So it’s happened. I am an ultramarathoner! I completed Race To The Tower. And what an epic, life affirming journey it was. So epic, I needed to calm myself down a little writing this piece for fear of turning into George R R Martin and creating a biblical sized novel.
I am still incredibly sore, 2 days post Ultra, beyond tired but I’m bursting with pride. I’m incredibly happy, in the best way.
I had to rely on a lift to get to the start line, in Stroud. My mother kindly offered. She drives like a mole, and was more worried about coffee stops than getting there. She took a wrong turn and sent us 15 minutes down the motorway in the wrong direction. Typical. She also doesn’t get running. Although she did kindly say she would be proud if I did three miles. Thanks mum. Still, we managed to arrive at the start with 25 minutes to spare before the off. Quick pee stop, start line selfies with some of the wonderful Instagram crew I did manage to spot and it was get to the start line for the warm up. I didn’t warm up. They make me cringe. Instead I babbled to two familiar faces, who I was lucky enough to bump into. This calmed the pre race nerves…. a little. I still felt like my stomach was in my mouth.
8am- let’s go! And it’s off. The first few miles flew by, finding a rhythm, trying to slow my breathing down. Nerves soon vanished. I’ll be honest I think they vanished at the very first gate (number one of 160) hearing everyone gigging and in high spirits waiting to go through.
The course was beautiful. Really stunning. But I soon realised that although I train on hills frequently, living where I do (I struggle to find a flat route) it hadn’t been enough. These hills along the Cotswold way were monsters. As I was trying my best to power walk up them, I made a mental note… you need to practice hiking more.
Pit stops 1, 2 and 3 flew by. I didn’t hang around long. Topped up the water bottles, grabbed some fruit (the watermelon was absolutely amazing) and snacky bits. My plan was to grab stuff I could eat on the go. Just walk for a while, whilst chomping on something to try not to lose any time. I do actually think I spent a fair few miles with salt and vinegar crisps getting shoved in my mouth, or annoying everyone around me with the jostle of crisps rattling in a bag clasped in my hand whilst I ran. Those and freddo frogs. Freddo frogs are a little less intrusive on eardrums!
After pit stop 3 it went downhill a little. Almost straight away, there was a ridiculously steep incline through some woods, around mile 18. It was single track and no where to escape to let anyone pass, so it was keep up or pass out! That hurt. I then fell, just being clumsy. I was too busy looking at the views. Bang. Down like a sack of spuds. I managed to take a chunk out of my hand and give myself a pretty impressive graze on my leg! Still, I thought, keep moving forward. My tummy started playing up a couple of miles later. Poo gate. I was begging for a secluded spot. None to be found. It was buttocks firmly clenched, and hang on for dear life until pitstop 4, halfway. I’m being honest…. toilet troubles and all. To add to matters, the final mile climb into pitstop 4 I had a huge hypo (low blood sugar) where I dropped down to 2.1. Trying to still move forward, whilst trying to ram jelly babies, dextrose and freddos down my chops, whilst trying not to shit my pants. Is this what Ultra running is all about?
Halfway, a marathon done. Once I had found solace in a portaloo, I didn’t stop for any of the wonderful ‘real food’ on offer. Instead I made myself a peanut butter and chocolate spread sandwich to eat on the go, and quickly drained a cup of flat coke. Which was amazing!
The poo and junk food worked wonders, soon I was flying along again, feeling really good. Positive and full of energy. The next part seemed to fly by again, the hills continued, I slowed, I found bits of energy. It’s so easy to be distracted by beautiful scenery. It helped. Pit stop 5 through a farm was great, more bread and flat Coke! Keep on moving.
Pit stop 6 (38.4 Miles in) and I realised I was starting to struggle. Emotionally more than anything. I felt tired and was hurting. I honestly had a good 5 minutes where I don’t know what happened but it felt like I could keep on crying forever. I was just overcome with emotion. I thought about my little boy. I thought about how 12 years ago to the day I had last held him. I thought about my babies who would be there for me at the finish. Emotional bloody rollercoaster. I guess that’s what ultras do. They bring it out, there’s no where to hide when it’s just you and your thoughts, your struggles. Thankfully I was inundated by virtual support from Instagram. I don’t think I could of done it without that. Just message upon message from people who had my back, urging me on, supporting me. Messages from my husband, willing me on. Thank god for 4g! I managed to get a grip. Slightly. I started admiring random trees and cows. There were some pretty impressive trees and cows.
44 miles in, the wheels came off completely. Blisters. All around the insides of my heels. I carried on for a couple of miles before deciding to stop, pop and cover. It didn’t offer any relief. I was down to a shuffle, at best. I didn’t feel too bad, but my god those blisters. Because I was down to a shuffle everything just started ceasing up. Pit stop 7 I could’ve quit. Only 5 miles to go. Only.
They were the longest miles I’ve ever known. It got dark, I overheard someone say that the last 10 gates were all up the horrific hill to the finish. The last mile. Running through the beautiful village of Broadway before this, did lift my spirits immensely! A beautiful evening, and beautiful pubs and houses. People cheering and clapping as we went past shouting encouragement. There was a huge part of me that just wanted to stop. Go and sit outside in a beautiful place and have cold cider. It sounded like heaven in my head.
I was met near the top of the evil hill that I was practically crawling up, by my eldest two children, and my husband. They came down with little lights shining. They looked like angels to me. Just gone 11pm, I finished by running over the finish line holding hands with them, my daughter then placing my medal around my neck. The flood of emotion that came out then was on another level. I’m pretty sure I could’ve filled both my soft flasks with tears.
I got really cold almost immediately and couldn’t stop shaking whilst my husband took my trainers off, and helped me into warm clothes. I felt really ropey. And yes, I was that person. I begged him to take me straight to McDonalds. Whilst sat waiting in drive through, any fluid left in me came out into a Tesco carrier bag. I’ve never professed to be classy!
I learnt a great deal from my first ultra. I do think that until you’ve actually done one, you just don’t know. It’s the unknown. You don’t know how your body will react, you don’t know if you’ve done the right training, if you’ve got everything dialled in. I certainly didn’t. I ballsed up my hydration from the start. I had one flask of water, one with electrolytes. Once I had finished these, I for some reason decided to stick to water only. This came at a price. The most important thing I think you can do is get that hydration and nutrition spot on in your training, and stick to it. I had two hypos in all, and would of been much more stable if I had paid attention to what I was consuming.
Kit wise, I was really comfortable. Blisters not so much. Again I should of dealt with them much earlier. I also forgot compeed. I took far too much. For an event such as one the Threshold series, where everything is catered for at extremely regular intervals, the route extremely well marked out, you don’t need to pack a picnic for the start as I did, or for the eventuality that you will be lost in the wilderness for days on end. I never touched my spare socks/shorts. I guess I would’ve if I hadn’t come across the portaloo
7800ft of elevation, 160 gates and styles, and relentless sunshine. Blisters, hypos, poo gate, and all that was in between. I just wanted to finish it. 10 weeks of training, the majority of which were super cautious to avoid the injury returning and I managed it. I made a lot of rookie mistake, but that’s the way to learn. My first ultra has stolen my heart. I’ve found something that I truly love to do. And I cannot wait to continue learning, and do it all over again!