Monday, 4 October 2010

My first ultra

My first blog post, and it's about my first ultra run. On Saturday I took part in the Round Ripon Ultra, a 35 mile off road race in Ripon, Yorkshire.

I'll start the race report with the cyclists classic - making excuses.  Every road race starts with various grumbles about lack of training/over training/heavy legs/feeling under the weather etc, and I see no reason to deviate here.  The week leading up to the race was busy. I was away with work Monday - Thursday, and busy all day Friday. Thursday night I threw my kit together in preparation for leaving straight for work on Friday.  Luckily ultra running is quite like regular running. You don't need much stuff.  I was still worried I had forgotten something and feeling frazzled by the work week.

Any golf fans will have noticed that Friday was wet in the UK.  The Ryder cup was delayed by rain. Lots of rain. Ali picked me up in our new camper van  (a Ford Freda. Verdict; awesome & comfy. I might write post all about it) and off we set in the rain.  Six hours, 200-odd miles, many long queues on the motorway, and supper in a Little Chef later we arrived at our campsite.

The morning of the race dawned with a bowl of muesli, tea and a pain au chocolate consumed in the new van.  The race HQ was a short drive from the camp site, and with 40 entrants a low key, laid back affair. The guys from Go Beyond were friendly and welcoming, as were fellow runners.  For the most part the race followed a route called the Ripon Rowel.  Each entrant was given a book with the route highlighted on sections from the 1:25000 OS map of the area. A pre race brief described a couple of areas where the route was not clearly marked, and where navigation might be a bit trickier.

At 0930, with little fanfare, we were off.  The day that had started cold was soon warm  and clear (remarkably, given the weather the previous day), and in just a few minutes of running I had decided to ditch my running tights at the first of four checkpoints, which was approx 7 miles in.

The run took us through Ripon, and then off road onto a flat route that followed a river.  This meant the first seven miles passed in an hour, with the the entire field staying fairly close.  I ditched my tights at the check point, where Ali was waiting to cheer me on (and with spare gels and other assorted sports related snacks).

The second leg continued along the river, though moving into slippery, rooty paths through woods.  This was more interesting running terrain which I enjoyed.  It was also the first section which really needed you to double check the map on occasion, as there were many paths through the trees.

Leaving the woods we were soon at the second checkpoint, close to our campsite, in the village of Masham.  A quick refill of the camelbak and a mouthful or two of some home made cake and I was off on the third section. By now a small group of five or so runners had formed. I chatted to my fellow competitors as the terrain became more hilly as we headed towards the peaks proper.

Despite the hills the time between checkpoints 2 and 3 was quite quick.  Checkpoint 3 was at the top of a long on-road climb.  My legs were beginning to feel a bit tired at this stage but I trotted up the hill happily enough. It split the group a bit but we were soon back together at the top.  The organisers had promised savouries at this point and much to my delight alongside the sausage roles and miniature pork pies they had Quorn scotch eggs. Wonderful! I wolfed down several, before setting off.

The terrain now was much rougher and hillier, and the temperature dropped.  The views were bleakly fantastic and some sections began to feel quite remote.  The leg between checkpoints 3 and 4 was the longest, and the organisers had warned us that the path was harder to find in some places.  Our group began to break up as the distance and terrain took its tole, though often regrouping when the way wasn't clear.  Despite my legs starting to feel sore, and generally being the one off the back, I was confident of the route, and hence was quickly back up with the bunch and consulted on the way forward when there was a choice of direction.  The ground at this stage was often wet underfoot, and the path did indeed vanish entirely in some sections.

Eventually, I let myself drop off the bunch. Even though I felt pretty good, I didn't think it was worth pushing faster than I was comfortable with, especially given there was still a long way to go.

I trotted slowly but comfortably into checkpoint 4.  Andy (one of the guys from the bunch that had been together) had only got a minute or two ahead of me and was still at the table stocking up on food.  I looked at Ali and commented I was getting slower now having been dropped - she looked surprised and told me the rest of our impromptu group hadn't been through.  The woman manning the checkpoint confirmed this. Only five people had gone through ahead of us - and one of those had re-appeared after having done a huge loop, and was now sat grumpily in our car waiting on a lift back to the end having called it a day!  It seemed that the group we had been with had gone astray.  That made Andy and I fifth on the road, with something like seven miles to go.  Considerably cheered, we set off, with warnings of tricky navigation in our ears.

The last section was fun. My toes were sore, and legs tired, but in the route was not that difficult to follow, and I felt strong and comfortable. We trotted along happily, making our way across fields, and through farm yards, before reaching the Fountains Abbey which marked the last few miles.  We shuffled our mud covered and wet way through surprised looking tourists, and down the long, straight and downhill drive which was surprisingly hard on the legs.  As we were running Andy suggested we crossed the line together.  This sounded like a good idea, mainly as I had no intention whatsoever of sprinting.  After a mere 6 hours and 36 minutes we crossed the line together in joint fifth.  Not a bad effort as we were both first timers.

It was a great event.  A good experience of ultra running, and it has certainly made me inclined to do more.  I would also recommend Go Beyond events as it was well organised and friendly and they do nice t-shirts.

Also it would appear that being able to read a map is a big plus in events like this.  The navigation was not really hard (I never took my compass out of my rucksack), and it was clear that many runners would have benefited from some practise at navigation.


Erin said...

CONGRATULATIONS ROB! What a huge accomplishment! And to come in 5th place in your first try! It seems you have a long ultrarunning career ahead of you--and I hope a long blogging one as well. :)

Rob said...

Thanks Erin! I hope so too. i have actually tried blogging previously but aim to keep going beyond two posts this time. And I hope to do more ultras!