Ultra Race 90

45 miles on a Saturday and then again on a Sunday? This is all getting a bit routine. Well that is exactly what I want. In 5 months now (less than in fact) I need to be doing this without really thinking about it. I did it once last weekend and that was fine, let's see if I can step up to twice in two days.

Day 1

We had taken over the lobby of the Park Inn hotel in Northampton while Rory Coleman read out the fairly simple instructions for the race. Leave the hotel, turn right then head down to the canal, fairly easily. But just like last year those in front went straight ahead again and had to be shouted back onto the correct street.

The first mile is downhill through the busy streets of Northampton where we were nearly run over by a bus. The next 5 are on the Northampton arm of the Grand Union Canal and then it joins the main canal and head about 40 miles down to Tring. It's a route I've done quite a few times and the familiarity can make it more comfortable. Right now I am signing up to as many 50ish mile races as I can to get the practise at doing the distance. As soon as this becomes "easy" I will feel much better about the summer.

After the initial diversion we all made it to the canal alive and set off at quite an uncomfortable pace. There were 2 guys ahead who seemed intent of getting to Tring first whereas we settled into a second group but still going at quite a pace. Mark was insisting that the guy in the lead was Bob Brown, UK winner of the Trans USA race in 2004. "I was hoping he was a slow ultra shuffler like us". It would have been good to have run with him but if he is that fast then we would not be able to talk. It wasn't Bob after all but some German who was very fast at running.

For the second week running I was in a group with Mark C, Rob Treadwell and David Miles and this time Claire Shelley had joined us. I suggested to her that she should start a little faster so that she did not get caught up in the crowds early on (not really a problem in this race). She took this to mean she should run on ahead at great speeds and beast the lot of us.The Torture Stick - My camera phone broke so I can't get any proper photos but I figure I have enough photos of canals on here already

First Checkpoint was about 9 miles in and were were there in under 1.10. Way too fast. We had come off the canal for the Blissworth tunnel and telling Claire to watch out for this minor diversion for the GUCR later in the year. Back onto the canal and through the lovely Stoke Bruene where you inevitably get into a conversation about "where are you running to and where did you start?" It's hard to do more than just shout one word as you are running past. It's fun to see peoples reactions when you tell them how far you are going. It's funnier when it's London you are running to and you are still in the Midlands.

There are a couple of confusing bridge crossings in the race. It's no big dea if you go wrong as you will soon come to a dead end and see your mistake. Mark and I were running a bit further back from CLaire, Rob and David who made such a mistake. They crossed a bridge that they were not supposed to and we carried on, crossing a road and onto the path again. Mark decided against telling them and let them go wrong :) It meant we could have a bit of a breather and perhaps it will stick in Claire's mind more when she comes back here in May. We only had her best interests at heart. Honestly.

The pace slowed after around the marathon stage which was good as I really did not want to spank myself on the first day too much only to not be able to walk the next day. It's hard to guage how hard you shoudl go on a two day event such as this and I reckon you should not go too easy, give it 90% or something. There is a balance between going fast and having more recovery time and going slow and having less. Plus more hours on your feet can be more damaging. Speaking to Rob he suggested that in training I should try and run these kinds of races as well as I can rather than going for a deliberate 4 mile an hour plod. I can't imagine keeping this going for 70 days.

With about 10 to go Mark shot off, I think he mentioned something about the Tesco in Leighton Buzzard being a psychological lift and as soon as he saw that he was off. Claire was in hot pursuit but I warned her against really going for it as Mark was wimping out of the second day whereas we had to run again tomorrow. Mark has a 24 hour track race around a 390m indoor track in Finland next week so can perhaps forgive him for not running back up the canal on sunday. Mark finished in 3rd.

We slowed quite a bit towards the end but still passed a few people who had also set out too fast. I was trying badly to guess how far we had to go using the canal markers. The mile markers were from Braunstone Locks which is 44 miles into the GUCR from Birmingham. I knew Tring was 100 miles into the GUCR so all I had to do for each mile marker was to subtract the 44 from 100, then deduct whatever the mile post would say and that is how far we have left (plus another couple of miles). Who needs a Garmin?.

After the Grand Junction Arms pub in Tring (and the milestone with 56 on it) I knew there was a further 2 miles to go and when this finally came Claire sprung back into life and became a dot in the distance. She managed to not even get lost in the final road sections of the run and into the Pendley Manor for the finish. 7.14 and Claire was the first girl.

Recovery Time

This bit is going to be the most important when I head to the States in the Summer. The hours between finishing on one day and starting another are going to be as important as the running itself. I might not get much time to do this. The normal thing I would do after this is to slump into a chair in a bar and start drinking and eating crap. I figured this is a great opportunity to start practicing a recovery "routine" which this time involved a lot of protien (Pepparami and milkshakes), stretching and rubbing myself all over the legs with one of these evil sticks.

