toilets.

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The route can be described as undulating Yorkshire style. Meaning the up hill bits feel like mountains.  Starting somewhere south of Halifax there is a little bit of running around some woodland before joining the canal and following the Hebble Trail towards Halifax. Then comes Trooper Lane. A hill so horrible that everyone around me was walking up it. Reassuring when everyone decides to walk.  Then some undulating off road running through fields and bluebell filled woodland.  The end of the race is a real treat with the River Calder to run through before the finish line.

I was very pleased with managing fairly consistent pacing on this run considering I’ve not raced for a while. And all the hills! There were a lot of bottlenecks in the first mile or so, with narrow paths and people walking up hills so my start was slow.  This probably helped later on but I found it frustrating and couldn’t get into my stride. I should have started further up the field as I was near the pack and couldn’t overtake slower runners and walkers. But as I say, probably helped in the long run. My mountain walking experience meant I could power walk my way tp Trooper Lane for one thing.  The river crossing at the end was so much fun. Cold but fun. Big thanks to the strong volunteers on hand to drag me ready to out of the river.