I accidentally did an ultra. It happens.

The bank holiday weekend ought to have been about ultra preparation, an epic back to back run ahead of the Jurassic Coast 100k later in the month. My head was turned, however, by a chance encounter with the Big Way Round 50k. This is a new event from a new organiser, a trail loop around Winchester. I decided that the 40k/30k weekend back to back could be replaced by a 50k race without compromising my 100k prep. In fact it would be positively helpful, giving me some valuable experience of ultra race day, aid stations, fuelling strategy and even ultra pace planning. I signed up, paid my forty quid and began to look forward to what would be only my 2nd race of the Covid era, and my first ultra of any kind.

The Great Toe Incident on 24th April came close to scuppering my plans, and some may argue should have. After a brief test run on the Saturday I decided that enough healing had happened and that I could probably get away with running 50k on, you know, a broken toe.

Big Way Round 50k route

I was up early on the day, kit packed, breakfasted, precautionary second poo executed and out the door by 6:15am. It’s an easy drive down to Winchester for me, less than an hour, so I was in plenty of time for the 7:45am start. There was no mucking about, I already had my race number, so I lined up with a colleague (Patrick) and twitter chum (David) and we were off. David was feeling strong and was off like a whippet, finishing in 10th place about an hour before me despite a short detour off route. You can read his race report here.

The first section through the town was essentially flat so the pace was good, a bit too good perhaps, around the 6:00 mark (all pace remarks are mins per km). We soon hit the trails and the uppage began, slowing things down a little bit. The total vert for the route was just under 900m according to OS maps. I was expecting this to feel steep in places but in fact most of the inclines were long gradual slopes and I surprised myself by running up most of them. Slowly, like, but running!

What goes up must come down

Patrick left me behind at about 8km to attack the race, the hare of this tale. I continued to plod along, tortoise stylie, taking the odd walking break.

The first aid station came in at about 11km. I was looking forward to scoffing my face at the legendary ultra buffet, but in the end I didn’t even top up my water and I didn’t much fancy any of the grub. I did take a Penguin and eat it out of politeness, but that was the last of the food I took from an aid station the whole race. I had a good supply of gels on me, a mix of GU and High5. The GU are growing on me, I didn’t like them at first and feared they didn’t like me either. Along with the Tailwind, I also had my secret weapon, the curried potato and rice wraps. These are really delicious and it’s nice to have some savoury to cut through the sweetness of the Tailwind and the gels. I ate one at 20k but didn’t fancy another the rest of the race, nor did I particularly want to walk for long enough to eat one. They are quite substantial, I need to make them smaller for next time.

Half Way

My toe was holding up pretty well, maybe a bit numb, but not causing me any obvious grief. At almost exactly 30km I was busy overtaking a fellow runner when I stumbled. I managed to save myself from another faceplant, but I did ding my gammy toe. That might have been the end of it there and then, it was very painful for 5 or 10 minutes although it was already calming down a bit when I stopped to take a couple of paracetamol. I continued on, focusing even more carefully on foot placement!

I topped up fluids at each aid station after that. I found I was drinking more water than I expected, a combination of sunshine and increasingly high winds drying me out I expect. In fact, I could have done with perhaps one more aid station than there was, they were a little further apart than I’d have liked.

Strung out

There were under 100 runners in the 50k event, so over that distance you inevitably become quite strung out. At roughly 35km I could see another runner ahead in the distance, gesticulating. I assumed they were in some heated debate with the nearby dog walkers, but as I got closer it became clear it was Patrick, waving at me. His commendable hard charge attack on the race lasted until about half way when he ran out of go juice. I hardly mocked him at all for this as I passed, plodding on and leaving him in my tortoise dust.

The course was well marshalled and as far as I could tell the route markings were very clear. I had the route on my watch too so perhaps I didn’t really notice any that were unhelpful or lacking in some way.

I hit the marathon mark in good order at about 4:45. With just under 10k left to do I felt good, helped by the knowledge that the rest of the route was either slightly downhill or flat. I’ve not run a marathon race, so I don’t know what it feels like to leave it all on the track, but it felt good to be certain of having enough in the tank to go another 10k.

In keeping with ultra races tendency to be loose with their distances, this 50k race was actually 51.6km but I didn’t resent the “extra” distance, enjoying my relatively pacy run through a fairly busy Winchester town centre, dodging pedestrians.

The finish was back at the rugby club and I was glad of a sit down, grabbing my t-shirt for posterity. I finished in just under 5 and half hours. I could have pushed harder, but taking into account the toe injury and wanting to save myself for the 100k, I’m happy with that for my first 50k.

Overall the Big Way Round is a nice, low key event, and I’m glad I pushed on through the toe injury in spite of it being legitimately foolish.

I’ll be back soon with news of the 100k.