The ultra that wasn’t

After a Christmas break in the Lake District, with the bike left at home, but running shoes packed and used every day, I thought I might as well use the little bit of condition that I had earned and enter a race.

I like the simplicity of running. Even when compared to riding a bike, which needn’t be a complicated sport (although we often seem to do our best to make it so), I love that all I need is a pair of trainers to run. I also find it much easier to up the intensity when on foot. I really struggle to do an intense 45mins on the bike, but when running, I find it relatively “easy” to push myself to the point of exhaustion.

Having said that, I didn’t enter a short race. In fact I decided to enter my 1st ultra marathon. An ultra is technically anything over the regulation 26andabit miles of a marathon. My choice of the Anglesey stage of the Coastal Trail Series was 33 miles. Fairly short in terms of ultra distances, but a good 5 miles more than I have ever run in a day before. It was also 75% off road, much of which was on undulating and tricky coastal trails. The kind of race that needs suitable training and preparation. I signed up with 3 weeks to go. Then got injured. Ace.

I managed a pain free 5k run into work on the Thursday before the race on the Saturday and declared myself fit and ready to go. The weather forecast made for “interesting” reading, but our (Jenn was coming across too. Originally planning to do the marathon, a late entry meant that she ended up on the ultra course too) main concern was whether we would be able to drive to Anglesey; heavy snow was predicted for the North. I took the most sensible approach and tried to ignore it.

The drive to Anglesey turned out to be beautifully easy. Little traffic, and no snow. It was surprising when a friend posted up a picture of a heavily snow covered Holyhead on twitter. It was literally only as we crossed the bridge over the Menai Straits that the snow started to fall, and we almost immediately got stuck in a queue of traffic on the A55. It took over an hour to drive the 15 miles to Holyhead, but we got to the B&B, and started eating and faffing with gear and eating in preparation for an early start on Saturday. Again, I tried my best to ignore the foot or so of snow outside. At 8pm the cancellation email arrived. Frustratingly late, but the organisers had been working hard all day trying to mark courses, only for the markers to be covered by fresh snow. By way of compensation to those who had travelled up, they were still running a “fun” 10k course around and up and down Holyhead mountain. Not quite the ultra I had been psyching myself up for, and I was thoroughly deflated.

Luckily a big breakfast helped cheer me up… Never one to stay grumpy when food is on offer.

Saturday was beautiful. Blue skies, sunshine, and lots and lots of snow. We met Amy, Ali, Greg and Pauline at the event centre and set off around the course… Stopping regularly to admire the view/throw snowballs/bury Pauline. The snow made things heavy going, and despite there now being a trail trodden through the snow, it regularly came up to calf height. The first guys through had the pleasure of some waist height drifts. The full 33 miles would have been an epic challenge, and one which was rightly saved for another day.

That does leave me with an itch to scratch though. I still fancy ticking off an ultra in 2013…

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That was Rapha Supercross. Ouch

45minutes. That’s all. 45minutes.

Why is it so damn hard? And why am I (relatively) so slow in comparison to longer races? Frustrating. But addictive.

For the first time, I actually got a really good start, a flat sprint across the playing field before a tight right turn into the course proper. It was all a bit of a blur, but I got clipped in cleanly, and had a convenient gap open up in front of me, and took the opportunity. Round the first corner, holding my place… maybe 15th? Then into a series of straights and hairpins, and I gradually fade back. Fellow Velocaker Tim passed me, unsurprisingly, as he always beats me, and I tried to settle into a steady pace. But, my legs felt heavy, I felt sluggish, and just kept going backwards.

Maybe this was down to mountain biking the day before, maybe I was feeling a bit under the weather, maybe it was that I’ve been training for long endurance events all summer, maybe it was just one of those things. I think I eventually came in around the half way position, maybe a little further back.

On the plus side, it was a beautiful day, there was a wonderful atmosphere, I met up with lots of friends, both old and new AND got to have a few swigs of Duvel after the race (and could have had a hell of a lot more if I wasn’t driving). I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than racing, chatting, watching more racing, more chatting and laughing with lovely people.

Jo Allen got some great snaps (including one of me pre-race)

As did Cheryl King

I’ll be back at the next week. I’ll keep racing cross, it’ll always be “a bit of fun”, I’ll always want to do better though!