I found it hard to sleep despite not having much sleep the night before and having run 47 miles. It's stange because there were times where I felt like I could have gone to sleep during the run, cerainly before the run too. Perhaps I should include powernapping into my race strategy?

Whatever I did seemed to work because I woke up feeling mostly fine (though a little tired still) and ready to tackle another 45(47) miles.

Day 2

There were supposed to be 80 people at the start today but I think it ended up being half of that. Quite a few only intended to do the 1 day but then quite a few decide not to start the second. This time last year I was in the DNS day 2 camp and sadly watched all the runners leave at this time. I was very glad to be a the start in shorts this time.

I was even more glad to spot Bob Brown before we set off. He was not the guy Mark pointed out the day before. It was great to talk to him and I badgered him for as much advice as I could when we ran together for a bit. The man who ran across America and has won the GUCR while sponsored by Ginsters was telling me everything I wanted to hear. It was great. Some gems included;

  • These runs are perfect training for this and doing as many 50ish milers at weekends is great
  • You get fitter and faster as the race progresses
  • Most of those who drop out do so in the first 2 weeks so take it easy then
  • Get sponsorship from local companies (as he did with Ginsters). Perhaps I should try to play on my Leicester roots and get sponsored by Crisps, Pork Pies and Orange Cheese?
  • Only a month after finishing in New York he went to Dublin, had 24 pints of Guinness in the 2 days before the Marathon and then set a pb. And it felt easy.

It was a joy talking to him and he is such an understated guy. I imagined he might appear with some sort of fanfare about his comprehensive list of achievements but there is none of that, he remained invisible for most of the weekend. Really pleased to meet and speak to him and said that I will see him in the GUCR later in the year. It's going to be an awesome race, Pat Robbins will have his work cut out as Rob Treadwell looks in great form. I have not decided yet what I am going to do when get there yet, either crew for someone or help in the race. I might even be able to drive by then.

Anyhoo Claire was suffering a bit due to the exertions from yesterday and I was more than happy to run walk the race as I was in no rush. We were still doing a good pace, around 8ish hours and the only thing that was important was that we did not miss our train. If we had time to go to Nandos in Northampton at the end that would be a bonus.

It did feel a little odd running up the canal a different way, kind of fresh but still familiar. The 2nd placed lady had passed us early in the race and we assumed she'd finish way ahead. In fact she onyl finished around 10 minutes before us so she must have slowed a lot too. I was running ahead of Claire and then I'd start walking when I could not see her anymore. She kept telling me to go on but I was worried about her getting lost and going to Birmingham or something. While we were running we were actually running quite fast and quite well. There were plenty of walking breaks but the majority of the runners today have deliberate walking breaks and we were still passing people quite often. Food of champions.

The checkpoints were all in the same places as the day before and stocked with magic flapjacks that worked wonders. There was a minor diversion for a fishing contest. There are so many fishermen trying to fish things out of the canal, I can't imagine anything being able to live in there. I bet there is one fish and all of the 40 or so fishermen are trying to catch that one fish and be the winner. There was also some posh people dressed as idiots doing some hare coursing (I thought that was illegal?) and the hare ended up running into the water. The strange and pointless hobbies some people have. I had plenty of time to think about this as I continued my 47 mile sloppy run up a canal towpath.

Claire was doing brilliantly to hang in there and still maintain a good pace. At Stoke Bruerne and just before the next checkpoint we were met by Drew who (on reading my facebook update about Ginsters) gave me a Pasty. "Don't worry, it only cost me 15p because it was out of date". I destroyed it while walking up the hill to the CP. Back onto the road and then canal again and then a run into Northampton.

It was hardly like running into Paris or London or Athens or Chamonix. It was hard to figure out where Northampton starts and the green fields with the occasional factory ends. We were looking out for a Calsberg Brewery which was the point at which we turned off into the streets and headed back to the hotel. Near the end Drew popped up again with Jo (who ran an amazinf 37 minute 10k that morning) and then later Mark and Alex appeared.

With no major traffic incidents we headed up to the hotel and finished in 8.30. Under 16 hours for the 2 days is pretty good going. Claire won overall for the 2 days and was 2nd on day to and got given another trophy to take home. She did not have much space in her bag with the hair straightners she carries everywhere. I headed towards the shower (yes, breaking the ultra-runners code that we should be stinky and muddy at all times) and on the way saw Bob again sinking a pint of Guinness. I did the same and saw Trin come in with another great run.

Great event from Rory and Jen. This is part of a championship where you can score points and all that. Rory asked if I was going to be at the London Ultra in a month or so and I said I couldn't because I have a 12k to run. Seems like a silly excuse but it is the National Cross Country Championships. I have a good chance of coming last.

We had more than enough time to go to Nandos which was great. My legs stilll felt in good shape and this along with the conversations with Bob has given me more confidence about the summer. I just need to repeat this weekend another 34 times...