A big step up in distance for me, having only ran marathon distance (26.2 miles) once I wanted to push myself further and run an ultra marathon (an ultra is any race longer than 26.2 miles. For my first attempt I decided to enter the Go Beyond ‘Shires and Spires’ Ultra, a 35 mile, very hilly route around the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside.
I chose this as my first ultra for a couple of reasons, firstly I occasionally run with the Race Director, Simon Hollis, Simon is a fantastic guy, dedicated to putting on a fantastic event, being a very good and very experienced ultra runner Simon knows exactly what people need, and he, along with his lovely wife Rachel and a dedicated team of marshalls (many of them also from WDAC, my home running club) do deliver a fantastic event without a doubt! Simon doesn’t shout much about his running achievements but he really should, Simon has completed The Marathon Des Sables, a 162 mile race across the Sahara Desert, a 132 mile race across the rain forests of Peru, a 298 mile race across The Himalayas at altitudes of over 4000ft and a 143 mile race across Kenya alongside the wildlife! Now that is the stuff of legends, in fact Simon is currently the only person from the UK to ever complete the Hell race across The Himalayas, as you can probably tell, he’s a huge inspiration of mine.
Anyway, back to the race……………
It was a really warm day, in fact it hit 28 degrees at it’s hottest point, nice day if you’re sitting in the garden but not so nice with a run around the countryside including 2,651ft of ascent! I ran with some very experienced ultra runners from our club and we had a great laugh, that’s what I like about trail running, it’s not an all out race, it’s not about time, it’s about getting to the finish line under the cut off and enjoying the scenery and the day, well it is for me anyway and I’m sure I can speak for many others.
The race started at the village hall in the village of Naseby, a very historic area and the site of The Battle of Naseby in 1645, few years before I was born!
We headed off out at a steady pace, walking the uphill parts to conserve energy and just running the flats and downhills, this is also advice I had read in many books, it is said that unless you are a very talented or elite runner (certainly not me) then the time and distance you gain for the effort you put in to run up the hills just doesn’t pan out, there is no advantage. The hills and the stiles and gates are where you have some fun, a bit of banter, oh and also where you stuff your face, I made a rule for myself to ensure I had enough nutrition, ‘if I’m walking, I’m eating’, another thing I love about ultras, eating, actually who needs an ultra, I just like eating. We continued on with our steady pace of around 11 minutes per mile and walking the hills and reached the first checkpoint in West Haddon, it was great to see plenty of support there and some friendly faces at the aid station to fill our water bottles and provide any extra nutrition. Go Beyond and the dedicated team of marshalls are great at this, full of encouragement for everyone and amazingly helpful. It was also here that the competitors running the shorter (26.2 mile) course would split off from the rest of the pack. Every stop we had to ‘chip in’ and ensure the red light flashed on the electronic tag on our wristbands, this gave us our time and ensured we were safely through that part of the course. The next stop was the lovely little village of Long Buckby at 10.7 miles in and another chance for friendly faces, encouragement, water and some really tasty sweets. We didn’t hang around long and headed off to the next stop at Holdenby on the village green, this was to be just over half way, when we got there, extremely hot and starting to get weary we had a great little treat, Sarah who we were running with had arranged for her cool bag to be dropped there, in it was Mojito, Daiquiri and Pimms!!
I can tell you that went down a treat in that heat. After our tipple and again topping up our bottles and devouring some more food we headed off to check point 4, on our way we met a couple of the marathon runners who had got lost, one of which was another club member, Mandy. Mandy was adamant she was going to quit at the next checkpoint as the heat had just got too much and she had run a fair few extra miles after getting lost. I found out later that day Mandy was given a pep talk by some other club members that came to support and she continued on and completed the race, I told you our club was great! At around 20 miles and just before we reached checkpoint 4 Kev spotted a pub, we were on target time wise and we couldn’t resist, our faces lit up! Off we went and straight to the bar for an ice cold bevvy, I had a pint of Doom Bar shandy, wow, that was the most amazing pint I have ever drunk in my life, it went down a treat!
It was time to crack on, we came out of the pub, turned left and ran down past the church, well tried to, the sitting down for a few minutes wasn’t a good idea, “stop” I said, I’ve left my legs at the pub! After a few minutes they were back and off we went, that extra hydration was much needed and it had really perked us up in the heat. Next stop 23.5 miles in! Just as we could see the checkpoint one of the marshalls, Colin shouted us to hurry as we had just minutes to get to the checkpoint or we would be disqualified, we hadn’t read the cut offs properly and thought we still had half an hour, we made it and ‘chipped in’. Time for a quick refill of our water and we were off, sharpish, we had no time to lose! 11.5 miles left to go. We got a move on, I really was starting to feel the heat, so were the others, just after the checkpoint Mark dropped out, it had got too much, he had got lost earlier on at Long Buckby as he ran well ahead of us trying for a time and had covered more miles than us in doing so, not only that he had actually started the race with a foot injury, he’s made of tough stuff is mark! Lynda led the way and got us moving at a faster pace however at about 26 miles I really started to struggle with the heat. Kev dropped back for me and said “right, stay on my shoulder son, you’re going to finish this, stay with me”. I did for some time but really struggled, I tried to zone out fixating on a loop on Kev’s hydration pack and just trying to blank out the negatives in my mind. I continued for a while but just couldn’t run anymore but I could walk very quickly at around 4 miles an hour, Kev said that if I kept that up I’d just make it as he couldn’t walk as fast as me and was dropping back then jogging on to catch me up. I continued on along the old railway track, it was a long, hot, monotonous part of the course, I got to the next turn off and was just two miles from checkpoint 5. I had pins and needles in my hands, they were buzzing, my heart rate was elevated for the effort I was putting in and I was really feeling it now. I went through the next gate and got a sudden urge to pee, I went across to the nearest hedge and all of a sudden I had an almighty stabbing pain in my left flank, it sent me dizzy and I felt the colour drain from my face. I stumbled on then just collapsed to the floor, flat on my back with my arms outstretched. Kev told me not to move, there was no chance I was going to, he took out his water bottle and chucked a load of water over my head, that felt good. I urged Kev to carry on but he was having none of it, he phoned the support crew and told them what had happened and where to meet us. While I lay there for a while every runner that came passed stopped and asked if they could help, that’s the type of people you get at these races, everyone is in it together, they are all so helpful and friendly! after a while Kev got me up slowly, I felt a bit light headed but we took it easy and headed off down the track to the rendezvous point. Tony and Suzy (some more great marshalls from our club) turned up in the minibus within half an hour and with an ice cold bottle of water too. We headed off back to the race HQ with Kev, Suzy and Tony all making sure I was OK not just physically but also that I wasn’t going to let this get me down. It certainly wasn’t, I felt shattered, I had tried my best but I was still smiling. It was still a massive achievement for me, my longest ever run and I need to think back that it was less than 3 years ago I started running so it’s early days and what I am achieving is pretty awesome even though I didn’t finish this race. I learnt many lessons here, I need to work harder on my hydration, lose a few more pounds and work more on my strength and conditioning, and I will and I’ll be back and next year I will conquer the battle of Naseby that is the Go Beyond Shires and Spires Ultra! It just leaves me to say thank you to Simon and the Go Beyond crew, all of the amazing marshalls and spectators, my great running club buddies and most importantly Kev, the guy that gave up his own race to look after my, Kev I owe you massively!