Saturday, 14 May 2011

A long way

I think the title best sums up the Endurance Life ultra I did last weekend. We drove down to the Flete estate on the Friday evening after work, arriving to increasing gloom and rain which eventually became quite an impressive storm. We were very glad to have the van, rather than having to have put up a tent.

Registration opened the next morning at 0830, and with all of 50 metres to walk it was a leisurely start. The rain had stopped, and it was cloudy but dry. I was feeling excited right up until the point where I looked at the route details and saw the distance: 36.6 miles. Oh dear. I had anticipated 32 or 33 miles. The furthest I had run in one go in 2011 was 20 miles! And, like all Endurance Life events, it was likely to be a tough course (spoiler: it was).

Luckily I only had an hour to worry. At 0930 the small group doing the ultra set off. The course consisted of two loops and an estuary crossing (so the race starts were timed so that we crossed at low tide). The half marathon (15 miles) did the first of the loops, ending with the watery crossing. The full marathon (a mere 28 miles) did both loops and ended with the water crossing, whilst the Ultra did both loops, crossed the estuary and then off we went on the first loop again, shoes full of water.

The first loop was a pleasant, if rolling, run along the coastline, before turning round and heading back inland (after first ducking under an electric fence!). The group quickly split, and for a long while I ran with a couple of other intrepid racers. We hit a checkpoint at just under 12 miles quite quickly (1:36) and I was feeling very comfortable, though very aware that this was likely to change in short order. As we started the third member of our group dropped off, leaving me with Diane Roy who was looking very strong (and went on to be first woman and second over all). The second loop headed away from the start inland, before hitting the coast, and heading back in along the coastal path.

We arrived at the sea front at around the three hour mark, with Diane having pulled ahead by a couple of hundred metres. At this point there was a nice flat mile on the beach, before we picked up the costal trail and things got...hard. I was definitely feeling the distance at this point, and we progressed along the costal path in a wearing rhythm - a steep climb up to the cliff tops, a short rolling section, a steep descent down to a beach, followed by a steep climb up to the cliff tops etc etc. Diane was occasionally visible silhouetted against the sky as she crested the top of a hill I was just starting to slog up.

Eventually I arrived at the estuary and headed up stream to the crossing point. Ahead I could see figures making their way across the water - the half marathoners at the end of their race. At this point I was passed by Oliver Sinclair. We chatted briefly, before he quickly pulled away.

The river crossing wasn't too bad. Cold, but not deep. I was quickly across, and was briefly amongst all the half marathon runners. Then they turned up to the finish, and I, somewhat reluctantly, headed out on the first loop for the second time. I was pleased with my time to that point - approx 4:30 which wasn't bad for 28 miles.

At this point my legs were tired, but I felt pretty good, The pace was slow, and I walked on the steep bits but was fine. As I ducked under the electric fence for the second time and approached the final steep climb I could see Oliver at the top. I was, by my estimates, 4th at that point, and was vaguely hoping I could hold on. The run back was fairly easy, though given the distance we had covered by then, not quick. With some three miles to go, I looked back and for the first time in ages saw another runner. She caught and passed me quickly, and pulled away looking strong. Ok, fifth I thought. I can hold on to that. The descent down to the estuary had been fast the first time, but on tired legs was much trickier. I also quickly realised it would mean we would be finishing with a climb back to the start/finish.

A brief section of flat along the water front and it was indeed up hill. With probably just a few hundred metres to go, I heard something behind me, looked back and saw another runner approaching. No way I thought and speeded up as best I could. It was to no avail - I was passed by (according the the results) Helen Bennett, who was positively flying. I have absolutely no idea how she was able to sprint up hill like that after that distance. Suitably impressed I slogged on to the finish, and sixth overall in 6:29.

It was great course, and I was delighted with myself for completing it. Endurance Life did their usual brilliant job of organising, and all the EL staff were friendly and helpful.

The Domino's Vegetarian Supreme pizza was well received that night!

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