March saw the completion of the post-injury training block I have been ploughing through this last 6 months. It was meant to culminate in the Green Man Ultra in early March but that was postponed then cancelled due to Covid. I didn’t miss a single planned run over that period, so I’m pleased with my consistency.
Instead of GMU30 an ultra running colleague and I agreed to run a 30 miler together later in the month. My training had gone well, so I felt good, but still had no idea what it feels like to run ultra long, even a “short” one. My partner in crime, Patrick, wanted to try for 50 miles on the day so had devised a cunning route with five 10 mile out n backs, all centred on the station car park in Henley. We agreed that he would be up at stupid-o’clock to bash out 20 miles before meeting me in Henley. I had everything I needed prepared the night before, so I was good to go first thing.
It ended up being close to 9am before we got started on my first leg, his third. A seasoned ultra runner, in the first hour Patrick was frequently heard urging me to “slow the fuck down”, my modest easy pace being too sparky for his liking. He did put it more civilly than that, to be fair. This was useful for me, what with being an ultra-virgin, so I did my best to run at what felt to me like ridiculous granny pace. With a couple of long runs under my belt since this one, I am still trying to find my “go all day” pace, definitely a work in progress.
The first leg was done inside a couple of hours and we hit the makeshift aid station (the car boot) to replenish water, Tailwind and various other vittles. At this point Patrick (on the left in the photo above) was beginning to feel his early-hours start and the 30 miles in his legs and began to make ominous “might not do the whole thing” noises. Indeed, about half way into the out section of my second leg, his fourth, he bailed, drawing his 50 mile test to a premature close. From his point of view this was a diagnostic, a check to see what needed work ahead of his crack at the West Highland Way Race in June this year. There was no point doing himself a mischief or ruining the next week or two of training for a test. He ended up doing just under 55km for the day.
That left me to complete something like 17 miles solo. I’m used to running alone so this was no biggie. I ploughed on up the several hills, walking as needed, and probably going too fast without Patrick to slow me the fuck down. I particularly enjoyed running fast back down the hills, letting all caution go, reasoning that…..well alright there was no reason, it was just fun. I finished the second leg a bit tired, but still in fine fettle for the most part, sore feet being my main complaint.
The final leg was north out of Henley along the Thames Path for several miles, before heading off into the countryside. By the time I left the river my feet were really sore. I don’t think they have yet fully recovered from the battering they took on the Day of the Frozen Mud back in February. My ankle areas were also sore, both legs. I’m beginning to think these are going to be pain points for me on any ultra-distance run. I don’t seem to be doing any permanent damage, after a couple of days they are fine again. That whole below-the-shin area might just be my ultra cross to bear, I’ll just have to get used to it hurting and try to block it out. I’ll be doing some extra prehab work to put some strength into that area.
I made it to the turnaround at 40k, where miraculously there was a bench. I took the weight off for a few minutes, scoffed my final marmite and crisp wrap and contemplated my life choices. Ordinarily a nothing sort of distance, a loosener, the thought of doing another 8km did not fill me with joy. Nonetheless, I plodded on into new personal record distance territory, walking quite a bit, annoyed at my rebellious feet for letting the side down. I eventually made it back to the car, completing the 30 miles in just under 6 hrs 30 mins. I’ve heard it said that chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink, but had never partaken. To see what the fuss was about, I’d bought a 1L bottle of chocolate milk with my other supplies. Oh. My. God. It was fantastic! I don’t know if it helped me recover, exactly, but it tasted like the nectar of the gods at the time. I keep forgetting to get more in and have regretted it on the long runs I’ve done since.
So, plus points. I broke my ultra distance duck, so that’s good. I learnt to slow the fuck down, a bit. I learnt that, within reason, you have to push on through soreness, it’s going to happen. I got to try my new Asics Trabuco Max shoes. For the most part they did a creditable job, I blame none of my foot soreness on the shoes. I’m not convinced they are my “forever” trail shoes, so the search continues.
As we sit here in early April, I have less than seven weeks until my first proper ultra event, the 100k Jurassic Coast Challenge down on the Dorset coast. Initially highly intimidating, 100km does now at least seem within the realms of the possible. I have that 6 or 7 weeks to put more miles in my legs, get some worthwhile back-to-back long runs done, and generally try to prepare my head.
I’ll be back in a month with a progress report.