It has been a long time since I did a long run. The last time I did a long run I was pissing blood at the end. Since then everything has felt a little harder, I feel much creakier and heavier (because I am). I had not run more than 13 miles in one go for over 2 months. This was a combination of that tiredness, illness and some laziness. I was really looking forward to getting back into it. A 20 odd mile wade through some mud followed by a long stretch of my lovely canal seemed a great way to blow out those cobwebs and get the ultra season started.
The Country to Capital is similar to the old Tring to Town which was my first ultra. It starts in Wendover (rather than Tring) and goes through trails until about half way (22 miles) where it joins the canal and then it's all the way to Little Venice.
I thought a lot about my first ultra 3 years ago. Nowadays where I am considered a "verteran" of such things people ask me for advice on such matters. I am probably not the best to ask about training or nutrition but think I am ok at talking about how to get through them. Some of the questions I get asked seem like worrying over nothing, such as the choice of shoes or the wind speed. Then I recall from 3 years ago I was asking exactly the same questions to those who had been running ultras for a few years. Then it does not sound silly at all.
With this being my first ultra in a while and while reminiscing on my first I think it spurred me into getting myself organised the day before. I have become quite slapdash about preparing for these things, often wearing whatever I find on the floor that morning and forgetting bits of kit. For the first time in ages I was intent on taking the right things. I remembered a head torch, remembered to drink water the day before, remembered to have a proper breakfast (scrambled egg on toast) and to drink coffee 2 hours before the start then take imodium. I even remembered to lubricate places that have been been slowly erroding due to my forgetfulness over the past 18 months. It was like running my first all over again.
I don't think I was preparing quite as well as the guy I saw in the queue for the toilets who was rolling a couple of cigarettes. I suspect he has probably been in the army.
We drove up in the morning to a pub in wendover that was teeming with 100+ runners in waterproofs. It was pissing it down and was due to be the same for the first half at least. Go Beyond certainly do put on a good spread at the start of a race, bacon butties and fresh coffee everywhere. Shame I had already eaten properly.
We started a little late as the race director was very accomodating for those who had just arrived on a train from London. It was refreshing to see that there was little sign of backing away from this event and many were even entering on the day including fellow Serpies Nick, Di and Oli. Up and down the country short cross country races were being cancelled (The Met League claiming that the car park would be dangerous for those driving there, typical southern softy excuse). I'm glad that the events in my sport things don't fall over because of the winter.
We all piled out of the car park and down the high street in Wendover and then all nearly missed the right turn into a narrow cycle path. We quickly got stuck into the fields and it became apparent how difficult it was going to be. The previous 2 days of rain had washed the snow away in London that had kept all it's residents indoors for a fortnight but there was still plenty of snow on the fields of Hertfordshire. It had barely been touched but was much slushier and cold than fresh snow. There were times when our feet would dip into ice cold water and freeze. It would have been perfect as an ice bath at the end of a race but not 2 miles in.
VIDEOS Courtesy of JAMES ELSON
The route followed the Chiltern Link which consists of fields with fences, gates and stiles. We stuck to a group of about 20 and queued up at each gate. All of us were keen on not getting too lost in the first half, the weather was miserable and as some runners discovered only a few miles in the maps were not laminated.
The first checkpoint was in a small town who's name I can't remember, stocked with water (really cold water) and jelly babies. I felt I was over the tight achillies pain that I suffer in the first few miles of most runs that Roberto is currently having fun with.
A mile or so in the village and then we are back in the icy waters of the fields. I chat to a load of people on the way, some of whom have read the Sparta report and want to know more about it. It seems that those purple blisters from the GUCR 2008 are no longer how I get recognised. Now it's the pissing blood story.
I ran mostly with Oli Sinclair, Nick Copas (doing his first proper ultra) and Mark Cockbain. I was surprised to see the Geordie in a coat, it was at least 4 degrees. We were led my Lee Chamberlain (who we called at the time "that guy in the white who knows the way"). Lee was (until the end of the weekend) the record holder for the running 7 days on a treadmill, 468 miles. I did not appreciate any of this at the time, all I cared about was that he knew the way.
At 17 miles the second checkpoint was near the end of the "navigational" part of the run. Many of us were looking forward to getting on the canal and doing some blind running. It was tempting to stay at the checkpoint as there was plenty of food and a pub had just opened next to it. Oli, Nick, Mark and I hung around a bit and watched everyone else jog on. We then pursued the group and found them to be walking. We were not ready to walk yet and made a break for it following Mark. "Do you know the way?" we shouted. "NO" Mark replied. "Well, that's good enough for us". A little more wading through some ice cold water and then a visit to Roger Moore's house in Denham (about 5 Rolls Royces) and we suddenly hit the canal.
VIDEOS Courtesy of JAMES ELSON
I expected the canal to feel a bit like the finish line. All there was to do was about 20 miles of easy running with no navigation. Instead I just felt my legs become sore as the grind along the hard flat surface started. This was the furthest I had run for months. My legs were feeling the distance after less than a marathon. I didn't feel this achy after 50 of Sparta and I was running that faster. I have a little way to go to get the fitness back I had 2 years ago, but it was a good enough start.
Oli ran off as soon as there was no navigation required and soon after he looked about the same size as Nick, a mile in the distance. We were in no mood to follow and just plodded on. I was amazed at Nick's pacing, normally he sets out for each run like it's a 10k and dies half way through. He was looking strong throughout. I just made sure I kept with him and reminisced about my lovely canal.
This was the first time in ages I was able to make the left turn on the route. This was one of the best parts of the GUCR but last year part of the path had collapsed and there was a diversion which involved having to run/walk through hell on earth, otherwise known as Southall. The last time I was there I had a hard time convincing some scag-head that I did not have any money on me for him to get the bus. I was really glad to just make the left turn this time.
Once we were on the home straight I knew there were only 13 miles left.
I love the end of this canal, there are a few really steep but short bridges that are near impossible to run up when your legs are shagged. I alerted Nick to the particular bridge where I got overtaken by an attractive girl in a cocktail dress at the end of the GUCR, another great photo moment. It wasn't to be this time though we still walked up and down it.
We cantered into the finish in 7.05 and bumped into everyone at the end. Drew, Mark and Oli were already at the finish as was Brian who I'd only met earlier that day. Soon after Phillip Lewis came in, another Serpie and then Claire Shelly finished in an amazing 8.15 for her first "proper" ultra even having done 30 miles the weekend before. She is properly addicted now, signing up for everything. We stayed on to wait for Di and Cyril. News broke that Di had got lost and also missed the left turning and ran halfway to Brentford before realising. She finished in around 11 hours and fellow Serpie Cyril who is training for the MDS did so soon after.
Brits are a funny lot for MDS training. How would one prepare for running through hot sand and blazing sun for a week in the desert? By running for hours in the mud and pissing rain whilst freezing your toes of in puddles in the dark. It is a proper British way of doing things. Perhaps if you point and shout "Mud" at the sand long and loud enough it will eventually turn into it.
So, first race of the year done and not too shabby. Great organisation by GoBeyond and I shall like to do more of their events in the future. They seemed particularly appreciative of the key to the toilets I loaned them at the end. I ached a bit more than I thought I would but I guess I can't be surprised as I'd barely run for 2 months. A good enough start to the year, just need to do that twice over next weekend.